From five students in 1995 to about 200 this year, the International Student Program is basically at its peak capacity, said principal Ross Pepper.
It’s been a careful growth, said Pepper, who spearheaded the push to have five students from Japan visit Kwalikum Secondary School in the 1994-95 year.
“I’d say in the last five years, we’ve grown about five per cent each year,” he said. “We’ve gone up a substantial amount.”
But now, the program is looking at maintaining its international students numbers rather than growing them, said Pepper.
The benchmark he bases that on is under 10 per cent of enrolment at local secondary schools, he said.
While that total population is an important one to consider, especially in a smaller community with only so many host families, the diversity of those students has been an important one to consider as well, said Pepper.
This year, international students from 20 countries are visiting and attending school in SD69.
“That allows our kids to meet some students from different cultures, or be exposed to languages and things that they would normally never come across.
“It’s all about building that global connection for our kids, and hopefully they will get a very positive outlook on the world and maybe travel to those countries or take interest in another language.”
And Pepper has gotten to see that impact on students years down the road, he said.
The program is also a boon to international students, who are given an opportunity to experience Canadian culture, practice their English skills, and work towards attending post-secondary education in Canada as well.
The community itself also gains in diversity, said Pepper, as well as economically.
There are important volunteers who make it all possible.
“We do rely on our home stays as part of our program,” said Pepper. “It’s a very important part for parents overseas to trust that we have great homes, which we do.”
Each student needs a family or individual to stay with, either for a short visit or longer stay.
A maximum of two students can stay at one home, but the students have to be of different nationalities, said Pepper.
Home stay volunteers are subject to criminal records checks and go through several meetings with Pepper and his staff, he said.
“We’re always looking (for more home stay volunteers),” said Pepper.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call 250-951-0857.