A Look At HAP

By Damon Guinn












The Hmong Times partners with the Hmong American Partnership to give an up close and personal look at their programs.

If you’ve ever wondered what the future will look like, here’s a hint… it’s about three feet tall, has a big, bright smile and is eager to learn and practice new skills. And you don’t even have to travel far to see it. You can catch a glimpse of the future in a modest building on a quiet, tree-lined residential street in St. Paul, just a few short blocks east of White Bear Avenue.

That’s where you’ll find the happy-go-lucky children who attend the Hmoob Toj Siab Children’s House Montessori School, an eager group of boys and girls who project a future that is cheerful, rewarding, exciting and focused.

Hmoob Toj Siab Children’s House, operated by the Hmong American Partnership (HAP), is the nation’s first bilingual, bicultural Hmong-English Montessori school. It was opened in 2014 and is licensed to serve up to 30 children ages 2½ to 6. Hmong is spoken in the classroom every day and a respect for Hmong culture is carefully integrated into the activities. The school is an affiliate of Montessori Partners Serving All Children, directed by the Montessori Center of Minnesota, and shares a building with the American Indian Childcare Center.

“The importance of Montessori is that we cater to the child, foster independence, and encourage concentration,” explained Kalia Lee, the Lead Guide at the school. Montessori education is designed to give children the time, space, and resources they need to perform self-directed learning activities under the careful observation of highly trained teachers. And Lee is definitely highly trained. It took her six months to complete Montessori training and concluded with an oral and written exam, each three hours long. According to Lee, the training was as rigorous as the master’s degree in literary education that she completed at the same time.

What’s nice about the Montessori Method, Lee said, is that it closely aligns with the cultural upbringing of Hmong children. She attributed her current success as a teacher to her own experience growing up in a Hmong household. “As a Hmong daughter, we had expectations of cooking, cleaning, taking care of our younger siblings … we had that type of responsibility. But I only recently realized that it was something that made me who I am today,” she shared.

Say Vang, the Montessori Administrator of Hmoob Toj Siab Children’s House, believes the Montessori model is something that should benefit more families overall. There are three adults in the classroom at all times, allowing the school to maintain a 10:1 student-teacher ratio, and lesson plans are based on each individual child. When a child is new to the classroom, they are “phased in” over the course of a week. The teachers gradually increase the number of dedicated learning hours each day until the child is ready for a full day. This helps each boy or girl smoothly transition into the classroom setting and work at a pace that suits their individual needs.

Vang said the model gives teachers the opportunity to closely connect and engage with children, an approach that leads to immediate results. “We’ve had children who have moved on to their next school, and the teachers comment on how impressed they are with the students,” she noted.

Parents who are interested in enrolling their children are invited to take a tour and observe a class in action. For those in need of tuition assistance, they can bring income information and Vang will conduct an immediate income analysis to determine eligibility and cost of tuition. Regular tuition at Hmoob Toj Siab is $960 a month, or $11,520 a year. Fortunately, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) offers scholarships up to $7,500 per year for qualifying families, dropping the monthly cost to just over $300. And HAP provides supplemental scholarships, in addition to MDE assistance, to ensure that as many families as possible have access to the school’s high-quality early childhood education.

For those still needing a nudge to make the next step, Lee, the Lead Guide, offered some simple encouragement: “Come see us; come visit. Come join and come learn.”

To learn more about the school or enroll your child today, contact Say Vang at 651-495-1515 or sayv@hmong.org.