Hmong Education Conference in Appleton exposes students to options after high school

Friday, March 19, 2010

APPLETON — As Fox Cities Hmong students graduate from high school in rising numbers, educators and others hope to help them take the next step.

And young Hmong already in college or in the work force want to throw open more doors for both the parents and students, dispelling the older generation’s long-held belief that true success in chasing the American dream is attainable only in medicine or law.

“In this sense, Hmong children are limited in their planning for their future,” said Lawrence University freshman Nkaujzouapa Lor. “If we want to make our parents proud, do we all need to become doctors and lawyers? What if we want to work with the environment? What if we like fashion and art?”

With that in mind, careers and higher education will be the focus Saturday of an education conference designed especially for Hmong families.

About 300 parents and students from Appleton Area School District and surrounding communities are expected to attend the fifth annual event at Madison Middle School.

The conference is a testament to how far the Hmong have come in pursuit of careers and education in recent years.

An ally of the U.S. in the Vietnam War, the Hmong had to flee their homes in Laos as refugees after the conflict. After several years spent in Thailand camps, they began resettling in this country, including the Fox Cities, in the early 1980s. The last wave of Hmong refugees began arriving here in 2004.

“We do this because we want Hmong students to be successful in pursuing education,” said Ger Vang, school district special |education/cultural support specialist and conference co-chair with Kia Thao, Hmong student cultural support specialist. “We believe education is everyone’s dream and we want Hmong parents and students to be able to access any available information that will enhance their livelihood.”

Vang said the conference is a community effort by the school district, various two-year and four-year higher education institutions, local businesses and agencies. It will focus on how parents can “get involved in their children’s life and guide them through their education.”

“In the beginning we were just talking about the basics of education,” Bill Curtis, Appleton’s ELL/Bilingual coordinator, said of earlier conferences, which were attended by many newly resettled Hmong refugee families. “But now there is a greater level of sophistication in the Hmong community here.”

“We see the progress,” Vang said. “More and more of our parents participate in school activities. They are more vocal in education. They used to lie back in the past and leave education up to the school.”

He also sees progress in the students’ school participation from the growing numbers joining Hmong clubs at each high school to other school-related activities.

“They are more consciously geared toward college,” he said.

Curtis noted that Appleton, which has the largest Hmong population in the Fox Cities, has a consistently high graduation rate for Hmong students. In 2009 it was 96.7 percent. In 2008 it was 88.9 percent and in 2007 it was 90.1 percent.

“This, (conference) helps take it to the next level and get people to think about that next step,” Curtis said.

Along with two keynote speakers, there will be workshops focused in eight career clusters, from human services and technology to public safety, the arts and business.

“Hmong professionals in certain fields will come in at talk about their careers fields,” Vang said.

Lor, 19, a biochemistry major at Lawrence from Milwaukee and one of the conference panelists, said the workshops will be enlightening to Hmong parents still learning the ropes of how to guide their children’s education.

“I think a lot of Hmong parents, especially the ones of the older generations, lack the resources they need to really understand what a full education in America means. They just assume, ‘Oh, my child will graduate high school and then go to college and then be a doctor! Then they will have a lot of money!’ That’s the extent of their support though, because they don’t really know how to be involved in their children’s education.”

A conference such as this, she said, “works to better the parents’ understanding of the many and great things their children can pursue, as well as broadens the students’ choices and possibilities for their futures.”


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