October 18, 2010

School leaders look to recruit China students

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

While in China, McQuarrie and the other school administrators will tour the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Fuzhou. They will visit several Chinese schools, learn about Chinese culture and current events, and meet with Chinese teachers, students, parents and Mainers living in China, Fox said.

"This is a get-your-feet-wet venture," Fox said. "My hope is that they get an understanding of what's going on in China and why a student might want to come here."

For Chinese students from large schools in crowded cities, Maine schools are attractive for a variety of reasons, Fox said. They're generally smaller, in safer communities, offer a wide variety of natural beauty and outdoor activities and, above all, provide an opportunity to practice writing and speaking in English.

Nestled in the northern Maine woods, in the shadow of Mount Katahdin, Stearns High School in Millinocket fills the bill and needs the students, according to Ken Smith.

With the closing and slowing of local paper mills and other job losses, the town's population has fallen from a high of 7,742 in 1970 to about 5,000 today. As a result, the number of high school students has dropped from 700 to 200, and the school district's overall enrollment is down about 50 percent to 550 students.

Smith sees bringing Chinese students to Stearns as a way to avoid cutting educational programs, laying off staff and closing schools.

"Revenue is a big problem for all Maine school systems," Smith said. "You can't just cry in your beer about it. You have to look for new revenue sources."

Smith and other Millinocket officials have been working on a recruitment plan for months. They'd like to welcome as many as 200 Chinese students in September, but Fox and others are advising them that 15 to 20 students is a more reasonable number for the first year. The students would pay close to $30,000 a year and stay with local host families. Smith has already scoped out sites for future dorms.

Students, teachers and the wider community are excited about the prospect of bringing Chinese students to town, Fox said. The high school librarian created a display that features Chinese books, clothing, instruments and other items.

The district is reviewing high school programs to promote the best and improve the rest. A new nature-based environmental science program is expected to feature the extraordinary woodland resources of nearby Baxter State Park.

"We need to strengthen all of our programs," Smith said. "But the way I see it, we can't lose. If you shoot for the moon and you miss, you're going to hit the stars."


Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: kbouchard@pressherald.com


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