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DALLAS MORNING NEWS ARTICLE (Sunday Edition) July 3, 2005

Family shares gift of learning Arlington: Vietnamese refugees opening faith-based school

09:09 PM CDT on Sunday, July 3, 2005

By TOYA LYNN STEWART / The Dallas Morning News

The Nguyen family has decided it's payback time.

RICKY MOON/Special Contributor

Thang Nguyen, a founder of St. Ignatius College Preparatory School, met with principal Ellen Thomas last week.

The Vietnamese refugees came to America 30 years ago and are grateful for everything they received – especially their education.

To show their gratitude, the family is opening a private school in North Arlington so they can share their time, talent and knowledge with others.

"Our family as a whole needs to give back unselfishly,' said Thang Nguyen, 44, an Arlington resident and one of the school's founders.

Some of that giving will happen through teaching.

Nguyen family members – including doctors, surgeons and engineers – will take time away from their careers to teach math and science classes.

The St. Ignatius College Preparatory School for students in grades nine through 12 will open in September and will enroll about 25 students the first year. So far, there are 11 students.

The family hopes an elementary school will be added next year and that the student population will grow to about 200 within a few years. The funding comes from tuition, donations and a nonprofit organization established by the family.

The school's catalyst was family patriarch Oanh Nguyen, a Fort Worth resident.

"It is very important," said the 80-year-old said. "If you don't have an education, you don't have anything."

Mr. Nguyen, who has an eighth-grade education, is proud of his family for following his wishes to start a school. And he's proud of his 12 children. Nine of them have college degrees. The three oldest children are upholsterers.

Mr. Nguyen also is involved at the school. He's painted the classrooms, done yard work and cleaned the small house that has been renovated into a school.

Thang Nguyen, an engineer, said he never thought of telling his father that he wouldn't get involved with the school because it quickly became a collective family dream.

"Knowledge is the only thing they cannot steal from you," the younger Mr. Nguyen said, quoting his father.

Thang Nguyen, who went from the ninth grade straight to junior college, then to The University of Texas at Arlington, has six children. The oldest will attend St. Ignatius. The others will follow when they are older.

'The perfect school'

Fort Worth resident Chuck Huber is a board member at the new school. His son will also attend St. Ignatius in the fall.

"I'm sitting right now in what I consider the perfect school," Mr. Huber said during a recent meeting at the school. "It has small classes and the best teachers."

Mr. Huber, principal at St. Bernadette Academy in Keller, met Thang Nguyen when his son was a student in Mr. Nguyen's classes at St. Thomas More in Fort Worth.

St. Therese Academy set the school's foundation. St. Therese, located in Irving and Dallas for 15 years, closed its doors in the spring, but some of its students and its principal made the move to St. Ignatius.

When St. Ignatius expands to the elementary school level next year, the new portion of the school will be called St. Therese, said Ellen Thomas, former principal at St. Therese and the new principal of St. Ignatius.The new school is a faith-based college prep program that offers a classical liberal arts education, including history, literature, science, math, theology, art, drama and martial arts.

Rigorous academics

School administrators said curriculum will be rigorous and expectations high. "We're serious about learning," Mr. Huber said. "All have to work together."

Just like the Nguyen family is doing: Five of the eight teachers at the school will be from the Nguyen family.

Lily Tran, 29, a family practice doctor in Fort Worth, is a cousin and will be teaching biology at the school.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher," Dr. Tran said. "When I was going to college my dad told me I'd be limited if I just studied teaching whereas if I studied medicine I'd have more options."

Dr. Tran, who teaches medical students regularly, said her involvement with the new school is like a dream come true.

"We were taught that's why we're here – to go to school," she said. "I feel like I owe this to society. I feel like I can give inspiration to the teenagers, and they can learn from my life."

Dr. Trung Nguyen, a general surgeon in Fort Worth, will teach biology and math. He says he will find the time to teach.

"It is a matter of what you want to do and what you desire to do," said Dr. Nguyen, one of Oanh Nguyen's sons. "I have a very, very busy schedule, but it's what I want to do."

Debt to community

Some of his passion stems from his own experiences.

Dr. Trung Nguyen said when he first arrived in the United States he didn't know any English. He still remembers the teacher who taught him his new language and is forever grateful.

He said the school's creation was his dream, too, because "I owe the community."

"If I were in Vietnam I wouldn't have this opportunity," he said. "Because I was brought here, I achieved what I am today."

For information about the school, visit www.ignatiusofloyola .org.

E-mail tstewart@dallasnews.com