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San Diego School Brings In Chinese Students For Summer Classes On College Prep

San Diego School Brings In Chinese Students For Summer Classes On College Prep

Seventeen-year-old Bi Ran is finishing up a woodworking project on one of the last mornings of a four-week summer camp. He and 12 other students from China spent mornings alongside American kids at Francis Parker School, in Linda Vista, in classes like this one.

San Diego School Brings In Chinese Students For Summer Classes On College Prep
A San Diego private school drew in Chinese campers this summer for an intensive program on applying to American colleges.

That’s one of the things Bi has liked most about the program.

“The program really improved my English level," he said. "I can talk to other people in English. Before that when I talked to people in English I always got nervous.”

Tim Katzman heads summer and after school programs at Francis Parker. He said the summer camp is part of keeping the school’s mission relevant.

“We live in an international city, we’re in a world that gets smaller every day. If we don’t have our kids understand that having a global awareness is an important part of their education, indeed an important part of who they are, then we’re not giving them a complete education.”

Bi and five other students spend the afternoons in intensive four-hour sessions covering things like college application essays and how to get the most out of a campus tour.

In 2011 the English-language newspaper China Daily estimated 60,000 students from China would attend an American summer camp. Many think the number has only grown since then. But Katzman thinks it’s these afternoon sessions that set the Parker program apart from other international summer camps.

“To the best of our knowledge, none of the schools to this point have put in this university application process initiative. And I think that has resonated with kids and families and educators in China,” he said.

Working on how to write an American-style college application essay has been the most helpful part of the program, according to Meng Hanzhi, 16, who has her sights set on going to Columbia University.

“I know how to say the essays because it is so difficult for Chinese students," she said. "We just know how to write some beautiful sentences, but we haven’t got very good logical idea in our mind.”

But Bob Hurley, the Francis Parker counselor running the afternoon sessions said he hopes to give students a sense of control over the application process.

“Some of the personal nature of some of the admissions review especially if we’re talking about the schools they’re already targeting," he said. "They’re going to take into account recommendations, their essays and really read into it. And not just give their statistics to a computer and have it spit out a decision.”

If they get into an American college the Parker campers will be among the nearly 200,000 Chinese students pursuing a higher education in the U.S.

According to a report from the National Association For College Admission Counseling more than half of these students use an agent in China to help with the application process. The rapid growth in the demand for agents means not all are qualified, or reputable, the report states.

“The danger, we hear, often times for the students who do come from China is that they’re preyed upon by agents who are trying to place them and will make some promises of we’ll get you into such and such a college,” Hurley said.

The students put those college touring tips to use, visiting Southern California schools like San Diego State, UCLA, and the Claremont McKenna Colleges. Hurley hopes it’ll make the students more proactive in selecting the schools they’ll apply to.

“So if they can do that, take that initiative and be the one in charge of it, then they won’t feel like the process is being done to them,” he said.

Even with the program’s academic focus, the last four weeks have not resembled Zeng Yujia's normal school life.

“Classes in China are very big – many students in class. And sometimes the teacher is always talking himself or herself, no one else, and won’t hear what you are talking about," the fifteen-year-old said. "But here, the teacher will ask you question and mostly the students are speaking.”

Zeng and her summer classmates each paid almost $7,000 for the four-weeks of classes, day trips and family home stays. But Katzman said the primary goal wasn’t to make money for the school.

“We’ll, probably, pretty much break even this year on it with all of the expenses and support staff we’ve had," he said. "We’re doing it for a different reason than to generate revenues – that may come somewhere along the line but it’s certainly not been the motivator.”

Down the line, Katzman sees the school growing its connections to China. This fall they’ll host a conference for Southern California private schools that are also entering the market of academic programs for Chinese students to talk about what seems to be working and how best to grow.

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