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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Student exchange program builds bridges

  • American families host students from 32 countries
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  • Ben and Debby Kennedy began hosting exchange students in 1983.
    In 1997, they became area coordinators for the Share! High School Exchange Program operated by the Educational Resource Development Trust, a non-profit educational foundation.
    They have hosted 39 students in their home over the years and served as coordinator for twice that many.
    "It's getting harder to find families interested in hosting exchange students," Ben said in an interview with the Globe Wednesday.
    "In the early years, we had no trouble finding 10 families every year, now we're doing good to get four or five," he said.
    The program bring students from 32 countries around the world to spend a year with an American host family.
    "We try to match the student with their host family and also with their host community," Kennedy said.
    The students arrive in the United States a week or two before school starts in August and stay until late May or early June.
    Students placed at Dodge City High School are usually enrolled as seniors. If they meet the requirements, they are allowed to graduate with their class.
    This is the time of year that the Kennedy’s begin to recruit families to host students for the next school year.
    "It doesn't take a lot of resources," Kennedy said.
    "You provide room and board, you treat them like your own kid and you love them. It will be a life-changing experience for the student and for you."
    The exchange students aren't allowed to drive, so the host family is responsible for getting them to and from school and other activities.
    "They come with their own insurance and spending money, it's not really a big investment, until you decide to spoil them a little because they're only here for a year," Kennedy said.
    The Kennedy’s keep in touch with all the students they've hosted, sharing news and following developments in their students' lives.
    Kennedy made a trip to Germany recently, where five of his former students showed him around the country.
    "The five of them had never met, but they had one thing in common — that was Debby and me — and they stayed up later at night than I did, just sharing their experiences in America," Kennedy said.
    The experience of hosting an exchange student can be a lifelong commitment.
    "Our daughters say they have 37 brothers and they really do," Kennedy said.
    Although most host families choose to invite an exchange student into their home while they have teenagers in high school, some wait until the nest is empty.
    It's also possible for a single parent to host a student.
    Most of the students make the most of their time in America by getting involved in school and church activities.
    Page 2 of 2 - "We tend to make a big deal out of the holidays they aren't used to celebrating, like Thanksgiving," Kennedy said.
    "I always make sure to bring the turkey to the table and carve it," he said.
    Any family interested in hosting a student for the 2013-14 school year can find more information at www.erdtshare.org or by calling Kennedy at (620) 225-0657.

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