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Des Moines High School Welcomes Country's Newest Citizens

  • What better venue in Iowa’s Des Moines Public Schools for a naturalization ceremony than Hoover High School, designated an International Baccalaureate World School with students from homelands all around the world?

    For some in attendance – new citizens in waiting – it even seemed like homecoming.

    Several were alumni of the school.

    Others were parents of district students who received assistance prepping for their citizenship exams with help of the school system’s Bilingual Family Liaisons, including Aung Han, who himself was naturalized in 2015 eight years after arriving in the United States from Burma. 

    The event in September was memorable for 197 new American citizens from 56 countries, and also resulted in U.S. citizenship for their children under age 18.  When Christin Tombe, from South Sudan, took the oath of allegiance, for instance, she gained citizen status for her four children, all of them students in the Des Moines school system. Newest U.S. citizens

    The setting was especially gratifying for Hser Del Moo, 18, a senior at Hoover. Her mother became a naturalized citizen last March, so Hser’s four younger sisters also achieved that status. But Hser was already 18 and had to pursue citizenship herself. Her mother helped her study.

    “I was born in Thailand in a (refugee) camp. We came to America when I was 6,” Hser said in a Des Moines school district news release. “I’m proud that I passed my test and my parents are proud, too.” She missed orchestra and choir classes to attend but she gained so much – not only becoming eligible to vote but also for federal and private financial aid that may boost her dreams of college.

    Another new citizen was Chuong Vo, born in Vietnam, who graduated from a Des Moines high school and now works for the district. Vo had his own cheering section – six colleagues attended to applaud his swearing-in.

    Mckenzie Kennedy, social studies curriculum director for the district, helped coordinate the event and served as an usher and on-the-spot photographer for some of the new Americans. She spotted three of her former students among the new citizens. “How cool is that?” she asked.

    Des Moines Public Schools regards itself as a crossroads district, with students coming from all parts of the world so naturalization ceremonies in the setting of a school seem altogether appropriate. “I think it is the kind of thing that makes sense for us to continue,” said Pablo Ortega, the district’s ELL director.