Why Our Hmong Students Are Struggling in School?

A Call for Parent Involvement

“Txoj kev kawm yog tus yawm sij rau lub neej zoo lawm yav pem suab,” or “education is the key to a good future,” is a phrase a lot of us grew up hearing. Chances are, if you’re a teenager or young adult, your parents have sat you down to stress the importance of education and pursuing college. What our parents often fail to understand is that school is NOT easy and simply going to school is not enough. Colleges want students who are excelling academically, involved in (multiple) extracurricular activities, and consistently active in their community. So many Hmong parents stress the importance of school that they view opportunities for their children to build a desirable college application as a distraction from their academics. And even those students who convince their parents to let them participate in extracurriculars are often met with little support. Parents, and sometimes even students themselves, fail to recognize that parent involvement and support are crucial for student motivation and success.  

As students continue onto college, the need for parent involvement and support remains. Ecological Factors in Hmong American Educational Success, a study done by California State University, found that in 2013, 21.9% of Hmong Americans had a high school diploma as their highest degree of education, and only 3.3% obtained a graduate or professional degree. 

The same study shows that at Sacramento State University, the fall 2011 cohort’s four-year graduation rate was only 8.3 percent. The percentage increased to 18.8% for the same four-year degree but completed in six years. 

Furthermore, the Hmong students at Sacramento State who participated in the study identified that staff mentors (92.8%) and peer mentors (89.2%) were very helpful in motivating them to complete their degrees. Another key factor for motivation was communication with their families (98%). Thus, parent support is important, even in college, for student motivation and success.

Now, why are students in such dire need of parent involvement? Humans are wired to have a self-system model of motivational development (SSMMD); this means that we need to connect with others in order to learn how to thrive in our environments. Essentially, having strong relationships with others gives us motivation to live a productive lifestyle. How does this connect with education? Well, a student’s educational success is dependent on their motivation which is fueled by support from people that they have relationships with. And the most important relationship for a lot of children is their relationship with their parents or caregivers.

To further strengthen the point that parent involvement and support is crucial for student success we can look at psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He discovered that in order for any human to achieve their fullest potential, all of their basic needs have to be met first. Belonging, family, and relationships are listed as some of the many needs we have to fulfill. Therefore, love and support from parents is crucial for student success!

I’m quite fortunate because I have parents who are involved and supportive of my educational endeavors. I recognize it is a privilege I have that many other people do not. However, my credibility stems from going to school with Hmong students and teaching Hmong students. From the stories that I hear and witness, it is clear that many of our Hmong parents still have to learn the importance of parent involvement and support. It may seem like a small need, but it is one of the most important needs for motivation. 

In my senior year of high school, I went to support my friend’s badminton game. After the game, she looked completely defeated. I asked her what was wrong, and she replied that she was disappointed that her parents didn’t come support her. I tried to lighten her mood by suggesting that her parents might have been too busy to attend, but my friend replied, “They had all four years to make one appearance. I know they’re busy, but they couldn’t have put me first for once?” 

The summer of 2020, I landed a fellowship to teach low-income and under-resourced students at a summer enrichment camp. A good majority of the students were Hmong. One day I noticed that one of my students was visibly upset. He always had a smile on his face but this particular day his smile was nonexistent. We had a really good relationship, so it didn’t take much for him to confess, “I’m just stressed out because I’m scared that I won’t be good enough for my parents.” He was only 12 years old. 

Children seek their parents’ approval. Verbal affirmation is so important. Being present to witness your child’s hard work is crucial for their happiness, motivation, and success. 

Recently my mom and I had a conversation about the importance of parent involvement and support. My mom told me that many parents don’t have the luxury to make time to be physically present but that parents try their best to support their children. I agree. Many of us come from low income and impoverished neighborhoods. Our parents’ workday and night to make ends meet. However, it costs zero time to verbalize your support. As parents if you can’t be present, be LOUD. It means so much more than you think.

I also reminded my mom that money is important, but it does not mean everything. Your child will remember how much you worked to provide for them, but they will also remember all the times you weren’t there to support them. They will remember the times they played in the state championships alone; they will remember when they had to receive their award alone; they will remember all the times you were absent. To busy parents trying to make ends meet, we appreciate you but your love, your time, your support–even for a brief moment–means so much more. 

Again, it costs zero time and effort to sit down and ask your child what they’re learning in school, how their game went, when their next awards night is, and don’t be afraid to ask how you can support them. 



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