Broadening their horizons: School district to launch international exchange program


FORTVILLE — Chinese and Taiwanese students could be sitting in desks at Mt. Vernon High School next school year.

Mt. Vernon School Corp. recently announced plans to launch a comprehensive international exchange program, in which students from Anshan, China, and Maioli County, Taiwan, will be invited to attend Mt. Vernon Schools. In the future, the district would like to send its own students and teachers to learn abroad.

For months, Mt. Vernon administrators have been working with educators in Taiwan and China to establish an international exchange program.

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Last month, educators attended the Global Forum on Education at the Kokomo School Corp. to meet with education delegates from other countries and to learn how Kokomo’s global exchange program works. There, Superintendent Shane Robbins and the deputy director of the Anshan Bureau of Education (China) signed an agreement to work together to offer student exchange opportunities; the partnership launched Mt. Vernon’s international exchange program with China, according to a news release.

The district currently hosts foreign exchange students from other countries who are placed within the school district by an outside agency. Such placements will continue in addition to the new exchange program coordinated by the district.

The partnership with Taiwan and China is unique because there is no exchange organization working between the two school systems, as is the case for many programs. Mt. Vernon Schools will be responsible for finding host families for the students it welcomes, and the students will pay tuition to Mt. Vernon to attend school, though specifics on how much tuition will cost are still being developed.

Students coming to Mt. Vernon will have the choice to spend two weeks here during a summer camp or to attend Mt. Vernon High School for a semester or full year.

In the beginning, educators will find host families for students to live with, but the district is considering working with an investor to develop a dormitory for exchange students in the future, Robbins said.

High school principal Greg Roach said he expects to eventually see about 20 to 30 Taiwanese and Chinese students attend Mt. Vernon High School a year.

One of the first steps the district took in expanding its international programming was to invite a Taiwanese educator to Fortville earlier this year to teach Mt. Vernon students Mandarin. The school already offered Spanish, French and American Sign Language as world language courses. Adding Mandarin has given students the option to study Asian cultures and languages, Robbins said.

As part of a partnership between Mt. Vernon and the Ministry of Education in Taiwan, teacher Yi-Fan Lin arrived in the states in August and has spent the semester teaching students about her home country and to speak Mandarin, the most widely spoken language in China.

The program has been well received by students and has piqued their interest in Taiwan and its culture, Roach said.

“We want to bring a variety of world cultures to our students,” Roach said. “We want to show our students there’s more than just Hancock County, the Indianapolis metro area and even the United States.”

Even if students don’t study abroad, they’ll still have the chance to learn about other cultures from the foreign exchange students in their classes, Roach said.

The program will be funded by the tuition dollars exchange students pay, and administrators will look at ways to fund raise additional money for the program, as well, Robbins said.

Robbins has worked with schools in Taiwan and China for the past nine years with the other school corporations he’s worked for. He’s excited to bring those opportunities to Mt. Vernon students, he said.

“There’s a lot of things you look at when you look for a comprehensive high school. You look at vocational (education), you look at world languages, you look at STEM education,” he said. “This is just one of those tenants we think is something worth investing our time, energy and efforts into to make us stand apart in terms of what we’re offering at Mt. Vernon.”

In the future, the district hopes to expand its international program to include other countries, including Peru, Columbia and Bolivia.