The Janesville School District’s international education program is sometimes referred to as the “Chinese program” because that’s where almost all students come from.

Now, the school district wants to expand the boundaries of the international program in a way that benefits both students coming from other countries and local high school students.

At a meeting last week, international education program Director Robert Smiley told the Janesville School Board he had completed a J-1 visa sponsor organization application with the U.S. Department of State. If approved, students from Cali, Colombia, and Vigo, Spain, could be attending high school here as early as spring 2021?

The visa is different from the F-1 visas the Chinese students use. The F-1 visas allow students to study here and get high school credit and go on to U.S. colleges and universities. The State Department requires the district to charge tuition for F-1 students. That cost is $14,000 a year. The district is also allowed to charge students room and board, an additional $14,000. Families who host a F-1 student are paid $8,000.

J-1 students cannot, by law, be charged tuition or room and board. However, they can be charged for program fees, so no costs will be passed on to the district, Smiley said in an interview after the meeting. However, J-1 students are counted as part of the district’s “membership” for state aid.

Welcoming students from other countries has been a long-standing goal of the international program, Smiley wrote in his memo to the board.

J-1 students are not new to the district, program coordinator Mary Christensen said in an email to The Gazette.

“We have had J1 students for many years through other sponsors,” Christensen wrote. “When Janesville is approved to be a J1 host site, we can sponsor students directly, broadening the scope of countries and students we can serve, diversifying the JIEP program.”

Students who come to the U.S. are motivated to do so for many reasons, she wrote.

“Some want a cultural immersion experience, while others want to polish their English skills,” Christensen wrote.

Students from Spain and Columbia might be matched with a family whose child is studying Spanish, making the partnership beneficial to both, Smiley said.

In an ideal world, those partnerships would be reciprocal and would give Janesville students a chance to study abroad, as well.

As the result of connections between the district and its Chinese partners, Janesville students have been able to spend time in China for little to no cost.

Next year, 28 Chinese students have been accepted to attend Craig and Parker high schools on the F-1 program.

However, due to the pandemic, visa applications are backed up, and the earliest students could come is October.

The plan is for the students to attend school virtually the first semester and come to Janesville in January.