City council voted to change Airdrie’s special relationship with Gwacheon, Korea, Sept. 7.
Since 1997, the City has had an agreement with its sister city to offer the English education training program and alternating visits of public officials. Both will end immediately.
“Between the expenses, liability, difficulty finding host families and the time it takes to plan and implement this there are a number of threats and weaknesses,” said Michael McAllister of community development.
The English Study Tour (EST) is an annual summer visit of 32 Gwacheon High School students and up to four chaperones.
The students visit for 17 days each July and are taught ESL courses Monday to Friday, spending evenings and weekends with Airdrie homestay families.
“With people on summer holidays, it has always been a challenge finding homestay families,” said McAllister.
He added liability is a growing concern. In 2009 and 2010, four criminal record checks on homestay applicants came back with criminal convictions.
City administration manages all aspects of the program including facility and transportation bookings, activity planning, supplies purchases, hiring part-time teachers, contracting a translator, food and beverage coordination, and recruiting volunteers and homestay families.
During the delegate visits, the City of Airdrie hosts up to five Korean public officials and sends five officials to Korea. The visits are four days and involve touring regional sites, attending activities and business meetings.
The revenue source for these activities is the English Language Study Tour program.
“Only 12 per cent of the community is involved with these activities and it is administration’s position that the relationship with the City of Gwacheon be re-aligned,” said McAllister.
Council voted to stop the EST and delegate visits, making the connection more of a ceremonial relationship.
Ald. Shawn Howard said he agreed with the staff’s recommendation.
“I think, frankly, it’s time to take a step back and if something comes up, then that would come back to council and the staff can be involved then,” he said.
If a community group, organization or school would like to take over the program, McAllister said City staff would be more than happy to help.
“To date, no one individual or community group in Airdrie has initiated an exchange of Airdrie residents to Gwacheon over the past 13 years,” he said. “It has been a one-way street.”
Ald. Fred Burley said he understands the staff’s position but is disappointed.
“I am saddened to see this go because my son and daughter have definitely benefited from it,” he said.
“I commend staff for the wonderful work they have done,” said Ald. Richard Siemens.
“This has been a wonderful benefit to the community.”