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Against the odds: Hmong student success

Hmong student success

By Katie Anderson

From M, summer 2004

While studying the effects of part-time work on high school students, Jeylan Mortimer and her team of researchers made a surprising discovery: Hmong high school students were succeeding at levels equal to and above their non-Hmong peers, despite such obstacles as early marriage, poverty, and teen pregnancy. Mortimer, professor of sociology, has tracked 1,000 young people during their transition from high school to adulthood (most today are in their 30s) to see how working during high school affects their future educational success and ability to make the transition into adulthood. When the study began, researchers noticed that the Hmong participants, all of whom were first-generation immigrants, had "very high educational aspirations," despite backgrounds that typically would predispose them to lower levels of school success. Their families were poor, and most of their parents had little formal education. And by the end of high school, 70 percent of the girls were married and 50 percent had at least one child--reflecting the tradition of early marriage and childbearing in the Hmong culture. Despite these apparent disadvantages, the Hmong students had significantly higher grade point averages than their non-Hmong peers. Most graduated with their class and went on to college. Mortimer attributes this success to strong family support and high academic expectations by parents.

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