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Hmong target education Parents and students attend a conference at Fresno State.

By: Mary Lou Aguirre THE FRESNO BEE, May 5, 2002, Sunday

Xia Lo came seeking answers Saturday at the Hmong Student Association "Empowerment Through Education" conference.

Lo, mother of 10, ages 18 to 5, wanted to know more about what city college and universities are all about.

"I was born and raised in Laos," Lo said. "I don't know about the culture here. I think every mother has the same dream for their children. They all want their kids to be successful and to have a career." Lo was among 300 parents and high school students who attended the conference at California State University, Fresno.

"We think it's very important to reach out to the community," said Yia Vang, Hmong Student Association president. "We gave the parents a campus tour. This is the first time they have had a chance to be inside a classroom. We wanted them to have that personal experience."

According to the student association, there are 700 Hmong students enrolled at Fresno State. The number of Hmong students is expected to surpass 900 in this year's fall semester.

Tou N. Herr, director of the Central California Educational Opportunity Center at Fresno State, shared his personal education experience during a discussion for the parents.

Herr, speaking in Hmong, spoke of the resources available to their children and potential careers.

"Most parents want to know if their kid is taking the right courses," Herr said. "They want to know how to motivate those in junior high. ... I'm very honored to be in a position to be a role model. This day is all about instilling a desire for success."

See Thoa was keynote speaker. Thoa came to the United States when she was 9. In 1988, she entered Fresno State.

"I was seven months pregnant and had two kids at home," Thoa said. "I chose not to use that as an excuse. I felt an obligation to my children so things could be better for them. I took that first step."

Thoa graduated in 1993 with high honors, including the Dean's and President's Medals. She is a resource teacher and guidance instructional specialist at Clovis Elementary School.

She stressed the importance of setting specific academic goals.

"As a minority group, we have the lowest academic performance scores," Thoa said. "We are way behind. I think it's due to the fact that we don't have enough qualified teachers working with our kids."

Thoa said many students have limited English proficiency.

"I'm a product of having a good education," Thoa said. "I want the Hmong community to embrace education."

Boa Moua has three sons, ages 15 to 12, and all of them plan to attend college.

"I have always told them that they have the power in their hands to become whatever they want," Moua said. "I want my children to be educated; to do better."

Sisters Chowlee and Chowmai Vang came to the conference with their mother, Blia Her.

Chowmai, 18, a student at Pilgrim Way Christian Academy, plans to attend Fresno State in the fall. She will study library science.

"I've always had a desire for books," Chowmai said. "In the first grade I wanted to be a doctor, but ideas change. You have to have a real desire for education. It has to be both sides, your parents and you."

Her admitted she needs to let her daughters make their career choices. Daughter Chowlee, 17, wants to attend a Bible college and become a missionary.

"I think she should have a career first and become a missionary later," Her said. "I might have to let her do what she wants."

The reporter can be reached at maguirre@fresnobee.com or at 441-6482.