American Renaissance

The Arrival Of 900 Hmong Child Refugees Challenges Fresno Schools

KCAL-9 (L.A.), May 15

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) More than 900 Hmong children from a refugee camp in Thailand are expected to immigrate to Fresno as early as July, sparking rapid preparations by the local school district.

The free education available in California is very different from conditions at the Wat Tham Krabok camp, where families must pay for schooling. Most don’t have the money, but eager children crowd outside school windows to hear the lessons.

Those who can afford school sit on wooden benches in dirt-floor classrooms, learning English phrases from books at least 20 years old.

To help them catch up, Fresno Unified School District officials may group middle and high school students on one campus for about six months while they take accelerated English lessons. Elementary students may be concentrated at two or three schools before they join regular classes, said Barbara Bengel, an assistant superintendent.

“Their needs will be very unique, and we want to make sure we do a good job,” Bengel told the Fresno Bee. “They don’t have the English, and many have never been to school. It’s going to be a tremendous culture shock.”

The Hmong are a hill tribe that fled their homeland of Laos beginning with the 1975 communist takeover of that Southeast Asian nation.

More than 22,500 Hmong live in Fresno, with about 28,000 in Fresno County. An estimated 15,000 more are expected to come to the United States about 3,000 to Fresno, which is second only to St. Paul, Minn., in concentration of Hmong in the United States.

The United States announced plans to resettle the refugees in December. The State Department says they likely represent the last Hmong refugees who will be allowed to immigrate.

The Fresno district may offer services to entire families, including health services and English classes for adults. Officials are working with the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, which has studied the specific needs of Hmong at the camp and researched the best newcomer programs throughout the nation.

The district also sent three representatives in April to the camp to examine the educational needs and social and economic conditions there.