Concordia University, St. Paul, Hmong Culture and Language Program
The mission of the Hmong Culture and Language Program is to preserve the Hmong culture through storytelling, gardening and the arts. This program grew out of needs in the Hmong community and has grown to meet needs for our university students for pre-service teaching and cross-cultural experiences. This opportunity has been based on and filtered through Concordia University, St. Paul’s mission, “as a university of The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, which is to prepare students for thoughtful and informed living, for dedicated service to God and humanity, for enlightened care of God's creation, all within the context of the Christian Gospel.”
The Hmong Culture and Language Program serves as a service arm of the Department of Teacher Education (DUTE) where it resides. DUTE “prepares professional, academically capable, and personally responsible entry-level educators to serve in diverse educational communities; to prepare students for thoughtful, informed living, and for dedicated service to humanity, all within the context of the Christian gospel.” The Hmong Culture and Language Program development has focused on helping Concordia students, and students from other MN colleges develop thoughtful and informed living.
Concordia’s vision is to strive to provide education within a global perspective; to structure integrated learning experiences in which students/faculty/community not only recognize and accept responsibility for their own intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual growth, but also share in that of fellow students/colleagues. This opportunity has had a locally global focus to the Hmong and various other communities of color while providing opportunities for social, emotional and spiritual growth with a focus on intellectual growth through a variety of opportunities to create curriculum and teach K-12 students and their families.
The quality of the learning opportunities provided to students
The Hmong Culture and Language Program was initiated through the South East Asian Teacher (SEAT) Program, a teacher education completion program for Southeast Asians and other persons of color from underrepresented populations in education who are currently employed in Minnesota school districts as paraprofessional, educational or teacher assistants who are seeking teacher licensure. This program provides licensed teachers for students who better understand the life and culture of the urban and urban- like and Hmong students, specifically. In addition, the program creates greater access
and equity for communities of color and helps to close the gap between the number of students of color and the number of teachers of color in the school systems.
Hmong Culture and Language Program has become a lab school of sorts to help university students build resiliency through their opportunities to build cross-cultural competency through service learning. Additionally, it helps the college students build skills in creating and teaching curriculum, building their skills in pedagogy and also building personal relationships and leadership skills while learning about their own values as they learn about others. It also provides them with opportunities to help PK-12 students explore education on a college campus.
It has also provided opportunities for pre-service teachers to build strong skills in planning, execution and evaluation of student progress, as they assist Hmong students in learning their heritage language which in turn is building K-12 students’ foundation for continuous development of their second language and educational achievement.
In addition to the two week summer camp, the program has operated year-round (two Saturdays a month) to assist Hmong youth in language and cultural literacy in both Hmong and English. During both the summer camp and year-round program, a key feature of the language literacy efforts is the joint mentoring that occurs between new Hmong refugees who need to learn English, and Hmong-American youth who need to strengthen their grasp of their native language. Numbers have from 32 students to 100, to 200+ to 1000 in six years, and have been leveled to 500 students for the summer program to provide a deeper-richer program. The program now welcomes over 20 language groups and has become a dual language program, reaching out to many immigrants and refugees students.
Enabling pre-service teachers to teach has been very successful. Hmong students in the Southeast Asian Teacher Program have, from the beginning, been the creators of curriculum based on work of various scholars and their personal experience growing up in Thai refugee camps. Lessons have developed from the annual themes of gardening, Hmong history, who am I as a Hmong person, and Hmong past, present and future. The themes which university students have designed have included topics such as the knowledge of historical relationship between the Hmong people and the United States; knowledge of Hmong journey from Laos to U.S.; knowledge of and respect for Hmong history, culture and religion; knowledge of and respect for multiple challenges facing Hmong and other refugee and immigrant children and youth; knowledge of the ways arts help children learn to say what cannot be said in words; and knowledge of art as a way to recognize multiple perspectives. The curriculum has now been aligned to the MN ESL and Regular Education Standards.
Professors and students in First Year Seminar, now called College Transition, as well as education classes such as Reading Across the Content Areas, Human Diversity, Introduction to Teaching and Second Language Acquisition classes have used Hmong Culture and Language Program as a service learning site for their students to help their students garner needed cross cultural and second language acquisition experience. Students from local universities come to the program as part of their service learning component of their classes.
Following are the excerpts from two of the professor’s syllabi:
G. Service Learning: Students will have the chance to practice the strategies being taught in this course by participating in the Hmong Language and Culture Camp on CSP campus. The program takes place the first and third Saturday of each month from 10:00-2:00. Students will be required to attend at least one of the Saturdays in the semester for observation purposes. SEAT students are required to attend and participate three Saturdays of each semester. Students are then encouraged to attend other dates and participate, as a service learning experience, more fully, working with students on literacy skills, utilizing strategies learned in the course.
