If you were a school principal, how far would you go to learn more about the culture of your students? Try 14 days, 5 cities, 13 long and short round trip airplane flights, and 50 hours of flying time covering a total of nearly 18,000 miles. That’s what Ronnie Sims, the principal of Fleming Academy put into his effort to learn more about the Hmong culture than he already knew. Hmong children make up part of the student population at Fleming and Mr. Sims paid his way to visit their homelands and learn how to better connect with the parents and his students.

He was accompanied by one of the Hmong teachers at Fleming, Maykao Lytongpao. Their travels took them to villages in the mountainous area of Laos and Thailand that Ms. Lytongpao and many of the Hmong families whose children now attend Fleming, once called home. For Mr. Sims it opened up a whole new world that was both humbling and enlightening.

“It made me appreciate the little things in our lives here like safe drinking water and electricity-comforts that we take for granted. The people there live hard lives. I can better appreciate and understand the enormous change that occurred when they came to this country and why they wanted to come,’ said Mr. Sims. “I also understand why they hold principals and learning in the highest regard. Principals are called directors in their country and treated with a great deal of respect,” he added.

But the lesson is still in progress. Upon his return, Mr. Sims had many stories to tell about his step into Hmong culture. He also had more work to do so he called two Hmong youngsters into his office. A little nervous, they wondered why but their faces brightened up fast when he asked them to teach him the Hmong language.

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