In the 2018-19 school years, 33 Chinese students and one student from Scotland studied at Craig High School.
In the 2019-20 school year, the Janesville School District expects to have the same number of Chinese students studying at Craig High School, and that’s despite opening a recruiting office in Shanghai, the country’s largest city and a global economic center.
Two issues, one personal and the other political, are making it challenging to recruit more student into the otherwise successful Janesville International Education Program or JIEP, as it is more commonly called.
The international program started with one student in the 2013-14 school year. By 2016-17, the district had 25 tuition-paying students, primarily from China.
Along with the school-year program, the district hosts summer, fall and spring “immersion camps” for Chinese elementary school students, so they can get an taste of what school is like here.
The students participate in school activities and the event also includes a weekend visit with a Janesville family.
Each spring break, Janesville students who have been studying Chinese get to go to China. This year, 12 Janesville high school students took the trip.
Along with the student exchanges, Janesville teachers go to China to visit sister schools and team teach with Chinese teachers. Delegates from China, including teachers and administrators from the department of education, also visit Janesville to observe how the system works here.
Finally, teachers and counselors travel to China once a year to interview and vet students who want to come here.
In a June 7 memo to the Janesville School Board, district international program director Robert Smiley noted that the “annual selection process has been crucial to selecting students who will be successful in the program.”
But these aren’t the kind of programs that develop overnight.
In a January 2019 interview with American Association of School Administrators, Smiley said he was working to expand the program to other countries.
“It takes a lot of nurturing,” Smiley said in the interview. “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.”
In a more recent interview with The Gazette, Smiley repeated what he has said before: “It’s all about relationships.”
For example, in November 2018, district officials went to China to officially open the second office in Shanghai. To date, the majority JIEP students have come from a school in Zhangjiagang, China.
The office, which is paid for by the Chinese government, has yet to send students to Janesville. But again, Smiley stressed that it takes a lot to establish relationships.
“You’re asking people to entrust you with their children,” Smiley said.
That’s the personal part of the equation, and that just takes patience and continued efforts to build relationships and trust.
The political part of the equation involves the tensions between the United States and Chinese governments. On our side, the government has made it more difficult to get visas, both for students and for the chaperones that come with elementary school children to the camps, Smiley said.
In addition, the Chinese government isn’t allowing any significant investments on American soil, Smiley said.
A January 2019 story on CNN Money noted that The “evaporation of Chinese money in the United States reflects self-imposed restrictions by Beijing on investments outside the country. The trend was exacerbated, though, because Washington has been tightening foreign investment reviews. The US-China trade war is also a contributor.”
Chinese business people who might have been interested in building a dorm in downtown Janesville are unable to make such an investment.
In his memo to the school board, Smiley outlined the year’s activities for the board and the expected profit from this year. A few travel expenses have not been subtracted from the total, but Smiley expects the program to generate more than $250,000 in revenue.
In an effort to expand the international program beyond China, Smiley and program coordinator Mary Christensen are spending several days in Cali, Colombia, to meet with potential sister schools.