June 2012 issue

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Canadian school boards

Overseeing elementary, middle and secondary school provision in a particular city, town or province, Canadian public school boards or districts are well placed to promote Canada’s provincial locations to an international audience. Nicola Hancox finds out more.

Canada is widely recognised as offering a well-developed, publically-funded high school infrastructure. With an education system that ranks highly on a global scale, its reputation sits well with parents looking to send their child overseas for secondary schooling.

Canadian school boards or districts – which typically comprise a number of schools in one city or town and, in some instances, neighbouring towns – are often the first port of call for parents and indeed education agents looking to enrol a child or student client in secondary education. Rather than applying to an individual school, students (or agents on a student or parents’ behalf) simply apply to a particular district. The application is then assessed by the board and leads to an informed decision as to which member school the student would be best suited to.

According to Maureen Smiley, President of the International Public School Education Association (IPSEA) – an umbrella organisation that represents 37 out of 59 public school districts in British Columbia (BC) – each board is responsible for supporting both domestic and international students and for the safety and cleanliness of each of the member schools in its division. Individual school boards are also responsible for the promotion of its teaching environs abroad, highlights Smiley.

The responsibilities of the boards do not end there however, affirms Eva Lettner, Principal of the International Student Programme and Global Learning Institute at the Eastern Townships School Board in Magog, Quebec. She notes they are heavily involved in every aspect of the student experience from grass roots up. “We are responsible for the recruitment of educational consultants and/or agents…for the application and selection of students, we recruit homestay families and assume guardianship for our international students…[and] we ensure that students are integrated into local programmes appropriate to their needs and promote their participation in local projects,” she details.

Keen to inject campuses with a little diversity, many school boards and districts welcome overseas students on campus and have done for many years. The International Student Programme offered by the Gulf Islands School District in BC was launched in 1999 and, says Programme Director, Dr. Scott Bergstrome, students who enrol with the programme “enrich and broaden the perspective of all the educational programmes offered by the school”.

International programming can differ from district-to-district, but students can expect to find a good variety of options available to them including full academic graduation programmes (comprising two years), one year, short-term semester and summer programmes. Smiley points out alternative offerings such as the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement. Lettner, meanwhile, notes that they will soon provide ESL/FSL enrichment through summer camps and virtual classes.

As the smallest school district in British Columbia, Bergstrome expounds the merits of attending a smaller outfit. Small, he says, is defined by having 100 or less international students. Member schools span five island communities in Canada’s hinterland with provincial capital, Victoria, a 30-minute ferry ride away. Overseas student numbers are capped at 10 per cent and the board enrols a maximum of 65 non-domestic students at any one time. He adds, “International students who choose smaller [schools] enjoy the sense of well-being and security that comes from being a part of a community where everyone knows who they are and where they feel at home.” Proficiency pick-up times are that much quicker too, he outlines.

Comparatively, as Canada’s largest province by area, Quebec is far from small. Eastern Townships, says Lettner, welcomes nearly 6,000 students within its 23 elementary schools, four high schools and two vocational and adult education centres. However, the international demographic is relatively modest. “This year,” she says, “we hosted 42 overseas students in our high schools for 10-month exchanges, from Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Korea and China.” Marketing their programme through a network of education consultants and recruitment trips, she adds that the board also utilises b2b workshops and enjoys participation at student fairs.

Gulf Islands also actively recruits using study abroad advisors. “In the past we have tended to work with a small number of agents who know and respect what the Gulf Islands international programme has to offer,” says Bergstrome. The board also has a network of alumni and student advisors in key markets.

Membership gains

The Canadian Association of Public Schools – International (Caps-i) comprises 87 district members – including elementary, middle, junior high and high schools – and the organisation itself plays an integral part in raising Canada’s global profile in regards to secondary public education. “Most districts belong to Caps-i,” affirms Maureen Smiley, President of the International Public School Education Association (IPSEA) in British Columbia. “Marketing events take place every month and each district attends events that they can afford and believe to be of benefit in terms of recruitment for their district,” she notes.

As well as being a member of regional outfit Education Internationale – a network of school boards based in Quebec – Eva Lettner at the Eastern Townships School Board in Magog, Quebec, notes they too are a member of Caps-i. Both, she says, provide “great support in terms of answering questions, exposing our district to various exchange opportunities and extending professional development sessions”.

Dr. Scott Bergstrome at the Gulf Islands School District in British Columbia affirms that Caps-i has made great strides on both national and international levels. However, while developments in marketing the Canada brand abroad have been far reaching, it is important smaller outfits be given as much credence as larger programmes, asserts Bergstrome. “...Big is often still seen as better,” he laments.

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Generation Estates
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