MERCED -- A group of educators at Merced High School are making a concerted effort to increase involvement by parents of Latino and Southeast Asian students in campus affairs.
This ongoing effort included all-day campus visits Wednesday and Thursday by officials from the Mexican Consulate.
Kay Malhi, Merced High associate principal for guidance services, said this family engagement initiative began a year ago as an attempt to close the gap between the different communities and the school.
"We want to educate parents about effective parenting skills and tools to help them and the students be successful," Malhi said.
Andrea DeLeon is an English-language development academic support teacher and coordinator of the Family Friendly Schools initiative. She doesn't believe Southeast Asian parents have enough of a presence on campus.
DeLeon said Southeast Asian parents are starting to get more comfortable getting involved in school affairs.
"We want to make sure they feel empowered and involved," DeLeon said. "It is working; we are all a Bear family and want to extend it."
There are about 300 Southeast Asian students at Merced High this fall.
A 15-member committee established a year ago met with parents in August at Lao Family Community offices and set up goals for the last school year and this one, Malhi said.
The committee, which meets monthly, includes Southeast Asian and Latino parents, administrators, teachers and campus liaisons.
Goals included establishing a Zumba exercise-fitness class, computer literacy classes, English classes for non-English speakers, consular workshops and parenting classes.
Pos Moua has taught at Merced High for 15 years. The Laos native, who teaches English and Hmong 1 and Hmong 2 classes for native speakers, said most of the Southeast Asian students were born here.
Moua said they revere their cultural traditions but have drifted away from their native language and are influenced by American media. "We call them Hmonglish speakers," he said.
Moua characterized his students as bright and somewhat reserved, even with him. They are disciplined and most all respect their elders as well as their teachers.
"They want to redefine themselves as Hmong," Moua said. "They want to relearn their language so they can stay close to their roots."
Moua is president of the Southeast Asian Vision for Education, a nonprofit organization that has given $70,000 in scholarships over the last 10 years. The group conducts seminars to help Southeast Asian students get to college.
Malhi said several Southeast Asian clan leaders were among the cross section of people who attended the early August meetings at Lao Family Community. She said the school will set up another meeting date shortly to present the first draft of a survey being taken of community needs and wishes.
Ge Thao, a mental health clinician with Lao Family, said Southeast Asian parents are becoming a little bit more involved with school activities.
For Southeast Asian parents, he said, one of their strongest desires is for their children to succeed in school. But they also worry about them getting back grades and dropping out.
He conceded Southeast Asian parents are very intimidated about coming to school and find it difficult to approach teachers and administrators.
DeLeon said she grew up in South Merced and graduated in 1996 from Merced High. As coordinator of Family Friendly Schools, she believes this year will bring significant progress in involving the Southeast Asian community.
The school has to engage families and community members to improve the success rate of its students.
The committee's efforts and the community meetings are the initial implementation of that multistep outreach process, Merced High Principal John Olson said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.