PARIS — School officials say a recently signed agreement between SAD 17 and its sister school in Jinhua, China to bring tuition-paying Chinese students to the Oxford Hills School District, is a good opportunity for everyone involved.
Whether it is seen as a plus culturally, educationally, financially, as a pathway for Chinese students to enter U.S college and university, or for other reasons, the agreement is a multi-facted “win-win” for all, say many school officials.
On May 7, SAD 17 Board of Director Chairman Ron Kugell was given the go-ahead by all but one of his fellow directors to sign the Articulation Agreement between Zhejiang Normal University High School and the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.
It was signed on April 10 in China by He Tonghair, principal of the Zhejiang Normal University High School and SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts plus OHCHS Assistant Principal John Springer, Oxford Hills Middle School Assistant Principal Tara Pelletier. The last signature from Kugell was signed after he received authorization from the board on May 7.
Under the agreement, the Chinese students will receive a diploma from Zhejiang Normal University High School after three years of study and a diploma from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School after successfully completing their fourth year here. OHCHS will accept the credit from the Chinese school to enroll them in their fourth year here and students must then meet requirements set by this district, including studying United States history.
The signature authorization came with lengthy debate by a few board members who questioned the logistics and costs of the agreement. Newly-appointed Director Kathy Laplante, who has come to several board meetings as a resident, this year to question the China trips, questioned the financial benefits as a director and voted against the signing.
A delegation of SAD 17 administrators and students arrived in Jinhua, China last month to visit the district’s sister school, Zhejiang Normal University High School, and to allow Colpitts and Chinese school officials to negotiate the agreement.
It is believed that in April of 2007, SAD 17 negotiated the state’s first China-Maine teacher exchange program under former Superintendent Mark Eastman. The agreement created the sister school and provided for a Chinese language teacher to come to Maine for a year or two to teach the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. It also allowed SAD 17 students, at their own expense, to go to China, in part, to stay with host families from the school.
As part of that earlier agreement, the current superintendent travels to China every five years to reaffirm the agreement.
Students from the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School have taken five trips to China and their sister school has sent students here three times, according to OHCHS Principal Ted Moccia. The relationship has grown over the years and today, OHCHS has two teachers from Jinhua, one of whom has been here for the past two years teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture.
Teacher Yang “Austin” Cheng now calls the Oxford Hills his “second home.”
SAD 17 has been approved to take tuition-paying students from China for the past five years under the Department of Homeland Security which issues F-1 Visas for international students to attend public schools for one year.
Colpitts said Homeland Security determines what tuition amount the district can charge, which means the actual tuition costs, plus housing and support services costs.
Colpitts said the 2018 tuition rate for the Chinese students would be $20,000.
“I’ve taken the highest tuition rate in the district, added $2,000 to it and the other $6,000 is to provide housing and support,” Colpitts explained.
The tuition rate would changed annually and be determined by the annual re- certification that is required by the Department of Homeland Security.
SAD 17 would go through the same process that schools such as Millinocket, Farmington and others undergo to get certified to bring in tuition-paying international students.
But costs to the schools vary as does the way they solicit Chinese students.
In 2013, for example, the Brunswick School Board agreed to spend $5,000 to send an administrator to China to recruit students and build a relationship with a new sister school, also in Jinhua.
According to a report in the Forecaster at that time, the board worked with the Portland-based Fox Intercultural Consulting for more than a year to develop a student exchange program. The firm had also previously worked with schools in Falmouth, Orono, Saco and Kennebunk to develop similar programs. The plan was to tuition in students at $30,000, which would include a 10 percent consultation fee for every student who tuitioned in.
Seven years ago, Millinocket, a small northern former mill town, made national news when that school district attempted to bring in 60 students from China but by September only six students had arrived.
NBC news reported at that time that school officials agreed they may have overreached estimates but blamed the poor turnout in part on a Chinese recruiter who failed to deliver and a newspaper report in China that said the education in Millinocket was only “mediocre” and that kids “hang out in parking lots for fun.” Each student reportedly paid the Millinocket school district $24,000 in tuition, housing, etc.
The program now has an in-house, international student program coordinator. Students must make out a 10-page applications and adhere to strict admission requirements, according to the school’s webpage.
According to a story in The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education, the number of Chinese students on F-1 Visas enrolled in public school from grades K-12, rose from six students in 2006 to 1,008 students in 2016. The report cited the Student Exchange Visitor Program, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, as the source of the numbers.
The report also stated that by 2016, the total number of Chinese students in public K-12 schools, and private schools, in the United States was about 35,627.
According to The Hechinger Report, Chinese students usually arrive on an F-1 student Visa, which allows foreigners to enroll in both private and public American schools. Visa holders can only attend public secondary schools for one year and must pay tuition to public school districts. The report states that fees generally range from $3,000 to $10,000 a year, according to the U.S. State Department.
Colpitts said it is important to note that the SAD 17 district has started out small in order to successfully grow the program.
“The agreement we have is with one school in China,” Colpitts said of the difference with some other school districts. “We started small and its has taken five years to negotiate to this point. Farmington spent $100,000 to hire a person to bring people in and yet they have not been successful in bringing in more than an handful of people through all that expense.”
Not everyone is on board with the plan.
Colpitts, Moccia and Craig Blanchard, who is considered the “go to” person to set up the trips because of his extensive knowledge and time in China, and others agree that the Chinese culture is very different and students may come to SAD 17 for various reasons.
One reason, said Moccia, may be the opportunity to get career and technical education at the high school level. Chinese students don’t have access to them until college.
Oxford Hills Technical School Director Shawn Lambert, who took his first trip to Jinhua this year, told the Advertiser Democrat that students in China do have career and technical education opportunities, but not at the high school level.
Moccia said in addition to access to technical and vocation courses in high school, there are a number of additional reasons why Chinese students are attracted to U.S. schools.
“A high school diploma (from a U.S. high school) is a very good feather in their cap,” he said.
Students also may see it as a stepping stone to entry into a U.S. college or university.
Some board members questioned the logistics of the program, setting up home stays, whether the tuition rate was too low when area private schools, such as Hebron Academy, are said to charge as much as $54,000 in tuition and other issues.
“We’re building this (program) slowly,” Colpitts said.
The freshmen class at Zhejiang Normal University High School in China is now being introduced to the opportunity, so it will be two more years before any Chinese students arrive under the program.