Making a warm welcome for Chin students

Vickery builds stronger relationships with Chin population


A captive audience listens to seniors Amos Nun Sung and Par Hniang explain Chin history. Courtesy of Adam Gray.

Vickery Elementary School will be taking in several dozen Chin students once Hedrick Elementary School and Hedrick Middle School are demolished; in preparation, principal Adam Gray had seniors Par Hniang and Amos Nun Sung educate the staff about Chin culture and history.

“Par and Amos spent a full hour with the Vickery staff and we learned so much,” Gray said. “Not only did we learn about their own personal experiences in coming to Texas, but about cultural elements that will help our staff build stronger relationships with Chin parents and students.”

Many families find themselves in familiar situations as Nun Sung and Hniang were once in. Both Nun Sung and Hniang are originally from Burma, now Myanmar, and fled to the United States to avoid religious persecution, discrimination and governmental dictatorship. Although they say it hasn’t been an easy journey, they are extremely grateful to be able to stand in front of a classroom of teachers to help them build better connections with Chin students and parents.

“My family was fortunate enough to have made it through here in America,” Nun Sung said. “I was 8 at that time but seeing my parents in tears, after flying in an airplane for the very first time across the entire world, made me realize how blessed I was to have this opportunity. I’m even happier to say I’m blessed knowing many don’t make it as far as I have.”

Nun Sung and Hniang recorded themselves saying useful Chin phrases which the staff has been using when interacting with Chin students and parents; the staff has also been translating more materials into Chin for parents, having more translators at meetings and being more accommodating of the challenging work schedules faced by many Chin families. The seniors also created a powerpoint on why they became refugees in hopes that it would shed light on their struggles and allow people to empathize with them rather than judge them.

“I think Chin students have an experience [that is] different from anybody else,” Hniang said. “[They] have to take responsibility in the family because of language barriers. It’s just little things that make Chin kids different from others because of how much responsibility [they have] and the experiences they’ve gone through. If teachers really know their background, they can kind of understand where they’re coming from like why they say the things they say or like why they write about some of the things they write. It’s one of those experiences you can’t really understand so when you know more in depth you can feel empathy for them and understand where they’re coming from.”

Although the actual lesson only lasted an hour, according to Gray it was the best professional development the teachers had all year. Gray is confident the Vickery staff will use what they learned for years to come as they instruct students and partner with families.

“The students and staff at Vickery are already very welcoming,” Gray said. “We have a diverse student body and look forward to adding even more students with different backgrounds. With any student learning English as a foreign language it is important to be patient, make personal connections, and create a safe and engaging school environment. The Vickery Voyagers are great at that, and we’re always looking to get even better. We definitely feel ready to make Vickery a home for as many Chin students as we can.”