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Mohawk signs on for China connection

BUCKLAND — By next summer, Chinese high school students could be attending summer workshops at the Mohawk Trail Regional School, while high school administrators lay the groundwork for tuition-paying international students.

This week, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee signed a $6,000 contract with Fox Intercultural Consulting (FIC) of Falmouth, an educational consulting firm that works to build school partnerships and “sister school” programs between New England schools and schools in China.

In November, Mohawk Principal Lynn Dole will be going to China with consultant Suzanne Fox and administrators from other schools. Dole’s mission will be to make connections with schools that might be interested in sending students to Mohawk’s summer program and, eventually, in recommending future students to spend a year at Mohawk.

Mohawk school and budget subcommittee member Kirby “Lark” Thwing of Hawley said the initiative calls for a three-phase plan: “The agreement is to develop a relationship with a school in China, bring students here in the summer of 2014, with the chance for some to go to school here in 2015.”

After much discussion, the School Committee approved spending up to $20,000 to pay for the consultant, plus Dole’s travel costs and the marketing costs for a Mohawk brochure that would be circulated in China.

Thwing said the budget committee recommended the $20,000 expenditure, saying “this is an important initiative.”

Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said he believed this initial investment would be recovered from tuition charged for the summer students and, eventually, by tuition for full-time students.

When asked how much tuition Mohawk would charge, Buoniconti said the tuition would be somewhere between $15,000 to $17,000.

“This consultant is relatively unique,” said Buoniconti. “She’s able to establish relationships between schools and let them grow. It’s not a fast process.”

Buoniconti said the school might have only one Chinese student the first year, “but down the road, we could handle three to five students.” If the program is successful, he said, maybe students from other nations could also be considered.

Dole and Buoniconti have said that more Chinese families have become interested in sending their high school students to the United States, so that they become more fluent English speakers and may have better opportunities for a college education outside their own country.

In 2008, Buoniconti first presented the idea of opening up the public high school to international students, both to raise money for the school through tuition revenues and to broaden international awareness of Mohawk students.

Buckland School Committee member Christopher Skelly said he “loved the idea,” but first wanted more financial information, including what short-term and long-term benefits it would bring the district.

School board member Willow Cohen of Shelburne wanted to know what it would cost the school district to educate these students, and would the district incur any expenses to house the students.

Dole said the students’ families would pay the host families for the student’s room and lodging.

Buoniconti said that, like School Choice students, the enrollment change would not boost school operating costs, but would add a few more students to less-than-full classes.

“I’m very excited about seeing diversity in an area that’s not very diverse,” said Colrain board member Nina Martin-Anzuoni. “My feeling is no one is against the program, but we would like to see more details.”

However, because plans have to be put in place so that Dole can plan to be with the China-bound group in November, the majority of the board agreed to approve the costs, with the idea that more financial information will be brought to the next school committee meeting.

Other schools that have developed programs for Chinese students through partnership with Fox include Gilbert School in Winsted, Conn., and high schools in Millinocket and Kennebunkport, Maine.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:

dbronc@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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