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American raised in Italy excels at local charter school

TrekNorth High School will graduate 24 students tonight. Brian Thavis of Rome, Italy is one of those graduates. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

When Brian Thavis saw the ice and snow that remained on May 1, he couldn't believe his eyes.

"I couldn't help but think, 'When is this going to end?'" Thavis said. "Why don't seasons apply here?'"

Born and raised in Rome, Italy, Thavis, 19, had seen no more than a few snowflakes before coming to Bemidji to complete his final year of high school at TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School. He will be among 24 seniors graduating from TrekNorth at 6:30 p.m. tonight in Haag-Sauer Hall on the Bemidji State University campus.

Thavis lived his entire life in Rome. Fluent in both Italian and English from a young age, he developed a dual lifestyle. Raised by American parents, he learned to adjust to an American home in an Italian culture.

"It was very difficult for me to separate the two worlds when I was younger," he said. "I spoke Italian when I was in school or anywhere else public, but would speak English when I was home."

In additional to traveling throughout Europe, he and his family spent their summers in the United States visiting places like San Francisco and Yellowstone National Park.

Thavis' choice to receive a high school diploma in Bemidji was not accidental. His parents, originally from Minnesota, moved to Rome after college, but not before developing a friendship with Dan McKeon, the executive director of TrekNorth. Having gone to the same college - St. John's University - as Thavis' father, McKeon has known Thavis since he was a baby.

"I used to babysit him when he was little," McKeon said. "Our families are old friends."

Although loosely considered a foreign exchange student, Thavis did not come to TrekNorth through a foreign exchange program.

"I looked at what Italian university was like when I was younger, and I knew then that I didn't want to go there," Thavis said. "I wanted to go to post-secondary school in the States. I thought that it would be good to get a taste of American schooling before I went to college."

Thavis' experience at TrekNorth has offered more than a taste of American schooling.

"He came here very comfortable with his foreign surroundings," said Andy Wiggins, Dean of Students and coach of the soccer team at TrekNorth.

Unlike other foreign exchange students, Thavis did not struggle with the vastly different American culture and language, mainly because of his diverse upbringing.

"Do you know the band, Aerosmith?" a soccer teammate once asked him.

To his surprise, Thavis shrugged and answered promptly, "Uh, yeah. I like their live stuff."

The transition from living in Italy to living in America seemed not to faze him.

"Brian took to our school seamlessly," McKeon said. "He's done well academically, and the social scene of an American high school seems like an easy fit for him."

Thavis has involved himself in the TrekNorth Advanced Placement curriculum, as well as participating in the Outdoor Adventure Program and Service Learning Program trips. Even with Advanced Placement coursework, and soccer, skiing and track and field, Thavis' school schedule did not overwhelm him.

"Brian has adapted well. It took a little time to become familiar with academic American terminology," said Mike Munson, AP teacher at TrekNorth, "He's far better read than most American students, and once he was familiar with the ways of American schools, and AP in particular, he's taken to it easily."