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Growing community in Bethel’s backyard

By: Lindsey Micucci

Last school year Bethel University hosted one PSEO student from Hmong College Prep Academy. This year, there are 12.

Bethel’s partnership with Hmong College Prep Academy started three years ago when HCPA needed a new authorizer, which was previously held by Concordia University St. Paul.

HCPA is a charter school located on the east side of St. Paul. A charter school is a public school that is not under a school district, but stands as its own. In order to follow education laws, charter schools need an authorizer to oversee operations and ensure that all requirements are met.

Bethel’s partnership coordinator Heather Ross oversees the three schools that Bethel authorizes. Ross explained that Bethel stepped into this role because of its qualities represented in the K-12 school system: overall academic performance, commitment to their students and focus on continual improvement.

Bethel runs a capped PSEO program, so they only accept the top 100 applicants that best fit the criteria. This year, 12 HCPA applicants were selected, the most ever to attend Bethel’s PSEO program from this school.

Last year, 67 percent of PSEO students returned to Bethel as freshmen, the highest this campus has ever seen. Director of admissions Bret Hyder attributes the increased number of students to the community found at Bethel.

“There’s something in the water here,” Hyder said. “There’s something about community and the way that the community embraces PSEO students.”

Hyder explained the main reason why PSEO students from HCPA increased this year: their new accessibility to transportation. The students came to Hyder with their need for transportation and Bethel responded by providing a shuttle.

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Hmong Academy students are dropped off for the school day by the Bethel shuttle bus. | Photo by Mara Hayes

HCPA is in Bethel University’s backyard. It is a 10-minute drive, but for most students, the commute to Bethel wouldn’t be a viable option without the Bethel shuttle.

In Hmong families and communities like HCPA, typically the eldest child stays close to home and helps care for their younger siblings. Because of the shuttle service, students can choose both family and school.

PSEO student Hlee Yang can attest to this. Every morning, she rides the HCPA bus with her little sister. From there, she hops onto the Bethel shuttle at 7:40 a.m. and gets dropped off at the CLC Circle. The Bethel shuttle also takes students back to HCPA at 2:30 p.m. so they can catch the school bus to go home.

The shuttle service provides the solution for high school students to receive college credits while still living at home to help out with their families.

Associate Professor of Education Seann Dikkers assisted with the partnership’s formation process.  He said the most rewarding part of it all is “giving access to students who didn’t know they had that access. It’s a really simple thing for us to do [in supplying the shuttle].”

Cha Taw, who hopes to major in nursing, and Yang are both high school seniors attending Bethel’s PSEO program from HCPA. They are thankful to be studying at Bethel and for the “great opportunity” that the shuttle provides.

Taw and Yang both expressed excitement for the amount of free time and independence, even though both of them got lost on their way to their first class. “It’s tough,” Taw confessed as she has found that the expectations of homework are quite different than in high school.

Since the majority of HCPA students are Hmong, Yang looked forward to meeting new people at Bethel.

“People are really nice here and welcoming,” she said. “It was kind of a culture shock for me. Because I had a majority of Hmong friends, and everyone at my high school was basically Hmong, so when I came here it was different and it was really big.”

Yang was hesitant to attend Bethel at first because she practices Shamanism.

“It affected me a little bit because I thought I wouldn’t fit into the community because I’m not Christian,” she said. “I didn’t grow up knowing the Bible as others here have.”

When asked if having teachers pray in class added to the culture shock, she said, “Oh no, not at all. I see that more as a blessing and something that I take as an honor and appreciate.”

Both Yang and Taw expressed their views on the community and appreciation for the Cultural Connection Center.

“I don’t feel lonely because in there I see more diversity than I do in my classes,” Taw said.

“I’m really thankful,” Yang said.

“Thankful and nervous,” Taw added.

At this remark, they both laughed in agreement. Although some aspects of this new school are still foreign to them, the PSEO students support each other through the learning process.

“We’re basically family,” Yang said. “There’s something about Hmong people, where we can’t let go of each other.”

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