For 10 days last summer, Lydia Green went looking for new students to attend Holy Family Academy in Bayonne. She did not make the usual trip to Staten Island or Jersey City, or even the remoter reaches of North Hudson like Hoboken, Weehawken, or West New York – the usual places the school has recruited students from in the past. Instead, Green went to two towns in China, Beijing and Guangzhou.
Principal Mary Tremitiedi said the trip was an outreach of several companies approaching Holy Family earlier last year about possible placement of international students.
“A number of firms do it,” she said. “We did research and we decided we would go with 3W,” Tremitiedi said.
For Green, this meant taking a trip to visit two cities in China where local agents contacted families to see if they were interested in sending their kids to school in Bayonne.
A number of factors made HFA attractive to the families sending the students. Bayonne is considered a safe place and is located very near to Manhattan. HFA also has a high rate of students accepted into college, and this is a primary interest for the students coming to study here, Green said.
Three students arrived in late August, just in time to start the school year at HFA, Tremitiedi said. Eleven more students were scheduled to arrive in January, nine of whom have already arrived.
“They flew in and were picked up by their host families,” Tremitiedi said.
Tremitiedi said after researching 3W, she went to the board for approval, and then began to seek out host homes for the Chinese students. This included reaching out to families of students, alumni, and contacts board members had.
“Some of the host families are parents of current students,” she said. “Lydia visits every host house before accepting them, and everyone over 18 years old gets a background check, just like our teachers do.”
Mix of cultures
It is not unusual for schools to take in international students, Tremitiedi said. Queen of Peace in Lodi and other schools have similar programs, but for a school like HFA, international students bolster the total student population in the school and provide students with cultural diversity and a chance to learn about another culture from people who come from countries like China.
The Chinese students are very modern, worldly, confident and self-assured, Green noted. “They are very independent and they are not fazed by being in a new country and a new family. They assimilate quickly and act very much like American students.”
In fact, all of them have adopted American names, making it much easier for teachers and others who have trouble pronouncing their given names.
“We have two Maggies,” Tremitiedi said. There is a Gloria, Elaine, Amber, and even a Viola.
Most of these students are not fluent in English, but are studying it as a second language, and arrived with translators to help them deal with basic things such as instructions. They cannot use the translators to help in their studies or testing of things like vocabulary, Tremitiedi said.
The girls who came in September also act as ambassadors to help the new girls get acclimated to the school and its routines.
“They want to improve their English and go on to an American college.” – Lydia Green
Two of the Chinese girls are freshman, and are expected to spend the full four years at HFA, while the other girls are sophomores and juniors, all of whom will likely graduate from HFA.
“They want to improve their English and go on to an American college,” Green said, noting that HFA has an extremely good college acceptance percentage and the girls usually get offered a significant number of scholarships.
The Chinese students also help current students and provide an avenue for cultural awareness and acceptance, Green said.
“Some of the girls cook their foods at their hosts’ homes,” Tremitiedi said.
The school is planning several cultural events that will highlight the students participation, including bringing in dance troupes in February and in the spring.
While these girls may have to work hard to learn English, they already come with significant abilities in math and science.
The school also has a big sister/little sister program for the freshman that allows seniors to pair up with freshman, and this also helps the students get oriented.
Green said classmates also help the new girls with copying notes and helping with homework, and members of the National Honor Society assist them after school.
Green said HFA is trying to branch out, looking to expand outside Bayonne.
When asked what she liked about Holy Family, Katherine Ruan, a junior, said that she likes the fact that the teachers are so patient and that it’s such a warm, social environment. She also plans to attend college and is impressed with the assistance that the guidance department gives to students. She’s looking forward to graduating from Holy Family next year and continuing her education in the United States.