Dr. Kaysa Willhite’s Second Language Acquisition Class (Excerpt from her syllabus)
Reading Group/Service Learning Project (45 pts)- You will choose several books to read to a group of Hmong campers (here on campus on Saturdays) three times throughout the semester. Many of the observations of the students you will read with will be entered into your journal. Professor Baas will join us the second week of class to give us a short overview about camp and what your/our role will be.
One student wrote in her reflection:
Honestly, in working with the Hmong Language and Culture Program, all I have to do is go, participate, read, supervise, and eat (they serve lunch, Hmong style! ). I know what I’m doing is important in the English proficiency field as we read together and speak with each other but I know that there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes in planning the curriculum and events, and in both keeping and managing the funding that runs the program…
Partnerships in the community
Developing community partnerships in the Hmong and broader Minnesota communities has been a critical part of assessing the need for such a program, forming the vision and mission, as well as the development of curriculum, marketing and funding.
Building trusting relationships has been at the core of the success of this program. With the creativity and support of the SEAT students Nao Thao, Chao Vang, Jena Vue, Pashoua Her, Kou Moua, and Panyia Ly; and Ge Xiong, admissions counselor, who met tirelessly Friday nights after SEAT Seminar to develop the mission, vision and basis for this new program, the project began to take shape. With help from the Communications Department a logo was developed from the Paj Ntaub design of the elephant foot. Much conversation and strong feelings went into conversations about whether to teach in White or Green/Blue Hmong—no less than three two-hour meeting were devoted to this discussion, resulting in a decision to teach in White Hmong and support bilingually with Green/Blue Hmong.
Several of the students who helped start the program have graduated and now are community members who still regularly teach in the program.
How does a program build resources to begin its work? Toni Carter, now a Ramsey County Councilman and Anna Waucheski, former director of Farm in the City suggested writing grants for funding. Having had some experience writing some big grants for urban-like learners while working in Anoka Hennepin School District, I contacted Mary Kay Bensen, the current grant writer at that time for CSP. She assisted me in contacting then St. Paul Traveler’s for our first $50,000 grant which has led to four years of successful grant writing with Traveler’s. This was the impetus for additional grants through the four years of our program from Minneapolis Foundation, General Mills, National Youth Sports, United States Department of Agriculture, MN Department of Education, and others.
Ge Xiong, an administrator with Campfire USA, connected our program to Hmong American Partnership and Ker Vue to had a MN Newcomers grant to provide services to the new refugee youth from Wat Tham Krabok. We welcomed the 40-50 new students to our on-going Saturday Hmong Culture and Language Program for about 18 months.
In recent years, there have been partnerships with St. Paul Schools, North St. Paul, Maplewood School District, Roseville, South Washington School Districts and local charter schools which have further enhanced both the attendance and financial support for the summer and on-going yearlong program. Partnerships have not only brought dollars, but support in use of traditional Hmong instruments, books, speakers, musicians, dancers, storytellers, soccer and tennis sports instruction and equipment, and gardeners. For six summers, St, Paul Urban Tennis has taught tennis to our campers free of charge to our students through their own grant funds.
Six years ago, we added a group of high school and college leaders, called clan leaders, beginning a leadership academy for young Hmong youth. We created a Clan Leader Manual with the driving force of Greg Holz, recent CSP graduate now a missionary returning to Cambodia to teach Bible in Khmer. Baas wrote an instructor manual and we have instituted leadership seminars prior to the summer program. For the last three years, we have added equine assisted leadership training under the direction of Dr. Michele Pickel.
The HCLP staff have been involved in several community initiatives including one with the Children’s Museum of MN to assist with curriculum development for the Hmong at Heart Exhibit, community engagement events, and recently the new St. Paul Promise Neighborhood Program
Additional partnerships have been developed to promote strong ties for children and youth to their cultural roots and language, as a means to develop their connectedness, their competence and their contribution to the community, as well as ongoing opportunities for Hmong families to share their experiences and skills with children and youth.
These partnerships are with the following: a local Hmong food vendor Wung Lee Supermarket, Rebuild Resources who provide jobs to recovering chemically dependent individuals, Global Transporters, for our XPRESS transporters to move our water beverage around campus in the summer; St. Paul Urban Tennis who provide tennis instruction for our campers; the United States Department of Agriculture through the MN Department of Education to provide food for our program through SODEXO; partnerships with local chartered schools (New Spirit, Community School of Excellence, College Prep Elementary, Hmong College Prep Academy and others); the Center for Hmong Studies and Hmong Archives, Hmong American Institute for Learning for research assistance; and school districts including St. Paul, Roseville, North St, Paul, Maplewood, Oakdale, South Washington County Schools, Forest Lake and including local artists such as Tou Ger Xiong, Sai Vang, Seexeng Lee, Xin Moua, Wing Huey, Cate Vermeland, and Tsong Sawh Lo.
