Students, teachers, and administrators at Wheeling Central Catholic High School will soon gain firsthand knowledge about how the other side of the world ticks beginning in January, and now officials are searching for local families who would like to share in that experience.
Dana Schmidt with Twinn Palms Homestay Services is currently recruiting host families for as many as eight Chinese students who are set to enroll at Wheeling Central Catholic following Christmas break.
“At this point in time we have two students who have chosen Wheeling, and we do know that there are more students who are continuing the process in China so they can come here, too,” Schmidt said. “That is why we have started our search for the homestay families that will serve as the hosts for these students.
“We are looking for families who would be willing to open up their homes and to offer these students the American culture while attending Central Catholic High School,” Schmidt explained. “If there are folks in our community that have an open bedroom and would be willing to experience this process with one of the students, we definitely would like to hear from them.”
Thus far Wheeling Central has gained a male and female student from China. Xindi is a 14-year-old female who is in 9th grade, and she is an A student who plays the piano and likes to read. Lyu is a 17-year-old male who is involved in his tennis and radio club. His hobbies include cooking, basketball, climbing, and music.
Each family interested in hosting one of the students will be interviewed by Schmidt, and all applicants will be required to be at least 26 years old, possess a government-issued identification card, and also prove they have car insurance. A background check will be performed as well.
Once that process is complete, each Chinese family will be presented with three potential host families from which to choose.
“The program calls for three different choices for the families and students in China because they know what they wish to gain from participating in this program,” Schmidt explained. “When the students come here, they will be on a 10-month education visa and our hope is that they will have the chance to travel during the summer break and during the other extended breaks during the school year.
“Wheeling is very close to some of the most exciting places in the United States so we are hoping that they would have the opportunities to see cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York,” she continued. “And our host families can request time off, too, if they wish to do something with their immediate family members only.”
Each selected family will receive a monthly stipend of $700 to pay for its student’s expenses.
“The stipend the families receive is to be used to pay for the food and the transportation that is going to be necessary for these students,” Schmidt explained. “Our host families will need to make sure their student has an American cell phone and a bank account … things like that.
“Another part of the program is monthly checkups with both the students and their host families to ensure that everything is working the way it is supposed to,” she continued. “Our hope is that these young men and women will become a part of the family.”
Initially, the Chinese students will be enrolled in several basic classes to assist the adjustment period, but once their first semester is complete, they will be encouraged to take whatever classes they wish to experience.
“There will be an adjustment process because of the differences between how the Chinese are educated and how Central Catholic students are educated,” Schmidt explained. “And then they will be encouraged to participate in as many extracurricular activities as they can handle, like sports and other clubs that we have at Wheeling Central.
“We really want them to do what American kids do while they are here so they can learn about Wheeling, West Virginia, and the United States the best they can before they enter the next stage in their lives,” she continued. “Until they are able to do some traveling, Wheeling will be America in their eyes, so we want to make that experience the best it can be.”
The English language, for example, may prove challenging at first.
“Each one of these students are graded as exceptional in their schools in China, and they all have taken English classes there,” she said. “But the only English they have spoken has been in a classroom and not out there in the American society, so I am sure there will be a lot of language lessons involved with being one of our host families.
“For the vast majority of the Chinese students that are involved with this program, this will be their first trip to the United States,” Schmidt reported. “So, while they all can speak English to a point, they will be learning a lot from the very moment they land on American soil.”
The Chinese students and their families that have chosen Wheeling Central Catholic had many options and larger cities from which to choose, Schmidt said.
“But they specifically chose Wheeling because this area offers them the environment they wish their children to experience,” she said. “Those parents likely want their children to be in a community environment while still having access to the larger cities along the East Coast.”
Those who are interested can reach Schmidt by calling 314-954-2822, or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vince Schmidt, the superintendent of Catholic Schools in West Virginia, began developing this program nearly three years ago. He has taken two extended trips to several cities in China, and he also has worked with education administrators and government officials along the way.
“These will be students who wish to benefit from the education that is offered at Wheeling Central, and we will also be able to add to our student population at the same time,” he said. “The benefits for our students in Wheeling will be very important to them because it will allow them to understand our country’s connection with China and the Asian culture.
“Our students will gain a better understanding about how the other side of world acts and goes about their business,” the superintendent continued. “It will give them a leg up; that’s for sure, as they enter into the next stage of their education.”
His two trips to China, Schmidt admitted, opened his eyes to many of the cultural differences that exist between the two countries, especially concerning the educational processes.
“They employ a completely different mindset as far as hopes and dreams,” he said. “It’s not driven by a sense of accomplishment, but instead it is very much driven by monetary factors.
“They place an enormous amount of concentration on education, and every single student is driven to get the best possible grades that they can,” he said. “I know there is competition here in the United States, but everything in China is competitive. Everything,”
The Twinn Palms program, Schmidt reported, hopes to expand further in West Virginia by placing students in the six other parochial high schools: Bishop Donahue in McMechen, Weirton Madonna, Charleston Catholic High, Parkersburg Catholic High, Notre Dame High in Clarksburg, and St. Joseph’s High in Huntington.
“We are always looking for ways to add to the enrollments at each one of our schools throughout the state, and it is my hope that once we get this program started at Wheeling Central that it will spread to our other six high schools around the state,” the superintendent said. “I would love to see that take place, and I know the teachers and the members of the administration at those schools are hoping for the same, too.”
(Photos from China provided by Vince Schmidt; photos of the Wheeling Central campus by Steve Novotney)