Education a top priority for Asians

Education a top priority for Asians
After-school tutoring in demand as parents aim high
Article Last Updated:11/05/2006 06:58:32 PM PST

SANTA CLARITA – For most kids, the school day is over by 3 p.m.

But for many Korean-American students, that is when the real learning begins.

“Hagwon” schools are traditional Korean after-school institutes that have migrated to the United States along with Korean immigrants.

Now, with first- and second-generation Koreans migrating to Santa Clarita, more and more hagwons are opening their doors locally.

“Education is central to the Asian culture,” said Sam Chung, a tutor at a hagwon at the Korean Santa Clarita Presbyterian Church.

Chung, a 25-year-old graduate of the University of California, Irvine, said the emphasis Asian families and Korean families in particular put on education is difficult to explain to people who are not Asian.

“Our parents were immigrants who had to leave everything behind to come to this country for more opportunities,” Chung said.

“Because of their language barrier and cultural barriers they were not able to do as well and instilled in their kids education as the only way to succeed.”

From its exterior, Valencia Academy could be confused with any other tutoring center, but director Harold Lee quickly disputes that idea. This system
is far more intense.

“Here in Valencia we have good jobs, good streets, but in the schools … parents ask counselors about their kids going to college and they say it’s OK if they go to community college,” Lee said, noting Asian parents want their children in top universities.

Lee charges about $400 a week for an average of 12 hours of after-school tutoring. Working in small groups and emphasizing individualized attention, Lee helps his students with all types of subjects including algebra, advanced placement biology and preparation for the SAT.

Nine-year-old Jamie, who comes to Valencia Academy Monday through Friday, admitted that while he would rather do something else after school the academy helps him with his studies.

“I finish my homework in 15 minutes,” Jamie said with a smile.

Jamie watches his manners with Lee, respect he doesn’t see from American children.

“They do not respect their elders, and are rude,” he said. “It’s not right.”

For Lee, the focus on education in the Korean community comes as a result of the Korean War.

“People were so poor and there was so little industry that all they could do was farm and raise chickens,” Lee said.

Yongho Kim, a Korean researcher who attended hagwon schools in Korea, said his culture’s academic focus goes back to the 18th century Choseon Dynasty, when the king administered a test to decide whether a person was worthy of prestige, Kim said.

That created a focus on education, and hagwon schools developed later as a way for parents to keep their children in an academic environment after school.

In Korea, Kim said, the hagwon schools take children starting at age 6 and also offer martial arts and even music.

The institutes are expensive and have been criticized by some as giving an advantage to more affluent families.

The hagwon schools gain importance for high school students when they are preparing for college entrance exams, and teens will sometimes stay studying until 9 p.m.

Kim thinks the tradition has remained strong in the United States because it gives parents peace of mind.

“Parents feel safe that the youth are doing something as opposed to just hanging out with their friends,” Kim said.

While test scores in local schools are delineated for Korean-American students, state scores were highest in the schools with the highest percentage of Korean students.

In Newhall Elementary School District, API scores topped out at Stevenson Ranch, where Asian students, predominantly Korean, make up 14 percent of the student population.

Oak Hills Elementary was second at 904, where the school is 27 percent Asian.

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