School Bulletin: Philanthropist donates $3 million to Milwaukee charter school

School Bulletin: Philanthropist donates $3 million to Milwaukee charter school

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Hmong American Peace Academy has more than a million reasons to be thankful this holiday season. It just received a $3 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, the philanthropist and former wife of Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

"When I received the call, I thought it was a scam. I hung up on the person who called," Chris Her-Xiong, the founder and executive director of the school, says.

Once Her-Xiong verified the donation was not a scam or a mistake, the gratitude set in. When HAPA opened in 2004, she says there were just 13 staff members for about 200 students. Now there are 200 staff members and more than 1,800 kids.

HAPA focuses on three pillars: The first is building peace and character.

"[The students] are independent thinkers and learners, who have the confidence to set their own purpose, their own goals and their own path to success," Her-Xiong says.

The second pillar celebrates cultural heritage. Her-Xiong says a majority of the students are Asian and 98% speak another language other than English.

"Without heritage, we're nothing," Her-Xiong says. "We teach our young people about who they are, where they come from so they can be protective citizens."

The final pillar of HAPA is rigorous academic standards. The school boasts about the students' success in the classroom and on state and national standardized tests. But as Her-Xiong explains, the core of the school is its community.

"HAPA is transformational," Her-Xiong says. "We have scholars who transform from at-risk to ambitious. Our families are transformed by their child taking strides toward success and opting out of lack of opportunity and of poverty. The community is transformed because we share the same values… Education can deliver on its promise of prosperity."

There are no set plans for how the $3 million gift from Scott will be used. The school and its board will need to weigh in, but Her-Xiong says this is an investment in HAPA's future.

"We see that this gift as recognition for all of the hard work our community has put into making HAPA… a place that provides our scholars with great teaching and learning," Her-Xiong says.

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