Building Dreams Together In Any Language
“Nyob Zoo Mrs. Moua-Carroz! Buenos Dias Mrs. Moua-Carroz! Chào anh, chào chị Mrs. Moua-Carroz!”
I was often greeted by my beautiful children and parents in their primary language as principal at Earl Warren Elementary School, in Sacramento, CA. What struck me was how comfortable and eager my students were to teach me a few simple phrases in their primary language. I remember their chests would swell with pride as they eagerly taught me a word or two, and then would giggle uncontrollably after I repeated the words in their language. Not surprisingly, my students and parents were also some of my most thankful and hardest working families. Thankful, I’m sure, for the opportunities our great nation and public schools are providing for them. And hard working because of their desire to ensure their children will have an easier and better life than they did.
My own personal experience as an immigrant Hmong student, born in a refugee camp in Thailand and raised in America, is very similar to many children in our nation.
My father served as a military captain in the CIA led “Secret War” in Laos against the Communists. After America’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War, and a very dangerous journey crossing the Mekong River to safety, my mother gave birth to me in BanVinai Refugee Camp. That same year, my father and mother were able to petition for asylum for their family and children, and immigrated to the United States in 1976.
... As a principal, I encourage my staff to learn each child’s dreams, then convey that education and effort can turn those dreams into reality.
As a child, I remembered how much I loved my teachers. Despite the fact that I did not speak English very well, and lived in a government subsidized, three-bedroom apartment housing my nine brothers and sisters and parents, I never felt that my teachers expected less of me. I particularly remember Ms. Spolsdoff, my third grade teacher, who allowed me to help her afterschool, sorting papers, sharpening pencils, straightening her bookshelves, etc. She somehow knew that I didn’t want to go home to the gang infested streets of southeast Fresno, where I had little to do as my parents refused to let us go out of our home for fear of the crime in our neighborhood. Furthermore, Ms. Spolsdoff spent time mentoring me, and talking to me about my future dreams--what I wanted to be when I grew up, college, career options--and more. I credit her for inspiring me to be an educator. And now, as a principal, I encourage my staff to learn each child’s dreams, then convey that education and effort can turn those dreams into reality.
Today, there is much debate over immigration, and in particular, its effect on education. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau release, the percentage of Hispanic or Latino origin is at 37.6% of California’s population, compared to white person(s) not of Hispanic origin, 40.1%. Furthermore, the percent of Asians is at 13% of California’s population. Combined, Latinos and Asians make up more than 50% of California’s population. Nationally, the Latino and Asian origin groups total over 21% of our population. With these numbers, it makes no sense to me to be arguing about immigration reform, especially in regards to preventing students from having the right to an education. Rather, I believe we should be embracing immigration, especially granting work visas and naturalized citizenship to those contributing to our country economically and socially.
I myself became a naturalized citizen in 1999. It was one of the proudest days in my life, and in fact, has given me a greater sense of obligation to serve my country. Too often, government policies make it difficult for immigrants to invest in our nation, create and innovate in America, and thus, we lose the potential ideas and contributions that immigrants can bring to our country.
At Earl Warren, we were committed to educating all children. We accept no excuses and ensure all children achieve their individual best through common planning time, grade level and cross-grade level meetings, and schoolwide data analysis. Formal and informal assessment data is continuously analyzed by staff and targeted instruction is put into place to ensure no child falls through the cracks. We have a schoolwide commitment to writing, and all teachers include writing in every lesson they teach.
Through the “Parent Teacher Home Visit Program,” staff members visit homes of our children throughout the year to connect with families and to build dreams together. Parenting classes are open to all parents, with translation and babysitting provided. These classes teach parents how to navigate the educational system and equip them with the skills necessary to support their children in school. Furthermore, we have established multiple community partnerships (Fremont Presbyterian Church, Sacramento Kings, The California Endowment) to provide for our children enriching opportunities such as music, PE and the arts.
Last year, on November 16, 2010, Lowell Milken presented me with the Milken Educator Award in front of 550 students, many of whom are immigrants themselves or are children of immigrant parents. I like to believe that on that day, the Milken Family Foundation – like my third-grade teacher Ms. Spolsdoff – inspired many beautiful, ethnically and linguistically diverse children to become future educators, arguably the most important profession for our nation.
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