Hoa Mai opened its doors to the South Seattle Community with a celebration on January 21, 2016. • Photo by Joy Chu
Hoa Mai opened its doors to the South Seattle Community with a celebration on January 21, 2016. • Photo by Joy Chu

As the first Vietnamese-English dual-language child development center in the Northwest, Hoa Mai Vietnamese Bilingual Preschool became a point of pride for Seattle’s Vietnamese community when they opened their doors to the South Seattle community on January 21.

A celebration held at the preschool, located across from the Mt. Baker light rail station, featured the preschoolers, who sang three songs in both Vietnamese and English. Their performance was followed by a lion dance. Painted paper boats and drawings made by the preschoolers decorated the entire room.

“The opening of Hoa Mai is a really big deal because it is the only Vietnamese bilingual preschool in the state,” said Vietnamese Friendship Association Executive Director James Hong. “This is a page turner in the history of Vietnamese students because it shows that we have come a long way as a community,”

The idea for the preschool came after the Vietnamese Friendship Association conducted a community-wide study within the Vietnamese community five years ago. The study found two major concerns among parents: fears of their children losing their Vietnamese language and culture, and the growing educational barriers that prevented many in the community from succeeding in high school.

Partnering with Sound Child Care Solutions and Artspace, the Vietnamese Friendship Association created Hoa Mai as a dual language preschool that would address both issues.

Hong cited the City of Seattle as a major funder of the preschool through the Seattle Preschool Program (SPP).

Hoa Mai offers two classes for children three- to five-years-old that are in partnership with the program. Because SPP only covers six hours a day and Hoa Mai is a year-round and full-day program, families will need to pay tuition based on income. The third class is for toddlers from 20 months to five-years-old and is funded through tuition and other subsidies, like DSHS.

“It’s been really challenging developing the day-to-day operations and developing the curriculum,” said preschool teacher John Son Nguyen, “but it’s been great and we’re really finding our groove.”

Hoa Mai offers a blended curriculum based on the Soy Bilingue (Dual Language) approach: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings are taught in Vietnamese and the afternoon in English, and then flipped on Tuesday and Thursday.

Alan Wagner said of his granddaughter’s experience at Hoa Mai: “She’s very happy to be here. I think it’s a good idea to have a broader culture exposure than just white culture, and Hoa Mai is doing a good job with that.”

Although the creation of the preschool was to address the needs of the Vietnamese community, Hoa Mai Creative Director Gloria Hodge says that the goal is to have 50/50 enrollment of Vietnamese families and families of all races from around the South Seattle community.

With their initial opening this past December, Hoa Mai currently serves 15 children, with the space to enroll 48 children.

“The biggest struggle we faced was having access to the resources to ensure that we can make the preschool a reality … we deserve a space to preserve our language and culture, and also to share our language and culture with everyone else,” Hong said.

The biggest struggle for many refugee and immigrant families, Hong explained, is the lack of the type of support from public institutions to really invest in diversity and really invest in refugee and immigrant communities.

“Right now, we are the only dual language provider in the SPP, but I hope this continues to expand to other languages,” Hong said. “I think that could be really amazing, working with other refugee and immigrant families to expand to all communities.”

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