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Feb. 2, 2009
An international program involving Northwest, the U.S. State Department and the Republic of Panama is providing eight Panamanian high school students with the opportunity to live on campus for the first two months of the current trimester.
While here, the students will hone their English skills, audit University classes, prepare for the English-language ACT and participate in field trips and social activities designed to provide knowledge and insight about life in the United States. It is the kind of comprehensive cultural experience educators often often to as "immersion."
The students, along with another group of six Panamanian teens at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, are here as participants in College Horizons Outreach. Traditionally, the State Department initiative seeks to identify gifted students from low-income families in more than 120 countries and provides them with English instruction and college admissions counseling.
This is the first time Panama has participated in the program, and its approach, under the administrative guidance of Dr. Etilvia Arjona, director of the State Department's EducationUSA Advising Center in Panama City, is unique.
"When Panama was added to the list of participating countries, I thought we should consider another model," Arjona said. "Instead of paying an English language lessons provider to teach the students, we decided to do what, in fact, has been done -- create a U.S.-based training and test-preparation program."
The problem was funding, so Arjona put together a partnership that combined seed money from the State Department with additional support from the government of Panama, the private sector and the families of the students themselves.
"Everybody that's involved puts in a little bit, and together we make this possible," she said.
Arjona helped secure donations of items that students and their families could raffle or auction. This effort allowed each student to make a required $500 contribution, or about the cost of obtaining a visa to enter the United States.
Though the College Horizons Outreach students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, they have all demonstrated high levels of academic achievement, having earned an overall grade-point average of at least 4.2 on a five-point scale. They have also earned high grades in Spanish, mathematics and science courses; demonstrated proficiency in English; and scored exceptionally well on the Spanish-language SATs.
Arjona noted that the students picked to visit Northwest and UCM often have to walk hours back and forth to school, and some live in homes that lack electricity or running water.
"These students are elite academically, and they will be Panama's leaders," Arjona said. "So what we are doing is allowing people who are going to be playing very important roles in the future of Panama to see the people of the United States, and to learn what the United States is really like."
Depending on the availability of funding from Panama and other sources, Arjona said that as many as three of the students now at Northwest, all of whom are sophomores or juniors, could return next year to begin studies at the University's Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing. The two-year residential program for academically gifted teens replaces the junior and senior years of high school and awards graduates both a high school diploma and an associate's degree. After finishing their undergraduate studies at Northwest or elsewhere, academy alumni frequently go on to advanced study in elite graduate programs.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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