More than 10 years ago, Windermere Preparatory School made the decision to implement an exchange student program known as The Residential Life program.
Through the program, the exchange students’ dorms are converted townhomes that provide the comforts of a real home and fosters camaraderie among the students.
Prior to residing in their current gated community in Horizon West, the international Lakers lived in six rented homes.
According to Director of Residential Life Stephane Allagnon, to be able to reside in the community, the students needs to be full-time students at Windermere Prep and come from either another city, state or country.
‘WE ARE LIKE A FAMILY’
Currently, the student population at the residential complex represents more than different countries. Sao Paulo, Brazil, native Giovanna Bassi De Melo, 17, has been a part of the Residential Life program for three semesters and said she has grown significantly since her arrival to the program, Windermere Prep and the United States.
“When I first got here, I was really introverted, but I am not anymore,” she said. “We are like a family. Most people who come and stay, they leave here being a better version of themselves.”
The program has between eight to 10 dorm parents, who make sure students follow the rules and keep them on track academically.
“We are academic-based,” dorm parent Joe Falcione said. “We want to make sure they are staying strong on their academics. Their parents sent them here for more than just an experience in America. They sent them here to gain a good education through Windermere Prep.”
To ensure this, the 114 exchange students residing in the community are required to have a quiet Study Hall time from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on weeknights — Mondays through Thursdays.
“We hold that very sacred,” Falcione said. “They are in their houses, in their bedrooms, but it is absolutely no outside distractions, no music or anything like that that may call them to stay off their work. That’s one major rule we follow.”
If students are caught up on their devices during these 90 minutes, they get a couple of warnings before their phones are confiscated specifically during that time. Sometimes, students would even be required to study in the common area in the unit they reside in if they get easily distracted.
When there is a breach in the rules, students can lose some of their privileges. This term, under the Residential Life program, is called “Gated,” which denies students access to activities and priority events.
Every unit is divided like a hotel. One unit is allocated to dorm parents — who reside there permanently — in each of the townhomes. Every unit has a maximum of six students per unit; there are only three rooms in each unit with two students per unit. Falcione is the dorm parent for 24 boys.
One side of the community holds the boys and the other side of townhomes holds the girls. According to Allagnon, “there is a perfect split between boys and girls.”
Despite the students being away from home, the program not only offers the opportunity to gain foreign education and English language proficiency. It allows students to get cultural education.
“This program is really well thought out because, the way it’s designed, it doesn’t separate the groups by their nationality or country of origin,” Falcione said. “The kids have an opportunity to live with someone who doesn’t live in their same culture … who doesn’t speak the same language. In the common spaces, you speak English, because you are also here to build up your English, but sometimes we have kids who prefer to stay in their own language.”
Interestingly, Falcione has realized food is a primary factor in having students learn about one another’s cultures.
“They have the ability to make their own food, go buy the ingredients in the local store, and sometimes (students) will say, ‘Hey, it smells good,’” he said. “So they try the food from another culture. It’s a nice way to showing each other where they come from.”
During their time in the Residential Life program, students live a normal life with simple rules. One thing that’s different? None of them is allowed to have a car.
“(They have to) respect each other and learn to live in a community,” Allagnon said. “Overall, the rules are not much different than what you would do with your own children. The main difference is that we do not allow them to leave the community alone and they always must have a cellphone with them with a working U.S. number.”