ELECTION: School board candidates talk about international students

School District 69's International Student Program has been a hot topic of discussion the past three years

International students have been a hot topic in School District 69, so The NEWS asked school board candidates for their perspective.

When Kwalikum Secondary School faced closure in 2011, bringing in more tuition-paying international students was a common idea for saving the school. More recently, the Vancouver based private investment company Wetegrity has been working with the district on a proposed international academy on the former Parksville Elementary site.

Candidate Willow Bloomquist, a young mother in her second run for a board seat, said she likes the international student program. “It’s a great program that I feel benefits the local student body and the district as a whole… and makes the district a richer environment.” She cautioned against seeing it as a Band-Aid solution to bigger funding issues.

“I feel an intense focus on that might not be the best. Yes, part of the board’s responsibility is to produce extra money for the district,” she said, but they have to be careful to focus on current students and “make sure they’re in a happy and supportive environment.”

“I really don’t like the idea of putting any age students in a dorm-type situation,” she said.

Admitting she doesn’t have the depth of detailed knowledge of the current trustees, coming from the outside, she cautioned against moving to a whole new model for the new school, suggesting that “once you start changing things it might lead to other changes, it could just open a whole can of worms.”

She suggested that if it was a financial success the government could decide to pull back other funding, or find ways to tax away any benefit.

Fellow candidate John Hildebrandt, a long-time, active parent advisory council and community volunteer, agreed that “international students are a revenue generator, which is part of the district’s business model now, if you can generate money then we should look at the options.”

And he also agreed that any big changes should be “careful and cautious, with proper public consultation.” He said big changes “could overwhelm the local students, change the whole character of the district and detract from the experience of our own students.”

Again wanting it to be clear that coming from the outside he doesn’t know all the details yet, he said the board has been making some good moves, “developing relationships and thinking outside the box,” and that “any avenue for revenue generation should be explored, but we have to move carefully.”

Candidate Elaine Young, with nearly twenty years in public education as a teacher and counsellor, agreed that caution would be the best approach to the “really complex issue of international students which have a lot of pluses and minuses.”

She said having worked with international students and refugees over the years she’s seen how they “could bring economic and social gain to the district because they pay more to be here and, socially, because it broadens the diversity of the district, which are both very positive.”

“At the same time there are real concerns about ensuring the proper support is in place,” pointing out that a lot of it depends on the types of students who come and their level of language skills.

The youngest candidate, 20-year-old Jacob Gair, a 14 year Qualicum Beach resident and current political science and history major at VIU, agreed the international students “are an important source of income.”

He suggested that things like the standalone international academy might be a great way for the district to hold onto and even make money from the recently closed elementary school sites.

“There are a lot of open schools and it seems best to put them to use,” he said but cautioned that “it seems the idea is for international students to meet and mix with the local students, so putting them on their own might defeat the purpose.”

Gair was a student at Kwalikum Secondary during the closure fears and said that while there were a fair bit of international students, “there is room for more.”

He said there was a lot of mingling, but teachers, students groups and sports teams could be more active in integrating them.

Board incumbent Julie Austin agreed with the benefits of the ISP and said this district has abetter balance than most, with students form a wide variety of countries, improving the cultural exchange with local students and each other.

She said the academy proposal has plans for integrating those students with the rest of the district, including potentially housing some local students in the residences.

But she also cautioned that they “have to be cognizant and aware of not letting the (ISP) get too big, we have to make sure the needs of all the students are being met.”

An all-candidate’s forum for school trustees will be hosted by the District Parent Advisory Council at 7 p.m., Monday, November 3 in the Oceanside Elementary School gym.

Jane Williams, who was previously a trustee for 12 years, said “international programs are important to school districts from both a diversity point of view and financially.”

“In a district like Qualicum, which does not have a great deal of ethnic diversity, international students give our students an opportunity to learn about other cultures and to learn how important education is to the visiting students and their families,” she said, but cautions that “financial benefits cannot always be counted on to save a district in financial difficulty – something similar to a SARS outbreak could be devastating to a district which is too reliant on international student dollars.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Arrowsmith Search and Rescue members, before descending into a gorge near Nile Creek to rescue an injured woman on Sunday, May 2, 2021. (ASAR Twitter photo)
Arrowsmith SAR crews help rescue hiker who plunged 10 metres onto rocks near Nile Creek

Helicopter with winch system required for technical operation in remote location

The courthouse in Nanaimo, B.C. (News Bulletin file)
Nanoose Bay man sentenced after causing a dog unnecessary pain and suffering

Kiefer Tyson Giroux, 26, given six-month sentence after beating pet he was supposed to be caring for

The graph provided by the City of Parksville in a release issued on May 4, depicting a balanced financial budget for 2021. (submitted photo)
City of Parksville announces a balanced budget for 2021

Penalty date for property tax payments extended from July 2 to Oct. 1

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
Clash between loggers, activists halts forestry operations over Fairy Creek

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Following a one-year pause due to the pandemic, the Snowbirds were back in the skies over the Comox Valley Wednesday (May 5) morning. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Video: Snowbirds hold first training session in Comox Valley in more than 2 years

The team will conduct their training from May 4 to 26 in the area

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read