In early 2012 a small group from Chippewa Valley Technical College and the Eau Claire Area School District (ECASD) joined together to discuss ways in which the two institutions could partner to better help district students learn more about CVTC. In particular, the group focused on ways to transition students of color seamlessly from ECASD to CVTC.
Lee Pao Xiong was invited to speak to the group to discuss his experience as a leader in the international Hmong community. Xiong is currently the Director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University in St. Paul. He explained that the success of Hmong students at Concordia is the direct result of the previous university president anticipating growth in the St. Paul Hmong community and seeing it as an opportunity for Concordia University to serve that population.
“Lee Pao is an inspiring leader and educator,” said Kristen Raney, dean of Academic Development and Services for CVTC. “He is the perfect person to help CVTC and ECASD better understand the ways in which we can better prepare, transition, and support Hmong students as they move from the school district to CVTC.”
Xiong supports the collaboration efforts between CVTC and ECASD. He explained that education is the number one value in Hmong culture, and bringing Hmong culture into our schools impacts student success. American-Hmong, the generation of students currently in Eau Claire schools, sometimes lack direction because they are not familiar with the struggle of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. “Young people rooted in their culture do better in school,” said Xiong.
Most of the Hmong in Eau Claire arrived in the United States after being displaced from Laos, their home country where they fought with Americans during the Vietnam War. Xiong reminded the group that over 10 percent of Hmong people were killed in Laos protecting American interests, and more than 50,000 Hmong died trying to cross the Mekong River while fleeing persecution.
Xiong emphasized there are pockets of leaders in the Chippewa Valley. He encouraged CVTC and ECASD to identify those leaders, consider existing staff, and empower them as experts who can help with transitioning students. “We all have a stake in the conversation,” Xiong stated. “Everyone wants to see these students succeed, but you first must know where the students are coming from and what will allow them to learn. Talking with leaders in the Hmong community will help create that basis for understanding.”