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Former Burmese refugee now teaching immigrant students at Southport High School

Mrs. Ling came to the United States as a girl with her family as refugees. She now teaches students who are English language learners and recent immigrants.

INDIANAPOLIS — Central Indiana is home to the largest concentration of Burmese Americans in the United States. About 25,000 people from the country live in central Indiana, and roughly 80% of those people live on the south side of Indianapolis. 

As we recognize Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, 13News went inside a classroom at Southport High School to meet the first Burmese American teacher in Perry Township. 

Miriam Ling is completing her third year teaching biology at Southport High School. She teaches two classes for students who are English language learners and recent immigrants.

Mrs. Ling can relate to them. She was born in the Chin State of Myanmar, formerly Burma, and came to the United States as a girl with her family as refugees. Her father fled to the United States first. He worked eight years before his wife and children could join him. 

"It's really good for me to work in this district with a lot of Chin families, where our Chin students can see somebody like a teacher that looks like them," Ling said, who became the school district's first Chin teacher in 2019.

Credit: WTHR

Southport High School has a very diverse student enrollment, with students born in more than 30 different countries and more than 20 native languages. More than half of the students identify as non-white. 

Perry Township Schools does not keep specific data on Burmese American students, but across the entire school district, more than 5,000 students identify as Asian, representing over 30% of the student population. Six years ago, the percentage of Asian students in the district was just 20%. 

“To have somebody like Miriam, who's not only a really good teacher, but has experiences and has language ability to be able to directly support our students, she can just do that at a different level and I think with a different level of connection,” Southport High School Principal Brian Knight said.

Credit: WTHR

Biology is the study of life. Ling's life provides life lessons for her students.

"Although I am a teacher, educating is not the only role I have,” Ling said, “by mentoring, helping the students feel welcome and helping them have confidence and be successful in their life."

Credit: WTHR

Miriam became Mrs. Ling a year ago when she married her husband, Ven. She gave birth to a baby girl, Eunice, three months ago and just recently returned to the classroom from maternity leave. Miriam is active in the large Christian Chin community in Perry Township.  

Credit: Miriam Ling
Miriam became Mrs. Ling a year ago when she married her husband, Ven. She gave birth to a baby girl, Eunice, three months ago and just recently returned to the classroom from maternity leave.

"I think it's important to highlight the good things the Chin community has to offer,” Ling said, "how we are hardworking people, how we are providing for the community. We have churches. We volunteer. We're not here just to cause, like, a burden or cause trouble."

The political turmoil continues in Myanmar since a military coup in February 2021.

Ling said some of her extended family has fled to neighboring countries because their homes have been burned.

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