Le-Quyen Vu is the Program Director of the Indo-Chinese American Council (IAC), one of the CBOs involved with the PISEC project. In that capacity, she is CBO representative to PISEC. Le-Quyen and her husband have two young daughters, Zoey and Emily. Together, Le-Quyen and her family have attended many PISEC events and programs; Le-Quyen herself has played a major role in planning and managing PISEC-related excursions for her CBO community of multi-lingual families.

Takeaway message from Le-Quyen Vu:

It is very hard for second-language parents. A lot of times the children learn the language very fast. So when the parents come home, they have to ask, "What does this mean?" "Can you explain to me what this note said?" But when you do that, it's so formal, you know. The children have to sit and explain.

But in these [museum] settings, it's a lot less formal. The children are explaining to the parents what it is. When English is the second language, the parents a lot of the times do have an education from their country, they do finish high school, but they may not have the education beyond that. They have the basic science. But they don't have the language. So the children explain what is in the exhibits and the parents can learn the English through the children.

When she was first recruited to become a part of PISEC, Le-Quyen saw the program as an opportunity to involve parents in their children's education. As the director of a CBO that focuses on literacy, she immediately saw the program's potential for her constituency.

PISEC to me is not just a field trip; it's science education. As a person who works at the community center, we're always looking for a fun way to present education, and PISEC does that, which is very good. It's hard to get the family to come without the fun part.

When we were recruited [by a staff member at The Academy of Natural Sciences], I was thinking, "Oh, this sounds good. It's cool." But I had little knowledge about what it was about. As I got involved, I saw right away that this was the piece of the puzzle we were looking for. We believe in the motto, "Children, Parents Together" and work with parents whose education is below high-school level. It can be hard to get the parents involved; it's kind of intimidating to them, so this is great, because the parents and children talk together, and I don't have to create something for them.

Le-Quyen found the large PISEC events to be the most memorable. She enjoys taking an active role in greeting her members and is pleased to see whole families taking part in an educational event.

It has always been the big event that's the most joyful memory because I work with my family. My family sees what I do, which is beyond "mommy goes to work in her office." It helps them to understand a little bit more about family literacy and how parents and children are related. Sometimes we do that with our own family, but we forget other people are struggling with it. So that, for me, part of what's memorable is that I get to see whole families, which is amazing. We don't have the manpower or the space to do those things, but PISEC events are venues to connect together and also for the children to be involved and taking part in activities.

I remember working at the Zoo. I was checking people in, seeing the smiles. The event at the Aquarium has always been a popular one. It's hard to pinpoint one especially great event, but standing out there seeing and greeting the people is fun, and my whole family has fun. To me, what I remember most are the people I work with. You know, seeing them, hearing them talk the next day about the Aquarium. They tell me the kids had fun; or say things like, "I did not really realize that the aquarium has hippos." That was one of the first times people went. It was eye-opening and then they show pictures to me. That was a memorable moment. You realize you're part of their family.

Because many of Le-Quyen's constituents don't speak English, multi-generational educational events can be challenging. PISEC took her constituents' needs into account, and provided opportunities for multi-generational, multi-lingual learning.

Well, I've always believed that people learn even when they're not just sitting in the classroom. Learning takes different shapes and ways. The museums, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and The Franklin Institute—all of these offer opportunities to learn.

Most of the time the children go to visit these venues because of a school trip. So the education is from teacher to student, which is different than from parent to children. So these [PISEC] events, to me, have more meaning, because the parents may be recruited with the children to go to these events. They are also learning with the children. Remember I also work with parents who dropped out of school in the fourth or fifth grade. So for them, learning along with the children was wonderful, and it is also a venue where the children could help them. You know, the roles reversed, and I think that was both touching and cool.


I don't know of any museum that's doing it the way you're doing it. We reach out to the Art Museum, for example. The education is entirely different—it's usually a group setting, a school-based setting, a classroom-based setting; it's not a family-based setting, which is what I strongly favor.

Le-Quyen's only frustrations with PISEC are its limitations relative to funding for transportation. She feels she could involve more families if more resources were available.

I just wish that it could be bigger and that the museums had more resources, so that we could do more than this. The limited amount of things that we do—that's the part that I don't like the most. I wish I could just say to everybody at this event, "Bring everybody. Okay, but you can't get there on your own; we'll help you. We're not limited to two buses or three buses."

Last week there was an event. We used to have two buses, but it's limited to one, because the bus fare was three hundred dollars to bring these families. So it was a difficult decision. Do we pick a family from South Philly or North Philly? Which one gets to go this time? That's the part I hate.

Le-Quyen would recommend this program to families as a tool for teaching, bonding, and building positive memories.

I'm a strong believer in education. Education is the key to everything. I'm also a strong believer in education taking different sizes and shapes. These programs are the museums' answer to family outreach. This is how you do it.

I would let families know that this is the time when you build your family's strength, your family connections, but also a time when you get to be your children's teacher. Do it because ten to fifteen years from now, children will remember this. I would tell them, "It's fun—do it."

