horizons of those who come and those who host.
Goessel High School’s identity involves giving its students, teachers and staff opportunities to encounter others whose home countries lie beyond U.S. borders.
“In the past 10 years, international students have been 10 percent of the (GHS) student body—that’s unheard of nationally (for a public school),” said Carol Duerksen, who coordinates placements in Goessel and other Kansas communities through Share!, an organization under Education Resource Development Trust.
Since Duerksen and husband Maynard Knepp first welcomed a Swedish exchange student into their home in 1988, Goessel area families have hosted students from more than 20 countries.
John Fast, USD 411 superintendent, said having international students at Goessel helps open eyes to other perspectives, whether that be political, economic or cultural.
“I have no doubt that if we even went one year without them, there would be a huge element missing in our educational environment that people would notice,” Fast said.
Even a foods nutrition class can reveal dissimilar perspectives.
“We don’t use scales—we measure,” he said.
Of course, international students face challenges in the American classroom. Besides language differences, how subject areas are approached varies. Fast said in other education systems, math and science fields are not departmentalized as they are in the U.S.
“As (international students) go to each year level (at home), they get elements of all of that every year,” he said. “So the idea of coming here and focusing for example just on algebra is different for them. When they go back, they have do a little bit of catch up.”
Several international students have said they particularly value Goessel’s school pride. Most decide to try out for sports, music and other activities.
“Typically if they participate in most other countries for extra-curricular activities, it will be through a club,” Fast said. “Schools do not sponsor extra-curricular activities. But here, that is part of our curriculum, part of what we deliver. Consequently, school spirit is coordinated around those things. That’s one of the things that they say is so cool.”
Marcia Brubaker, who accompanies music in the high school, and husband Karl have served as host parents for eight students and will host their ninth this fall.
One of their host students, a girl from Hong Kong, expected to come to the classroom to listen and learn.
“For her it was just very difficult to write a paper, to take information from various sources and make it her own,” Brubaker said. “She was great at math and that kind of thing. The whole household was in chaos because she just really struggled with formulating those thoughts.”
Relationship are key
Building relationships becomes an important component among international and American students and their teachers at Goessel High School.
“Our European students are more used to the fact instructors are aloof and more separate,” Fast said, “The idea that students here strike up such a close personal relationship with their teachers, and the teachers vice versa with them, is a new experience, whether they are from Europe or from Asia.”
Relationships for some have become lifelong friendships.
“The relationships that they form are so tight and strong, and so many of our students have traveled over there to visit their friends,” said Fast, who along with wife Jenny, has hosted eight students and maintains contact with them.
He said their family has been to Germany twice, renting a car and stopping at students’ hometowns.
“We just plugged in five addresses, and we went to Berlin to Frankfurt to Bremann,” he said about one visit. “It was interesting and fun.”
Last summer the Brubaker family traveled to Germany and Italy to meet five past students and their families.
“You are treated like a king or a queen,” Brubaker said about the hospitality they experienced. “The parents are so grateful as to the gift you gave their child. They find the best of their world to share with you, whether food or a place to stay.”
Teachers and funding
Fast said he especially credits teachers who lead core classes, such as English, social studies, math and science, as contributing to Goessel’s success with international students.
“Those teachers do carry a heavier burden in terms of helping these students along,” he said. “They spend much more time helping them with that transition and helping them understand, such as when they launch into a literature book and try and help a student from another culture read and get acquainted with the nuances of a particular writer.”
Asked about the financial impact of enrolling international students at Goessel, Fast said it depends on how funding is determined.
“Previously, before block grant funding, (international students) counted every bit as much as any student,” he said. “With the block grant funding, everything was locked in last year.
“Now with the whole court equity issue…,we’ve gone back to counting. So now the answer is yes, it does matter. Every student, whether they come from within our district or across the ocean, they count the same amount.”
Some people may think money primarily motivates Goessel to accept international students, Fast said.
“It’s very clear that the money is a factor, but that’s not the reason we do this,” he said. “Yes, it’s of help but the educational impact for our students, for our community and for them goes far, far deeper. It really enriches our educational environment.”
Looking for homes
Duerksen said while she has arranged some placements for the upcoming school year, “I’m still totally looking for homes.”
Families, singles and retirees have all made good host parents, she said, adding a host family agrees to provide food in the home, a bed and transportation as needed to activities and events.
“If you live close, it means they can walk,” she said. “If not, it means you drive them.”
Students will buy their school lunches, clothes and whatever else they need, she added.
For information about becoming a host parent, call Duerksen at 620-386-0709 or email her at willowspringdowns@juno.