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Ed events: Hmong New Year, Gordon Parks Day and more

You know what the worst part of being an education reporter is? It’s having an inbox full of invitations to terrific events at which young people are going to variously discover, share and change the world, and not being able to attend them because adults are busy generating news by thwacking away at one another on the campaign trail, drafting legislation and otherwise screwing up the world.

Case in point: Today, Tuesday, Nov. 20, Minneapolis Public Schools’ Hmong International Academy will host two celebrations of the Hmong New Year. From 12:30-1:45 p.m. and then again from 5 to 7 p.m. there will be singing, performances and, during the evening event, food. The school is located at Humboldt and 30th avenues north in the Jordan Park neighborhood.

Traditionally a 10-day celebration of the rice harvest, the event is observed in Hmong immigrant communities throughout the country. “Wandering souls” come home — literally and metaphorically — for the festivities, celebrated most visibly in the Twin Cities on Thanksgiving weekend at St. Paul’s River Centre.

Two-thirds of Hmong International’s 400 preK-8 students are learning English, and virtually all are impoverished, but just 80 percent are Asian. Another 14 percent are African-Americans with whites, Native Americans and Latinos making up the rest of the student body. The draw for non-Asians, at least according to community buzz, is an orderly and safe learning environment.

Core academics are taught in English, while others are taught by Hmong-speaking staff. Thanks to a network of supportive community organizations and extra instructional staff, Hmong International is able to offer a school day that’s two and a half times longer than its peers.

A whopping three-fourths of families participate in the New Year celebration. What do their scholars have in store this year? You’ll have to show up to find out.

Parks’ 100th birthday

Across the river in St. Paul Public Schools, students at Gordon Parks High School are preparing to celebrate the late photographer, writer and civil-rights advocate’s birthday. The St. Paul-born Parks would have turned 100 on Nov. 30; students will mark the date with a variety of activities the multitalented Parks would have loved.

piano mural
Courtesy of Gordon Parks High School
Gordon Parks High students are working on a mural being painted on a grand piano to be played at the school.

Although best known as LIFE magazine’s first African-American photographer and the director of the film “The Learning Tree,” Parks also was a composer. During the celebration, which takes place Nov. 29 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1212 University Ave., the high schoolers will unveil a mural being painted on a grand piano to be played at the school.

They will also premiere several new films produced as a part of a 4-year-old partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society, “Transitions: University Avenue.” Under the leadership of Paul Creager, the school’s curriculum and media arts coordinator, the students have been documenting the history of the neighborhood, whose people have been displaced numerous times, with a focus on the arrival of light rail.

Finally, students are also trying to buy two vacant lots located behind their building. Want a taste of next week’s event? Check out a film about that effort or read its associated blog. Hopefully, VIPs from Parks’ life will be able to make it.

A debate about the veil

The Parks event’s 1 p.m. conclusion will leave you more than enough time to scoot up to Collegeville, where four College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University professors will stage a debate intended to unfold much more civilly than most of those that clogged the airwaves in recent weeks. The topic: Is a full-face veil harmful to women?

Members of the audience will be given two cents on their way in to “Pennies for Your Thoughts” and asked to vote with one coin at the start. Next, computer science and theology professor Noreen Herzfeld and assistant professor of political science Christi Siver will defend the claim and English professor Madhu Mitra and theology professor Vincent Smiles will speak against it. 

At the end, the other pennies will be cast to see whether the discourse moved anyone. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. at Gorecki Family Theater in the Benedicta Arts Center of the College of Saint Benedict and is free and open to the public.

A grade school, high school and college fomenting so much community and civic-mindedness — one can only hope it trickles up and wrecks my day job.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 11/20/2012 - 12:20 pm.

    A wee correction

    Your Humble Blogger’s Sainted Mother, of all people, writes to say that Parks, whom she greatly admires, was in fact born in her mother’s hometown, Ft. Scott, Kansas.

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