Lewisville ISD helping Chin refugees satisfy foreign language requirement

One North Texas school district has found a way to help a group of refugees meet graduation requirements.

The students have already overcome significant obstacles outside of school.

Lewisville has a large community of Chin refugees. Many of them escaped political and religious persecution as Christians in their home country of Myanmar. But since their language is so rare, there wasn’t a way to give the high school students credit for speaking a second language to meet Texas requirements — until now.

There are about 40 Chin students at Lewisville ISD’s Killough High School. Once a week, they get together for Chin Club where they speak to each other both in English and their native language that they speak at home.

“At home, my dad was like ‘Whenever we are at home, use only Chin because it’s really easy to forget our language if you don’t speak it,’” said sophomore Hanah Sung.

The Chin refugees who spoke to FOX 4 lived in a village and did not know any English or even how to write in Chin when they came to America and, ultimately, Lewisville.

Their churches have since helped them learn to write the language. But unlike immigrants who speak common languages and can get credit for speaking two languages to graduate high school, there was no foreign language test for Chin.

“They would come to me and say when will there be a test in Chin. Why do we have to learn Spanish or French on top of this? It was a really valid question,” said Killough High School counselor Tara Pierce.

Lewisville ISD decided to do something about it. They worked with an assessment company to develop a test of the Chin language so they could earn the foreign language credit required to graduate.

Last week, Annie Rivera with Lewisville ISD got to see students react as they took the test.

“I observed smiles, giddiness, and giggles because they were surprised to see their language in a test that counts for credit,” she said. “I think there was comradery looks of connection as they were able to have their identity validated through the test.”

“Seeing the test on the computer in school is really an honor for us,” Sung said.

Now that their foreign language requirement is satisfied, the district says it frees the students up to focus on the courses related to their career paths.