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Saving an American high school, by way of China

A Maine high school not far from Mount Katahdin is suffering from some of the same problems many high schools across the country are grappling with: declining enrollment and increasingly scarce resources.

Officials at Stearns High School are looking overseas for what they hope will be an answer to their woes, the New York Times reports. They hope to recruit students from China, who will pay $27,000 a year for tuition, room and board.

Chinese class Reporter Abby Goodnough writes: "On Friday, Dr. Smith left for China, where he is spending a week pitching Stearns High to school officials, parents and students in Beijing, Shanghai and two other cities. He has hired a consultant to help him make connections in China, lobbied Millinocket’s elected officials and business owners to embrace the plan and even directed the school’s cafeteria workers to add Chinese food to the menu." He's also checking out vacant properties in the area in search of future dorms for the students.

The plan brings to mind some local efforts to draw foreign students here to enhance existing programs. Several private schools, including Park School, Cardinal O'Hara High School and Nichols, have a number of international students. Buffalo Seminary has even opened a dorm for some of its international students.

And Buffalo Superintendent James A. Williams last year visited China to start laying the groundwork for a public school here that would enroll half its students from Buffalo and half from China.

Each of these scenarios, of course, brings its own challenges.

At the outset, for instance, Buffalo officials said their plan likely would take 10 years to come to fruition. A major hurdle, they said, would be lining up the necessary funding.

And in Maine, Smith says a major stumbling block will be a federal rule that limits foreign students from spending more than a year in a public school in the United States. For now, he's focusing on bringing in Chinese students for a year at a time, while he tries to persuade Congress to change that rule.

Goodnough writes: "Dr. Smith, a native of Maine who has traveled outside New England only rarely, conceded he did not know much about China. But from what he had heard and read in recent months, he said, two things were clear: China had a large middle class with money to spend, and its students wanted to study here.

“'They want to learn English, and they want a college education,' he said. 'If we can get them into a college here, they will have achieved their major goal.'”

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |