Most exchange organizations will take care of making sure exchange students are properly enrolled at the local school. It’s quite likely, however, that the host family will help their student choose classes and sign up for school activities, much as they would help their own children. If you have never had a high school student, this process can be confusing.
So, here are some general tips for how to handle registration. Local guidelines and processes may differ, so host families should check with their local program representative and their own school.
Forecasting Classes in Advance
Some schools will send forms to host parents ahead of time and will ask that the student choose classes before he or she arrives. Returning students generally make these choices the previous Spring, listing classes they want as well as second/third choices.
In most cases, exchange students won’t be able to do this before they arrive. For one thing, they have a lot to do before they leave their home country; choosing classes for the Fall is not at the top of the list. In many cases, students will be in school until late June or early July, and may only have a few weeks after school ends before they leave for their exchange year. Also, they often do not understand what choosing classes means; in many countries, the idea of electives at the high school level does not exist. The concept of choosing photography, marketing, weight lifting, or band as a class is difficult to understand if you have not dealt with this before, and it can be a challenge for host families to describe it long distance.
New host parents may be anxious about their student not being able to choose classes until shortly before school starts. Will their student be locked out of classes? The answer is maybe, maybe not. No one can guarantee that any exchange student will be able to take all the classes he or she wants to take. That will depend on the demand for any given class by resident students as well as local school policies. However, J-1 students are not here only for educational purposes. They’re also here for cultural exchange and learning. We want them to have a full sampling of classes, even though we can’t guarantee what those classes will be.
Registration includes signing up for classes, getting a photo taken for school ID, and getting a locker. It may include being “cleared” to join a sports team and signing up for clubs or other school activities. Registration generally will be on designated days a week or two before the scheduled first day of school. There may also be a “make-up” or “late” registration date, or a separate date for new students.
If you are on vacation during the assigned registration days, just talk to your school and see what can be worked out.
Some suggestions for host families
Call your school ahead of time to see about setting up an appointment with your student’s guidance counselor for shortly after he or she arrives. Some schools have a designated counselor who manages exchange students. Some will assign counselors by alphabet and some will assign according to a family’s existing counselor if you have high school students already.
Send your student the school’s curriculum guide. Some students will look at this before they get here. Some won’t. Do not assume your student doesn’t care just because he/she doesn’t think about it before arrival. They really are busy in the several weeks before they come to the U.S. Just try to have them do it when they arrive so that when you go to meet the counselor, you have a list of possible classes.
Forms and Contact Information: School usually ask host parents to fill out a registration contact form and will probably ask for a utilities bill or some other document confirming a host family’s address. We have found this to be common even though the exchange organizations provide schools with the host family’s address and contact information; it’s just how schools process new students. We recommend marking yourselves as “other” if that is an option, and write in “host parents.” This just helps make sure that the relationship is clear. Host parents are not legal guardians, and there certainly are things that a student’s parents must approve or be notified about, but host parents can make day-to-day decisions.
Where forms ask for the student’s doctor and dentist, put “not available” or your own children’s doctor if you have one. Schools generally understand that an exchange student, as someone new to the community, will not have an established physician.
Emergency contact: We suggest that you put your exchange organization local contact as the #1 emergency contact. If you want to put host grandma or grandpa as a secondary emergency contact, that’s reasonable. But remember that the exchange organization needs to know immediately if there are any critical issues involving your student, so it’s a good idea to have them listed first to ensure they will be notified.
Check with your program contact/coordinator: Your exchange organization may have its own guidelines you should follow, and your program representative may know what the school prefers.
In closing, there’s no need for host parents or students to worry about the registration process. It’s paperwork, to be sure, and there can be some confusion. But follow the basic recommendations and before you know it you’ll have your student signed up for English, US history, maybe math and science, some fun classes, yearbook, and more!
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