12K a yr. students wait out strike

Some 230 students from around the world, many hoping to earn a high school diploma in the Okanagan, are learning more about strikes than they are brushing up on their English.

Students from 26 countries, mostly from Germany, Mexico and China, began arriving last week for what any believed would be a year of in-class learning.

Instead, they are forced to do their learning outside the classroom while schools remain behind picket lines.

"We'll do things like field trips. Things we would normally do later in the year we are doing now," says School District 23 Superintendent, Hugh Gloster.

"We plan to take them to the Rockies, Vancouver and (give them) basic orientation."

Students from foreign countries pay $12,500 for a year of tuition and another $7,500 to $10,000 for home-stay with a local family.

It's big business for the province. According to the BC Teacher's website there are approximately 10,000 international students enrolled in K-12 in BC. If they all are paying what they do in the Okanagan, $12,500 each, then it totals $125 million. In School District 23 it works out to over $2.8 million. It is money the districts want to keep. 

Gloster says there are clearly some expectations.

The situation is much the same at School District 22 in Vernon where international students are being escorted on field trips to the H2O Centre in Kelowna, Kamloops Wildfire Centre and Camp Squamish among others.

"A lot of kids come to enhance their English skills. We'll focus on that in this three week time period and hopefully by then things will be back to normal," says Gloster.

"What they are doing now is what they would be doing in school."

He says the district has contracted buses to get students around and are utilizing five non-CUPE staff members to assist with the group.

Gloster says principals and vice-principals are also stepping up to help.

About 90 per cent of the students that come here are in grades 10 through 12 with a majority booked for the entire year.

"The reason they are coming is to help them become fluent in English, learn our culture and graduate here. Some hope to go on to a North American university so they are anxious to learn."

Like other students, they are learning more about class composition and wage demands than their ABC's.

The district hosted a dinner Tuesday night for 700 students, home-stay parents and their families.

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