School options costly for Area I students
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Educational opportunities for the upcoming school year are limited and expensive for non-command-sponsored children in Area I, says the director of the International Christian School in Uijongbu.
Rex Freel, who oversees the education of 290 students, including 80 children of U.S. soldiers and civilian base workers from Area I, said 15 children already are on waiting lists for 2004-05 classes at ICS. The school year begins next month.
The cost of tuition at ICS, $5,000 per year, puts it beyond the reach of most soldiers supporting non-command-sponsored families in Area I, he said. And students who do not secure a place at ICS can expect to pay twice as much to attend Area I’s other school for foreign students — Indianhead School — or Seoul American High School at Yongsan Garrison, he said.
Freel said 80 percent of his students are South Koreans who hold foreign passports. Only four children of U.S. soldiers attend the school and they have been granted scholarships in exchange for acting as teachers’ aides, he said.
Some soldier parents serving in South Korea choose to home-school their children, while others simply take their children out of school for a year, he said.
Jay Underwood, who has just started a job as a civilian recreation specialist at Camp Casey with Morale, Welfare and Recreation, is trying to find places at ICS for his 14-year-old son, James, and 12-year- old daughter, Michelle, soon to join him when the rest of the family moves from California.
ICS has a place for Michelle, but James has had to go on a waiting list for the school’s ninth-grade class. The children also are on a waiting list for Seoul American High School, Underwood said.
His next stop will be Indianhead School, where he hopes to find room for his children if places do not become available at the other schools.
“I hope I get them in somewhere,” he said.
ICS, which offers classes from kindergarten through high school, follows the American school year and syllabus but it is very different from a typical American school. The school was established above a noisy grocery store in downtown Uijongbu in 1983 at the request of 2nd ID chaplains, Freel said.
In October 2002, it moved to a five-story building near the back gate of Camp Red Cloud. It includes art and music rooms, a library and a computer center, but takes up only a quarter-acre of land, whereas most American schools take up at least 10 acres, he said.
The students use facilities at Camp Red Cloud, such as the swimming pool and gymnasium, for physical education and play on a vacant one-acre dirt lot leased by the school, he said.
ICS has boys’ and girls’ cross-country, basketball, swimming, and soccer teams and girls’ volleyball, and competes against other Defense Department-approved schools in South Korea.
Many students are “Amerasians,” Freel said — the children of U.S. defense contractors and South Koreans.
“They could go to Korean schools but they struggle because they are not accepted. This is a safe haven for them,” he said.
The school requires students to speak English in class but for many it is a second language, he said. And there is a high student turnover.
“Even the kids who are non-military have parents who are globe-trotting and get used to moving,” he said. “We give an award to seniors who have been at the school for 10 years and there are only two or three each year.”
Derek Johnson, who teaches Bible studies and philosophy, is one of 24 American teachers at the school.
He said there is a night-and-day difference between teaching in South Korea and his old job in South Carolina public schools.
“Here among the teachers there is a real sense of community and family,” he added.
Freel said plans to move the 2nd Infantry Division out of Area I likely won’t mean the death of ICS, due to a new subway link to Seoul that passes the school.
“We are expecting about the time 2nd ID leaves, the subway will open and we will see more students commuting from Seoul,” he said.