Scholarship fund fends with Asian stereotype
Seattle Times education reporter
Nearly 80 percent of Japanese-American 10th-graders passed the state's standardized math test last year in Seattle Public Schools. As a group, they did better than any other ethnic group in the district.
Only 14 percent of Samoan students passed the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning -- the lowest percentage of any ethnic group in the district.
There are vast social and cultural differences between the two groups that play into their success in school. Yet on a scholarship application, students from both would check the same box: Asian/Pacific Islander. So would students who trace their heritage to at least seven other Asian countries or islands.
The diversity of Asian/Pacific Islander students makes providing them scholarships complicated. Until five years ago, there wasn't a national scholarship fund for Asian/Pacific Islander students, even though funds for African-American and Latino students had existed for decades. A national group meeting Monday in Seattle is working to provide more scholarships to Asian and Pacific Islander students who need them.
"There are assumptions that all Asians go to college, that they are all good in math, that they are diligent, study hard, etc.," said Ted Mashima, the president and executive director of the group, the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund. "There's a lack of a unified thread other than geography that lumps us all together."
The scholarship fund, or APIASF, is holding a community reception today at the Seattle Asian Art Museum from 5 to 7:30 p.m. On Tuesday, the group will hold its annual board meeting in Seattle.
The scholarship organization formed in 2003, after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began its Gates Millennium Scholars program. The foundation had money for Asian students, but no group existed to accept the funds.
"That was a wake-up call to the Asian/Pacific Islander community to say, 'Hey, we need to get our act together to do something for our youth,' " said board chairwoman Wai-Ling Eng.
Today, APIASF, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, gives out about 200 scholarships a year and selects Gates Millennium Scholars. As a fairly new group, it has no endowment and spends a lot of time raising money. A comparable group for African-American students, the United Negro College Fund, has existed for 60 years and is working toward a $1 billion endowment.
Asian and Pacific Islander students make up about a quarter of the 46,000 students in Seattle Public Schools.
In Seattle, the director of an after-school program for Pacific Islander students, von Paul Patu, said he feels Pacific Islander students are sometimes lost in the shuffle. Potential funders may feel that since Asian/Pacific Islander students are doing well as a group, they don't need extra help.
"When it comes to South Pacific Islanders, in particular, we are way different [from Asian students]," he said. "Our kids are dropping out, having problems across the board. We hope that this new board, new superintendent will sympathize and do their duties and respond with compassion to recognize the South Pacific Island students."
His organization provides counseling, after-school tutoring and support for South Pacific Islander students, but he said the group has struggled to find funding.
One way to make sure groups get their unique needs met is for the district and scholarship groups to work with ethnic-community groups, said School Board President Cheryl Chow.
"I think the Samoan/Pacific Islander students do have a different set of challenges that are different from Asian kids, because each culture is so different," she said.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gates Millennium Scholars program was established in 1999. The Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund was established four years later, in 2003. A story in The Seattle Times, originally published Jan. 28 and corrected on Feb. 16, said the two were founded at the same time.
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