Up to 50 students from China could be enrolled for a full school year at Foss High School next fall, following an agreement between Tacoma Public Schools and a private Chinese company.
The school district signed the agreement with the Maryland-based Tower Bridge Group on Feb. 27.
The company will pay the district $10,000 per student in tuition. In addition, each student will pay a $500 fee into a fund to support future international study tours for Tacoma students and staff. The company charges parents to have their children participate in the program.
The district and the company, which also has offices in Beijing, both say the goal is to promote cultural and educational exchange.
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“Our vision is to connect the world through the power of culture,” said Tower Bridge Chairman Lawrence Liu, speaking through a translator during a recent Tacoma visit. “We believe cultural exchange will change the DNA of the world.”
Tacoma Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia said the visiting students will help Foss, home of the school district’s International Baccalaureate diploma program, expand its vision for the future.
He said one goal at Foss is to “build more extensive partnerships to give Foss kids a global perspective.”
Garcia said the tuition payments will cover the cost of educating the Chinese students, who will not receive state, local levy or federal funding.
He said the connection between the school district and Tower Bridge came about through the Commission on International Relations established by Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
Tower Bridge already sends students to schools in California’s Murrieta Valley Unified School District, located between Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as school districts elsewhere in California and in New Mexico.
While they attend school in America, students live either with host families or in chaperoned dormitory or apartment buildings.
Liu said Tower Bridge provides a team that includes a liaison to work with host families, staff who work with students on academic and cultural needs, and individuals who help parents back in China learn what their children will experience in an American school. Parents get biweekly student progress reports.
He said the Chinese students also will receive instruction in English provided by Tower Bridge staff.
“We don’t want to put the burden on the school district,” Liu said. “That is why we have our team here, to help students learn about American culture.”
In recent years, American educators have sometimes looked to Chinese education for clues on how to spur higher achievement in their students, particularly in math. But Liu said many Chinese families believe American-style education has much to offer their children.
“There are advantages and disadvantages of each education system,” Liu said.
In China, he said, the focus is on a single standardized learning system, while U.S. education centers more on the individual. He said a hybrid of the two systems would be ideal.
Tower Bridge chose Tacoma for its diversity, Liu said, as well as for the artistic and cultural attractions reflected in its museums.
“It is a friendly city with a rich culture,” he said.
Tower Bridge recently sent a group of seventh-graders to Tacoma for a three-week get-acquainted visit with the city and its schools. It hopes to expand on that program, as well as on the year-long program for high school students in Tacoma.