Tom Burke - ze border!!!
- Vermont students cross border for high school
By Brent Hallenbeck, Burlington Free Press
STANSTEAD, Quebec -- Jacob Fritz left his small high school in Craftsbury in
search of an international education.
He did not have to go far. He crosses the border five days a week to attend
school in Quebec.
He said friends in his hometown ask why he wants to go to school in Canada.
He's glad he switched to Stanstead College, a school for grades 7 through 12.
"It's pretty rigorous," the 12th-grader said. "If you want to have hard
classes, they're very easy to find. It's not hard to challenge yourself."
Fritz, 17, is one of more than 30 boys and girls from Vermont enrolled in the
school perched on a hill just across the border from Derby Line. Most years,
one of every seven students at the private boarding school is from Vermont.
Almost all of those Vermonters commute each day rather than live on campus.
Vermonters choose Stanstead College because it offers an emphasis on academics
and discipline many families seek from a private school. The exchange rate is a
plus, as the annual $14,000 tuition drops below $10,000 when converted to U.S.
A third of Vermonters at Stanstead live in Coventry, the closest Vermont town
to the border without a high school. Families receive tuition vouchers from the
state to send their children to a nearby high school. Some families move to
Coventry to take advantage of the voucher, which, combined with the exchange
rate, means they often pay less than $2,000 to send their children to
"You've got a grassroots movement of families," said Christopher Shannon,
headmaster of Stanstead College.
Stanstead College -- private secondary schools in Canada are called colleges
rather than high schools -- was founded in 1872 but has only recently become a
haven for Vermonters.
The Vermont Education Department has deemed Stanstead tuition-eligible, making
it the only school outside the United States where Vermont families can cash in
vouchers. The school was accredited in 1996 by the New England Association of
Schools and Colleges, further cementing its ties with Vermont.
Many of those ties extend to Coventry, a 20-minute drive from Stanstead. U.S.
Census figures show the town's population rose 26 percent from 806 in 1990 to
1,014 in 2000. Some of the increase is attributed to Stanstead families.
"All of a sudden, everybody wanted to build a house in Coventry," said Andrew
Elliot, Stanstead's director of admissions. He said the student body has grown
more than 10 percent with the influx of Vermonters.
Town Clerk Peggy Rackleff said at least one family moved to Coventry to rent an
apartment so they could send a child to Stanstead. She said another family with
a student who graduated from Stanstead sold their house to a family with an
incoming Stanstead student.
Matt Emrich, 18, used to drive 45 minutes from Jay to attend Stanstead. The
12th-grader said his father sold the home in Jay and bought a house in
Coventry, in part to take advantage of the tuition break for Emrich and his
younger brother, Andrew.
Bob and Jean Wilson of East Charleston have two daughters at Stanstead and will
send twin daughters there next year. A fifth daughter will likely join the rest
in three years.
Bob Wilson likes Stanstead's emphasis on character. The school has a dress code
-- boys wear ties and blue blazers and girls wear skirts or gray flannel pants
-- and what Wilson called "zero tolerance" for sex and drugs.
"Clear-cut values are established, and the kids are expected to adhere to those
values and rules," he said.
Wilson also likes the international flavor. Though classes are taught in
English, students must become fluent in French, the provincial language. A
third of the school's students come from countries other than the United States
Gabby Coburn, a 12th-grader from Newport, said most high-school students live
in the same town with their friends. "Here your friends live in a different
time zone," she said.
Jay Leff of Burlington, one of four Vermonters who board at Stanstead, said his
roommates when he arrived this year were Korean, Chinese and Mexican. Leff,
like Jacob Fritz, said his friends back home don't understand his school
"I actually get quite a few comments in Burlington -- I'm the 'Canuck wannabe,'
that sort of thing," the 15-year-old said. "My first response is always, 'It's
only a quarter-mile from the border.'"
The academic program, which adheres to Quebec curriculum standards, reminds
students they're in Canada. "I know more about Canadian history than I ever
will about American history," Coburn said. "It's kind of nice to see different
Leff's ninth-grade geography class one day last week had a strong
north-of-the-border bent. He shouted out the correct answers when teacher Barb
Elliot asked for the largest province in Canada (Quebec) and the capital of
Alberta (Edmonton). Questions about American geography were from a Canadian
perspective -- Elliot asked where the Winter Olympics were held in which
Canadian skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier won a gold medal (Salt Lake
Leff said the academics at Stanstead are no harder than at his previous school
in Burlington, Edmunds Middle School. He said he likes the small class sizes --
Stanstead has a student-teacher ratio of eight to one -- and the international
Shannon, the school's headmaster, said the Vermonters add to the mix by helping
the Canadian and international students understand the American perspective,
and vice versa.
"If we can share and get to know each other better, why not?" Shannon said.