Friday, August 31, 2012

Thornton Academy Extends Global Reach to 16 Countries Recent Graduate Starts Life at an American College

Teddy Laing with new roommate, John, at Florida Southern College. Laing was a Thornton Academy Homestay student, who lived with the Trues of Saco for two years. (courtesy photo)

By Timothy Gillis

Thornton Academy, in the fourth year of its foreign outreach program, has seen a steady increase in the number of participants, as well as the involvement of several countries from all over Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
In fact, Mark Powers, director of admissions, is so busy flying around the world on recruiting trips that TA has added an admissions associate to help with the workload. Thornton just hired Abigail Swardlick, who will be “helping out to expand our reach worldwide,” said Powers. “Her first trip is to Latin America this fall.”
The program, which started with forty students, has grown each year.
“There will be 136 students (this year) on campus in our dorms or in our homestay program,” Powers said this week. “They hail from sixteen countries, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Spain, and Brazil.”
Powers’ job requires him to fly around world, learning about other cultures and sharing the prospect of American culture, in the form of a high school in Saco, with the people he meets.
“I’ve pretty much touched down all over the place,” Powers said, adding that he often travels with representatives from other Maine boarding schools, like Maine Central Institute and Hebron Academy. “My most recent trip was to China to do some recruiting and find out more about the country.”
Foreign students now comprise ten percent of Thornton’s total population, he said, necessitating the building of an additional dormitory last year. The new housing is named after retiring headmaster Carl Stasio, Jr. (Rene Menard, a TA graduate who taught there and become associate headmaster in 2007, is the new headmaster.)
Four teachers and their families supervise the dorm, living there full-time, Powers said. They engage in all the family-style activities one would imagine of any other family - during evenings and on weekends – joining the students in various activities coordinated by Kelli Corrigan, director of residential life.
The on-campus housing has expanded, and participation in the Homestay Program has likewise ballooned over the past four years.
Karen True was one of the first parents to participate in the program, and she recently flew to Florida to visit Teddy Liang, the student she hosted for two years.
“I wanted to make sure he was safely settled into his new school,” True said of Laing, a freshman at Florida Southern College.
She first heard about the hosting opportunity three years ago from her daughter-in-law, Tracie, a math teacher who moved from Thornton Academy High School to the TA Middle School, on the same campus.
“She decided she wanted to become involved in the dorm program, and she mentioned they were looking for Homestay parents,” said True, who added that she loved the experience and would gladly host another student.
“This young man did research online, found Thornton Academy, came to the US, all with no parental help,” she said. Laing lived in the dorm as a sophomore, then moved in with the Trues. “He had been in a boarding school in China, had never lived in a home environment.”
True said her family loved Laing’s “great personality,” and he loved being part of their family. “He integrated well into the things that we did. He’d even come with me on location to shoot commercials,” said True, a freelance film and commercial television producer.
Laing was planning to study business, at first, but is changing his major to study psychology. “He was fortunate enough to find international students at his college who speak Mandarin Chinese,” she said. “I became attached to Teddy and making sure his needs were met, as if he were my own child. I had to make sure his college experience is a positive one.”
True’s two children both graduated from TA in the 1990’s, and Laing’s arrival reminded her fondly of those days.
“Teddy's roommate is John from Nashville TN,” Trus said. “I spoke with Teddy last night, and he said that he is having fun and has already made some friends he is hanging out with. If you knew Teddy and how shy he is you would realize what a big step this is. I can't say enough nice things about Teddy. He truly became part of our family and brought us a great deal of joy. He only went home during summer vacations so he spent all holidays and vacation time with us too,” said True. “If my husband could have had the time off from work, he would have been in Florida too.”