Janesville international education plans taking shape

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, December 1, 2013

JANESVILLE—The Janesville School District is working to enroll as many as 100 tuition-paying foreign students next fall.

That's an ambitious goal, but it's possible, said Robert Smiley, the Janesville School District's chief information officer, who recently returned from a trip to China, Thailand and Cambodia.

Smiley discussed plans for the Janesville International Education Program with the school board last week and in an interview with The Gazette.

Smiley said he met with 15 to 20 organizations in China that expressed interest in sending high school students to study in the United States, and he is following up on those contacts.

One student from Beijing plans to enroll for the second semester, in January, and 40 to 50 foreign students are expected for a “winter institute,” set for Feb. 2-15, Smiley said.

Smiley also met with a Chinese businessman who is remodeling the old Holiday Inn in South Beloit, Ill. Smiley said he had several meetings with Wang Zhibin and his investment group. Wang plans to house Chinese high school and college students in one wing of the hotel.

As reported earlier, UW-Rock County and Rock County Christian School would accept students who live in the hotel. Add the Janesville School District to that list, Smiley said.

Until now, Janesville officials had talked of foreign students staying with host families and perhaps in the student residence that UW-Rock County plans to build.

“We have options that we didn't have before,” Smiley said.

Smiley unveiled to the board a plan for a foreign-student “pipeline” that begins in ninth grade and ends as the foreign students graduate from Janesville high schools and enter Blackhawk Technical College, UW-Rock County, UW-Whitewater, UW-Madison or the workforce.

Smiley described the pipeline as a process that helps students succeed by gradually introducing them to life in an American high school and improving their English fluency.

The plan starts with ninth-graders, who would attend a three-week “institute” during summer or winter break.

The first such institute was held last summer, when six high school students and about 30 elementary students visited, staying with host families.

The second institute is scheduled for February, and Smiley is working on a spring institute in April that would feature students from Thailand.

The institutes put foreign and Janesville students together in an educational program. Smiley's pipeline calls for a target of 150 students at each institute, although that many students are not likely in this school year, he said.

The next segment of the pipeline is for 10th-graders. They would stay in their home countries but take online courses through the Janesville Virtual Academy. The target enrollment is 100 students

The virtual academy is a charter school. Janesville School Board member Kevin Murray asked if charter-school rules allow foreign students to enroll.

Superintendent Karen Schulte said she is working with legal counsel and the state Department of Public Instruction on that question.

Murray asked how much the foreign students would pay for online courses.

Schulte responded that those are details that are being worked out.

Board members Greg Ardrey and Bill Sodemann expressed support for the plans.

China is preparing its top students to compete around the world by forming partnerships in many countries, Ardrey said, and Janesville should do the same.

The final two parts of the pipeline are enrollment in 11th and 12th grades at Parker or Craig high schools, or two other district charter schools, the TAGOS Leadership Academy and Janesville Academy for International Studies.

One hundred students is the target for 11th grade and again in 12th grade.

The junior year would include preparation for taking the SAT or ACT college-entrance tests and the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which many colleges and universities require before admitting foreign students.

The test preparation would be available to both foreign and local students.

Senior year would include dual-credit courses through UW-Rock County. A dual-credit course offers simultaneous college and high school credit for the same course.

Also offered would be a dual diploma or “bi-literacy” diploma. Students would receive diplomas from Janesville and from a school in their home country.

In order to compete in the global marketplace, students need to experience other languages and culture, not just read about them, Smiley told the board.

The international program aims to improve local students' academic performance but also increase enrollment and revenue, he said.

“And even more important, we have the opportunity to enrich the lives of our students and the lives of our staff as well,” Smiley said.

Smiley said he visited seven Cambodian schools in two days and said more work needs to be done before students come here from that country.

Cambodian students would be a good fit for Blackhawk Technical College and UW-Rock County when they graduate, Smiley said.

“When you look at their government and education system, they have a huge need for what Janesville can offer at the vocational and two-year college level, Smiley said.

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