Catholic international student program growth continues

·3 min read

The international student program within the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education started three years ago with five students and has continued to grow, welcoming 73 students from 11 countries for the 2022-23 academic year.

Students range from Grades 7-12, with 67 alone attending Monsignor McCoy High School.

Wanda Simmons, international education supervisor, says, “We have a very good homestay program with supportive homestay families, and that is the critical element to the international program. The school takes care of itself because most of the students are academic to begin with and want to improve their English.

“Some come for three years to get a high school diploma to carry on into post-secondary in Canada, as their chances are stronger with a Canadian diploma.”

Simmons works with agencies to find students who will be the right fit for this district. Creating the relationships and building the trust factor with those agencies is key so they are vetting those students who want to be in the type of program offered in the local Catholic division.

Students arrive in late August, attend an orientation and receive a sweatshirt so that on the first day of school they feel confident. There is an international room within the school for them to hang out where they can speak their native language. Once they leave the room, they must speak English.

“We watch them quite closely because the whole purpose is for them to conversationally speak English because most of them want to use it for job enrichment. The writing is important but not as important as the conversation,” said Simmons.

“The Canadian kids are coming into the international room as well,” added Sasha Campbell, homestay co–ordinator. “This week we had one of the Spanish kids giving lessons. It’s a really cool thing if they choose to get themselves involved.”

Campbell works out of McCoy and counselling is provided for the students.

“They have enough support at the school, and I think that is one of the redeeming qualities on why it is growing so quickly because they feel supported. When that happens, siblings start coming and friends start coming,” stated Simmons.

Added to this is all the activities the group does together.

“I want them to know me really well so if there is an issue, they aren’t scared to come talk to me. We do so many activities together that I’m like the mama hen,” added Campbell.

So far, the group has ridden the Sunshine Trolley, been bowling and to paint ball, as well as Waterton, West Edmonton Mall (with an Oilers game), movies, the badlands, Reesor Ranch (winter ATVing and a hotdog cookout on a bonfire), a corn maze at night, a haunted house, chuckwagons, minigolf and more.

“I try to utilize within the community to help businesses as well. I feel like the community should know that we have international students within the city, and I think it’s a cool thing to show off our city,” said Campbell.

“The lifelong connections to these kids is the reason I got involved,” said Simmons. “I did lots of international travel with kids prior to this while I was teaching, and I could see the benefit of broadening your mind. It’s not about the business, it’s about the experience for the McCoy kids and the international kids.”

One of the most important things for the visiting students is many are isolated in their own communities and are unable to leave their houses. In Medicine Hat they have a bike and can roam around and often can’t believe the freedom of the community and how safe it is.

“I knew what I needed to be for the kids,” said Campbell. “I honestly didn’t prepare myself for how much they were giving back to me. The bond we created was huge and it was hard for me to say goodbye to 46 kids last year. To this day, I hear from someone each day, which is great.”

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News