WAUWATOSA — For nearly a decade, families in Asia have turned to the Wisconsin International Academy in Wauwatosa so their kids can get an American education, often spending years apart to pursue their dreams.
School leaders said a large majority of their students come from China. They also have students who came from the Philippines and Fiji.
Dean of Students Andrew Lutze described the academy as a mix of a dorm and boarding school that works with local high schools. He said the main reason families choose to send their kids here is long-term family planning and achievement.
"What that means is preparing them for a great college, and if they go to a great university in the United States, for example, that will give them a leg up when they’re in the competitive job market back in China," Lutze said.
Some families pool all their funds together to make it happen. Students like Peter Mao, whose Chinese name is Mao Shijie, and Timothy Zhao, whose Chinese name is Zhao Wenbo, learned English before arriving. They attend local high schools, joined clubs and sports - all to prepare for the next chapter.
Mao attends St. Thomas More High School where he joined the robotics club and signed up for the cross country team, the swim team, and track and field. Zhao, who goes to Catholic Memorial, joined the volleyball team and picked up tennis.
However, the transition can be tough.
"When I came here for the first year, I was really nervous about that because everything’s new, my classmates, my friends. So I was really nervous," Zhao said.
"The hard time was joining the local community, how to join American high school student community," Mao said.
Both students persevered and are set to graduate this month.
Mao will head to the California College of the Arts, combining his love of technology and art. Zhao will study business at the University of Oregon where he hopes to join the volleyball team.
It is a move filled with mixed emotions that any senior can relate to.
"I am fully prepared going to college. I’m already used to the lifestyle here," Mao said.
"I really like the school. I’ll miss my friends," said Zhao.
As they head off to their next chapter, there is a sense of pride in seeing how far they have come.
"It’s interesting to watch how they evolve and grow and what kind of careers they’ll take in the future," Lutze said.
This year WIA will see nearly 20 students graduate. Students will soon head off to colleges across the country including Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, California, and Texas.