Diocesan News

St. Michael’s Academy Battles Hate and Fosters Healing Through Asian Studies 

Principal Maureen Rogone (right) and Outreach Coordinator Sister Mary Ruan, pictured with students at a kindergarten graduation ceremony, both said the focus on Asian-American studies has benefitted the school as well as the students. (Photo: Courtesy of Maureen Rogone)

WINDSOR TERRACE — At a time when attacks against Asian-Americans have risen more than 300% in New York, educators at one Queens Catholic school are using Asian-themed curricula to help students learn not to hate.

Administrators in some local K-12 schools are being urged to introduce lessons in Asian history and culture as a way to battle stereotypes and increase understanding of Asian contributions to American life.

They might want to pay a visit to St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Flushing to see how it’s done.

St. Michael’s — where 70% of the students are Asian — has been offering an immersive American-Asian education for eight years. That means students have just as many classes in Mandarin as they do in English, and learn about Asian history and culture.

“We’re a dual language immersion school. Our Mandarin is aligned with New York State standards,” said Principal Maureen Rogone, who explained how it works at her school.

“In primary grades, if I’m teaching about plants and animals in English, I’m also doing it in Mandarin,” she said. 

Sister Mary Ruan, the outreach coordinator at St. Michael’s Academy, said parents there are excited.

“I speak in Chinese to them and they feel comfortable. They think, ‘I can communicate very well with the school.’ I tell them, ‘We are here to help you.’ They feel respected,” she said.

In turn, the students have embraced the dual-language curriculum. Teresa Xue, 11, said she relishes being able to display pride in her Chinese-American identity.

“I can learn both about my religion and study deeper about it while still having my Chinese roots and keeping a part of that as well,” she told Currents News.

In the city’s public schools, where Asian-American students make up 18% of the population, parents have been clamoring for a more inclusive curriculum. In April, four parents wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter demanding an increase in the number of lessons on Asian-American experiences taught to students. More than 2,500 parents co-signed the letter. 

“Education is among the best antidotes to racism and must start in the earliest grades,” the letter read, in part. 

The dual-language focus at St. Michael’s began out of a desire to reflect the population of Flushing, which is largely Asian, Rogone said. According to the 2010 Census, 69.2% of Flushing residents are Asian. The emphasis on Asian studies is particularly important there, the principal added.

“It shows cultural acceptance. We are contradicting what is happening on the streets,” she said.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — which was reported to have been first detected in China — attacks on Asian Americans have skyrocketed.

There has been a 335% jump in hate crimes against Asians in New York this year as compared to 2020, NYPD figures show. Between January 1 and May 31, a total of 87 anti-Asian hate crimes were reported. During the same time period in 2020, there were 20.

But the surge in hate crimes targeting Asians is not limited to New York. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino looked at statistics from 16 U.S. cities and found a 164% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the first quarter of 2021 as compared to 2020.

The group Stop AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Hate announced that more than 6,600 anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lawmakers have joined the move toward inclusiveness in the classroom. In May, Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng introduced a bill to require Presidential and Congressional academies to include Asian-American history in their grant applications. 

“Asian Pacific American history is an integral part of American history and this must be reflected in what our children learn in school,” Meng said in a statement.

St. Michael’s has benefitted from its educational approach, Rogone said. “I think it has enhanced our Catholic identity. We are taking Chinese values and merging them with our Catholic faith.