By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Lewiston-Porter High School Principal Paul Casseri prides himself partially on the relative success his school has achieved internationally.
No not in sports, and not entirely academically, though there is some there. No, Casseri is constantly excited by his school's international studies offerings, which sends his students to, and receives students from, a number of foreign countries every year.
His efforts finally paid off this summer when his school was recognized as a Confucius Institute, which will go a long way toward even more clout in the foreign scene. It's a name he's pursued for more than two years with little luck before this past summer.
"Whether you read 'The World is Flat,' by (Thomas) Friedman, read a newspaper or watch the news, you know there's a distinct focus on ... Asian culture right now," Casseri told the district's school board Wednesday. "There's been a clear, curricular focus on that area of the world. And Lewiston-Porter's almost been ahead of the curve."
What does being a Confucius Institute mean for the school and its district? For starters, it's a prime cooperation with the University at Buffalo, which houses the governing entity over the area's various designations. It's a relationship Casseri has molded for several years without the formal name attached. Now with the backing official, it's even more power for the school.
While local ties were strengthened, Casseri's program, which is being developed and maintained by Amy Townsend, the high school's director of international studies, is also able to partner even more with China's Hanban, the country's official entity responsible for promoting Chinese instruction as a second language across the world.
The school has a working relationship with a fairly prestigious Tianjin No. 2 high school, which has culminated in previous teacher and student exchanges both ways, made possible through Hanban. But the partnership will expand beyond the borders of the one high school in one Chinese city, both in welcome and unwelcome ways with the new designation.
Not a lot of time will be given to contemplate how the new program will work, either. Lew-Port is expected to welcome a Chinese teacher to town today, with a second teacher arriving next week before students report for opening of classes Wednesday. Neither teacher is part of the school's partnership with Tianjin No. 2, which Casseri said is unfortunate, though he understands why it happened.
"Tianjin No. 2 had budget issues," Casseri said. "Our partnership with them was supposed to be direct, but it's not as direct as we thought."
Eventually, Casseri said the goal is to draw students from China and other countries to enter Lew-Port for one full year of classes and graduate with high school diplomas. Colleges looking to expand their foreign student population have shown interest already in partnering with the school to bring students to the country, have them earn a high school diploma and enter college the next year.
Casseri said it could be lucrative for the school if it works out.
"If we can get 10 students (who pay tuition), that's $100,000 right there," he said. "While I'd like to see some of that money go toward the international studies program, that's up to (the school board). But the program runs about $23,000 every year. With what's left, that's a teacher's salary right there."
"What we're doing is actually quite progressive," Townsend said. "I've overwhelmed a couple schools who've contacted me about what they'd need to do to do this as well. If you look at some of the other schools out there, they're not exactly doing this."Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.