Visiting from Russian, Svetlana Ovcharenko is putting together a pitch to attract investors from her home country to build a dorm in Newcomb for international and out-of-area students.
Newcomb Central School may soon get the funding it needs to construct dormatories to house foreign students.
The local school’s international student program, boosted by publicity from The New York Times, is a potential opportunity for foreign investors.
With visiting student enrollment limited by housing space, the school could use a dormitory, and investors from abroad may make that happen.
The school has had enough requests to take on about 100 foreign students, if it had the space and desire to do so, said Linda Montanye. She works closely with Newcomb Superintendent Clark “Skip” Hults on the international student program.
The Town of Newcomb recently began talking about building dorms to accommodate larger numbers of visiting students, but hadn't gone very far before foreign investors expressed interest, said Town Supervisor George Canon.
Visiting Newcomb Aug. 8 was Svetlana Ovcharenko, a Russian who recruits for the program. So far, she's sent four students to the school.
She visited the town to review sites for possible construction and meet with Hults face-to-face. She liked Woodruff Pond, calling the site “very spectacular.”
After her visit, Ovcharenko will head back to Russia and present to her first potential group of investors. If they like her pitch, she said, she'll be lucky and they'll move ahead as quickly as possible. If they don't like it, she'll find another investment group and try again.
Hults said investors from Thailand have expressed interest as well, and they have plans to use a potential dorm in the off season for college respite and adult English learners.
Instead of higher education students taking expensive flights back to distant home countries, the Thai investors would open up the dorms in summer months to give them an affordable alternative.
For now, the school and town are holding on until they know if the foreign investment will work.
“I believe it absolutely will,” said Hults.
If the town builds dorms, then the town and school will have to be in dorm business, creating extra work that would be better left to investors, he said.
As a bonus to the local economy, the visa needed for investment requires that investors hire 12 locals, said Hults.
The school has so far hosted 30 students from 19 countries, with an annual international attendance ranging from five to 10.
This year, they'll host a confirmed nine students, with a couple more hopefuls. The new students come from Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and Armenia, with possibles from Spain and Ethiopia.
Hults said he hopes to expand the visiting student program from an international focus and bring urban students to study at Newcomb.
Students are charged a fee for visiting which changes annually, said Montanye. Half is tution for the school, and the other half is for room and board, distributed as a monthly stipend to host families.
If students opt for dorm living, she said, they'll pay the school only the tuition fee, and pay the dorm operators directly for room and board.
Even with a dorm built, said Hults, “I think there are some students who will always feel much more comfortable in homes.”
Newcomb is appealing to Russian students because of its high quality of education, said Ovcharenko. Also, she noted, the climate is very similar to Russia.
Ovcharenko teaches at the University for the Humanities in Odintsovo. She also works as a facilitator for the Open World Program, which brings students from former U.S.S.R. nations to the U.S. to get a close look at its government.
She runs an agency that finds kids and adults to learn English in U.S. schools. She's sent students to Saratoga Springs, Ohio and Arkansas in addition to Newcomb.
Her vetting process is extensive, and includes personal interviews with the students and their parents to ensure that they're motivated enough to make the cultural and academic immersion work.
Students must begin with English good enough to get by, though part of their mission as students abroad is to improve their English proficincy.
Ovcharenko also ensures that they can afford participating in the program.
“Comparatively, Newcomb school is not so expensive,” but for Russians, it can be pricey, she said.
For the school district, this is not about revenue; the school charges only what it costs to host them, said Montanye. This year, tuition and board will run $8,000.
A public school in Millinocket, Maine has a tuition charge of $13,000 annually.
Ken Smith, supervisor at Stearns High School in Millinocket, said their school looked into dorm building, but found room in a local motel that was in easy walking distance of the school.
Right now, they don't have so many students that host families can't accommodate them.
When enrollment increases, said Smith, the motel can expand the space dedicated to students, and because it's three floors tall, the students can be separated by gender.
Smith is focused on China, and made a recruiting trip there recently.
His school once served 700 high schoolers, but now is home to a student body of about 200. With 145,000 square feet worth of facilities, they've got plenty of room for more scholars, said Smith.
Smith's school uses 14 agencies to recruit students, and maintains an open enrollment that allows students to begin attending any time throughout the school year.
Ovcharenko said the students returning to Russia “speak with big love an pleasure about Newcomb.”
One of her students plans to return to visit Hults, who hosted his stay.
Montanye said that's not uncommon. She and Hults keep in touch with former students with Facebook and Skype, and she's seen several students return to Newcomb for visits.
“Landing in Newcomb is initially a culture shock,” said Montayne, “By the time they leave, it's all tears.”