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Magnet School in Colorado Is Attempting To Recruit One-Fifth of Teachers and Students From Abroad

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In an effort to prepare its students to participate in a world economy, a new junior-senior high school near Denver is taking the unusual step of trying to recruit 20 percent of its students and teachers from abroad.

Gary M. Chesley, principal of the Eaglecrest School in Aurora, Colo., said he hopes to have an enrollment of 200 tuition-paying foreign students, most of them Japanese, when the magnet public school opens with about 1,000 students next fall.

Parents and school-board members in the 27,000-student Cherry Creek School District have pushed for the new school to have an international focus, Mr. Chesley said. Supporters of the idea, he said in an interview last week, "are smart enough to see the opportunities that exist in the global marketplace."

"Because Denver has just recently passed a bond issue to build a huge international airport, it became clear to us that we in our community are going to do business with a lot of people from other parts of the world," Mr. Chesley said.

"When Denver boomed, the boom was based on oil and energy," he added. "Now that the boom has been over for several years, parents are asking themselves what kind of opportunities their children should have where their lives are not determined by a boom-and-bust cycle."

But however much parents may want the school today, it wasn't so long ago they were not at all sure they liked the idea.

After building the school two years ago, when the local economy was thriving, the district found itself financially strapped during a slump in real-estate values, and was forced to leave the building unoccupied.

Meanwhile, many parents were fighting against the opening of the school because of the proximity of the Lowry landfill, 1.8 miles away, which contains enough hazardous industrial and municipal waste to rank on the U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency's Superfund list.

The epa, however, has said Eaglecrest can be safely occupied because water from the landfill flows north, away from the school, and prevailing wind patterns are not likely to direct contaminants toward the building.

Mr. Chesley said his attempt to recruit foreign students has nothing to do with a need to fill the once-controversial school.

"People took the time to read the facts. The emotion of the issue has died down," he said. "We have had enormous interest with or without the landfill."

Any child living within the district will be eligible to enroll in the school. Opening with 1,000 students in grades 7 through 10, it will add grades 11 and 12 within two years, and is built to accommodate a total enrollment of 2,500.

Mr. Chesley said he is working with the Colorado Department of Education and the one-year-old Colorado International Education Foundation to recruit foreign students and to board them, probably in a dormitory, once they arrive.

Sixteen schools in Japan already have expressed interest in exchanges with Eaglecrest, Mr. Chesley said. The school also may recruit students from Europe and Mexico City.

One of Eaglecrest's most attractive features, Mr. Chesley said, is that it will allow foreign students to study in the United States for one or two years without falling behind their peers back home.

When foreign students study in the United States, he explained, they often lose one year of progress within their own education system. Thus, many foreign professionals who come to work here prefer to leave their children at home.

At Eaglecrest, however, overseas students will be taught at least part of the time by teachers from their own homelands, to keep them from falling behind.

Even for local students, the principal said, the curriculum will have a distinctly international focus in virtually every subject, including social studies, science, mathematics, and fine arts. Each grade level will have an international theme. The school's 7th graders will discuss what the world's people share in common, the 8th graders will focus on life in the Americas, and the 9th graders will concentrate on how different people adapt to their environments.

"We are very interested in having our kids look at the full scope of world issues and traditions, and the cultures that impact on international decisions," Mr. Chesley said.

After two or three years, Mr. Chesley said, Eaglecrest plans to send students and teachers abroad.

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