For many years, academic achievement for Hmong students in the Madison area seemed fine. But many parents were doubtful about the data.
In assessing students, the Madison School District included Hmong kids in the broader Asian category. When Hmong parents worked with the district to devise a way to look specifically at Hmong student achievement in 2012, the results were an unpleasant surprise: only three in ten kids were doing math at grade level, and just one in ten kids were reading at grade level.
“We were just really, really shocked,” says Mai Zong Vue, a community advocate. “Our parents taught us to work hard and they took a risk and made lots of sacrifices to bring us here. What’s happening to the legacy that our parents left us?”
Vue was among those parents and immediately got to work. Along with her husband Peng Her, she co-founded the Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment Program in 2013.
The HLCEP resembles a six-week summer school, but it’s one that immerses students in Hmong language and cultural studies. A combination of paid staff and volunteers guide children ages six to 13 through a busy day that includes history, music, and tutoring for core subjects like math. The program also invites Hmong professionals to talk to the impressionable students about their careers.
“When the kids see somebody that looks like them, they say, ‘Oh, if you can do that, I can do that too,’” states Vue.
And the program is having a big impact on Hmong children like Nuj Nplhaib. “I feel like I can show my Hmong instead of holding it in.”
“If we know where we are, who we are, and which group we belong to, we’re not going to be hollow inside,” Vue reflects. “When you think about that legacy that our parents left us, it’s not going to happen unless our kids have a strong identity and can move on to be academically successful.”