Jun 272013

This past school year, more than 15 international students enrolled at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School to study English and get an “authentic American experience” for one or two semesters. On the flip side, Groton-Dunstable students experienced diversity and world views every day they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

“We lack diversity in our classrooms, and by bringing exchange students in, we”re exposing both the American students and the international students to different cultures,” Principal Michael Mastrullo said.

We worked very hard to make sure that the students have a good time here in Groton

“We worked very hard to make sure that the students have a good time here in Groton,” Mastrullo said. “Mark Hennelly has been helpful in setting up touristy trips like going into Boston and seeing a Bruins game.”

Hennelly is the high school’s International Student Coordinator and a guidance counselor. He agreed that the new exchange program has been very successful at integrating the international students into the school”s classrooms.

“This is the first long-term international program at G-D,” Hennelly said. “I think it”s been extremely successful in letting the international students sit in and participate in class as well as the social aspect of it.”

After a successful first year, G-DRHS is gearing up for a second season. But at the moment, things are looking a little shaky. Next year”s exchange program will begin this September. At least eight international students are expected, but up to 20 could visit if enough host families sign up. Just two host families are enrolled so far.

“We want to get the word out and let families know that these students aren”t a burden on their daily routines. The students become part of the family and appreciate getting the full experience.” Groton resident Joyce Strong said. “It’s fun to share what you know about your home city and see it brand new through the eyes of a visitor!”

Strong is the International Coordinator for Educatius International, the company that has partnered with the school district to administer the program. Educatius is a for-profit company headquartered in Sweden with offices in the US, including one in Boston. Educatius began to recruit international students into US private boarding schools in 2001. In 2007, Educatius launched a program which let international students enroll in US and Canadian public schools while staying with a host family that receives $700 a month to cover the expense of opening its home and welcoming an international teenager.

The international students sign up for one semester or a full year that includes standard high school courses — immersed in the normal life of a G-D student — taking science, English, and history courses as well as electives, and gym. Exchange students get acclimated to normal Groton-Dunstable life by riding the bus every day and participating in extracurriculars to enhance their experience in America.

“Both the exchange students and the American students are interested in learning about a different way of life and different cultures which is what this exchange program provides.” Mastrullo said.

Educatius recruits all over the world and allows the students freedom to choose the community and what schools they can be enrolled in. The primary focus of Educatius is to open the doors of education in the US to students from all around the world, according to the company’s web site. It does this by offering placements in many school districts in metropolitan areas like Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and smaller areas coast to coast. The program is constantly growing with new school districts in attractive areas being added, the web site states.

Mastrullo said that the high school and then-Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola approached Educatius two years ago, seeking out the new exchange program. The company has gotten good reviews from other school districts, and Mastrullo added that “There is comfort in working with one company.”

The exchange students came from as far as China, France, Italy, Brazil, and Norway. The students come to the United States to further their studies of the English language and to experience becoming part of an American family. All have studied and speak English.

Strong hosted five exchange students last school year. She currently has two boys living in her home with her, Guanyu Song -— his American name is Tom -— a sophomore from China, and Gilles Jourdan, a junior from France.

“I thought that being a single mother would slim my chances of being picked as a host but Educatius is great about accepting host families with different backgrounds and circumstances.” Strong said. “I was worried I wouldn”t be able to afford it, but the $700 (per month) stipend (from Educatius) covers everything, and also the boys are very good at covering their own expenses like paying for the clothes that they buy and the trips that they take.”

A host family”s duties include providing room and board — giving the student a place to sleep and three meals a day. The $700 per month stipend should cover all the expenses of the exchange student, Strong said.

Strong emphasized that by hosting an exchange student for a semester, the student becomes part of the family rather than a guest.

They helped me shovel in the winter, and sometimes I ask if they can feed the dog and whatnot. They become part of your family.

“They helped me shovel in the winter, and sometimes I ask if they can feed the dog and whatnot.” Strong said. “They become part of your family, and since they are here to speak English and learn more about our culture, it”s easy for them to interact with us.”

Jourdan and Song have gotten acclimated by not only participating in classes at Groton-Dunstable but also partaking in activities outside of the school. Jourdan joined a local recreational soccer team and has made local friends to hang out with outside of the classroom.

“Everyone has been so kind and friendly here.” Song said.

Another facet of the program’s future, both Mastrullo and Hennelly said, is arranging to send Groton-Dunstable students abroad for a semester.

“The long-term goal for our exchange program would be for it to work both ways. We would have students coming from abroad and students from Groton going abroad for a semester,” Mastrullo said.

Currently there is no exchange program at the high school that lets the Groton students go abroad. There have been trips in the past overseas, but usually only lasting 10 days.

If you”re looking to become a host family or are interested about the program, contact Strong at joycestrong.educatius@gmail.com. You can also follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/educatiusGD and on Twitter at @EducatiusGroton.