With the school year well under way, high school sophomores' thoughts may be turning to exchange programs for next year. Sometimes local teachers can provide leadership in this area, but even where they do, parents justifiably remain concerned about the quality, stability and financing of programs, or even the possibility that their children may be stranded far from home.
The nonprofit Council on Standards for International Educational Travel in Leesburg, Va., which appraises student-exchange programs based in the United States, has just published the 1995-1996 advisory list, its 11th annual reference. This lists programs that sought evaluation, paying a minimum of $550 as a fee, and that have been approved by the evaluation committee.
The list gives data on 58 approved programs. Of these only 37 send American students overseas; the rest bring foreign students to the United States. Some of the programs deal with very few students or involve only specific high schools. But despite the tiny numbers, the influence of this organization is wide.
Anne Shattuck, director of operations for the council, says parents should not feel timid about asking questions beyond a program's brochure material. For example, the standards require that sponsoring organizations provide "adequate health and accident insurance" for all students and that parents should receive detailed printed information about it.
The need to determine who has "direct, hands-on control" of the placement and supervision of students is most emphasized. Often, teachers who organize semesters overseas and are nominally in charge have turned responsibility over to tour operators or travel companies. If this is the case, parents need to be able to learn who is really in charge.
This spring, the council published further interpretations of its standards, to guide organizations. These interpretations are printed in italics on a flier that comes with the advisory list.
The notations on advertising or promotion of programs will unfortunately strike a responsive chord with many parents. Organizations are warned: When advertising for host families, some key words and phrases to avoid are: "wanted," "urgently needed," "anxiously awaiting," "please help us!" "this is an emergency" and "please don't let me be homeless" as a caption for a student's photo.
A list of allowable phrases, including "a world of opportunity" and "open your hearts and home," contains no tone of panic.
The 1995-1996 booklet covers programs in place for the current academic year. Decisions for next year could be based on this year's list, but parents may make a final phone check in April 1996 to be sure that a program has retained its listing.
The "Advisory List of International Travel and Exchange Programs" costs $8.50 (plus 4.5 percent sales tax for Virginia residents). Contact the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, 3 Loudoun St. S.E., Leesburg, Va. 22075; JTC (703) 771-2040, fax (703) 771-2046.
A bigger reference is "The I.S.S. Directory of Overseas Schools, 1995-'96," a guide to 535 schools with curriculums in English serving kindergarten to 12th-grade students. This 15th annual edition, prepared by the International Schools Service of Princeton, N.J., was published by Peterson's Publishing Group, also in Princeton. The book describes the size and type of school, address and phone number, and gives notes on its curriculum and the name of its chief school officer.
Gina M. Parziale, the editor of the book, says it is principally designed for employees of multinational corporations going overseas, missionaries and others staying overseas for a semester or more who want their children to continue to learn in English. In addition, she said, it serves teachers overseas who are job hunting.
"The I.S.S. Directory of Overseas Schools" costs $34.95 in paperback, plus $6.75 domestic postage and handling, from Peterson's, P.O. Box 2123, Princeton, N.J. 08543; (800) 338-3282, fax (609) 452-0966.