U.S. Department of State officials recently gave the Minerva Central School (MCS) approval to start an F-1 foreign exchange student program.
Under this new program, exchange students would pay both tuition and room/board, giving a boost to enrollment while also providing the school with a little extra revenue.
Though the school was only approved two weeks ago, MCS is no stranger to the exchange student business. Its students have been interacting with other cultures since 2008, when Newcomb Central School hosted its first crop of exchange students; Minerva and Newcomb shared a combined sports program. MCS started hosting its own students only a year later. Minerva has also sent students of its own to study abroad through Rotary International’s student exchange program.
All of MCS’s past exchange students studied there under J-1 visas. In a J-1 program, students are not required to pay any sort of fee to the school for their year abroad. They do not earn academic credit for their stay either. The exchange is treated as a cultural and linguistic learning experience rather than an academic one. Under the new F-1 program, students pay tuition ($4,500 per student), but in return they earn academic credit for their efforts. If the student enrolls during their senior year, they can also receive a New York state diploma.
However, MCS Superintendent Timothy Farrell said the decision to transition into F-1 visas wasn’t made just to give the school an enrollment or revenue boost. The “driving force,” as he described it, was to not only increase cultural diversity, but to give MCS students the chance to interact with intelligent young adults from all over, learning from and through each other. Farrell said the school is more than willing to accept more J-1 students, provided he can find families to host them.
In fact, Farrell is confident Minerva could place up to 20 students if enough host families commit. He’s already received multiple inquiries from international agencies looking to place students from many different countries. Students from Bolivia, Russia, Korea, and Japan have all expressed interest in attending MCS.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Farrell said.
The biggest obstacle is the timing, though. MCS sent in its F-1 visa application and completed an on-site inspection in 2011, but not receiving approval until now doesn’t leave much time to make placements for the 2012-13 school year. In addition, the MCS School Board placed a cap on exchange student enrollment. For the first year, MCS can only place six, a move made to test the waters rather than jump in head first.
Despite this, Farrell definitely sees a future for the F-1 program not just in Minerva, but it other Adirondack towns as well. Both Indian Lake and Long Lake have applied for it, though neither has been approved yet.