St. John’s School will increase its student body by targeting Asian students.
The move to add Asian students this summer is part of a strategy to tap the educational tourism market in the region and build a demand to board students from neighboring countries.
Dr. Jorge O. Nelson St. John’s headmaster said the summer experience would be based on the Princeton Review and Outward Bound models. The Princeton Review has been preparing students for scholastic aptitude tests for decades. The Outward Bound program was first conceived in Great Britain in 1941 and since then it has become the premier adventure-based education program in the world he said.
“The program will be split into academic study and local outdoor time. We have already had a great response ” Nelson said. “If the response on the two- to six-week program is any indication of what a full- year program can bring then we know that the advancement of the international learning program is well on its way.”
In addition St. John’s is planning a new facility to house boarders at the school. St. John’s fees range from $8 900 to $12 900 annually.
Lest parents who pay the highest fees on Guam for what is considered a premium education worry about a limitless influx no more than 15% of total enrollment will be added to the student body ensuring that St. John’s Episcopal school remains a Guam-centered institution.
The first step in the St. John’s strategy will offer a two to six-week summer Scholastic Assessment Testing/Expeditionary Learning Program adding up to 40 Asian-based students to the summer program that the school runs successfully for approximately 100 local attendees.
The acceptance of international students in summer school is intended to create a case for an expanded boarding facility for students from Japan Korea Taiwan China and Vietnam. St. John’s also intends to build on its successful boarding of students from Palau and increase its appeal to students from other Micronesian locations.
Once the case is successfully made to immigration authorities the school board plans an 80-person dormitory at a cost of $3 million to $5 million. The boarding house will be located along the cliff toward the back of the campus. These plans will be used for further discussion and study as to the feasibility for expanding to the regular school year.
St. John’s Nelson and Timothy T. Kernaghan vice president and general manager of Dickerson & Quinn Ltd. and president of the board of trustees at St. John’s told the Journal that the acceptance of additional international students would build on the present successful boarding of students from Palau Japan and China and help to stabilize and increase the school’s student body. The school has 11 students boarding at the school campus nine of them from Palau.
“We are looking to grow back our student population from the little over 500 it is today to the 700 we had in 1992 ” Nelson said. “We hope to do that by attracting more local students who have financial need by increasing financial assistance and scholarships as well as attracting international students who desire to prepare for university on U.S. soil yet still be in their own back yard of the Asia Pacific region.”
The barrier to attracting international students is the fallout from the events of 9/11 which has dramatically slowed issuance of U.S. visas to international students. It’s a problem Nelson and Kernaghan said is going to be difficult for the school and needs sensitive handling. “It is going to be a slow process and one we don’t want to rush ” Nelson said.
The idea of a dormitory for the school is not a new one. “The school had some very grandiose but achievable plans for dorming which fell away after 9/11 ” Kernaghan said. “The problem is trying to get visas for students who are considered a security or flight risk.”
Because of the difficulty in obtaining student visas for the entire school year the school will build a reputation and interest for its summer school first. The two- to six-week SAT admissions test preparation program is aimed at students who are looking for experience in the new SAT written portion of the U.S. admissions exam as well as offering an expeditionary camp to get students outside and enjoy Guam through Outward Bound-style experiences.
“We want to avail St. John’s to people outside our region who would want to come and have an American education and experience the great island we live on. We have had to work out a strategy to do that ” Kernaghan said. “It’s an evolving process and steps taken recently are driving us in that direction.”
Those steps are membership for St. John’s in the East Asia Regional Conference for Overseas Schools in 2005 and membership in 2006 of the Association of Boarding Schools.
The steps are combined with the fact that the school offers two highly respected secondary education programs. One is the challenging International Baccalaureate program common to many international schools and recognized academically in the United States.; and the Advanced Placement Program which allows high school students to accumulate credits accepted at U.S. universities as well as many universities overseas.
The two programs Nelson said “give St. John’s immediate credence and respect with educational institutions worldwide. Parents who wish to send their children to a top American college or university education know that St. John’s will have all the right skills sets and academic rigor for any student who matriculates into our course of studies.”
Nelson said the school intends to generate interest and demand through the summer programs.
“We will offer international students who can come for a two- to six-week stay in our existing 10-room dormitory facilities and when they go back home we’ll rely on word of mouth to market our year-round school.”
Kernaghan said the summer program would create a pool of money to help support the funding for an 80-person dormitory in the near future.
“Let’s see what the headmasters in other countries say about our summer program ” Nelson said. “We have a site and a preliminary drawing and we have a business plan and we have a question. That question is ‘If we build it will they come?’”
Both Nelson and Kernaghan believe the answer is yes. They said there is a market among international students who have families willing to spend the large sums of money an American education demands. Sponsorship for the project is still in discussion. “I have had people come to me and say we can make this happen but until we see how this summer program works everything is undecided ” Nelson said.
“We have been working with Gov. Camacho and Congresswoman Bordallo who are behind us in terms of expanding educational tourism on Guam ” Kernaghan said. “We’re targeting South Korea Japan and maybe Taiwan mainland China and Vietnam. The problem continues as to whether the U.S. will emerge from this post-9/11 mindset and allow for a more liberal allocation of education visas.”
Sen. Alan R. Seid is chairman of the board of directors for Micronesia Investment & Development Corp. and chairman of the St. John’s Development Committee. He also serves as Palau’s senate floor leader and chairman of the senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and State Relations of the Olbiil Era Kelulau.
Seid told the Journal he is hopeful that the connections he has made with Ms. Fan Sui-iu deputy minister of education for the Republic of China Taiwan will bear fruit for St. John’s. He said he has also made substantial contacts with University Education Services Inc. in Taipei which will help move the school closer to achieving its long-range goals.
“The idea to attract students from Taiwan was inspired by the Morita Foundation and its help given to Palauan students.”
The Morita Foundation donated $2 million in 1999 to set up an educational trust to bring Palauan students to St. John’s to experience a college preparatory school education.
“Now we hope to use the same principals to expand and attract Taiwanese students wishing to get a top-quality American education ” Seid said.
He said that none of the progress made so far would have been possible if the relationship between the Episcopal Church and St. John’s was not as cohesive and tight as it is now.
“Without the church’s support we would not be able to meet our short- and long-term goals. We are very fortunate to have such a good working relationship ” Seid said. MBJ