Nickerson-South Hutchinson USD 309 Superintendent Dawn Johnson is spearheading a mini-foreign student exchange program and is looking for host families for teens from China.

Johnson traveled to China recently and visited Xi’an Tieye High School, a private school. Students there will be on the equivalent of their summer break in January-February 2019, and the tentative plan is for 10 to 15 students to visit this part of Kansas for about five weeks.

It would be too much for Nickerson High School to absorb all of the visiting students, according to USD 309 officials.

Nickerson High School Principal Rick Blosser said his school would have about two of the students. Others would be placed at other area high schools, such as in Hutchinson, Buhler, and Newton, USD 309 officials hope.

The students probably would be sophomores and most probably would have English-speaking skills, according to Johnson. A student’s family in China would pay a $500 stipend to a host family for the approximately five-week stay.

The host family would have to supply a bedroom and meals and arrange the student’s transportation to school, according to Johnson. A host family could take up to two students, she also said.

Three or four families in USD 309 have expressed interest in hosting students, she said.

The short-term presence of the visiting students would not trigger more base state aid for USD 309, but students here would learn about another culture and in the future, Kansas youths could travel to China as a result of the partnership, Johnson indicated. 

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Blosser said. “We’ll learn about their culture, and they’ll learn about our culture,” he said.

The Nickerson High counselor would work with each student to determine the class schedule for those attending Nickerson, Blosser said. For example, if the student is a sophomore, he would take some sophomore core classes. The student could choose electives, too. The foreign exchange students wouldn’t receive grades or class credits.

Probably, Johnson said, the students would arrive in New York City first and tour that city before coming to Kansas. There would be field trips here, possibly to the Cosmosphere or to Kansas City.

“We’d love to take them to a farm,” Johnson said.

Johnson is a former principal in Little River USD 444, and when that district was interested in teaching Mandarin Chinese language, she came in contact with Randy Liu, whose Maryland-based Laurel International Corporation has long been active in student foreign exchange programs. Johnson also is the current president of the Hutchinson Rotary Club, and Rotary Clubs promote international exchanges. Johnson anticipates her Rotary contacts will help find host families for the students.

Chinese students are eager to experience schools in this country, according to a 2016 article in Foreign Policy magazine. A growing middle class in China enables families to afford the expense, and attending high school here can make it easier to go to a U.S. university, the article said.

Johnson said Chinese students who travel to New York or San Francisco find a culture that isn’t all that different from home. Johnson recently traveled to China and visited schools, including Xi’an Tieye High School. A lot of private schools are “English immersion” schools, Johnson told the USD 309 board in April.

USD 309’s expense for the overall trip will be about $300, Johnson said.