Photo and story by Janet Schultz
Students graduating from Lewiston-Porter will be prepared to face the challenges of a global economy. This comes from an educational experience they are receiving through the school's Academy of International Business and Finance.
Lewiston-Porter has a history of internationalism through the International Studies Program set up by High School Principal Paul Casseri several years ago. He approached teacher Nicole Alonzo on creating an international business course to supplement that program.
Alonzo, now director of the academy, first told him about the National Academy Foundation, which encourages schools to assist students to gain skills they can use in the workplace. The organization also supports schools running an academy with curriculum plans, conferences and networking.
NAF requests that its participants submit a plan of action. Lew-Port's has its focus on international business studies. A committee comprised of teachers, parents, administrators and students explained how taking courses in this area would benefit students for a lifetime.
Alonzo described it as a school within a school experience. Students apply in their freshman year and begin the program in their sophomore year. What started with five students has now grown to 19.
Academy courses are designed for just these students. There are classes in international business, geography and trade, cultural studies, a capstone course in college research and an internship preparation course along with a compensated internship during their junior and senior year. The students take these courses in addition to their regular studies.
The specialized subject matter includes a look at how companies must operate when dealing with businesses in other countries, such as how to structure a company to deal with the time change, the many currencies and the cultural differences. Students are also required to have an international experience that includes travel to another country or within the U.S. or hosting a foreign exchange student in their home.
Another requirement of the program is that the students must maintain an 85 or higher grade-point average.
When they graduate, they receive a certificate from NAF and 12 college credits toward study at Niagara University, a partner with Lew-Port.
"I had an interest in business and was thinking about a career in business law," said Hannah Cupples, a senior in her third year of the academy.
"I wanted something that would set me apart from my peers because when it comes to applying for colleges - it's very competitive and you need to stand out. I also wanted something that would challenge me and give me skills that I can use regardless of my career choice."
Cupples, who started out with a possible career direction in business law, has now chosen a career in chemistry with a minor in business.
"Through the capstone course, I've learned how to write research papers and how to do the research. Right now, that is the most prevalent thing I've learned."
Through the academy, Cupples interned at Compu-Mail on Grand Island. She worked in the marketing department doing some small tasks and eventually did some research for Compu-Mail, which led her to actually writing a blog for the company.
"She did such a good job that the company asked her to stay on," said Alonzo. "So now she works for them when she can."
Seamus McGillion is in his first year and sees the academy as providing him the skills he needs to find a job in any situation. Looking at a career in the cardiology field, he sees the program as a challenge and hopes to get the very beneficial college credits.
"I want to become more ethically understanding of other people and become more educated in a world where there are so many different cultures," said McGillion, who must present his step analysis to the academy board shortly.
The step analysis consists of a verbal presentation by the students, and includes being assigned a country, researching that country as to its social, technological, economic and political situation, and determine whether or not that particular country is a good place to launch a new business.
Another part of the academy are the "soft skills" that are taught, including how to speak in front of an audience, how to introduce yourself to a professional, how to shake hands and how to network.
"These are basic things that will get them through the rest of their lives," said Alonzo. "The essential skills."
Janet Schiff-DiFiore, president of the academy board of advisers, first became involved through her daughter, who became one of the first to go through the program.
"The benefits are huge," said Schiff-DiFiore, who at one time assisted adults seeking employment. "Most kids today have so many choices and it's a matter of helping them find out where they fit in, where their strengths are. This program takes that to the next level. My daughter was more competitive and more prepared for college."
"This is a flagship program to show that we have a wonderful brain trust here," she continued. "This is a win-win situation and it was a good fit for me to put my energies toward."
"No matter what profession or job you take, you have to have good communication skills and a basic sense of business to compete and succeed," she continued. "This program provides them with that."
Alonzo remarked the academy is not an easy program. The material is college level and students take it in addition to their regular courses.
"They become a family because they take the courses together through the three years," said Alonzo. "They support each other and work well together. It has a great feel to it."
"I grew up here, moved away and came back to raise my family here," said Schiff-DiFiore. "It pains me to hear there's nothing here in Niagara County, there are no jobs and it pains me that kids don't develop the relationships to know what is here.
"Not only do businesses in our community need to know we exist educationally, the students need to learn about what is available here," said Schiff-DiFiore.
"Those relationships are far reaching in the community," she continued. "The businesses need young creative people to come back here, and the school district needs programs that are challenging and setting (students) apart from the standardized teaching and testing.
"The program is so far reaching," she concluded.
The board of advisors consists of business and community leaders who come together and lend their expertise and their connections to this program, as well as internships.
Alonzo adds that participating businesses in the internship program have a responsibility to give the students an actual work experience, not just assigning them menial tasks.
"We want to make sure it's a quality work experience," said Alonzo.
"We are always looking for people to participate on the board of advisors, to be part of the classroom as a guest speaker," said Alonzo.
"We're looking to place 18 students in internships," said Schiff-DiFiore. "We want businesses to know we have these great kids that would be a huge asset to any business."
"A parent understands why this program is valuable; they understand the competitive world of getting into college, getting a job," explains Alonzo. "It's hard for a 14-year-old to understand that. We asked that if parents think this is the right type of program for their child and the student is up to something unique in their high school experience, they can come talk to me."
"Last year as a freshman, I was confused, but through my first year in the academy I learned how to be a good student," said McGillion. "Some students look back on high school and talk about what they missed. What's the point of looking back when you can do it now."
"The academy gets you exposed to things you would have a hard time getting exposed to without the academy," he adds.
As a senior, Cupples looks back on her experience. She has traveled to Europe and will be returning this summer, she completed an internship that has given her a part-time job and feels that her high school years were very unique.
"I wanted to make these four years fun and different and I did it through this program," she said. "Now getting ready for college, I feel the skills will help me tremendously."
"I feel like I have the edge going to college and that I'm ready to take on the challenges," she concluded.
"With the often negative light that has been shed on the economy, this has shed a positive light on what can be done - what gives our students a competitive edge in a school district that always prided itself on their students leaving and becoming successful," said Schiff-DiFiore. "It sets a gold standard to meeting the challenges."
"Principal Casseri has taken an active role in meeting the challenges and thinking out of the box," said Schiff-DiFiore. "We have to meet the challenges or we will be left behind. This clearly does it."
Alonzo looks at the future of the program as possibly exposing the students to students from around the world. She sees them as working with sister schools around the world, working on projects together in the classroom via the virtual world.
This fall, Alonzo worked with German exchange students who visited Lew-Port. She developed a project that Lew-Port students and German students first worked on individually in their respective schools. When the German students arrived at Lew-Port they completed it with counterparts.
"Our hope is that the community embraces the program and becomes a true partner at different levels," Alonzo concludes.
For information on the academy, contact Alonzo at [email protected] or 716-425-0430.