Stockton School for Adults
Nominated in 2008
The late 1970's was a time of great upheaval in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was in power having been taken control after a devastating civil war. They attempted to turn Cambodia into a classless society by depopulating cities and forcing the urban population into agricultural communes. The entire population was forced to become farmers in labor camps. During their four years in power, the Khmer Rouge overworked and starved the population, at the same time executing selected groups and killing many others for even minor breaches of rules.
Among the thousands of refugees who fled the "killing fields" were two families, Chhoeun and Sileap Buth with their six children, and Peter Soksann Mam, his wife Vann and their seven children. Like many others before and after, they escaped to Thailand and settled into a crowded refugee camp.
In 1981, the two families, who didn't speak a word of English, relocated to the United States . Chhoeun and Sileap enrolled in the English as a Second Language program at Stockton School for Adults, as did Peter Soksann, Vann, and their eldest daughter Sophaline. Thankful for the opportunity to start a new life, they wanted to learn English and become productive citizens in their new country. As Chhoeun and Sileap became more proficient in English their children were motivated to develop their own immerging English skills. Their son, William, joined his parents in 1984 at the adult school.
After completing the program at the adult school, Peter Soksann continued his education at the University of the Pacific. He earned a degree in human services and became a social worker for San Joaquin County Human Services.
As their English skills developed, William Buth and Sophaline Mam continued their education at San Joaquin Delta College . They fell in love and were married on July 19, 1986. They both found employment as translators and interpreters, for Stockton Unified School District and worked in an office at Stockton School for Adults.
Encouraged by both their families, William and Sophaline continued their college education while working. William, like his father-in-law, attended the University of the Pacific where he received a degree in Mathematics. Sophaline went to California State University, Stanislaus to acquire a liberal arts degree.
Today William and Sophaline give back to the community and the Stockton Unified School District . William is a mathematics teacher at the new Caesar Chavez High School which opened this fall (2005). He also teaches Economics and Math at Stockton School for Adults. Sophaline is the Bilingual Outreach Liaison for A.A. Stagg High School. Their two children, Wilson and Benjamin Buth attend Stockton Unified schools, and Wilson volunteers as a mathematics tutor at the School for Adults.
The Buth and Mam families overcame great obstacles to pursue their dreams. They instilled in their children the importance of an education to open doors to opportunities. The children of both families are productive citizens, attending various California State Colleges, Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley. One serves his new country as a United States Marine, while others are entrepreneurs, owning their own businesses.
Their story mirrors the story of many immigrants, particularly those who escaped the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. They came in search of peace, freedom and opportunity, but most importantly, a better future for their children.