SOUTH CHINA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Opening day at Erskine Academy And Juniors Gillian and Elena head for homeroom. Elena came to Erskine last year, and lived with Gillian and her family. Now she's back for another year... one of eight Chinese students enrolled at Erskine this fall.
Elena and her fellow students Joe, James and Amber -- we're told typically adopt American names when they decide to study here -- told us Erskine is different from Chinese schools. Classes there are huge and there's little chance for any personal attention. And here they can learn to speak English and understand American culture.
Headmaster Mike McQuarrie says the foreign students have been a big addition to the school. And he says their desire to learn has impressed him.
"I guess I was very much taken back by how quickly they progressed in the English language," McQuarrie told NEWS CENTER. "So I believe so, that's as important to them as academics certainly. They know their future scholastic career is going to require them to make good use of English obviously."
Erskine is one of the state's town academies: private schools that still function as local high schools. McQuarrie says all the town academies are involved to some extent with international students. But there are some public schools that have also done it.
Many schools seek out Chinese students for the money. McQuarrie says the Chinese families pay about $35,000 per year for their children to be here. With enrollment dropping nearly everywhere in Maine, and costs rising, new dollars matter.
"They come with some resources that helps us continue the program for our traditional students, for whom tuition rates have not increased," said McQuarrie. "In fact just the opposite. Tuition rates have decreased across the state."
But he says diversity and learning are also reasons. And the host families, like Gillians, are part of that.
Its just the second year of the program -- but headmaster McQuarrie calls it a success.