FAYETTEVILLE : Agency dumps coordinators of foreign teens
BY ROBERT J. SMITH, Northwest Arkansas’ News Source, June 3, 2008
“State Department investigators learned that EF Foundation failed to ensure that foreign exchange students had appropriate host families and homes before they arrived in the U. S. The foundation also allowed some students to live in the Drummond home, a violation of federal regulations that forbid company representatives from serving as a student’s host family, State Department officials said.”
Education First Foundation of Foreign Study on Monday fired a Fayetteville couple in charge of finding host families for foreign exchange students arriving in Arkansas.
EF Foundation’s decision to fire Gerald and Sherry Drummond came hours after Fayetteville High School said that it will no longer accept foreign students brought to Arkansas by the Cambridge, Mass.-based company.
“They called us this morning and told us with the decision of Fayetteville High School that they were going to ask us to not work with them anymore,” Gerald Drummond said Monday. “I go with what they ask.
” We’re just ordinary nobodies, but I enjoy life and I enjoy meeting people. We get things written about us like we’re trying to take advantage of exchange students instead of it being a positive thing.”
Alan Wilbourn, the Fayetteville School District spokesman, said high school counselors spent too much time resolving difficulties encountered by EF Foundation students. That led to the decision to stop working with the company, he said.
“They’ve spent days handling living situations, and that’s supposed to be taken care of before they get here,” Wilbourn said.
The school district’s ban of EF Foundation students comes five months after the U. S. State Department began investigating EF Foundation’s Arkansas operation. The Drummonds accepted their first foreign exchange student as a host family eight years ago and eventually became the company’s Arkansas coordinators.
State Department investigators learned that EF Foundation failed to ensure that foreign exchange students had appropriate host families and homes before they arrived in the U. S. The foundation also allowed some students to live in the Drummond home, a violation of federal regulations that forbid company representatives from serving as a student’s host family, State Department officials said.
The findings in the State Department’s investigation, which involved six students at Fayetteville High School and one each at Fayetteville Christian School and Missouri Boulevard Baptist School, have not been made public.
Counselors and school administrators in Fayetteville interviewed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in December said foreign students associated with EF Foundation felt isolated, scared and appeared to be malnourished.
Those characterizations are unfair, Gerald Drummond said Monday. He said there are students who lived in his home who remain in contact with him. Over the eight years, 14 foreign exchange students lived with the Drummonds, he said.
“I’m just sad to see it come to a crashing end,” he said. “We’re not the terrible people the world thinks we are.”
EF Foundation spokesman Ellen Manz wouldn’t say why the Drummonds were let go. A replacement hasn’t been selected. The company knew the Fayetteville school was considering banning EF Foundation students from enrolling, Manz said.
“Although this is a disappointing decision, it will not have a material impact on our program either in Arkansas or nationwide,” Manz writes in an e-mail. “We will certainly visit Fayetteville High School in the fall to discuss their experiences with EF, and see if we can give them the confidence in our program to consider accepting our students in 2009-10.”
Heather Slinkard, a Bella Vista woman who is area manager for a foreign exchange student company called Peace 4 Kids Inc., said EF Foundation’s troubles in Arkansas hurt the overall image of foreign exchange programs.
“They did give us all a black eye, but more than that, they hurt students,” Slinkard said.
State Sen. Sue Madison, DFayetteville, who wants the state to more closely monitor the placement of foreign exchange students at high schools, said she was pleased to hear the company fired the Drummonds.
“I’m happy to see EF take some firm action,” Madison said. “Maybe they’ll get somebody good.”
Copyright (c) 2001-2008 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.
Student Exchange Agency: Education First Foundation of Foreign Study (EF)