A very active HCLP Community Advisory Council oversees the program development and fundraising for the program. Membership includes: Tswv Fong Lor, Lo Pa Society, chair; Dr. Mongsher Ly, executive director of Urban Academy, Dr. Raj Setheraju, professor at MN State University-Mankato; Isabella Som, family liaison, College Prep Elementary; Professor Cate Vermeland, Concordia University, St. Paul, and ex-officio members Dr. Paul Hillmer, Professor Lee Pao Xiong, College of Education Dean Don Helmstetter, Concordia University, St. Paul.
2010 Phaj Tshab Tsa Ntsuj Plig or Faith Builder Award: At the annual fundraising event in 2010, President, Holst, on behalf of the Hmong Culture and Language Program, was presented the Phaj Tshab Tsa Ntsuj Plig or Faith Builder Award for his strong faith in God, the Concordia mission, and his inspiration that planted faith in the faculty and staff to create and build a camp at Concordia University, St. Paul, to meet the needs of Hmong students from the local and five-state wide area.
Books and curriculum were being designed, written and published by Nao Thao and edited by Sally Baas through their publishing firm Hmong Literacy Publishing, LLC and for sale on the publishing website The model is being replicated through other universities, in other states Program evaluation expanded. College students are pursuing research and student teaching experiences in the program. Traditional artists (paj ntaub and instruments) are teaching students A parent traditional music study group was formed which meets weekly under the direction of a master Hmong instrumentalist. Raised garden bed was be constructed Summer 2010 A traditional Hmong house was build with the aid of Hmong and other elders in the community, and curriculum to accompany was developed. The house resides at Phalen Lake School during the winter.
Comments from local partners:
I am the new executive director of Urban Tennis and I was delighted to visit the tennis courts on Thursday at Central High School and see some of the students from your camp having such a great time learning the game.” Susan Fortney, St. Paul Urban Tennis
“It was a great experience for me in teaching how to play musical leaves…Most of students felt that the leaf is hard to learn, and I respect their feelings…Your consideration in giving me the opportunity to introduce the leaf music to class was a great seed. It was be the very first time in history to bring “leaf music” to life. Now I have a feeling and the challenge to spread the leaves’ music.” Tsong Sawh Lo, Hmong musician
“I hope the kids realize how lucky that they are to go through this program. Maybe when they get older they remember the times that they had and the effect it had on shaping their lives.
With programs like this, I am confident that our younger generations will continue with our way of life, while assimilating with the Hmong American way of life. We still need our younger generation to sing kwv tshiaj and Paj Huas, but I'm confident that there will still be interest.” Sai Vang, Hmong comedian.
The administrators of the university have worked to support the efforts through university gifts in kind including buildings and grounds rental, custodial service, etc.
The students in Hmong Culture and Language Program are in turn doing service in the community by sharing their musical artistic talents through playing the qeej and doing traditional Hmong dance at local schools and special events such as the St. Paul Hmong New Year, the National Service Learning Conference, the Concordia University, St. Paul, Center for Hmong Studies International Hmong Conference, the National Hmong Development Conference, a local schools such as Forest Lakes Cultural Celebration, French Immersion and German Immersion School international events.
Comment from one school: “All of the students at the Twin Cities German Immersion School really enjoyed the amazing musical performance by Keng Kue Lor, Hue Lor, Lue Lor and Cherjay Thao. The children had never seen or heard these ancient Hmong instruments before. The athleticism of the qeej players took us by surprise and was received with much enthusiasm. After their difficult performance, these young men took the time to patiently answer our questions. We learned a lot during the short time they were at our school. “
Dr. Sally Baas and Nao Thao, co-direct the program, and have been fully part of the project and the collaboration from the beginning, receiving the charge from President Robert Holst to develop a Hmong camp. Baas has worked continually over the nine years with the five Hmong students in SEAT program (now graduates) who started the program and are still part of it on an on-going basis. They have worked together through the development phase, community partnership building, curriculum writing, fund raising, carrying through the program, and a evaluating the program both for the two Saturday’s a month and for two weeks in the summer time for these nine years.
Dr. Baas’s personal goals have been to model the way; inspire a shared vision; challenge the process; enable others to act, acting as a catalyst to move people to action; and encourage the hearts of those involved, by embracing other’s successes and encouraging them in areas where changes needed to be made. Her most recent thrill is planting the program at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire and River Falls, Southwest MN State, and other universities around the United States that are in the planning phase, as well as finishing her doctorate in Hmong leadership, much of which grew from work in SEAT and this program.
Concordia University, St. Paul – Dr. Sally A. Baas firstname.lastname@example.org
January 22, 2012