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US School Maintains Cambodian Culture

PHOTO SLIDESHOW by Stephane Janin, click here.

Anywhere Cambodians are around the world, they find ways to preserve Khmer literature and Cambodian identity. In Lowell, Mass., that has meant a public charter school that helps teach US-Cambodian children about Cambodian arts, history, music and culture.

Eng Rida, director of, said the school teaches US and immigrant children, including those from South America or Africa.

"We have the ability to let our students study Khmer history, South American history, and the history of other countries, from where they have moved to live in the US as immigrants," he said.

Students can choose to learn in Khmer or Spanish, he said.

Besides helping students with a free education, the charter school also helps parents by offering after-school programs for the children.

"I think we take care of them very well, so that it can help reduce the burden on parents," Eng Rida said.

The school was established in 2000 with support from the US government, growing from 200 students in the beginning to about 950, eight years later. The school is considered a public school, and does not make a profit. Of those, 300 are Cambodian.

Eng Rida said he planned to expand the school to accommodate more students and more grade levels, and he hoped to establish an exchange program with Cambodian schools.

Eighth-grader Sok Sovanarith said his school was a leading institution in the state and took great care in educating students.

"This school always has a new program to teach us from year to year, in order to teach us about Cambodian society, American society and societies of some other countries societies."

The charter school was much different from schools in Cambodia, he said.

"We study eight hours per day and six days a week here, but in Cambodia the students study only four hours per day and five days a week," he said. "The students here have more time to work and have discussions with the teacher. Furthermore, we have the after-school program, which allow us to stay in the school so we can talk more with the teachers and the teachers always help us whenever we need. In Cambodia we don't have this kind of program."

Livan Yary, who teaches painting and ceramics at the school, said the method of US instruction is to show students how to learn from their own creations, which is a much different approach from Cambodian schools, where students receive exact interpretations of subjects from their teachers.

"After I explain to them how to paint like this and that or so on, then I will let them do it themselves or let them create by themselves, no matter what kind of picture will come out of their painting," he said. "Here they teach them to know how to create first, but back in Cambodia everything has the be exactly the same as the teacher does, or they won't have a score."