EGHS hasn’t allowed international students since 2018
East Greenwich High School will not be hosting foreign exchange students this coming year, according to Supt. Brian Ricca. It will mark the sixth year since East Greenwich allowed international students to attend the high school. Before 2018, East Greenwich High School routinely hosted a few foreign exchange students a year, from countries like Turkey, Italy, Germany, Korea, and Czech Republic, to name a few.
But, in 2018, a bump in the high school student population coupled with a school district budget shortfall that led to the high school going without a library media specialist for two years, prompted school officials to close the school to foreign students. Because of Covid, it wasn’t an issue for a couple of years. Recently, however, the Cornell family of East Greenwich reached out to AFS-USA, the largest high school foreign exchange program in the country, expressing an interest in serving as a host family for a foreign student. Typically, students who come to the US on a foreign exchange program do not pay tuition because they are living with a local host family and considered part of that family for the year. The host family provides room and board for the student as they would their own child.
“We thought that hosting a foreign exchange student would be a rewarding experience for both our family and the exchange student and their family,” Jan Cornell explained. She said she knew other families who have served as host families and they described the experience as rewarding, fulfilling and life changing.
She added, “I went to college at Johnson and Wales University which has a very large international student population. Over the course of my college career, there would be times when I was the only American student in my class. That was one of my very favorite aspects of Johnson and Wales as I learned so much from the foreign students, and the experience deeply enriched my life for the better.”
The Cornells applied to the AFS program and after they went through the extensive vetting process they were given dozens of different student profiles and essays to review.
“We sat in our kitchen one night a few weeks ago, and went through all the profiles,” Cornell said. “Our 13-year-old son was particularly interested in reading the different student bios…. We all agreed on our top candidate as a family, and agreed that he would make a great addition to our family for 10 months. We were so excited at that point.”
Then they learned that EGHS would not be accepting foreign exchange students next year and their excitement turned to intense disappointment.
For Supt. Ricca, the decision not to open the high school to non-tuition-paying foreign exchange students comes down to the district’s very tight budget.
“The original approved budget for FY ’24 in April included several key positions that we could not staff,” he said via email. “When we followed through on the town’s ask to reduce our appropriation by an additional $500,000, we removed even more positions. I could not, in good faith, commit to another student when we are struggling to build a budget to meet the needs of the students who already live in East Greenwich.”
Ricca acknowledged the benefits of international students, but said, “It’s not about overcrowding – it’s about feeling like we are understaffed already.”
Emily West, AFS Mass Bay team chair, said not all districts are open to the idea of hosting foreign students, but there are a lot of benefits.
Most significantly, “the town gets to experience another culture without having to go anywhere,” she said. The larger challenge is usually finding host families – a lot of families don’t realize they could be a home for a foreign student.
For the Cornells, AFS has found a solution, allowing them to be a host family, as they had hoped: their student will be able to attend Rocky Hill Country Day School with tuition paid for by a combination of AFS and the student’s home country (Brazil), not a typical arrangement but one Jan Cornell is grateful for.
The student, Vitor, is arriving Aug. 8 and the Cornells are excited. But Jan Cornell said there was a lingering sense of disappointment. “I love East Greenwich and I’ve lived here for 25 years,” she said. “We live in CindyAnn – he could have walked to the high school. I’m disappointed he cannot go to school in East Greenwich.
Author’s note: My family has hosted two foreign exchange students, one during the 2007-08 school year and one during the 2016-17 school year.