As students head back to Hopkinton schools on Sept. 16, the pandemic has led to a significant number of international students canceling their planned exchanges. Only nine international students planned to attend Hopkinton High School for the fall semester.
“We’ve had as many as 20 in the past,” said Andy Longoria, coordinator of the Foreign Exchange Program at HHS. “We’ve pared down significantly this year because of COVID. … And I think that’s the right thing to do to keep the numbers low and be more targeted and more sensitive to the situation.”
Cancellations started around April and continued to trickle in over the summer. Recruiting exchange students and finding host parents willing to house them proved difficult due to virus spikes, travel restrictions and other deterrents posed by COVID.
Rather than suspend the program entirely, however, the high school administration decided to accept exchange students still committed while not pursuing additional students.
Longoria, who works with the travel exchange agencies to ensure security, housing and travel paperwork is properly handled, kept in close contact with both the agencies and the students over the summer.
“They have a lot of questions,” Longoria said of the international students. “But based on the questions, and if I read between the lines correctly … these international exchange students, they’re driven kids. They’re motivated, they’re interested, they’re adventurous. … These are characteristics that are in all of our students, in all of our exchange students that are coming here, so I think they’re taking this in stride.”
The schools’ reentry program features a mix of hybrid and remote learning. In-person class days will alternate between green and orange cohorts.
Despite the changes in school structuring, Longoria hopes to foster an enriching experience for international students through organized activities like those of the HHS Ambassadors Club.
Advised by English teacher Jennifer Pond, the Ambassadors Club focuses on introducing students to the local community through trips, social events and more.
“It’s going to be a challenge to be able to meet with them as a large group, as a whole group of all nine students, because they may be on different rotation days,” Longoria said. “So I may be meeting with them as two groups, a green group and an orange group.”
While he anticipates an incredibly challenging year ahead for the students under their new learning conditions, he also referred to the incoming semester as a unique opportunity to witness the current movements of political and social unrest defining American history.
“We’ve got a lot of diversity here,” Longoria said. “But we also have a long way to go as far as understanding what those diversities are, and this is something that they can witness while they’re here and hopefully talk about it during our sessions.”