Your Town. Your Voice.
Local Business Search

Burmese children learn to speak their families' native tongue

Friday, June 20, 2014 - 6:12 am

For the first time this summer Burmese classes are being offered at IPFW for the children of Burmese immigrants.

In 2013 Kyaw T. Soe, IPFW New Immigrant Literacy Program director, offered a six-week class using a classroom at the Educational Opportunity Center, 3000 South Wayne Ave. This summer space became available at IPFW to do another intensive six-week program.

Soe started the program a year ago to address the need of many Burmese who moved to Fort Wayne and have children who were born here, or were so young when they came that they never learned much of their culture’s tongue.

Tuesday afternoon Soe was working with about 13 students from grade-school through high school age. Many of the children were the same ones who were in the initial program last summer. This year Soe is offering two six-week classes: script writing in the morning and intensive Burmese in the afternoon.

Soe was teaching his students through repetition, both orally and written script to reinforce the message.

Carol Lindquist, Ed.D, a clinical assistant professor of education at IPFW, said the university was happy it had the space to offer in Neff Hall for the classes. During the school year Soe offers Saturday classes for Burmese students, as well as their parents, to learn English.

Soe organized the program in 2003 with his own money when he saw Burmese students were falling behind in school. The program started with four volunteers: Soe, his wife and two volunteers from the American Red Cross. The goal was to get young Burmese preschoolers and kindergartners ready to start in American schools.

In 2005-06 the program moved to IPFW with help from Joe D. Nichols, chair of the department of educational studies at IPFW, the School of Education, and the support of then-Chancellor Michael Wartell and education school Dean Barry Kanpol.

Between 2006 and 2013 the program helped 1,066 local children, mostly Burmese, Thai, Congolese, Samarian, Hispanic, Indian, Sudanese and Chinese who received one-on-one tutorial services. The program has held dozens of parent workshops and seminars on various topics including the American school system, healthy homes and schools, child abuse and neglect, safety in homes and schools, bridging homes and schools, and the American Dream, and included a chance to meet the Fort Wayne Police Department’s chief.