STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's come back now to the United States, to rural America, where the populations of many towns are declining, which means the school populations in many towns are declining. Which means some small towns have had to close their schools and bus kids long distances. But some remote communities have come up with a new idea to keep their schools open. They are recruiting new students -international students - to help fill the empty classrooms.
North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.
BRIAN MANN: Thirty-five kids are crowded around tables, talking and laughing. It looks like one of those big overstuffed classrooms that we all complain about. But it turns out this isnt one class, or even one grade. This is Newcomb, New Yorks entire high school and middle school combined.
Mr. SKIP HULTS (Superintendent, Newcomb Central School District): You know, Im the first to admit that we're very under-utilized. The only thing we are lacking in our building is students.
MANN: Thats Skip Hults, Newcombs superintendent. His school sits in a remote valley in the Adirondacks.
The mine here closed in the 1970s and the town has been shrinking steadily ever since. The school district cut staff and merged whole grades. Then four years ago, with enrollment still dropping, Hults thought why not bring in students from overseas. He started advertising the school the way you might market a high-dollar American prep-school.
Ms. MANON VERNETTE (French Student): When I saw Newcomb, I just didnt know if I would be able to have friends, real friends, here.
MANN: Manon Vernette is a stylish-looking 18-year-old from Lille France, a city with more than a million people. She said she wanted to learn English and live in America and the price tag for studying in Newcomb was a bargain just $7,000 a year, room and board included. But she had no idea just how small and remote this village would be.
Ms. VERNETTE: I start to cry.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MANN: Were you lonely?
Ms. VERNETTE: At first, yes. But its okay now. Its really different but its like a big family, so thats why I like to be here.
MANN: This year, there are nine foreign students from as far away as Russia and Vietnam enrolled in Newcomb.
Ms. LINDA MONTAINE (Director, Foreign Student Program): When they arrive, its like culture shock.
MANN: Linda Montaine is director of the program, working with the kids and with the host families who house them in exchange for a small stipend.
Ms. MONTAINE: Because they think New York and, of course, when they think New York they think the city and this is nothing like it.
MANN: Cell phones dont work here because of the mountains. For many of these kids, giving up texting and instant messaging with their friends back home is sort of like being stranded on a desert island.
But Montaine says they adapt fast, going to school dances, playing on the basketball and softball teams, learning to ski and snowshoe.
Ms. MONTAINE: But by the time they leave, its family and there are many tears shed. Many of them have come back and many intend to come back yet again.
MANN: So far, the program has boosted the high schools enrollment by 25 percent. Its also made Newcomb sort of cosmopolitan.
Caitlan Yandon is 13 years old and has lived here her entire life. Before the foreign students arrived, she says this small town could be really claustrophobic.
Ms. CAITLAN YANDON (Student): Theres a certain way that everything is, right? Because its such a small school and everyone is pretty much the same.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MANN: Not anymore. These days in science classes like this one, youll find local kids like Caitlin working side-by-side with students from Moscow and Paris.
Seventeen-year-old Anh Pham from Hanoi says studying here is a stepping-stone to an American college and a good career.
Ms. ANH PHAM (Vietnamese Student): I already prepare my application to send to Adelphi and Clarkson University.
MANN: The school helps with special tutors and college counseling, as well as English language training.
When these foreign students move on, Newcomb town supervisor George Canon says he hopes theyll be replaced by an even bigger class of international recruits.
Mr. GEORGE CANON (Supervisor, Newcomb): To lose a school is to lose your identity as a town, and we would fight to hold that, no matter what.
MANN: Newcomb plans to open a new dormitory next year. A public school in Millinocket, Maine is working to develop a similar program, hoping to recruit students from China.
For NPR News, Im Brian Mann.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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