Article submitted by Drew Muehlig:
Over the past year, Elba Central School District’s Board of Education has been moving forward with an initiative to bring international high school students from all over the world to their school. The approval, which comes from the United States Department of Homeland Security, was granted after a lengthy process, earlier this month.
These international students, known as F-1 students, will be paying tuition to attend Elba Central School for no more than 12 months. This also grants these students eligibility to participate in all activities as a traditional non-immigrant student.
“These international students typically want to perfect their English and experience the life of an American teenager,” said Laura Williams, Elba Central’s F-1 coordinator. “Attending a high school with cutting-edge academic programs, practicing with high school sport teams, and exploring after-school activities that make American schools what they are today: drama, model UN, cheerleading, band, choir, sports, etc., they are able to achieve this goal. The F-1 student is different than other international students who are strictly in the school district for the cultural interaction.”
“This has potential to be a tremendous opportunity for our families and District,” said Elba Superintendent Keith Palmer, who learned of the program in 2016 at a New York State Counsel of School Superintendents' workshop in Albany.
“Newcomb Central School, a smaller school in the Adirondacks, has been accepting international students for over ten years now,” Palmer explained. “They were initially looking to boost enrollment as a potential source of revenue, but their focus has shifted from a revenue opportunity to a cultural benefit. The impact International students have on the rest of the student body is significant and exposing students to different cultures has been a tremendous learning experience.”
Williams, who also teaches Global Social Studies at the high school, echoes the idea that this experience will be a valuable and exciting opportunity for Elba’s own students to learn the growing importance of globalism in the world beyond their high school education.
“The benefits are endless, but the important benefit is the cultural and international experience that our students will be exposed to as members of classes as well as host families," she said. “As our world is becoming smaller and the work force is becoming more and more globally connected, it is imperative that we introduce our students to the cultures, work ethics, and international experiences that they are bound to experience in college and the workforce.”
Elba Central School is the first school in Genesee County to be approved for this program, according to Williams. Elba’s small size, compared to other areas of the state and country, could actually aid in drawing the interests of international students.
“A surprising number of international students are looking for a safe educational environment, away from large urban areas, in which to perfect their English language and gain the educational benefits offered by a New York State education,” Williams said.
“The importance of creating a school profile that accurately describes our school district as one that provides an individualized education plan in a small rural setting will be important in order to match the specific needs of the international students into our school district.”
There was minimal cost to the school for processing the application which means this program will generate some revenue for the district, according to Palmer.
“International students must pay the subsidized cost per pupil which will be around $20,000," Palmer said. "Because class sizes are relatively low, there will be no need to hire extra staff. Host families will also receive a stipend for offsetting room and board costs.”
With everything set up and ready to go, Elba is looking to start this program as early as next year.
“We are working with a placement organization to finalize the requirements for admission so that we can start the 2017-2018 school year off with a very successful international program. We plan to start small and build as the years progress,” Williams said.