What do a small mining town in the Adirondacks and a group of international high school exchange students have in common? Maybe nothing, but the combination is proving to be a successful experience for Newcomb, New York, and international students eager to learn outside of their home country.
The idea was born when Superintendent Clark Hults was fearful of the dropping population in his town and at the only local school. 55 students, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, were enrolled in 2006. This was a major drop from the 1,500 enrolled in the 1980s. Hults knew that if the school closed, the town would suffer, so he drafted an ambitious proposal.
Inspired by the number of students who study internationally every year, Hults decided to open up the opportunity for a local economy boosting, educationally enriching experiment. His theories proved true and students began arriving from all over the world. Iraq, Vietnam, France, Russia, Israel and Lebanon are all countries currently represented by Newcomb students. Enrollment is currently at 85 students, 30 of them exchange students, and still growing.
While the mining town may not offer the glamor and glitz most international students expect when they travel to America, students are not left empty handed. The cost for other international exchange programs can run students over $25,000 per year. Exchange students at Newcomb pay only $8,000, with half going to the school and half going to the host family. The monetary savings are accompanied by a unique introduction to the American back country. Manon Vernette, a student from France, told the New York Times that she was disappointed by the lack of cell phone service but learned to love swimming in the local lake and seeing local wildlife.
Small class sizes also provide the exchange students with more one on one attention from teachers. The extra attention helped students to acclimate more easily in a foreign environment. Language barriers were overcome much faster and students were able to connect much easier.
Hults plans to keep the project rolling, with the largest group to date, 12 students, starting next fall. Carl Springer has worked to enroll students at Newcomb through his international exchange student placement agency Asiamerica. He credits Hults with providing the most affordable exchange program available and is working with investors to create a dormitory for exchange students at Newcomb.