Students from Italy who arrived this September through SD69’s International Student Program stand in front of Ballenas Secondary School. — Courtesy SD69 International Student Program

Students from Italy who arrived this September through SD69’s International Student Program stand in front of Ballenas Secondary School. — Courtesy SD69 International Student Program

International student population reaching peak in Parksville Qualicum Beach

SD69 continues to need more host families for visiting students

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.

With most international students at School District 69’s (Qualicum) two secondary schools, “We’re sort of at a peak,” he said. “So that would be just around 10 per cent of Ballenas is international, and just about 10 per cent at Kwalikum Secondary.

“I think now, we’re just maintaining.”

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.

“It’s all about exposing our Canadian students to a variety of cultures,” he said. “A good reason to have a program is to have a lot of diversity.”

This year, international students from 20 countries are visiting and attending school in SD69.

“That’s quite unique, I think, for a small community, that we have students from many, many parts of Europe, of course Asia, South America, Latin America,” Pepper said.

“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.

“I’ve been in places in Europe where I’ve met kids, our kids, our local kids who I taught 15 years ago, and they are visiting that student they met at their school. So those kind of connections are what we’re looking for.”

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.

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