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Bow school hopeful for law change to enroll tuition-paying international students

A few months ago, Principal John House-Myers received an inquiry. Sunny, a 15-year-old Chinese student, wanted to enroll in Bow High School this fall, pay to study for three years and then graduate.

House-Myers had met her father, Cliff, six years ago when Bow students participated in an exchange program with students from China. “I do hope Sunny can go to your school,” Cliff, a school administrator, told him in an email.

House-Myers had to be the bearer of bad news. He couldn’t accept Sunny for all three years, because federal law restricts international students from enrolling for more than a year at public secondary schools.

But that could change and House-Myers is banking on it. A bill that would remove the one-year limit was referred to a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security last April.

“It just seems like such an obvious way to curtail declining enrollment, to create a fresh revenue stream from outside the local taxpayer realm, and it helps our students with 21st-century skills . . . understanding differences,” said House-Myers, who is completing a doctorate on international education at New England College.

Sunny ultimately decided to enroll in a Canadian school, where she could complete all three years of study. Had she come to Bow, the town would have gained $78,000 in revenue, House-Myers said, which would have covered her tuition, homestay fees and administrative costs for three years.

Bow High School has hosted international students in the past, he said, but they were a different type who don’t pay tuition and are still capped at a year. Those students, who have come from countries including Germany, China, Ukraine and Belgium, have stayed with local families. They study at Bow through a cultural and educational exchange visitor program. When their programs end, students are expected to return to their home countries, according to the State Department website.

Under the international student program targeted by the U.S. House legislation, students pay to enroll in study. Right now, the visa program is limited to a year for public secondary schools, but private schools are not subject to the same restrictions.

Because of that one-year cap, House-Myers said the district has lost many fee-paying foreign students.

For the first time this fall, he plans to usher in the school’s first tuition-paying student group – several teens from China. He and the students hope that the legislation will pass and that they will be able to stay through graduation.

In anticipation, House-Myers is ramping up the school’s international recruiting presence through a New Zealand-based company. The Bow High School website links to a page devoted to information for foreign students interested in the school.

“We envision our international student population to be a nice cross section of kids from all over the world,” he said. “That’s what we want this program to grow into.”

The school might then restrict or cap the number of international students who can attend Bow High School on the exchange visitor program that doesn’t require tuition, House-Myers said.

Another consideration is lining up enough host families in town to support the foreign students. “I think the homestay experience is one of the biggest challenges international students face, where a lot of stress comes from,” he said.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire is starting to work on its own statewide international student policy. Last week, after a presentation from House-Myers, the state Board of Education voted to establish a committee to draft policy for public secondary schools taking on foreign students, said Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather.

We’re “always interested in finding students who can add value to the community and provide greater understanding of the world,” Leather said. “I have been hearing from a number of school districts (that) there is an interest in this, due to declining enrollment.”

Bow has begun collaborating with some of those schools in hopes of forming a consortium to share resources and programming. Campbell High School in Litchfield is one of the interested parties.

There, Principal Laurie Rothhaus said she is presenting a proposal to the school board next week to ask for roughly $2,000 to finance the school’s certification in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It’s a federal database the Department of Homeland Security uses to keep track of foreign students who enroll in schools through the visa program. Bow already is certified.

“This would be a way to bring some diversity, some bright kids. . . . They would pay to come to school here,” Rothhaus said. “It would be a win-win.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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