Springwood’s International House promotes diversity at private school

Published 5:50 pm Monday, January 27, 2020

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LANETT — When Springwood School enrolled its first international student in 1999, it was just the beginning of a growing global population that would attend the private school in Lanett.

That student was Celeste Troche, who went on to Auburn University where she was named the 2001 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year for women’s golf. She was later a member of the LPGA in 2003.

Ann Hixon, director of the International Student Program, said Celeste’s sister then came to Springwood and a few more students trickled into the program. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that the school decided it deliberately wanted to start an international student program.

Hixon said the school started a homestay program, which allows students from oversees to attend Springwood while staying with a host family in Lanett.

“We had a great result with that,” Hixon said, adding that the international school had 16 students during the 2016-2017 school year.

But, due to the number of students and the lack of available homestay parents, Springwood knew it needed to provide another way to keep growing the program.

“Because of everything they brought to the school by way of diversification and education for our students, as well as bringing in new enrollments for the school, we decided that we would expand the program and renovate an existing residence,” Hixon said.

The building chosen was the school’s former child development center. It sits about a five-minute walk with a visible path to the main campus. Hixon said the building was run as a development center for young children for several years, but it wasn’t turning into a feeder program for the school like administrators imagined.

After the program was shut down, the building was empty until Springwood started to host kindergarten and primary school classes there.

Due to the success of international recruiting, it made natural sense to turn that building into a residential building and house the international population there.

The first year of the program was 2017, and then-Headmaster Rick Johnson and his wife were the house parents. Hixon said Springwood quickly found out that recruiting for residential students was much different from recruiting for homestay students.

“There’s so much more involved with the process,” Hixon said.

She’s referring to the student Visa process and approving the students for education in the U.S. So, the school partnered with an outside firm to get started and now Springwood has a network of organizations and agenda to recruit international students from several countries to Lanett.  

Currently, Springwood has 31 international students enrolled in grades nine through twelve, which makes up 22 percent of the high-school population. Hixon said 21 students live in the international house, seven are in homestays and three are living with family members in the community.

“Currently, we are recruiting for the residential program and diminishing the homestay program,” Hixon said. “That has taken place over the last several years.”

Hixon said the process of recruiting international students does mean a lot of time in airplanes, visiting student’s home countries. She said two years ago, she went to China, Vietnam and Thailand. This past year, Hixon said she made trips to Hong Kong and then back to Vietnam.

She said the international house on campus had had eight counties represented if counting the U.S. Right now, there are four countries represented.

“But, with the homestays and families that we have, there are seven countries,” Hixon said.

Every student who attends Springwood has student services. However, the ones who live on Springwood’s campus have a bit more of an extensive setup. Hixon said that although the language barrier typically isn’t a problem because the students being recruited want to attend an American college, help with college and scholarship applications is still available.

“The students that come here are very, very bright,” Hixon said. “They’re very interested in education. They’re conscientious, and they have a great work ethic.”

However, the international program isn’t promoted as just a place for students to lay their heads — it’s presented as a home for students. There are three people in the international house at all times. There is a residential director and two house parents, Kristen and Dylan Moore, who are married and live on the premises.

Hixon said three other part-time employees fill in for full-time people when time off is needed or in case of emergencies.

The school provides breakfast each morning and a communal dinner in the evening for the house. There are also study hours and activities planned for the students on the weekends.

Although the program was started to enroll new students into the program and to create diversity, it grew into a community where students learned to work with different cultures, according to Head of School Lowrie McCown.

“To have the opportunity to mix multiple cultures, it really helps our domestic students to become more comfortable working with people that aren’t from their native culture,” he said. “It helps to creates a whole different dynamic.”

McCown said he is also impressed by the influx of international students playing sports at Springwood. He said there are six international students on the football team, three playing basketball, several boys and girls playing soccer and more participating in track and field.

“They don’t come here to get involved with athletics, but they do get involved,” McCown said.

Additionally, the influx of international students also serves a sustainability method for Springwood to stay solvent.

“When you look at the demographics in the Valley, there are only so many people who can afford to send their kids here,” McCown said. “So, from the sustainability of the school, that really enhances our opportunities to continue to grow the enrollment, which obviously helps to keep us in a better financial situation.”

Hixon said the recruiting efforts are continuing, and the international house will be a big part of those efforts.

“We are developing a pipeline that will give us sustainability,” she said.