This article contains:
- School relationship case studies
As you know, most schools have their own cultures and ways of operating. To that end, there are occasionally unique, and sometimes difficult, circumstances that our volunteers and field staff face when trying to build relationships with schools. This document is designed to capture some unique situations and what AFS-USA has recommended you do to handle them.
Case Study #1 – Parochial School Gatekeeper
A local family that has hosted an AFS student five times is looking ahead to the next school year as their eldest child is currently in 8th grade. The family will be transitioning their daughter to a private school as she enters her 9th grade year. The family very much wants to continue hosting so the AFS staff person reached out to the parochial school to determine what options they have for the exchange student to attend the same school as the daughter. What the field staff found was that the school only accepted three J-1 students per year and that all three would come from a specific exchange organization. When the staff member continued asking questions of the gatekeeper, it was discovered that the gatekeeper was the admissions director and she was a paid recruiter with the same exchange organization from which the school exclusively accepts J-1 students. When asked if the school would consider accepting a student from another organization, the admissions director stated frankly that the school likes the way things are working now because if there are concerns from any of the J-1 students, she is already in the building and they can come see her at any point as a representative from that exchange organization.
- Concern #1 – This is a conflict of interest for the admissions director at the school to be receiving a stipend/payment for placing students in her own school and that while working exclusively with her own exchange organization she is securing her annual commission.
- Concern #2 – The admissions director serves as the liaison for the students yet she is also in a position of authority over the students in their school.
After various conversations surrounding this situation, it was recommended by AFS leadership that the following actions be taken and the rationale behind each recommendation.
It was recommended that the field staff maintain the positive relationship that she has with the host family and encourage them to meet with the Head of School from the parochial school and let it be known that they would like to host an exchange student and that they would like AFS to be their exchange organization. The staff member was allowed to attend the meeting with the family, but was encouraged to only be a support for the family as they advocated for allowing AFS to be their exchange organization. The staff member was reminded that she should not disparage or cast light on the potential conflict of interest being demonstrated by the admissions director. The decision to have the family meet with the Head of School was made to establish a relationship between the family and the school, to allow the family to show their desire to host and demonstrate in person the success and joy that they have had working with AFS and for the AFS staff person to be available to answer questions and highlight the great work and expectations that the AFS volunteers uphold in the area.
It was recommended that the AFS staff member not attempt to call attention to the potential conflict of interest of the admissions director to the Head of School or to CSIET because it is possible that there is another liaison assigned to each of the exchange students and she is simply in the building and available to the students as an additional individual and support. It is also possible that the Head of School is aware that his admissions director receives a commission for the placement of the three students annually and has approved of this practice as the admissions director is able to ensure a smooth integration into the school because she knows what to do to place and support the students.
One important area to consider with this situation is that as a primarily volunteer-driven organization, it is always possible that there are volunteers with AFS who, despite their training, make poor decisions regarding the placement of students, interactions with a school or host family or does not operate in a completely compliant way. Until we can ensure that our own volunteers across the country are operating completely beyond reproach, it’s important for us to consider that it may not be ideal to blow the whistle on a situation involving this type of conflict of interest. Instead, it is better for AFS staff and volunteers to remember to prove their worth and validity to a school and host family through their routine interactions with the students, families and schools and let those actions be the ones that are remembered. AFS is doing great things for exchange students and this situation is one of the greatest reasons to showcase what we do as an organization.
As of 10/16/19 this situation is yet to be resolved, but if there are questions or you would like to know the end result, you may reach out to:
Jill Woerner, AFS Director of Educational Outreach, firstname.lastname@example.org