For International Grade School Students, Long List Of Challenges To Return To School

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Beverly Selechnik and her daughter Vicky Cojab. (Courtesy, Cambridge School of Weston)
Beverly Selechnik and her daughter Vicky Cojab. (Courtesy, Cambridge School of Weston)

Just like the rest of the country, many international high school students are anxiously waiting for answers about next school year.

"I think that’s been the hardest part: not knowing when school will be back in session physically," said Vicky Cojab a rising senior at The Cambridge School of Weston. She’s back living with her mom in Guatemala, but she misses her friends and is really hoping to spend senior year with them in person.

But, of course, it’s not so simple.

"For me, as a mom, it’s hard to take the decision if she should go back to school or not," said Vicky’s mom, Beverly Selechnik. Health care is one of her top concerns.

"Honestly, I think I’d rather have her there than here," she said of sending her daughter back to Massachusetts. "Living in a third world country, I feel calmer if she’s in a place like the U.S."

Physically getting students to the United States could be difficult. There aren’t many international flights coming to the U.S. currently. In Guatemala, for example, routine commercial flights have been suspended. Travel plans for many international students are still in flux.

As a result, many private schools are getting prepared with online course options and orientations for students who can't make it in person at the start of the school year.

"Some [students] are planning to return right away as soon as they can in August and September," said Nancy Boyle, the upper school dean of academics with the Cape Cod Academy. "Others are wondering if they can get back at all or if they can get back for Thanksgiving."

If students do get back to school in person, they’ll have to follow public health guidance and quarantine for 14 days. Boyle said several faculty and administrators have volunteered to house the school’s 20 international students during that quarantine period before sending them to host families.

"It really is a whole bunch of people getting together to handle each situation individually," Boyle said.

And there are big questions looming about the student visas that allow these kids to travel here in the first place. New students might have a hard time getting into a U.S. Embassy to apply for a visa.

"With embassies closed down, they haven’t been able to schedule those interviews," said Myra McGovern with the National Association of Independent Schools. "Many have been closed for months, so there’s a backlog of interviews even when they do open."


Recent shifts in federal policy have added to the confusion. Earlier this month, it looked like international students wouldn’t be able to stay in the country if their courses went online. But the Trump administration backed away from that policy last week.

"Rapidly changing policies that don’t seem to have good rationale behind them could make studying in the U.S. less appealing for international students," McGovern said. "And we know that numerous other countries are working hard to recruit the students."

McGovern is worried this kind of policy flip flopping could do lasting damage to the reputation of private schools in the United States, which currently draw in about 30,000 students every year from roughly 180 countries. Local educators said that’s weighing heavily on their minds too.

"I worry about what kind of image and what kind of message we’re sending to our international population," said Po-Wei Weng, the international student adviser with the Cambridge School of Weston. "Are we creating a welcoming environment for international students?"

International students make up about 20% of his school’s student body. Weng added if any of those students couldn’t enroll it would have a big impact. So far, that enrollment appears steady.

This segment aired on July 22, 2020.

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Carrie Jung Senior Reporter, Education
Carrie is a senior education reporter.



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