Lew-Port offers a school-within-a-school approach to higher learning; grooms students for success
By Terry Duffy
The Academy of International Business & Finance in 2019 is marking its 10th year as part of the Lewiston-Porter High School educational experience.
Have you ever heard of it?
Best described, it’s a school-within-a-school approach to higher learning, providing educational experiences, internships and potential career opportunities for the high school student en route to college.
“Our academy students come to the program with a variety of interests and abilities, but all are looking for a different high school experience that will provide them with the knowledge and skills that will take them from high school, to advanced education or training, and beyond,” reads the Lew-Port website description.
Operating as an added component to the overall high school experience at Lew-Port, the academy functions locally as part of a national network of education, business and community leaders who work in cooperation with the Lewiston-Porter district to ensure students are college, career and future ready.
One of a handful of such opportunities availed to students in Western New York school districts, the Lewiston-Porter Academy is a member of the National Academy Foundation. NAF is described as an educational nonprofit whose mission is “to solve some of the biggest challenges facing education and the economy by bringing education, business, and community leaders together to transform the high school experience.”
The Lew-Port Academy is open to high school students from their sophomore year on to seniors. It offers both a challenging as well as rewarding program as part of the student’s unique educational experience. Academy students complete a 120-hour compensated internship and participate in an international program. This includes student course work in various fields, opportunities to work on a compensated basis with area or regional employers in many disciplines – and even travel or actual experiences in a foreign country.
In essence, the Lewiston-Porter Academy operates as a major stepping-stone to college. Students, regardless of their backgrounds or academic levels, are invited to apply to the academy in January of their freshman year and begin their experience as sophomores.
“Throughout the three-year program, students participate in interactive experiences to hone vital soft skills, conduct research, and gain valuable work experience through a paid internship,” said Jodee Riordan, president of the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education. “College admissions is a very competitive process, and it can be difficult for students to set themselves apart on a college application. AIBF gives students an opportunity to stand out.”
Upon completion, the successful academy graduate becomes eligible to receive up to 21 college credits from the Lew-Port district’s educational partners, which includes Niagara University.
Lew-Port Superintendent of Schools Paul Casseri, who is among those credited with spearheading the development of the academy from his years as principal of Lewiston-Porter High School, spoke of his goal for the future.
“We need to take it to the next level,” he said, noting the academy that currently numbers some 30 students is already recognized by its peer WNY districts as a model to follow.
“My ideal is 60-75 students,” Casseri said, noting he’d like to see the academy achieve an even greater international focus.
Casseri recently announced the appointment of JoAnnn Allender as the new academy director. Allender said she wants to bring what is a well-recognized program to even greater prominence.
“The academy is already a solid program offering valuable opportunities and experiences for its academy students,” Allender said. “Successful NAF accredited academies require strong partnerships between education and local businesses. Moving forward, one of my goals is to build upon our existing relationships and to recruit additional businesses, especially those with an international component, to become involved with our academy.”
“One of the tenets of NAF is for businesses to ‘build their talent pipeline’ by developing young talent,” she said.
One such recent success story at Lew-Port is Alan Peunic, a graduate of the academy and member of the Lewiston-Porter Class of 2015.
“It gave me forward thinking,” Peunic said. He recalled he joined the academy in his sophomore year with just “average grades,” intending to focus on international studies. He soon found he had a niche for business, namely accounting.
“I gave it a shot,” Peunic said, adding the academy allowed him to focus on his interests and build and improve upon them. “Definitely never regret your decision.”
Peunic said the academy experience “built my business mentality from that sophomore year on to have (the) ability, confidence” in everything you do – how your prepare, how your build a resume, how you dress.
Peunic credits the academy for taking an uncertain high-schooler and grooming him for success.
“It helped me with life for college; it got me started,” Peunic said.
He went on to attend Niagara University for business where his grades achieved “the top of his class.” At graduation, he went on to receive the President’s Award in Accounting – the highest award presented at the university.
Now an MBA student in accounting at NU, Peunic is on the staff at Chiampou, Travis, Besaw and Kershner LLP, CPAs of Getzville. “I found my calling – grade-wise, job-wise,” he said.
Peunic said his sister, Nicole, is currently an academy student. “She’s looking at law or art design.”
His advice to Lew-Port students and their parents who may be considering the academy: “Do it! Take the opportunity if you want to be more than average/mediocre when starting college. The academy … it’s a dividend that pays eternally.”
Allender invited Lewiston-Porter students and their parents to consider the academy experience. Likewise, she encouraged area business to share their respective talents and become a greater component of what the academy brings to Lewiston-Porter.
“Local businesses can be proactive in this regard and add value to their businesses and to our academy by providing internships and job shadowing experiences or having interested employees get involved as classroom speakers, conduct mock interviews or provide feedback on review of student portfolios or research presentations,” Allender said.
She closed by inviting the community to attend the academy’s upcoming annual celebrity bartender Halloween fundraiser. This event takes place from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Ontario House (the Jug) in Youngstown. There attendees can look forward to a fun-filled evening, with more than a dozen area “celebrities” – including this writer – working behind the bar. Also featured will be Halloween-themed contests, a raffle, 50/50s, and the DJ sounds of Nicholas Picholas of Kiss 98.5’s “Janet and Nick in the Morning.”
All proceeds will benefit the Lewiston-Porter High School Academy of International Business & Finance.