We have families that come to us and they ask me, "Do you still have the PISEC program? When do you have the trip?" Last week, a family called me who I have not seen for years and said, "I heard something is going on this week is that true? Is there a trip?" I would really say this is where you spend the least money and have the most impact.

Years from now, our children will remember the fun. Today on the way down here, as soon as I turned into the lot, they started to remember what they did. My daughter said, "Mommy, I remember this!" So they started talking. So to me they learn a lot, but to them it's a fun memory—it's the fun memory that they treasure. It's very evident, when I turn onto 21st Street, and they see the lot—they haven't seen the museum yet—my daughter said, "Oh yeah, I remember! I remember! Go here!" They remember about the food, but they remember a lot about the fun.

Le-Quyen sees the PISEC experience as a tool to build scientific curiosity in her family and community. PISEC also inspires and reinforces her children's scientific thinking in daily life.

I work in the social work arena, but my husband is an engineer. So science is something that grew in our family. Wherever we go, we visit science museums. Whatever we do at home is an experiment with science.

We do a lot of science at home. For example, the children are experimenting with different plants this year. They planted the pots last year themselves, and each one has an area. So they're trying to figure out why one area grows and the other one doesn't. Science is something we do constantly. We do that when we're cooking. We make flan at home. Lately I've been lazy so I've been buying them. And then the kids didn't understand why the one we buy was so thick. I have to explain why this one has so many bubbles and this one doesn't.

I think you don't have to be conscious about doing science to explain to children why things are happening—food, materials, whatever it is. I don't make a point in doing that, but subconsciously, the explanations are science-based. To be conscious about not using chemicals, we do that at home a lot. We're slowly explaining to Emily about using all of these chemicals and what it affects. This is slow learning. She's only in kindergarten, so she says, "What is a chemical? What does that mean? How does that happen?"

For our families, PISEC events reinforce our interest in science. Growing up and having good knowledge about science is important in their lives. They have an understanding about people that is related to science. Zoe, right now her dream is to be a vet because she loves animals, she wants to take care of animals, but she also wants to be good at karate. Emily has always loved drawing, so fine arts are something she likes. When she was growing up, we took her to all these workshops on how science related and how you can be many things. So now she wants to be an artist and also wants to be a teacher who teaches math, because she says math is easier to teach. So you know, I think somehow getting involved is the best way to understand how things are related.

We look at it differently because we're the literacy agency. Our goal and our curriculum is really focused on parents as the teachers of the children. So the science aspect helps parents to guide their children through science and not be intimidated about science. For children, everything is educational. Over here at The Franklin Institute they learn about matter and things. At the Zoo they learn about animals. Learning is everywhere—and it's fun.

Before we go to exhibits we talk about them. Before seeing Body Worlds we talked to them, explaining, "You're going to see this; you're going to see that." And as we're going along, we are explaining to them what they see and drawing comparisons with real life. We had to come back twice to Body Worlds because my husband's family came from New Hampshire. He's a doctor so he wanted to show his son about his work. We were trying to explain to them about exercise and wanted to show them people with arthritis. The oldest one is 13. They can relate to that and relate to eating healthy. With this evidence it's easier for them to understand and make personal connections.

Le-Quyen feels that members of her CBO benefit tremendously from the availability of PISEC programs. Without PISEC, she says, few would have the resources to visit the member institutions.

Economically, without the program, our community would not have visited the places. With the program, you know we don't have to plan it—it's just their choice of what we want to do this weekend. Without it, if they asked to do this and go here, we're going to have to plan it out. "Okay, this is going to cost this much, so we're going to have to do it wisely."

Generally, I think without the pass, these four places would not be on their list of a place to go. The pass helps, because if they only have time for two hours, they are still likely to go. If they have to pay they want to make the most out of what they paid. So it would have to be the whole day. So it's less likely the family would pay that much money.

I think they would buy memberships if they could afford it. I think the issue is affordability. Usually a membership is one-and-a-half visits and usually people think of it that way. Most of the time they know that they're paying for it already. Because in the city, some classes take these children to these events.

It is up to parents, Le-Quyen says, to promote their children's learning. PISEC is one among several avenues for encouraging science learning in her family.

Outside of PISEC, we get involved where we live. They go to the community center. It has classes; it's called "little science projects," and what they do there is have fun. They learn silly experiments and make Play-Doh out of flour—those sort of things. Then they go home and make a mess and ask you to sit in it with them. So yeah, we do sign them up for events.

At home, my husband reads the Scientific Journal [sic] and Science magazine. We're also strong fans of Nova. The kids watch whatever the adults watch. But we don't watch a lot of TV, because we both work and by the time we get home the kids have had dinner and it's eight o'clock, so we have an hour and a half, pretty much.

I always go back to the family thing. PISEC provides parents with tools to be their children's teacher. When the kid is young, in primary grades, in elementary school, it's the parents who have to promote learning. The kids have fun no matter what.


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