Blog: Dome Stories
“A lot of kids dropped out of high school and didn’t have a sense of belonging,” said Pao Yang of the Hmong teenagers in his community. It’s a sentiment many urban school administrators can relate to. Even though dropout rates have declined nationally, there are still significant differences in graduation rates amongst minorities.
The founders of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Hmong College Preparatory Academy (HCPA) decided to do something about that. They adopted an ambitious mission that challenges students to respect themselves, others and their community.
The concept caught on. Last year, HCPA’s academic performance showed such marked improvement that the school was a finalist for a National Institute for Excellence in Teaching award. Only six schools in the entire country were singled out for that honor.
Student enrollment continues to grow at HCPA. To accommodate that growth, there have been four facility expansions in just over a decade. One of the most recent included a multi-purpose sports dome.
To say this dome was enthusiastically greeted is an understatement. Yang said, “Words cannot describe the faces of the kids when they walk in there for the first time. Their eyes just lit up. You know they see this stuff in the suburbs or areas where they can’t afford to live. And for them to come in here and walk on turf or just jump around, it makes my day.”
The dome is home for the school’s soccer and lacrosse teams as well as the surrounding community. Whether it’s seniors who walk the track weekday mornings, or a softball clinic, there’s no shortage of users. “Even during the school’s Spring break, kids called and asked to come and play in it,” says Yang, HCPA’s Chief Operating Officer
As a charter school, HCPA’s doors are open to all and there is no tuition. The K-12 student body is primarily comprised of Hmong — a group that originates from the “Golden Triangle” region of southeast Asia, spanning Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. In the late 1970’s, displaced Hmong began relocating to Minnesota, creating a vibrant community of over 66,000 today.
“How do we give back to the community at large?” asks Yang. “The way to do it is to educate the kids. Only in this country do we have that kind of opportunity. Utilize it. Don’t just be a quantity citizen, be a quality citizen.”
Yang admits that sometimes he’ll go inside the dome just to soak up the atmosphere. “It’s good for the kids. And it brings a sense of pride and joy. Not just to our community, but the community at large.”
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