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How one private school integrates its foreign students; 39 students in a school within a school

When Taro Fukazawa arrived at the Fay School in Southboro a little over a year ago, he was 12 years old and spoke very little English.

''I could say 'table,' 'My name is . . .,' things like that,'' he said. ''I was frightened,'' he added.

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''During our first interview he smiled a lot,'' commented his adviser.

Today Taro speaks English well enough to take half of his classes with his English-speaking classmates, and to describe to me in flawless English his experience as a young foreign student, with only an occasional phonetic stumble on a letter alien to his native language.

Despite a bout or two of homesickness and a taste for sushi and sashimi not satisfied by the school's menus, Taro, like other young foreign students at Fay, has adapted to life in a US school. He is shortstop on the varsity baseball team.

Taro is one of 39 foreign students in grades 6-9 at the Fay School, a private independent school for grades 1-9. Foreign students compose 17 percent of the upper school at Fay and account for almost one-third of the boarding students.

The foreign students at Fay come from all corners of the world: 22 from the Caribbean, Central and South America; two from Africa; two from Europe; one from the Mideast, and 12 from Asia.

What brings them to Fay is an early start on a Western education and what they get at Fay is an early start designed especially for them.

Rather than place foreign students in regular classes in the sink-or-swim method or set up a program using its own faculty as many schools do, Fay decided five years ago to call in the American Language Academy (ALA) of Washington, D.C., to run what one administrator calls ''a school within a school.''

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American Language Academy operates similar programs at universities and secondary schools, but no others with students as young as those at Fay.

According to Robert Jackson, development director, Fay started the program not to attract foreign students, but because the school found itself serving more and more young students far from their homes, and school officials realized they weren't doing all they could for the students.

''It was a question of their trying to absorb the langage by the day-in and day out contact with the kids and teachers, of course, with some extra help, he said.

The program is run by three teachers from ALA. Although their classes are limited to 18 students, they provide a variety of services for all of the school's foreign students including counseling foreign applicants, handling immigration, advising students, helping them adjust to the school, and taking them out to restaurants for some ''home cooking.''

Some foreign students begin by taking all their courses with the ALA instructors while others who already speak English go into the Fay's regular classes depending on their ability. As their competence with English improves, students move into regualr classes.

Unlike adults, who have trouble learning conversation, children and young adolescents acquire spoken language easily. Younger students need help with the written word, said George McFadden, director of the program.

''Kids have the natural ability to speak and understand,'' he said. ''A sixth grader is still learning his own language.''

While language is the biggest adjustment, it is not the only adjustment. The food is strange. Rice and fish are replaced by hotdogs for lunch. The students see their first trash dumpsters. American children swear. Students from tropical countries have never worn ties.

''The whole way of life is different, the customs, everything,'' said Carlos Gallo, a ninth grader from Nicaragua.

The school's goal is to help foreign students fit into American culture, said Jackson. They are mixed in with American students in the dining hall, the dormitories, and on athletic teams.

''I think it is fair to say we try to absorb them into our culture,'' he said.

When asked by this reporter, the students say ''They do feel at home at the school.'' In fact, said Peb Leevira Phan, a seventh grader from Thailand, she finds herself missing things at Fay when she is at home.

But, she added, her family always reminds her to think about her home and to remember her own culture when she is away.

Foreign students find themselves associating with others who speak their native language, said Yesenia Bonilla, a ninth grader from Venezuela.

''It's natural,'' she said. ''It is not unfriendly. It's just natural.''

Many of the foreign students at Fay continue their secondary and college educations in the US said McFadden, but some return home after two or three years having mastered the language.

The potential adjustment problems are eased by the clear educational goals of the students and their parents, said McFadden.

''They adapt very nicely,'' said Jackson. ''I would say we have fewer homesick foreign kids than American kids.''

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