Of the Baker City Herald

The walk home is no farther than the edge of the school grounds for nine Burnt River High School students who speak English as a second language.

They are exchange students spending the year boarding in the district-owned dorms at Unity.

Jonda Myers, dorm supervisor for the district, grew up at Hereford. She and her husband, Butch, live in the dorm and supervise the students when they are not in school. Once a month and during extended vacations, the students spend time with mentor families in the community.

Jonda said she does her best to explain ahead of time how small and isolated Unity is.

Most students are still surprised to find that cattle outnumber people in the communities served by the school, which has a cattle guard at each end of its parking lot and a large Hereford bulls head mounted in the hallway.

Seventeen-year-old Nadya Andreyeva, whose hometown of Orenburg, Russia, has a population of about 1 million, admits that she did not expect the community to be quite so small.

It was kind of a big shock, she said.

But, she has adjusted to the change and is enjoying the year, she said.

The transition to her new school was made easier by her membership on the schools volleyball and basketball teams

I like the way people treat us, she said. I like the teachers and that people are trying to let us have as much fun as we can.

But it wasnt easy at first, despite her proficiency in the English language, which she has studied seriously for the past two years.

It was hard in the beginning to get close with everybody, she said. It is such a small community and they have all known each other for a long time.

The camaraderie among her dorm mates helped get her through the rough spots.

Living in the dorm helps, she said. You are not alone.

The other students are Eva Schmidt of Germany, Francois Lefeure of France, Lorien Dorsman of Holland, Soo Yeon Choi of South Korea, Grace Kuo of Taiwan, German Hegetschweiller of Argentina (who arrived in January and will remain through the second semester, replacing another student from Mexico), Atsuko Irei of Japan and Lucas Suzuki of Brazil.

Screened for ability and interests

The students were brought to Unity through the Academic Year in the U.S.A. (AYUSA) program. Darlene Scheler of Baker City is the regional director for the program and community counselor for the Unity program. She helps place students, who are screened several times before the final selection is made.

Nadya is a participant in the Future Leaders Exchange scholarship program, Scheler said. She is one of just 1,200 chosen from 47,000 applicants.

Like other students in the program, she qualified because of her language skills, academic ability and interests.

I try to choose students who are active in sports or who want to participate in sports, Scheler said.

Theater and music programs are not available at the 83-student school district, so students with those interests probably wouldnt be chosen, she said.

Those who are most satisfied with the experience in small rural school settings are those who participate in community and school life, she added.

Im looking for students who appear to be self-motivated and who are interested in getting out in the community, meeting people and who are open to new experiences, she said.

Most of the exchange students are from large cities. To say they experience a cultural shock upon arriving in Unity is an understatement, Scheler said.

They have no concept of how big America really is, she said. I dont think they have any idea of the vastness.

Dorm life helps

The dorm setting, which Scheler terms international family living, is especially helpful for easing the exchange students into the daily routine at Burnt River High School.

The boarding school system has been tweaked some since it began in 1996-97, according to Superintendent Robert Otheim. He started the program with the idea of boosting the districts lagging enrollment.

During that first year, students other than those who were part of the exchange program were accepted as boarders.

We wanted kids who wanted to be here, Otheim said. If a kid does not buy into it, it isnt going to work.

That wasnt always the case in the beginning, he said. Some of the students were there because they were having problems elsewhere

The first year their parents wanted them here, Otheim said. Of those kids, I sent a lot of them home.

Through trial and error over the years, the district now works to carefully select students who will be an asset to the district.

It has to be to the benefit of them and us, Otheim said.

Students who are disappointed with the community and the school may opt out at any time. They are given this message from the superintendent: If youre not happy here leave, he says. Were not going to change; Im sorry.

And there have been a few who havent made it through their scheduled term. One boys main goal was to be a rock star and another had a medical problem. Both were sent home early, Otheim said.

As the program has changed, so has the communitys eagerness to accept the students, Scheler said. At first the community and students werent quite sure what to expect. And because the group was so large, the exchange students were expected to take care of themselves, she said.

The visiting students have been welcomed more openly as the program has evolved, she said.

I compliment the people out at Unity, she said. Theyve done a fine job with these kids. Its been good for both them and the foreign exchange students.