Middle school success coach pulls community together

Published 8:42 pm Thursday, August 24, 2017

Born in refugee camp, Albert Lea woman helps English learners

A success coach at Southwest Middle School is helping students learn the English language in the same district where she received help learning the language.

Email newsletter signup

KaSee Yar, 23, was born in Thailand at Mae La Refugee Camp — a refugee camp established in 1984 by refugees fleeing the Burmese government.

Her family moved to St. Paul in 2008 when she was 14 years old. Yar said she initially found the transition difficult.

“We did not understand anything,” she said. “We had no friends either at the school, because at the time, there were not many Karen people,” she said.

Yar attended school in St. Paul before moving to Albert Lea, where she graduated from Albert Lea High School in 2012.

Yar needed help passing the 10th grade Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment reading test, which was required to graduate at that time.

“At that point, when I met KaSee, she had already taken the test 12 times and had not passed it, and so then the school had me meet with KaSee and other kids as well,” said Elementary Services Coordinator Mary Jo Dorman. “If you speak a second language, it’s hard. So we worked on it.”

KaSee Yar works with students Tuesday at Southwest Middle School. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

The news of Yar passing the MCA test was revealed the month before she graduated. A surprise party was held for her, which included counselors, principals, a breakfast and balloons.

Yar attended Inver Hills Community College before transferring to Riverland Community College, where she graduated with a radiology degree last spring.

As a success coach, Yar is responsible for translating information between Karen students and staff. She helps students fill out registration forms and translates information during conferences and orientation ceremonies. She calls the families of Karen students to make school announcements.

“The best part is getting to know more families every year,” she said. “I get to work with nice coworkers.” 

Yar said she enjoys helping students succeed in school.

“I feel good that I can help them to catch up with their assignments or their homework,” she said.

Yar enjoys getting to the know the families of the students she serves and being in English learner classes.

“It is where you can meet, like, not just Karen students, but other students who are from different countries, too, so you get to know them — their culture, too,” she said. 

Yar said parents typically thank her for her work during the school year, while students usually thank her at the end of the year.

Dorman spoke highly of Yar’s work with community outreach. She served as interpreter when school principals attended Zion Karen Baptist Church and gathered feedback. 

“She’s really good at pulling the school and families together,” Dorman said. 

Yar was born in Thailand at Mae La Refugee Camp — a refugee camp established in 1984 by refugees fleeing the Burmese government. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

email author More by Sam