Janesville's first Chinese student works to grasp life in America

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Nick Crow
Saturday, April 12, 2014

JANESVILLE — Edward stood in the hallway at Craig High School waiting for his host parents to pick him up.

Music played from his ear buds as he relaxed in his tennis shoes, jeans and a Western-style coat.

Greg Ardrey, one of Edward's host parents, approached.

“Edward, a reporter from The Gazette is going to speak with you,” Ardrey told him. “Is that alright?”

Edward, whose real name is Jiming Ye, sheepishly nodded.

A polite and soft-spoken student, Edward arrived at Craig at the beginning of the second semester.

That was a mistake, Ardrey admitted.

“The biggest disadvantage Edward had was coming in the middle of the school year,” said Sandra Ardrey, Greg's wife. “It's tougher for clubs and academics having to play catch-up. That's my biggest concern. He needs to start with the rest of his peers.”

Edward is the first Chinese student recruited to attend the Janesville School District as part of the district's international initiative. Officials hope up to 100 students like Edward will walk the hallways next fall.

Edward's family is paying the school district $14,000 in tuition annually plus $10,000 annually for room and board, according to district officials.

Robert Smiley, chief information officer for the Janesville School District, said the district plans to have up to 100 international students enrolled in fall to attend school during the 2014-15 school year. The district could have up to 200 international students by the 2015-16 school year, Smiley said.

The district will receive $14,000 per year, per student in tuition and an additional $10,000 per student for room and board costs, Smiley said.

Smiley said families hosting international students receive a $500 per month reimbursement. The balance of the $10,000 is used by the district for other expenses to host students. The rate was set after evaluating expected costs, he said.

“The $14,000 was a calculated amount as required by the F-1 Visa (National Department of Immigration) with some funds added on top of the required amount to cover our expected additional ELL (English Language Learner) costs,” Smiley said. “The $14,000 covers the calculated full cost to educate an international student in Janesville.”

Work and travel by the district's leadership team to forge relationships with international partners has been fully covered without using district taxpayer or state revenue funds, Smiley said.

In previous interviews with The Gazette, district officials have said some of the costs for international travel were paid by two district suppliers, NASCO of Fort Atkinson and Rhyme Business Products, whose president is a Janesville native.

"The tuition the international students pay becomes a revenue source for the district to be used to provide programming to all students, including our international students," Smiley said. "The international students will sit in classes alongside our Janesville students, learning the same content together."

Smiley said U.S. visa requirements dictate that international students must pay for the full cost of their educations, and no Janesville taxpayers or state funds are used to offset their costs.

"Education is being transformed through international programs," Smiley said. "Educational leaders near and far recognize the importance education plays in our global economy ... our expanding global trade with partners around the world."

Preparing students for the global economy is vital, Smiley said.

"We want our students in Janesville to be able to have every opportunity to be successful adults," Smiley said. "Today, that includes a sound education with an international studies component."

Edward seems to be doing well comprehending what's happening around him, learning at school and adjusting to life in America.

“It has been a learning curve for my family as well as Edward,” Greg said. “It has been interesting.”

Edward, 16, has aspirations to attend Harvard University with a major in psychology. Surprisingly, he said he feels less pressure on this path than when he attended school in China.

A native of Beijing, Edward believes studying in high school here will better prepare him for an American university.

“The main purpose for coming here is for university,” Edward said. “Studying here can be a better way to prepare for college.”

Edward said he noticed differences between school in China and the United States on his first day. In China, students stay in the same room, and teachers rotate from room to room. He also noticed American classrooms have fewer students.

“I feel like here I have more free time to do what I like,” Edward said. “I feel less pressured. Students are more serious in China, and students here are more casual.”

Children aren't allowed to make many of their own choices in China, Greg said, and he has noticed that in Edward.

“Here we might say, 'What do you want for dinner?' to our child, and they tell us,” Greg said. “With Edward, you can't ask that because he will have no idea. What we've noticed is what works with him is limiting his choices. 'Do you want pizza or tacos for dinner?'

“In America, we give kids more choices when they are much younger. His culture is very directive,” Greg said

The school district has been pursuing an international student program for at least five years. Ardrey, who is a member of the school board, said the program would give international students an edge when they apply for college in the United States and would boost the school district's revenue. The district has focused on attracting students from China but left the door open for hosting students from other countries.

Edward has taken British English classes since second grade but admits it's different speaking the language all day while learning American slang. Chatting with his parents online and on the phone are the only times he speaks Chinese now, Edward said.

“I can't imagine a whole day of paying attention and dealing with all the other things going on,” Greg said. “Especially in a different language.”

Sandra said she thinks learning to comprehend English will be the biggest benefit of Edward's extended time studying in the United States.

“His options are greater here,” Sandra said. “Attending high school, he gets to experience the language and gets that social piece. That's what universities are looking for.”

The Ardreys said Edward most likely would attend school at Craig next year, too. They are unsure if he would live with them again but are open to the possibility.

The entire experience helps him integrate into American culture, which is what Edward wants, he said.

“He has enjoyed everything,” Sandra said. “We want him to get the entire experience of being here.”

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