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International school coming to Parksville

In the face of four local elementary school closures, a Vancouver-based company, WEtegrity, has earmarked $1.5 million to bring an international school to Parksville.

On Wednesday May 20 a letter of intent was signed at Parksville City Hall formalizing a partnership between School District 69, the International Sustainability Education Foundation (ISEF) and WEtegrity, which said it has already spent $100,000 to get the project to this stage.

Parksville Mayor Chris Burger called it "a silver lining" coming just three weeks after the closures.

“It’s all about adversity and what you do when you face it,” said Burger. “We’re moving forward in a new way more so than ever.”

According to Superintendant Rollie Koop, what has been deemed “Parksville International Academy” will offer two-to-three-month-long programs with a focus on the English language to high school students from Columbia, China, Japan, Egypt and Korea. WEtegrity will fund this project along with the development of student residences and ISEF.

Koop said the idea is unprecedented as it features a public-private partnership with the idea of “building a business on education.” He said it will not follow the private-school model.

“It’s an educational enterprise but it’s a business at the end of the day,” said Koop, adding there are no pre-existing models this vision is based on. “We’re hoping this can be a product that will be game changing in some respect.”

Koop said the idea follows the success of the existing international student program which will not be altered.

The plan will see international students live in a village centre with host families instead of the more traditional form of home stays. Koop said the village concept includes cottage-style accommodations that will be developed on the Parksville Elementary School site once it is repurposed for residential use. The location of classroom space for students is still undecided. Koop said the number of international students admitted will be based on interest.

“The international community is coming to B.C.,” said Koop. “This is seen as a truly Canadian experience.”

WEtegrity representative Ivan Chow said Parksville is an attractive place for international students because it represents safety, less distractions (than an urban city) and it gives students more opportunity to integrate into the local community.

Chow said often in bigger cities, like Vancouver, international students are not challenged to learn English and adhere to Canadian culture; however Parksville’s lack of ethnic diversity offers a larger population of English-speaking Canadian youth.

Chow said the school district and Parksville chamber of commerce have been instrumental in bringing this plan to gestation.

While Koop admitted the project “needs to be contextualized,” he said a Canada Ambassadors program could start as early as January 2015 which would see international and domestic students travel across the country stopping at different universities and getting exposed to Canadian culture along the way.

“Many (international students) will want to transition to B.C. grad courses because post secondary options here are so much more available,” said Koop. “It allows us to be able to control the growth of our international student program.”

Chow said the curriculum for Parksville International Academy is currently being constructed and land use is being looked at this week. He said a more detailed account of land use and planning will become available in the coming months.

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