BANGOR, Maine — John Bapst Memorial High School is close to acquiring two properties on Broadway, within walking distance of the school, to house students participating in Bapst’s fledging boarding program, which begins next year.
This past summer, the private academy in Bangor joined several other schools in Maine and across the country to actively open its doors to foreign students.
Before making the decision, school headmaster Mel MacKay said, the John Bapst board of trustees and others studied the possibility for many months and visited schools throughout New England that have instituted successful programs. Without exception, each school reported improved quality of education and stabilized enrollment.
“The benefits are great for both sides,” MacKay said. “For the [international] students, many of whom want to successfully enroll in an American college or university, they receive total language immersion, which is crucial. For [Maine] students, they get a more diverse student body and different approaches to learning.”
There are practical reasons, too. Private schools — and public ones, for that matter — have suffered decreased enrollment in a depressed economy. International students, usually those from affluent homes, are intellectually capable but also are willing to pay for a U.S. education.
National statistics in 2009 showed 650,000 international students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. In the same year, about 35,000 foreign students attended primary or secondary schools in the United States, a number that is growing.
Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said that while the state doesn’t have any specific initiatives for recruiting foreign students, he agreed they can enrich experiences for current students and bring in needed revenue.
Beginning in the fall of 2011, John Bapst hopes to have approximately 40 students enrolled in its boarding program. Most of those students likely will be housed in small dormitories located at 44-46 Broadway and 80 Broadway, which MacKay said are expected to be acquired by early January. The students would be supervised by “house parents,” and any additional boarding school program students would be placed in homes.
The proposed dormitory buildings, both of which were built in the 19th century, will need minor changes, but McKay said both are in good shape. He also said the school plans to work with current tenants on the transition.
Meanwhile, MacKay and Colleen Grover, dean of admissions for John Bapst, have been spending time overseas trying to entice students to Maine. MacKay recently spent three weeks in Asia meeting with potential families in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam. Grover recently attended an international recruitment fair in Berlin.
“It’s encouraging that when we have gone out and advertised what we have to offer, it’s exactly what international children are after,” said MacKay, who has now been to Asia three times in the past year.
The headmaster said traveling to China and visiting high schools of 10,000 students puts education in perspective. China has sent the most students to Maine over the past several years, according to MacKay, but other countries have started to follow its lead. He added that the boarding program at Bapst is not limited to international students. MacKay said children from Maine communities that are far away from Bangor are welcome to participate as well.
Bangor City Councilor Charles Longo, a 2007 graduate of Lee Academy, said the boarding program is a great opportunity for John Bapst.
“For me, it was like going to school at the United Nations every day,” Longo said of his time at Lee Academy, one of the first Maine schools to actively recruit foreign students. “The school’s motto was ‘Opening doors to the world,’ and I truly believe that’s exactly what John Bapst will be doing.”