Foreign student magnets and specialty schools
Following the lead of colleges and universities, K-12 schools in Florida are enrolling record numbers of foreign students. Most attend private schools.
NORTH BROWARD PREP
A third of the school’s students come from abroad.
THE WEBSITE for North Broward Prepatory School, a private school on the Broward-Palm Beach County line, comes in 11 languages for a reason. About 310 of its 900 high school students come from 25 countries and are here on student study F-1 visas. The top three countries of origin for those foreign students are China, Brazil and Italy.
While some come to improve their English and return home to finish school and graduate, most want to graduate from North Broward and win admittance to a U.S. university. “The students are highly motivated,” says Headmaster Elise Ecoff. “They want that ‘American experience.’ ”
North Broward is one of 43 schools owned by Hong Kong-based, publicly traded Nord Anglia, a chain that includes North Broward, Windermere Prep in Orlando and others around the globe. Tuition, room and board at North Broward runs $55,000 a year for high school students. Ecoff says that while keeping classes full is always good, North Broward’s real goal is providing a broadening education for domestic and international students. Lower-school students taking Mandarin get to converse with native speakers, for example, says Ecoff. “It makes our classrooms really rich. It has been such a positive experience.”
Unlike some private schools where foreign students room with local families, international students at North Broward board at facilities at the school’s Coconut Creek campus and at a satellite campus in Coral Springs. Growth has been limited by the size of the boarding facilities, but the school plans to build a larger facility to consolidate all students on the main campus.
In addition to visits and emails, the school’s teachers and administrators hold conferences via Skype to communicate with parents who prefer that. School events can be monitored in native languages on the school’s website, and the school has sent a representative to China, Russia, Vietnam and Brazil to meet with parents. Teachers are schooled in strategies for students whose native language isn’t English. The school also has to know how to work through cultural issues.
The students are motivated but still teenagers, Ecoff says. Their “ups and downs are more pronounced,” she says. “It’s a huge responsibility to be guardians of children for 24/7. ”
ABOUT A DECADE AGO, Indian River Charter High School, a public charter high school in Vero Beach, was involved in a program to bring teachers from abroad to its campus to teach. A U.S. Department of State official suggested to school Director Cynthia Trevino-Aversa that the school seek approval to host international students as well.
Having the charter’s students meet and study with students from other nations struck her and her board as a good idea. In the 2009-10 academic year, the school welcomed its first student, a German, on an F-1 visa. Since then, Indian River Charter High School has developed a reputation among international students as a good place to study in the United States. For local students, “it has spread into this wonderful and global opportunity,” Trevino-Aversa says.
Public schools such as Indian River don’t draw as many international students here on study visas as their private school counterparts because federal law requires public school international students to return to their home countries after 12 months, a time limit that doesn’t apply to private school students. International students also must reimburse public schools the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of their education. In Florida last year, a total of 646 students attended a public school on an F-1 visa, compared to 7,375 at private schools.
Indian River Charter usually has 30 to 40 students on visas compared to its total enrollment of 670. The school draws from across Europe, Latin America and Asia. As at many private schools, students live with host families in the community while here. The majority are juniors.
Thanks to the program, it has become commonplace for Vero area students to go abroad in the summer to visit their new friends in their home countries. One Vero area student interned at the company in Germany of a friend’s father. Another Vero area student got a full-time job in Italy. The school for three consecutive summers has sent a contingent of students to Beijing, where their tuition and board are free at the Beijing International Chinese College — provided they come up with the air fare.
“It’s been an amazing journey for the school and our students,” Trevino- Aversa says.
INDIAN RIVER CHARTER HIGH
A small charter in Vero Beach draws more international students than all but two of Florida’s public school districts.