Ariel Wyckoff, a board member of Friends of Mongolia, a Washington area nonprofit group, said Mongolian is the second most widely spoken language in Arlington schools.
Nomin’s parents — middle-class professionals with master’s degrees — spoke very little English when they came to the United States, and they emphasized the importance of their children maintaining the Mongolian language.
“We had to speak Mongolian at home,” Nomin said. “That was the one rule we had.”
Nomin’s parents were hardly the only Mongolians worried that their children would forget their native language.
“I saw my kids were losing Mongolian,” said Munguntsetseg Frankosky, a Mongolian parent and leader in the Arlington Mongolian community. “I was losing Mongolian.”
So she founded a school.
Learning about home
Modeled after Arlington’s Escuela Bolivia, the Mongolian School of the National Capital Area serves upwards of 50 Mongolian students from toddlers to teenagers, teaching the Mongolian language, script, history and culture.
As children assimilated quickly, parents were noticing their kids preferred to speak English to Mongolian, which was disappointing to parents and grandparents, said Wyckoff, whose wife is a teacher at the school.
“Immediately they’re taking American names, they’re learning English,” he said. “That’s the nature of the Mongolian culture. They adapt very quickly.”
Frankosky and co-founder Nyamsuren Dash, who has since returned to Mongolia, opened the school five years ago, and it has become a thriving center of the Mongolian immigrant community.
“Eager teachers, helpful parents and joyful kids all mixed together for a successful school,” she said over a lunch of mantuu buuz (fluffy Mongolian meat dumplings) and niistel salad (Mongolian potato salad), which a volunteer makes for the kids at the school.
The school meets Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with some electives going later, and is staffed by volunteers who were teachers in Mongolia. As a nonprofit group, it runs on donations and a small tuition charge.
Nomin was there the year it opened. At 17, she was too old to be a student, so she volunteered instead. She called the first year “hectic” but loved helping out other Mongolian families.
“The thing that I most liked about being there was I got to see many Mongolian people at the same time,” she said. “It was very homelike to me.”
One recent Saturday, fourth-graders practiced vocabulary for vegetables in a classroom of the Wilson Building. In another classroom, younger kids learned to sing the Mongolian national anthem, hands crossed over their hearts. Older kids practiced writing, and across the hall, others learned Mongolian geography.