Okanagan Skaha school district adopts global approach

Just a single school trustee remains wary about the district’s plan to bolster its budgets by attracting more international students to local schools.

“I think I’m the only one of this board who has really deep reservations about this program,” said Linda Beaven, a former Summerland teacher who was elected in 2011 to the board of the Okanagan Skaha School District.

She raised more concerns earlier this month during a finance committee meeting at which superintendent Wendy Hyer proposed modest fee increases for international students.

According to Hyer’s recommendations, which were accepted by the board at its Monday meeting, international students who attend school here for a full year will pay $12,000 tuition. That’s almost double the $6,784 the district receives from the B.C. government for each of its domestic students, and it’s a differential the board decided to target following budget deliberations last spring.

All told, a full-year international student would pay the district $20,900, which would cover tuition, room and board, and medical insurance. That’s up from $20,025 this year, but still slightly less than the amount charged by districts to the north.

Money’s not the issue for Beaven, who said at a meeting in September that a single Chinese student in one of her English 11 classes took up a quarter of her time.

At this Wednesday’s meeting she raised concerns about how much time visiting students will spend in English-as-a-second-language classes and how much time will be devoted to keeping tabs on the kids’ home lives while they’re here.

Hyer said two groups of Korean students totalling about 30 kids who are coming in January will each get three hours of ESL instruction per week from two newly hired teachers. And further, the kids will be focused mainly on learning English during their four weeks here, so their regular teachers will be told to focus less on academics and more on making the visitors feel welcome.

As for monitoring of the kids’ host families, Hyer said two people in the Vernon School District look after 200 kids there.

“Monitoring could be 15 minutes one month, two hours the next month,” she said, adding the homestay co-ordinator here will also be expected to organize some social activities.

Besides the Koreans, the district is also expecting in January nine students from Japan, who will stay until next December, and three from Germany, who will stay until June. Hyer said recruitment efforts through overseas placement agencies will ramp up in January now that the district has laid the groundwork here with new promotional materials, fee structures and staff.

Asked for their thoughts at last week’s committee meeting on expansion of the international program, all of the school trustees, with the exception of Beaven, touted a range of expected benefits.

Trustee Shelley Clarke said she’s met international students through one of her children and “they are enthusiastic and very enjoyable to be around. The fact that they’re supporting our other students in our school system is a boon.

“And I like the fact they’re going to be in our communities and giving some international spice to our non-international small town,” Clarke said.

Trustee Linda Van Alphen said that she would reserve judgment until after a one-year review of the enhanced international-student program has been completed to make sure it delivers the promised educational, social and financial benefits.

“That’s part of what we agreed to as a board,” she said. “We think it’s a good idea, but at the end of the day, we’re not going to do something that’s detrimental to our children.”


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