Brunswick High School to formalize Chinese exchange

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board gave the green light to two new academic programs at the high school when members met Wednesday for the first time this year.

Brunswick High School Principal Shanna Crofton told the board an academic exchange program in China, as well as a STEM diploma endorsement program, are in the works.

Spearheaded by Julie Mason, a Spanish teacher and the international program coordinator at BHS, the exchange program would create the opportunity for a small group of Chinese students to enroll in a multi-week summer immersion program at the high school, and for one or two Chinese students to attend BHS throughout the academic year.

Students from BHS would have the opportunity to study abroad as well, but Crofton said that staff have yet to determine the amount of time for either a portion of the academic year or short trip.

Crofton said that BHS has hosted Chinese exchange students in the past, and as recently as last year. 

The board authorized revenues remaining from that student’s tuition to send Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin and Mason on an upcoming trip to China to formalize the program.

If conversations go well, Mason said she hopes the school could host Chinese students at BHS as soon as this summer, and for the 2017-18 academic year. 

Revenues generated from Chinese tuition would then support sending BHS students abroad.

Student liaison Elina Woolever, who studied in India for four months her sophomore year, spoke in favor of the idea. 

“We can forget how sheltered we are in Brunswick,” she said. “I think (studying abroad) is an incredibly valuable experience.”

Next, BHS math teacher Sandy Dolan and technology education teacher Bill Clark pitched a new curriculum program that would allow high school students to specialize in STEM courses in order to receive special recognition on their diplomas.

Interested students would opt to take additional courses in science, engineering and math; in turn, they would receive a “STEM endorsement diploma” when they graduate.

Dolan likened the distinction to graduating with honors; she said the endorsement is meant to act like a flag to colleges and future employers that this student “went above and beyond” in STEM fields.

“It really is about the idea of getting to college and technical school and being more prepared,” Clark said. His classes are designed to give students hands-on experience – a chance to apply the abstract quantitative concepts they learn in math and sciences classes – to broaden their awareness of STEM fields.

The idea for the program emerged a few years ago, when Dolan’s AP calculus class partnered with Clark’s engineering program. There, Dolan learned that many of her students weren’t aware of the kinds of hands-on coursework that existed in academia – much less at BHS. 

While the program isn’t targeted to any specific group of students – Crofton emphasized that it was not geared toward students on an accelerated track – Dolan said she hopes the program will encourage female students to enter STEM fields.

Drawing from personal experience as a woman and from having a daughter, she said that girls can often feel out of their element in engineering classes. Girls are not conditioned to take an interest in mechanical fields the same way boys are, she said; for example, she pointed to the way that boys, less so than girls, are told to play with blocks as kids.

Clark said the program will challenge students beyond what they are used to, but that he and Dolan has conferred with the guidance department, “and the consensus was, ‘this is doable.'”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or at cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.