Wisconsin Lutheran High School
Q&A With Eric Duwe, Director, International Student Program
Wisconsin Lutheran High School
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Lutheran is the oldest Lutheran high school in the United States, established in 1903. The international program officially started in 1973 when the school applied with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to enroll international students. At that point, the program enrolled students under the “foreign exchange student” model that many people think of when they hear about international programs in high school. In 2006, WLHS applied through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). This new approval allowed WLHS students to enroll international students interested in pursuing multiple years at the school with the goal of graduating from WLHS. In 2013, the first full-time director for WLHS’s international program was hired.
iTEP Partner Since 2016.
Grades: Wisconsin Lutheran is a secondary day and boarding school serving boys and girls in grades 9 – 12.
Student Body: This year, the student body consists of 885 students in grades 9 – 12, with about 8 percent of these students being international. No one country is dominantly represented in the international program, but the top three sending countries are as follows: China, Vietnam, and South Korea. Last year, 14 countries were represented in the student body.
Q&A With Eric Duwe
Director, International Student Program
How would you describe your students/student body?
Our student body is an amazing microcosm of the world that includes so many different walks of life. We sit at the edge of a metro city, so our students come from the suburbs and inside of the metropolitan city. It’s a very ethnically diverse population within our American students, and the international students simply add to that.
What are WLSH’s identifying characteristic(s)?
Wisconsin Lutheran High School is a college prep school that also offers a lot of specialty programs. In regard to international students, most come here because they eventually want to go to an American university. Not only are we college prep, but we have specialty and trade programs like fashion technology and visual arts, too. Overall, we have more than 140 classes/electives in our school. The international students are impressed with the variety, and sometimes feel like they are attending a mini-university with all the academic opportunities available to them.
We are also very proud of our on-campus boarding program for students. The dorm was completed in 2019, and it’s truly a top-notch dorm within the Midwest region. Having this robust international program as part of a local high school really makes us stand out from other schools in our area.
Each year we are proud to have national merit finalists and semi-finalists, a good sign that our students are going on to achieve some amazing things in their futures. In the school we have a hall of fame that includes notable alumni from politicians to professional athletes. The school continues to progress in terms of facilities; for example, the last major set of school renovations included a state-of-the-art fine arts facility and an engineering ward. The facilities allow us to provide these specialty programs mentioned above.
Our international students tend to focus in STEM and business, and in the fine/visual arts areas, including the fashion tech program. Two of our recent international graduates went to the Fashion Institute of Technology, ranked as the number one fashion school in the world.
In your opinion, why do international students choose your school and program?
Typically, international students choose us because they are preparing to enter a U.S. university and they are looking for a way to get a leg up on admissions. They are starting U.S. academic life in high school to prepare themselves for their future goals. Many choose Wisconsin Lutheran because they see the level of services we provide, like the dorms and overall support. Additionally, they can select from a wide variety of classes and co-curricular opportunities. Both students and parents appreciate the fact that we require the students to get involved in clubs and activities outside of academics. Being a Christian school, they value our caring and safe private school environment.
Jim Brosam II, the iTEP President, has visited your campus and mentioned that it has a wonderful atmosphere for international students. How do you cultivate this atmosphere and inclusivity?
The thing that comes to mind first are the teachers. The teachers know the students and they show their care for the kids inside and outside the classrooms. They are completely approachable. When the students talk about experiences, they mention the great classes and teachers first. Additionally, we often hear the students say they appreciate the investments and the infrastructure of the school that are very apparent. Finally, we aim to build a family feeling in our residential program. Our dorm staff do an impeccable job designing activities that allow the students to flourish socially and grow in skills they need as young adults in today’s world.
What iTEP tests/products do you use?
We use the iTEP SLATE Plus and Academic Plus for on-campus, and now at-home testing of our international students. The Academic Plus for our older students (grade 12) and the SLATE Plus for our younger students.
How do you use iTEP testing (admissions, on-campus ESL testing, both)?
For my area of the program, I use them for both confirmation and placement when the students arrive. In the application and admissions process, we allow the students to take whichever secure test they have best access to in their local environment, and we do a video interview with each applicant, so we have a strong sense of their incoming English level. But we like to confirm their language level with iTEP Slate again once they arrive on campus. It’s just a great confirmation that we’re putting them in the right classes and levels. iTEP provides a good marker for us on the ELL class, but also helps trigger what academic classes are going to be suitable for the student.
Why did you choose iTEP exams?
My co-worker Chris Grzanna initially chose the iTEP products for her division. But, I’ve been so pleased with the responsiveness and service of iTEP and Jim. The level of service has been great and it’s absolutely why we continue to use the exams. With Jim, we have a face to put with the product and know who is going to be responding (and he always does so in a quick manner.)
What do you foresee over the next 12-24 months for institutions like yours?
Well, we have to think in COVID terms, don’t we? Back in June, we were expecting record enrollment for this fall. Students had paid their deposits and were ready to come, but thanks to travel bans and governmental paperwork issues, some weren’t able to come to the States.
Regarding COVID, the need to have well-established systems in place for students’ academics and safety is paramount. Additionally, we have to focus on communicating, proactively and quickly, to parents and students. They need that timeliness and service more than ever.
All schools need to “up their game” in responding to and predicting families’ needs during times like this. For international programs, the challenge is that we can’t travel for recruitment. We usually do seminars and visit families in various countries. Now, obviously, that’s ground to a halt. For us to reach prospective families, we are seeing the need for digital ways to connect with partners and using their digital reach. We’re utilizing more video and live video calls. We’re also working on a virtual campus tour, and translating our program resources into more languages than ever before. Finally, we’re offering monthly live calls for prospective families. A single flier isn’t enough for a family to want to send their child abroad. The parents need a level of relationship and trust, so we need to be as face-to-face as possible, even if that’s face-to-face virtually.
How can iTEP assist?
They really already do. The results that they show in terms of how we can describe their gains in English proficiency help us in communicating with families. The benchmarks help us communicate that with the families – that the students are in good hands and in an immersive English environment.
Another employee also uses iTEP testing on campus. Can you tell me how your needs differ, and how you utilize the tests for both areas?
Chris is the most front-line, boots on the ground in helping the students expand their English proficiency on a day-to-day basis. I work more on the front-end, in helping students get to the right spot while Chris is working each day to help the ELL students make gains. She even helps the students in coursework in other classes.
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