Students at Drumheller Valley Secondary School (DVSS) will be joined by 26 international students participating in the Golden Hills School Division’s International Student Program.
Normally, the program hosts more than 70 international students a year, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has posed a number of challenges, for both the program and the students enrolled in it.
“Of the 26 international students, 14 stayed in Canada,” DVSS principal Curtis LaPierre told the Mail. “We also have two new and 24 returning students this year.”
One student will live within the community while the remaining 25 will stay in residence in the school’s dormitory.
Prior to being welcomed into DVSS, the international participants were quarantined for two weeks in Strathmore and underwent COVID-19 testing with negative results; students joined their classmates on September 10 and 14.
Despite these precautions, LaPierre says the program has received concern from parents and community members.
The biggest issue being fear of introducing COVID-19 into the community.
LaPierre says in the last 15 years the program has run there have been approximately 1,200 students enrolled, with most students averaging three years of enrollment.
He adds the program helps to stimulate the local economy and “maintain programming for local students.”
Kate Kono, a grade 12 student from Japan, is in her fourth year in the international program and will be part of the DVSS Class of 2021. After graduation, Kate hopes to attend post-secondary in North America to study paleontology and has previously volunteered with the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
When she first began school at DVSS, Kate says she struggled with English as a second language. She says the teachers were helpful and supportive of her as an international student while she learned the language and grew more comfortable with it.
Kate added the students, and the community as a whole, have been very warm and welcoming.
Since joining the program Kate has been an active member of DVSS. She has been a member of the student council and the girls’ basketball team. Kate has also played violin for DVSS students in both the talent show and the 2019 International Students’ Day celebrations.
The celebrations normally allow local students to experience various international cultures through food, fashion, and music presentations by students in the International Student Program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools closed in March, the 2020 celebrations had to be cancelled.
Kate returned home to Japan for the summer after school closures.
She says this year in the program is different, not just because of having to quarantine or because of mandatory masks and increased sanitization.
“Every year I’m excited to meet new international students from different cultures, this year we only have two new students from Asia,” she told the Mail.
Low enrollment numbers for the international program also has a “big hit for programming” for local students, meaning some programs have faced temporary cancellations for the 2020-2021 school year.
Students enrolled in the multi-language programs offered at DVSS have also lost a vital part of learning a second language organically without native speakers of a variety of foreign languages among the student population.