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home : education : education Friday, November 24, 2017

6/15/2016 4:09:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Hmong College Prep Academy Class Finishes Up Karen Week

By Dave Bonko

Students in Mr. Brian Ness's Service Learning class recently spent an in-depth week learning about the Karen culture. The project involved investigating the culture's cuisine, history and language.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, students completed a number of projects that combined math, digital film, culinary arts and social media in an effort to share their findings. "This has been an exciting week," stated Mr. Ness. "Our original goal for a video we posted on Tuesday was 500 views. We hit that in five hours. We adjusted our goal to 1,500, but ended up blowing through that and hitting 19,000 views in three days."

Mr. Ness is a strong supporter of integrating service learning into the traditional classroom.

"I have a real passion for service learning. While in the process of finishing up my Masters Thesis paper at Concordia, I uncovered a number of studies that showed service learning improves student engagement and academic performance in all areas. It also provides a mechanism for applying skills and knowledge from other classes to a real life situation. This application not only strengthens those skills, but the added motivation of a true service has been shown to support cognitive development. Lastly, there are the soft-skills that these types of project require, skills that may not necessarily be extensively developed in a standard course."

He further explained how studying Karen culture created a more cohesive and communal environment within the school.

"The three legs of the Warrior Code are respect self, respect community, and respect others. The students' goal with this project is to build on the inclusiveness that HCPA already enjoys by building bridges between the two largest ethnic groups in our school. Though many of our Karen students take part in the general education classroom, there is a large cohort that are working their way through beginning language classes and aren't able to consistently interact with their Hmong classmates. With the intention of respecting the community and respecting others this project is intended to break down some of the walls that may be preventing more interaction. If students realize how similar their histories, cultures and general lives are then they are more likely to grow closer."

Mr. Ness added, "It has also been great hearing the feedback from the Karen kids. They have come out of their shell this week, and there is a sense of ownership and participation in the school that I haven't seen before."

HCPA 10th grader Gao Thao explained the week's activities.

"The week's first two activities involved creating videos on how to say hello in Karen and the culture's history. Mary Htoo, also a 10th grader, was the artist in the history stop video. Over the past month, students partnered with HCPA kitchen staff to design a Karen-inspired school lunch menu. On Wednesday, they learned how to prepare samosas and on Thursday, students were served a lunch of Karen Red Pork, rice and fruit."

HCPA Superintendent Dr. Christianna Hang feels service learning is an important part of the HCPA experience.

"It's an important part of what we do. A major component of an HCPA education is our college prep program, which is based on three components; college, career and care. A great way for our students to experience the care component is through service learning projects."

Parties interested in Karen Week activities can visit the school's website, hcpak12.org or Facebook page.

Hmong College Prep Academy is located at 1515 Brewster Street in St. Paul, just southeast of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. For more information about enrolling for the 2016-2017 school year or directions to the school interested parents and students can contact us at 651-209-8002 or online at www.hcpak12.org.

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