[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Last week, Kong spoke English to a roomful of classmates and school officials. "Hong Kong," as fellow students call him, was valedictorian of his class. He had come one step closer to his goals.
In a simple ceremony at the Boston Hoffman School building last Friday, Kong and 48 other Indochinese refugees received certificates marking their graduation. Some of the students were enrolled in the Foreign Born Youth Program (FBYP) while others attended its sister program, the high school Graduate Equivalency Diploma review class.
"This is success," declared Arlington County School Superintendent Charles Nunley in his first speech to a graduating class since he assumed his post July 1.
For these students, achieving success meant trying to forget the hardships of refugee camps left just months earlier or dealing with the loss of close relatives. It meant finding new homes and resuming the education process that had been interrupted in the countries they left. In six months the students learned English as well as completing classes in math and vocational skills. Some passed the high school equivalency examination.
But this will be the last graduating class: Both programs are victims of Reagan administration budget cuts. Money for the programs, which began in 1979 and were funded under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), will run out Sept. 30. They are two among thousands of programs nationwide that will lose funding on that date as a result of Reagan's phase-out of CETA.
There won't be many alternatives for students like Kong, according to Sherie Mitchell, FBYP coordinator. "Most of the other youth programs are also CETA-funded and will be going through the same thing. The adult education programs will be something of a help, but the tuition is a problem and foreign students might not fit into the different English levels of the classes."
The programs were part of the Refugee Education and Employment Program (REEP), an umbrella organization for several federally funded refugee assistance programs. The Foreign Born Youth Program was started in April 1979 with a six-month CETA grant from Arlington County. It was later extended with CETA funds from the Governor's Economic and Training Council.
In June 1981, the program was cited by the council for "outstanding contributions to the state CETA program."
The GED review class was started in March 1981 with funds from the Virginia Rufugee Assistance Program, also CETA-originated.
Since its inception, 225 youths, mostly from Arlington and Fairfax counties, have gone through the Foreign Born Youth Program. Many graduates have gone on to Northern Virginia Community College for further language study or other classes. "Others have gone into skills training programs such as computer technology, and still others have jobs as clerks and in hotels," said Mitchell.
There is no possiblity of further funding for the GED class, Mitchell said. There is a slim chance a program similar to FBYP will be revived if Arlington County has left-over funds for youth programs, but the chances "do not look good," she said. The budget situation will not be known until at least mid-October.
Meanwhile, need for the programs continues: Indochinese refugees are coming into the country at the rate of about 8,000 a month, said REEP Director Joyce Schuman.
Like Kong, almost all the students in the programs came to the United States within the last year speaking minimal, if any, English.
"Many of them have had no education or had their education disrupted in their home countries," said Meritt Chesley, who teaches the GED review class in which the more advanced students are placed. "(Yet) for the (GED) test, they have to know in six months what the rest of us learned in regular high school and all our lives." Four of the 11 students who took the GED exam in mid-August passed it.
The six-month programs demand six class-time hours on weekdays as well as long hours of studying at home. Four staff members and one volunteer teach English, consumer math and prevocational skills.
Mitchell said the program's major purpose is to help get the students jobs. They are taught how to handle job interviews, fill out applications and where jobs may be available. "In order to get into jobs they need English and they need to understand the job market better," she said.
No more than a dozen parents and relatives attended the graduation ceremony. As Mitchell explained, "that's probably all the close relatives they have here."
Some of the students' families were killed in the war. Kong's father died in 1968 when the bus he was driving rode over a North Vietnamese land mine. Kong now lives in Arlington with his brother; four more brothers and sisters are still in Saigon.
Phansi Yim, 28, and his brother Sotheachaum, 22, have not seen their mother and four brothers and sisters since the Khmer Rouge uprooted the family from their home in Phnom Penh and forced them to work as farmers in separate areas in the countryside. In October 1979, the two brothers fled across the Cambodian-Thai border. They stayed in a huge refugee camp in northeastern Thailand for 10 months and then a cousin here sponsored them for resettlement.
Both Phansi and Sotheachaum have passed the high school equivalency exam while holding down jobs in order to pay the rent at their Falls Church apartment. Phansi had completed one year of mathematics and physics courses at a university in Phnom Penh before the Communists closed all the schools in the country in 1975.
The Yim brothers and other program graduates said if it were not for the two programs they would not have had anywhere to turn in trying to learn basic language and other skills.
"Even the smallest things in a new culture will be difficult," said Kong. Thanks to the FYBP, he said, "at least in America we have the opportunity to get an education."