Politicians might wring their hands over whether American schoolchildren can keep up with the Chinese, but 15-year-old Jiazhou Liu has a different perspective.
“America has the best education in the world,” he said. “In China, you just read books and memorize things. It’s kind of boring.”
Liu, who goes by Henry, left his home in Beijing this summer to attend Archbishop Riordan High School in The City. A sophomore, he’s one of 16 Chinese and Vietnamese students in the new boarding program. One additional boarder hails from Northern California.
When Patrick Daly took over last year as president of Riordan, which is located in Balboa Park, enrollment was flagging. The 60-year-old, all-male Catholic school had lost about 250 students between 2005 and 2010. Daly recognized that the aspirations of teens such as Liu to learn in America could help revive the school.
“One of the tremendous benefits this country has is our educational system,” Daly said. “We’re right in the heart of San Francisco. We have a wonderful program. I think it was just a great fit.”
The boarding students live in shared rooms where the Marianist brothers and priests who founded the school once lived. Tuition and room and board are $45,000 a year; day students pay $14,720.
The boarding program is a financial boon for the school, which gives financial aid to half its students.
“What I looked at is the revenue that can be generated through this program we can reinvest it in the school and in scholarships for the working-class students,” Daly said. “When you see that family come in, mom’s working two jobs, dad’s working two jobs — they’re looking for a better opportunity for their son.”
Last year, Daly went to China and Eastern Europe to interview prospective students. He will travel to Asia and the Middle East this year. The school plans to expand the boarding program to 44 students next year and 70 the following year.
Daly said the international boarders are enriching the culture of the school.
“Our boys have been great in making them feel at home,” he said. “I think they bring a lot of enthusiasm that’s melded together with our own boys.”
Guanzhou Wang, who goes by Simon, came to America for the first time this summer to start his junior year at Riordan. He was looking forward to an all-American high school experience, including playing the saxophone in the marching band and joining the basketball team.
In China, Wang said, he chafed against a conformist educational system that did not allow students to pursue their own interests.
“This school is perfect for me,” Wang said. “I love America.”
Many Riordan students qualify for scholarships, but their need far outweighs the school’s ability to help.
49.7% Students who receive financial aid
$4,500 Average grant
$1.5M Financial aid provided this year
$4M Financial aid needed
$14,720 Tuition for a day student
$45,000 Tuition for a boarding student
Source: Archbishop Riordan High School