Exchange students arrive in Hawkins to find no school or host families waiting

Jeff Bobo • Sep 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — For the second year in a row, a group of high school students from the foreign exchange organization ASSE International have arrived in Hawkins County for a four-week orientation without a permanent host family to stay with for the rest of the year.

Messages left with ASSE International’s U.S. headquarters in Laguna Beach, Calif., were not returned by press time Tuesday.

But some Hawkins County host families who were supposed to keep the 20 students during the four-week orientation period said Tuesday they’ve found themselves saddled with the responsibility of finding them permanent homes. Eleven of the 20 students arrived in Hawkins County without placement, and currently there are six students remaining.

Last year, 14 ASSE International students arrived in Hawkins County without permanent host homes. The Hawkins County Board of Education made an exception last year and agreed to enroll those students a month after school started.

With both Hawkins County high schools already overcrowded and on the verge of a construction project to add 12 classrooms, that’s not going to happen this year.

Debbie Beal of Rogersville is currently keeping two of the six remaining students. She said the biggest problem isn’t finding a host family, but finding a school district to take the foreign students. She’s already been turned down by the Hawkins, Hamblen, Sullivan and Kingsport systems.

“Apparently there are not enough host families volunteering for exchange students these days, and these kids have been brought over here and placed in temporary housing to go through an orientation program,” Beal said. “But the company needs to place them in permanent housing to go through the school year. We need to find placement for them in school districts that can accept them for the school year.”

The students who came to Hawkins County for orientation were from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the Czech Republic, France and China.

Like other Hawkins County hosts, Beal signed up for the four-week program where students receive orientation such as training in English as a second language and cultural exposure. Although she said the experience has been “great,” Beal added that she’s frustrated with ASSE International because she didn’t sign up for the task of finding the students permanent placement.

“What we’re trying to find out from ASSE International is why they would send these students here without a permanent host already signed up, and we’re having trouble getting an explanation,” Beal said. “By law, they shouldn’t be brought here without permanent host families. But that’s something we can deal with later. Right now the priority is getting these remaining kids placed permanently in a home and enrolled in school.”

Steffen and Patisa Kielau are also a Hawkins County host family, and Patisa actually organizes the four-week orientation programs for the students. Last year, the couple successfully appealed to the Hawkins County BOE to enroll unplaced students, and Steffen said Wednesday he’s disappointed to find himself with unplaced students once again.

“Last year we said, ‘Well, anyone can make a mistake,’ and we were able to resolve the problem ourselves,” Steffen Kielau said. “Then this year the kids arrive, and 11 out of 20 didn’t have a home again. Of course we try to be responsible and try to find homes, but that’s actually not our job. Those students pay a substantial fee to ASSE International to be in this program, and the organization sends them over here without permanent homes.

“We can fight about that later, but what’s most important now is we give these kids a home where they can feel like they belong here. They paid for this experience, and they should get it.”

The remaining students are two boys from France, two girls from South Korea, one boy from Japan, and one boy from Taiwan.

Any potential host families from a school district that would take some of the students are asked to contact Steffen Kielau at 921-2677.

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