Southwest creates foreign exchange student policy

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Acceptance could hinge on district financial status each year

Recently, the Southwest school district was asked for its policy regarding foreign exchange students, and without a policy to reference, the superintendent spent the last month working with organizations to develop one.

Tosha Tilford, Southwest superintendent, said the new policy states that Southwest would accept two foreign exchange students, one from each of the two organizations reaching out to the district.

However, the district will reserve the right to either deny the enrollment of a foreign exchange student or charge an academic fee, which could range from $1,500-$3,000 for enrollment.

Tilford said this is a policy put in place to better protect the district in times when the district cannot fiscally afford to accept a foreign exchange student.

According to Tilford, it costs the district a total of $8,000 to teach each student each year.

The academic fee is not a tuition fee and would be paid to the district prior to the student’s enrollment at Southwest. Decisions made regarding the requirements of an academic fee will be made by the superintendent by June 1 preceding the enrollment year.

As the academic fee is different from the tuition fee, a tuition fee will only be charged to the foreign exchange student if the student’s host family lives outside of the Southwest school district boundaries. That tuition cost is set by the Board of Education in July each year prior to the enrollment year.

Southwest was approached by Foreign Links Around the Globe (FLAG), which sparked this conversation, but also works with Ayusa, a non-profit cultural student exchange organization.

The recent policy regarding foreign exchange student enrolling in the Southwest school district was agreed to by the Southwest Board of Education as well as Heike Erwin, local FLAG coordinator.

However, the trajectory of the conversation developed over the last month to get to the agreement.

In the first draft of the policy, the Southwest school district would require a $4,500 student fee to be paid by all foreign exchange students prior to placement acceptance.

That policy was updated to state the district has the right to deny a student if deemed necessary by the superintendent due to financial concerns.

Tilford said her concern would be years when the district budget was so tight that it may have to cut staffing positions.

“I [would] have a difficult time cutting staff members and allowing students to attend school where there is no funding for them,” she said.

Erwin countered that most of the students she works with in FLAG would not have money for a fee like that, and a $4,500 academic fee was not something that was common from her experience.

In the end, Tilford said she doesn’t feel that there should be any reason that the district could not take on the financial cost of a foreign exchange student for the 2021-2022 school year.

The foreign exchange student guidelines for the Southwest school district include items like:

• The student must be over 15 years of age, but under 18 years of age.

• Foreign exchange students will be placed in the junior class.

• Personal letter from the student detailing why they are interested in the experience and what they ultimately hope to get from the experience.

• Students must be motivated and serious about their academics and take the school required courses.

• Exchange students are eligible to participate in athletics if they meet the MSHSAA requirements.

For the full list of guidelines and requirements, people may contact the Southwest school district.

Tilford said she modeled the guidelines based on other foreign exchange student guidelines and requirements in the area.

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