The Community School might be accused of bringing in a ringer for its high school basketball program. Headmaster Andy Jones-Wilkins smiles at the insinuation, but is quick to explain that a 6-9 junior who arrived this year from Senegal brings more than just athletic prowess to the private school in Sun Valley.
"He's been a real asset to our community," Jones-Wilkins said, referring to Daniel Gomis, an exchange student from the French-speaking republic in western Africa.
Gomis gives presentations about Senegal to history classes, tutors fifth-grade students in French, teaches PE classes about basketball, serves as assistant coach to the middle school basketball squad and teaches students overall about life in a foreign country.
"It's one thing to read about Senegal in a book," Jones-Wilkins said. "It's something else to meet and get to know someone actually from Senegal. We, in our somewhat isolated community, want our students to have more access to the global community."
Gomis is the first arrival in a new Community School endeavor to actively recruit foreign exchange students. Jones-Wilkins said the process was started three years ago when the school's board of directors bought into the idea.
School officials studied how the process was accomplished at Riverside International School in Boise, which has a large population of foreign students.
After a lengthy qualification process, approval was been granted to The Community School to issue student visas.
"We had to get approval, basically from the federal government, to do this, and that took some time," Jones Wilkins said.
Jones-Wilkins said Gomis was recruited through the efforts of varsity basketball coach Ed Flory, who devised a plan to link basketball opportunities with educational opportunities available at the school.
"With every student that comes to us, we make it clear that we are an academic institution first," Jones-Wilkins said. "There's other places where Daniel could play basketball, but he came here because we could provide him with a full academic college prep program."
Jones-Wilkins said the Wood River Valley provides a good setting for foreign students. Some might come here for skiing opportunities or for other sports or cultural endeavors.
"It just so happened that our first successful candidate was a basketball player, but we're looking for students to participate in our drama program, our community service program or in our outdoor program," he said.
"It's really a win-win," Jones-Wilkins said. "It's a win for the students coming and it's a win here, as we've seen with Daniel, how he's enriching our students educationally.
"I'm inspired to find 10 more Daniels out there."
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org