Frisco’s Peak School welcomes global community
Summer has officially come to a close for students in Summit County and for those who attend The Peak School in Frisco, the new school year means becoming a little more worldly.
For the first time, Peak — a private, independent school this year serving more than 70 sixth through 12th graders — is including a handful of international students as part of a larger multinational push. The idea is to generate benefits that are twofold. The new pupils from abroad can gain knowledge from unique opportunities here that are not traditionally possible in their homelands, while locals will also learn more about the students’ cultures from where they originate.
Residents of the county may be no stranger to people from different countries visiting, given the resort-driven community. Others from more affluent families might even have had the chance to visit some of these other nations to get a feel for destinations outside the United States. Still, an upbringing in Summit can sometimes mean not seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to exposure to external surroundings.
“Because it’s such a destination for families to move and live here, you can get the sense that this is the world,” said Steve Coleman, Peak’s head of school. “It’s really important, I think, for our students to know that there is a greater world out there, that there are people who have much different life experiences than they do.”
This year, as part of this drive to bring more international diversity to the growing campus now into its fifth academic year, Peak welcomed two high schoolers from China, another from Japan and another from Sweden. Each came via different circumstances, but all are staying with host families and will experience the school and county as if they were any other adolescent.
Students at Peak just returned from a few days of camping to kick off the year, and these four overseas converts took part and acclimated quickly. The rewards from such adventures can be felt immediately.
“This is not part of their school experience in their countries,” said Coleman, “particularly the Chinese, for instance, where it’s very studious, long days, just class. There’s value in outdoor experience, play and adventure and leadership-skill building. So, right away, they’re being opened up to different perspectives.”
Aside from the introduction of new students to the school, the program also continues its pursuits of providing distinct international instruction from uniquely experienced faculty. Joining Peak this year are global history teacher Kerry Keating and a new Chinese teacher in Luke Wander.
Keating has a broad background given the fact she’s spent the past 13 years teaching all over the world, from Italy to Thailand, Ireland to El Salvador and in the Middle East. Such a record allows her to teach the Peak’s standard period-based, intercontinental history syllabus, while also having the first-hand grounding to shed a light students would not otherwise receive. Keating will also coach Peak’s award-winning Model UN team.
Wander arrives to Frisco following two years teaching high schoolers in a small city near Shanghai in a Western-style classroom setting, and then a year of additional Mandarin language studies for himself at a university in the southern Chinese city of Hangzhou. He was drawn to Peak because of the opportunity to teach small class sizes across three levels of Mandarin and with a personal touch.
“It became my goal to teach Chinese to people who are like me,” Wander said, “because I started in my freshman year of college. These kids will be starting as sixth graders and some of them as 10th graders, so much younger than I did.
“Unlike a Chinese person,” he added, “I won’t be able to share everything from my childhood memories about Chinese New Year because I don’t have any. But I can share my perspective of them. And what’s great is that we have two Chinese students at the school. In my experience, the best education is an immersive one, and I can do that as much as possible, but having them here will be so much better.”
Aside from strictly language, Wander also teaches his students about Chinese culture and history. The goal in the next few years will be to then take a group of his students to China for real, hands-on experience.
Meanwhile, the Peak plans to continue aiming for four or five international students at the school each year because of the dual benefits it lends to everyone within the program.
“Just having those students in classes and in our school forces our students to really think about other peoples,” said Coleman. “That in itself is a real value. It’s something that both private schools and colleges are finding really enriches the culture of their campus. I do think that Peak’s future includes this international component.”
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