International students changing makeup of high schoolsBy Sheldon C. Good Mennonite World Review
After a 12-year-old boy’s parents divorced, they argued over who should get custody of him. Unable to agree, they decided to rent an apartment for him near where they lived in Taiwan. So the boy lived alone, surviving on McDonald’s food and hungering for a better life.
After learning about Western Mennonite School in Salem, Ore., the boy’s parents enrolled him in eighth grade there.
“He came to us as a very angry boy; he was really struggling,” said Robby Gilliam, campus pastor and international program director, who told the boy’s story and thought it best to not give his name.
In 2011 the boy graduated from high school at Western. Gilliam said the experience changed the young man’s life. He now attends San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church.
“He is doing well and has been extremely thankful,” he said.
Western has 237 students in grades 6-12, including 24 international students from nine countries. Most are from Asia — specifically China — though some are from Africa and Europe.
In fact, Mennonite high schools across the U.S. and Canada are increasingly diverse. International students, mostly from East Asia, are changing the makeup of the schools and creating new intercultural learning opportunities. Many of the schools see the growth as more than simply a way to increase enrollment, but as a core part of their mission.
Mennonite Education Agency does not have explicit data on international high school students. However, MEA research shows that 25 percent of pre-kindergarten to grade 12 students enrolled in 2011 were racial-ethnic, which includes international students. In 2004, 7.8 percent were racial-ethnic students.
Western has received international students for more than 40 years, though the current program is in its 10th year. This fall the school is expecting 40 international students, nearly double the current number, with growth coming from Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico and Ireland.
“We’re being flooded with applications, because [the families] have heard good things about the education we’ve been offering,” Gilliam said.
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