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Prepared for College?

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 05, 2006 1 min read
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It takes support from teachers—and a little courage—for teenagers who don’t speak much English to meet college recruiters who come to their school.

Pao Yang, a 10th grader, works on homework in a transitional science class for English-language learners at Humboldt Senior High School.

When an announcement came over the public-address system at Humboldt Senior High School here recently, an ESL teacher sent eight Hmong 10th graders to a college fair in the gymnasium. The students, who were resettled in the city two years ago from an unofficial refugee camp in Thailand, are enrolled in level 2 classes for English-language learners, out of a five-level progression.

They entered the gym, where representatives from 52 Minnesota colleges and universities had set up booths. At first, they surveyed the situation.

Pao Yang, 15, looped his arm around the shoulders of a friend, and they cruised between the rows of booths.

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They were soon joined by Sou Yang, Pao Yang’s cousin, and they followed his lead to approach a booth for North Hennepin Community College. It was manned by Thai Xiong, a new-student specialist for the college, who spoke to the boys in Hmong and told them to pick up an application and fill out a card to get more information.

The 10th graders then went to their next class. Shortly afterward, the PA system announced that it was the 11th graders’ turn to attend the fair. But the ESL teacher in that class didn’t let the students go, saying the college fair was for students with a higher level of English proficiency.

Well-educated Hmong in St. Paul worry that the school district isn’t doing enough to prepare most Hmong students for college.

Zha Blong Xiong, an associate professor in education and human development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities who is Hmong, says that while white students from St. Paul schools score an average of 23.8 on the ACT test, Asian-American students, 90 percent of whom are Hmong, score an average of 17.7, out of a possible 36. Also, he notes, district statistics show that participation of Hmong in Advanced Placement classes is low compared with whites’.

For the class of 2005, however, the graduation rate for Asian-Americans in St. Paul schools was 85 percent, compared with 89 percent for white students.

Coverage of district-level improvement efforts is underwritten in part by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2006 edition of Education Week as Prepared for College?

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