After a year off due to uncertainty about the coronavirus, Bartlesville High School will begin accepting foreign exchange students again in the 2021-22 school year.
“The decision was made last summer not to host foreign exchange students this year because of many unknowns with starting a school year during a pandemic,” said Principal LaDonna Chancellor. “We didn’t know if we would have in-person classes or virtual classes, or if students would have opportunities to attend school events.”
It turns out the Bartlesville school district’s plan for slowing the spread of the coronavirus has been highly effective, she said.
The high school has held in-person classes for all but one week of the first semester, and school events have continued in a limited capacity.
“Looking ahead to next year we feel confident we can support foreign exchange students and provide an in-person learning experience with opportunities to attend school events — even if they aren’t in the traditional formats we enjoyed prior to the pandemic,” Chancellor said. “With that in mind, we are pleased to host foreign exchange students again beginning this fall.”
Laci Davis, a local coordinator with International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES), is enthusiastic about the program’s return.
“My husband and I starting hosting exchange students in 2016. That same year we started working for ICES because we fell in love with the entire experience,” she said. “We thought we would host a student, provide them a home and teach them about our culture.”
But the experience turned out to be so much more than she and her husband could have imagined, Davis said.
“We learn as much from these students as they do from us and they become part of our family for life. We now have sons and daughters all over the world, and we plan to continue hosting as long as we are able,” she said.
In her coordinator role with ICES, Davis finds Bartlesville families willing to host an exchange student for the school year and then matches them with a student who fits with their family values and interests.
Throughout the school year, she provides support to both the student and family and ensures the home is a safe, loving environment in which the students can thrive.
“There is a misconception about what a host family should look like. Some people believe they can’t do it unless they have teenagers at home,” Davis said. “However, just about any family dynamic works for hosting.”
Empty-nesters, families with teens, families with young kids, couples with no kids or even single parents may apply to become a host family. Host families undergo a thorough interview process and must pass a background check before being matched with a student.
“But what we’re looking for is a family who can provide a loving home and care for a student just like they would their own child,” Davis said. “It is an exciting opportunity because we have such a culturally accepting community and school, and the exchange students thrive in the environment at BHS.”