A Saint Paul couple’s ‘magic parenting formula’

If there is such a thing as a “magical parenting formula,” perhaps Kou Moua and Zaaj Thao know it.

The Pioneer Press profiles the couple, who came here years ago unable to even speak English, have the two most recent valedictorians at Saint Paul’s Johnson High School, and two younger children are in the running to be the valedictorians in the next two years.

In Saint Paul, the Press notes, a 45-point gap separates Hmong students from their white peers in reading.

A Johnson guidance counselor says he asks the parents a question he never asks others: “Are you sure you want your child to take all honors classes?”

The Thao siblings make no bones about it: They do so well in school because at home the expectations are high and the rules are hard and fast.

If they get a B on an assignment, they lose their cellphone privileges. If they get caught surfing the Internet instead of doing school research, they lose their modem.

Television is only on Fridays after school and on Saturdays.

“We work hard so we won’t have to work as hard as my parents have all their lives,” said Justin, 19.

“We believe we are not the smartest kids at our school,” said Jepheny. “We just work really hard.”

Related: Editorial counterpoint: 'Effective' teaching? First, meet basic needs (Star Tribune).