A group of students at Vanguard College Preparatory School cheered on their international teammates as each player took a turn shooting a basketball during a Monday practice.
Vanguard’s junior varsity green team is comprised mostly of Chinese students who traveled to America in search of a more diverse education that they believe will give them an advantage when applying to American universities.
The students are about to discover whether the move was worth it.
Vanguard will see its first three international students graduate this May. Meanwhile, the school’s fledgling international student program has more than doubled in numbers since it began two years ago.
International students attend Vanguard because they can participate in extracurricular activities without losing any academic rigor, said Kari Weileder, Vanguard’s dean of students and director of college counseling.
“That’s why they come. They want the American culture. They want to have an experience in a high school in America, and then they like the classes we offer. They like the (test) scores they see our students get, and they know we have strong teachers that have a strong curriculum,” she said.
Vanguard is a private college preparatory school that teaches seventh through 12th grades with a student population of 213, including now approximately 20 international students, most of whom are Chinese.
Vanguard works with The Cambridge Institute of International Education, an international placement program in Boston, to recruit Chinese high school students to add diversity to the Vanguard campus, Weileder said.
Vanguard chose to build an international program on campus because it offers local students a broader perspective on education and culture, said Bill Borg, Vanguard’s head of school.
“We think it’s a great opportunity for our kids to learn, to be involved with and to see other students that value education and want to better themselves for their future,” he said. “It really gives our students the opportunity to see different perspectives.”
Vanguard’s program began in the 2013-14 school year with seven students. It soon more than doubled with 17 international students enrolled through Cambridge for the 2014-15 school year.
Cambridge students pay the private’s school full tuition of $14,000 plus a residential fee. But officials said the school works to ensure lack of money doesn’t prevent an academically equipped student from attending, and international students outside the Cambridge program receive financial aid.
Cambridge screens the students and Weileder interviews them to ensure their English speaking and writing skills are sufficient to participate in coursework.
Each student stays with a host family while in Waco and returns home during summer and Christmas breaks.
Students from Vietnam, Cambodia and Brazil also attend the school, but they enrolled directly with the school, Vanguard officials said. International professors teaching at local universities also often enroll their students at Vanguard, which further increases the global influence on campus, officials said.
Weileder said the school has accepted about half of all those who applied and doesn’t allow anyone above a junior classification. Vanguard officials expect the students to stay enrolled until they receive a diploma.
“They come here to graduate,” Weileder said.
Colin Cheng, 17, arrived in August for his first semester at Vanguard. Cheng is from Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong, where he attended an international high school to learn English in preparation for an American education.
Cheng joined Vanguard’s JV green basketball team as one of his extracurricular activities for his first experience playing on an organized team.
Cheng said the only thing he had to do to enter a university in China was study hard. But Vanguard gives him a more diverse college application, which should help him be more appealing to American universities, he said.
“What (the international students) are really finding is a balance,” Weileder said. “The students at Vanguard all have the same goal of wanting to be as academically successful as possible, yet they play just as hard as they work. So (international students) enjoy this new-found ability that they never had before to have extracurricular activities after school, which then gives them the emotional, mental, physical workout they need to be balanced.”
Borg said students return because Vanguard creates a welcoming environment.
The host families often take the students on trips and include them in family events, Borg said.
“Our school is designed to create a family environment — welcoming. And I think (the international students) felt very comfortable and felt very welcomed here,” he said.