Wisconsin is home to the third largest population of Hmong immigrants in the country, but students at Pittsville Elementary knew little about their peers from Southeast Asia. Kate Van Haren turned to textbooks, but most social studies information focused on European ancestry. Online research surfaced only immigration statistics and an occasional Hmong recipe.
“I realized a key component of the American immigration story was missing from my curriculum,” said Kate. “My students interacted with the Hmong community due to the large number of families relocated here, so I knew it was a group of people I could create interest around. I designed a Fund for Teachers fellowship to create a narrative around push/pull immigration that affirmed the fact that, despite our differences, most immigrants to the United States and their descendants share similarities with us, as well.”
Kate spent one month traversing Southeast Asia, researching Hmong culture and their modern societies in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Along the way, she learned about the custom of story cloths — series of embroidered pictures that document daily lives and legends. She purchased one from a Hmong tribal woman and created curriculum for fourth grade Wisconsin History and fifth grade US History students. After learning about the Hmong culture and welcoming guest speakers from a local Lao community organization, students drew personal story cloths sharing their personal ancestries.
“The stories of Hmong families who settled in the area are both tragic and heroic, yet my students were unaware of the diversity in our small farming community. It has been amazing to watch how this project opened their eyes to the different groups of people living around them,” said Kate. “In the age of data analysis and standards based testing, developing a globally conscious curriculum becomes more difficult. This fellowship inspired me to continue meeting my goal of shaping students with global and cultural awareness.”