Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 8, 2019
Seeley debuts on TV in China, hopes to promote GSA
Tim Seely brought this commemorative plate back to Blue Hill as a reminder of his time spent as a judge on Star Outlook, a game show in China.
by Monique Labbe
What does the head of school at a small, high school on the coast of Maine do to promote his institution in an effort to bolster its international program? For George Stevens Academy Head of School Tim Seeley, his approach was to become a judge on a Chinese television game show.
Seeley said he took on the role in part to put the GSA name out to a wider audience, but also for the experience, which took him out of his comfort zone and into a television studio in front of cameras.
“It was unlike anything I have ever done before,” said Seeley. “The contestants were amazing, the entire production crew was great as well. I even had my own assistant.”
The contest started with 7 million students, from first grade to college, who submitted a presentation, from who their favorite Pokemon is to mental health issues and the Chinese education system. Thirty students were chosen to compete in the television portion of the program, and were judged on the quality of their presentations and how well they spoke English. The winner received a college recommendation letter written by one of the judges.
“I could not believe how well all of the competitors spoke English, especially the younger ones,” said Seeley. “Had you not been looking at them, you would swear they were raised in a suburban household somewhere in the U.S. or England.”
The show does not air until the fall, but Seeley said it is something unique that people should tune in to.
“It’s like being in a classroom as a teacher, and you have a student giving a presentation to you, and then you give them your feedback. I’m not sure something like this could exist anywhere other than in China and be as successful as it has been for the 20 years that it has been on the air,” said Seeley.
Seeley is no stranger to traveling to China. As Head of School at GSA, Seeley visits the families of the Chinese students enrolled at the school, in order to keep a relationship going between those families and their children’s new environment in Blue Hill. Admissions Director Michael Foster also makes an annual trip to China for recruitment purposes.
Over the years, recruitment has been more difficult, due to more competition from other schools across the country also looking to bring students from China to their institutions. George Stevens Academy has enlisted the help of a company in China that has been helping them reach a wider audience through the internet and other avenues of promotion. Two years ago, the number of Chinese students at GSA was 49; last year’s number was 30.
“There is no single approach [to addressing this],” said Seeley. “We are small, our resources are limited and we really need to stay focused.”
Seeley said that the international program, which has been around since 2008, not only has a positive impact on the school community, but on the community of Blue Hill as well.
“Maine is not a particularly diverse place, so it is nice to give our students who are from here a chance to experience people who come from somewhere totally different than they do,” he said.
Another potential setback is a recent travel warning issued by the Chinese government regarding travel to the United States, though Seeley said at this time it is unclear as to what degree the ramifications of that could be to bringing students to GSA.
“We had a summer program for 30 middle school students all lined up, and it got canceled after those warnings,” he said. “The poor governmental relations between our countries is another piece of the challenges we now face enrolling students from China.”
The decline of Chinese students has also had an impact on revenue at GSA, as international students pay full tuition to go to school there each year. That tuition pays for their education, as well as their boarding at the dormitory.
As administrators continue to have conversations about how to deal with the revenue piece of the puzzle, Seeley said the goal is to continue the program well into the future.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come here was the boarding piece of it, as I worked at several boarding schools and enjoyed that,” he said. “What it takes for these students to leave their country to come here, and for the parents to be able to say ‘you’re education is so important I’m willing to send you halfway around the world to a place I’ve never been to’ is a pretty amazing thing.”