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US-Cambodians Seek Solutions for Dropouts

Growing up, a teenager can divert from a normal life in society as an adult by getting involved in gangs or drugs, or becoming pregnant at a young age. Many such teens have troubled lives at home that include abuse or negligence.

Cambodian teenagers in the US are no different. They face a number of challenges that can lead to their dropping out of school, including family and social pressures, said Var Sereyvuth, a liaison of the Community and Family Engagement Network to school districts in Fresno, Calif.

Many simply can't finish school because they must work to support their families, he said.

At least one group in Fresno is seeking to curb the dropout trend by putting Cambodian teenagers back in touch with their roots and their parents.

Nhim Setha, executive director of the Khmer Emerging Education Program, said Cambodian children, ignorant and disregarding their cultural background, sometimes drift away from their parents and school.

"We believe for the students that dropped out of school or joined gangs, there was no program available to help or educate them," Nhim Setha said. "The Khmer Emerging Education Program is teaching Cambodian children in the Fresno community to write and to read Khmer, which means learning a new alphabet. Alongside grammar, we teach them morals and bring them closer to their parents, which in turn has improved their performance in school."

The most important lessons the group has learned are that parents should spend time with their children, provide children with after-school activities and give them the attention and love they need.

The risk factors affecting Cambodian high school dropouts include poor grades, disinterest in school, lack of money, laziness, marriage pressure, failing grades, learning disabilities, social or cultural problems, peer pressure and full time work. Some teenagers don't see the benefit of finishing school, Var Sereyvuth said.

"Another reason for the high rate of Cambodian dropouts is from parents who are unable to provide the necessary day-to-day care," he said. "This is from uneducated parents, parents with gambling addictions, parents who cannot communicate with their children due to lack of English skills or, simply, parents who just don't care."

Another large problem is the growing groups of Cambodian gangs who continually recruit children and teenagers to sell drugs or participate in other illegal acts.

Teenagers may feel overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are going through. At the same time, teens may be facing a number of pressures from friends to fit in as well as to perform well in school from parents, adults.