A local private school has opened its doors to students from anywhere in the world, and families are coming in.
St. Mary’s Catholic School in Longview has started accepting international students after a six-month-long application process, Principal Darbie Safford said.
The campus currently has three international students — brothers from Kigali, Rwanda — and has eight others in the application process.
The school also has a middle-school science teacher, Joy Omasere, who is from Delta State, Nigeria.
Omasere said when her family first came to the United States in 2005, they went to Maryland.
She said in 2006, they felt God pulling them to Texas, and their pastor in Maryland knew someone in Longview.
While working at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center as a patient care technician, Omasere said she had a co-worker who sent her children to St. Mary’s.
She applied for a teaching job to start the 2019-20 school year. Even though she has a master’s degree in public health from Purdue Global University online, her bachelor’s degree is in education.
Omasere said seeing the international students gives her joy.
“It’s a thing of joy to have a school that has the opportunity to bring students from other places,” she said. “It’s a thing of joy to have kids from other countries come over, because a whole lot of parents want to be able to bring their children to school here, but not a lot of them have the opportunity.”
One of those students, senior Odilon Rwabukamba, said his father knew he wanted to come to the U.S. for college, but they learned if he started school in the States sooner, the transition to college would be easier.
Rwabukamba’s aunt, Esperance Ndizeye, has lived in the U.S. since 1999, he said. She came to visit the family in Rwanda in 2014 and helped convince Rwabukamba’s father to let him come to the U.S. for the rest of his education.
Rwabukamba said he spent a month in the States with his aunt in 2017 before making his final decision. He knew he wanted to study in the U.S.
He applied for a visa and was denied because he did not speak English. He spoke only French. He went to Uganda for a year and applied again in 2018 once he had learned English.
Then he and his two brothers — Robin, 14, and Aubin, 15 — were granted I-20 visas to live and study in the U.S.
Form I-20 is a government document issued by schools participating in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program and certifies that students have been admitted to the program and have proved they have financial resources to stay in the United States. Officially titled the “Certificate of Eligibility,” Form I-20 allows a student to apply for a visa to study in the U.S.
And though the brothers received their approval to go to St. Mary’s, the school was not ready to accept the boys.
Safford said the school had to prove it could support international students with certain programs, such as an English as a second language program, and other qualifications.
“But now that we do have approval, a student has to apply to the school to be admitted to the school, and then after they have an acceptance letter from the school, they then take that letter to the embassy and go through an interview process to get a visa to then be able to come join us here,” she said. “So, even after our process, that is fairly lengthy, the students then have to go through their own process to get accepted.”
Students also have to show they have somewhere to live, in addition to paying tuition and living costs in the U.S., Safford said.
Trinity School of Texas, another private school in Longview, also can accept I-20 visa students. Cissy Abernathy, director of admissions, said the campus currently has eight international students.
The students are from China, Germany, Cambodia and Vietnam. Abernathy said she was not able to access how long the school has accepted international students, but it has been many years.
Rwabukamba started at Jefferson Christian Academy, he said. He and his brother Aubin moved to St. Mary’s in April 2019. Robin started in August 2019.
“The original plan was coming to St. Mary’s when I came to America,” Rwabukamba said. “I think the teachers here are better, and it’s more organized. In Africa, it’s more individual. You’ve got to sit and do it by yourself. It’s like public schools here; they’re so big so they don’t really pay attention to the individuals.”
Rwabukamba is adjusting to changes in his new home. He plays soccer, basketball and tennis for the school. He is considering studying premedicine or computer science at the University of Texas at Tyler.
Safford said the school pursued the approval for accepting international students because it saw a need it could meet.
“It benefits us as a school because we can increase the diversity of the school, increase the international culture at the school. I think that serves everybody well,” she said. “And it helps the students, that they have a place to come to that is nurturing, that’s going to care for them. They’re not going to get lost in the shuffle.”