Should day schools with international students, even though all the home-stay arrangements are made by an agency, meet all the requirements of the Residential/Homestay Program of Standard 8?
“Over the last five years, our day school has added a number of international students to our student body. We now have seventeen kids. We have been fortunate to work with an agency who has served our school and our international kids very well. The agency recruits the students for us and makes all their travel arrangements. The agency also finds host families for our students’ homestays and we haven’t had to worry about this at all. We regard our international students as day students – exactly like all our other kids. This all being said, as we read the language in “Standard 8 – Residential Program and/or Homestay Program” we have some suspicion – even though we are day school – we should now be meeting this Standard. Is it true that a day school with international students, even though all the arrangements are made by an agency, should meet the requirements of Residential/Homestay Program of Standard 8?”
In a word, “yes.” And, yes, too, this has become one of our most frequently asked questions. Over the last decade or so, increasing numbers of day schools have added international students to their populations. Some schools have recruited these students – mainly from China, Korea and a few other Asian countries – themselves but more have relied on Agencies for this work.
In terms of recruitment, schools have learned, sometimes painfully, that not all agencies are equal. Some do excellent work fitting students to the mission and requirements of a particular school; some others, sadly, have been more interested in their placement fees than in finding students actually ready to be full-fledged members of an English speaking school community.
Most schools with whom we work have become much more sophisticated in their work with agencies. Many schools, for instance, conduct their own interviews by Skype with prospective students. A few schools have the resources to send – or hire – their own representatives to interview international kids sent to them by agencies. “Double checking” before students actually arrive is simply good practice for all.
- Physically inspect the living conditions of international students – at least twice a year if not more frequently; international students should be living in reasonable accommodations, not in basements or attics; they should not have to share bathroom facilities with adults in the house
- Insure that international students are being fed nutritiously and regularly
- Insure that each adult in a host family has been through a CORI check
- Insure by both thorough orientation and on-going communication that host families have a clear understanding of school policies and procedures
- Insure that each international student has a designated advisor or specific international student coordinator to whom he or she can speak confidentially and openly; for students whose English may not be entirely fluent it is the responsibility of the host school to have a translator on campus who can speak directly with students.
- Be sure lines of communication with students’ families are direct. In many cases this will require a school to use a translator to insure that families understand calendars, school policies and be up-to-date on anything that affects their child. Schools must understand it can be very difficult for international families to have their children so far from home and must make specific efforts to reach out to them.
Many schools are doing exceptional work with their international students. These schools have created programs that engage international students with the local communities at many levels – from volunteer work to regular cultural excursions. And many have taken clear and often imaginative steps, particularly to engage these young people on weekends and during short vacation periods. We encourage schools to keep in mind that it is not the mission of International students to “add diversity” to a school. They come to engage with American education and to learn as much as they can about another culture – while, surely, bringing essential insights with them.
The growing population of international kids throughout our independent school world brings special opportunities and particular responsibilities and it is important for schools to understand that the presence of international students in their community brings the absolute necessity to understand that they are NOT “day students just like the other kids.” They don’t live with their parents and they are far from home. Relying on the work of agencies may be a very reasonable first step. But ALL schools must recognize the intention of the Homestay Standard is to insure the distinctive needs of international students – whether it is five kids or seventy-five - are being met.