As the second half of the school year begins, School District 71 will again be joined by a cohort of international students.
Prior to Christmas, there was controversy as some parents questioned a call-out by the district for billet families for visiting students, particularly in light of coronavirus case numbers.
The program had been operating all year though. Greg Kochanuk, the district principal for the International Student Program with Comox Valley Schools, explained that the district has had students from other countries through the fall semester, though some people were not aware of this.
“They didn’t know international students have been [here] all along,” he said.
The program is operating at around 50 per cent capacity. Often, there are be about 300 students from between 23 and 25 countries studying in the district. The 65 students arriving to start school in February will join another 78 already here through the fall. However, they are coming from far fewer countries for the time being, only a half dozen or so. The federal government had designated international study permits as essential if students meet requirements and follow protocol, though students from fewer countries qualify. The district is one of 31 in the province currently running a program. Kochanuk said the aim is to continue to provide these opportunities for students from afar and he wants to dispel any myths the district is currently running the program as a money-maker.
At the latest board of education meeting, superintendent Tom Demeo spoke about the process of putting together a safety plan, saying the district worked with its health and safety coordinator Paul Berry and the region’s medical health officer, Dr. Charmaine Enns.
“Our safety plan has been touted as one of the best in B.C.,” he told school trustees.
During an interview, Kochanuk expanded on the quarantine process for students, which means not only the 14 days they spend when they arrive in Canada but the 14 leading up to their departure from their home country.
“After they complete their quarantine they’re like any other student,” he said.
While quarantining the students are to remain at their host family home for the two-week duration, staying in their living space as much as possible with minimal contact with the host family. The district checks in with them each day and encourages ways for them to stay physically and mentally active, albeit in restricted circumstances.
“It’s a very lonely existence in some ways,” Kochanuk said, adding that there have been no exposures or incidents associated with students coming since September. “We’re in contact with the students every single day by Zoom.”
A few of the students’ experiences are chronicled on the school district website, including the quarantine experience, how they adapted and how things are now going at school. Kochanuk credits the help of home-stay families though for doing what they can to help the students through quarantine.
“They’re doing a remarkable job of making the students feel welcome,” he said.
Kochanuk added the district is not bringing the usual third cohort that comes every April and May, meaning the latest arrivals will be the last ones joining School District 71 for this school year.