A new focus on international connections at Barstow School is changing both the student body and the curriculum at this well-regarded private school for pre-K through 12th grade in south Kansas City.
In the past 10 years administrators have opened two English-speaking schools in China, formalized a program to attract foreign students to its 40-acre campus at 11511 State Line Rd. and created a worldwide consortium for online learning that has grown from a handful of members to 35 schools on five continents.
“Education has changed a lot,” says Kellye Crockett, director of admissions and marketing. “It’s important for our students’ families that they have a cosmopolitan world view.”
According to Crockett, one-third of Barstow’s students are of non-European ancestry and the current student body of about 750 includes representatives from 30 countries. About ten percent of the students in Grades 9-12 are foreign students taking part in a Home Stay Program where they live with a host family for three to four years and graduate with a Barstow diploma.
“They’re great kids,” Crockett says. “They add so much to the classroom and other school activities.”
She says Barstow students also are enriched by an online educational program called Hybrid Learning Consortium. The school founded this program about five years ago, partly “to offer courses we wouldn’t have otherwise, like a coral reef ecology class taught by our Maui partner.” Other online courses range from sign language to multivariable calculus to screenwriting.
“It’s no longer about teachers being content experts. Teachers are now conduits of knowledge. And when you strip away where and when we learn—when there is no front or back of the room, no bell, no one’s hand is higher than another’s—that opens up tremendous opportunities,” she says.
The number of students enrolled at Barstow has increased 17 percent over the last decade, and Crockett describes that figure as “where we want it to be.” Tuition ranges from $14,500 to $19,500 (depending on grade level) and the school employs about 100 faculty and staff.
To diversify their revenue stream and help keep tuition lower, Barstow operates satellite schools in Shanghai (75 students) and Ningbo (400 students). “We actually have more high school students in China than in Kansas City,” says Crockett, who notes the first overseas class of seniors graduated in May 2017.
While she says it’s “somewhat unusual in this region” for a place like Barstow to manage schools in China, “it’s not unheard of in the independent school world.” National news sources confirm a boom in western-style schools taught in the English language in China as increasing numbers of students apply to U.S. universities.
Back at the Kansas City campus, Crockett reports there are 66 students who currently attend Barstow and live in South Kansas City neighborhoods. Some are from local families who relocate to be closer to the school and some move here from other cities or other countries. At the inception of the Home Stay Program, Barstow purchased one house on 114th Terrace which is occupied by a faculty family and two international students. “We call it the Barstow House,” Crockett says, adding that the school “might inquire about a price here and there,” but has no plans to acquire additional homes in the Verona Hills and Foxcroft neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the flow of international communication and collaboration continues. Students from the Chinese campuses sometimes travel to Kansas City, and local Barstow students can sign up for two-week trips abroad to countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Costa Rica, China and Australia.
“There are a lot of dynamic shifts happening in the world,” Crockett says. “It’s important for us to keep the Barstow brand strong.”