Language barrier broken

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series detailing Iola High School students who excelled in the classroom. The IHS commencement is Sunday, starting at 2 p.m. in the high school gymnasium.)

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Jing Gong

Jing Gong figures it took until about halfway through her junior year before she started feeling comfortable as a student at Iola High School.
Knowing only the bare necessities of American culture — and even less of the English language — tends to make a teenager a bit apprehensive.
“There was a lot of confusion at first,” admitted Gong, who will join her IHS classmates Sunday afternoon for commencement ceremonies. “I knew only a few words — ‘hello, how are you?’
“Fortunately, the teachers knew of my situation,” she continued. “They would ask, ‘Do you need help?’ I usually did.”
Gong grew up in the coastal Chinese city of Zhuhai, where her father, Joseph Caron, and her mother, Yang Gong, were eager to move their family to the United States in the fall of 2007.
“My father knew the importance of a good education, and he felt an American education would be good for me,” Gong said.
She struggled fitting in at first, but soon found her niche.
Gong credited three teachers at IHS, Betty Hawley, Travis Hermstein and Loretta Arnold, for helping her transition.
“Mrs. Hawley took a lot of extra time to work with me,” she said. “Mr. Hermstein made history so enjoyable. And I’ve always loved Mrs. Arnold’s photography classes.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to ask questions, and they would always answer them.”
Gong found help at other locales, including work, when she was hired at China Palace.
The restaurant’s owners, the Cheung family, took extra time to teach Gong how to speak English fluently.
“I still have a little trouble at times with my English,” she said with a smile, “but I’m getting better.
“I found a lot of very good friends who have helped, too,” she said. “I want to thank them for helping.”
Gong’s enthusiasm in the classroom turned into academic success. She maintained a straight A average both years at Iola High. She also received a special Presidential Award for Academic Achievement at a recent awards ceremony.
Gong will return to her native China for the summer, where her grandmother still lives, before returning to Iola in the fall to begin taking classes at Allen County Community College.
She hopes to study nursing at the University of Kansas from there.
Like her father, a social worker, and her mother, a doctor, Gong wants a career where she can help people.
“For me, if somebody is sick, then I don’t feel well,” she said. “I want to help.”