February 6, 2019

Global Outreach Charter Academy or GOCA, a SPIRAL International partner school in Jacksonville, Florida, recently hosted 37 students and five teachers from a middle school Guiyang, China for a two week immersion exchange program. GOCA is dedicated to providing international experiences for their students so they ‘can thrive’ in a future that will require cultural and linguistic fluency to be successful. So, hosting short term exchange students from other countries is an integral and regular component of their academic programming. From the founders, Mr. and Mrs. Soroka, to the administration and the instructional staff, GOCA is dedicated to offering students the “gift of a global view.”

Bringing the world to your school takes effective communication and collaboration and although there is no capital cost to the host school (international students pay for the programming in their home country), the logistics of adding 37 ‘new’ students and five ‘new’ teachers is very real! This 2019 group of visiting students and teachers was larger, by almost two times, than last year's group that came to GOCA. However, the GOCA Admin team handled the scheduling for the students and professional development for the visiting teachers with ease!

SPIRAL worked closely with a site coordinator at GOCA to iron out logistics, discuss programming and facilitate on the ground tours in Jacksonville. Visiting Chinese students ranging in age from 12-14 were paired with a GOCA buddy and shadowed them during the morning of their academic day. In Social Studies classes, the visiting students were scheduled to share different aspects of their home and school life in China. While the students observed classes, the visiting teachers did the same, taking note of student centered learning activities, project based learning approaches and technology integration.

The visiting teachers also participated in professional development sessions facilitated especially for them by the GOCA Admin team and SPIRAL staff. Topics like Guidance and Support systems, Extended Learning Opportunities and Project Based Learning were explored by the visiting teachers. They also had an opportunity to work side by side with GOCA teachers during a staff development afternoon to discuss WIDA testing that was upcoming at the school.

Students and teachers attended afternoon field trips that included college tours to the University of North Florida and University of Florida, exploration of local sites, like the colonial city of St. Augustine and of course enjoyed local food, conversation and experiences with their homestay family.

Hosting foreign exchange students is fun, memorable, impactful and straightforward for schools who want pilot a short term immersion program.  Without any outlay of capital or special visa requirements, schools can bring international students to showcase their academic programs, their school spirit, the diversity, enthusiasm and openness of American culture and their local communities.