High School and “More”
Hospitality High School Prepares DCers for Careers
BY STEPHEN LILIENTHAL
Evelyn Richardson knew many DC high-schoolers who were learning math and English. But she thought there might be more to education. She entered Hospitality High School (HHS) after starting her sophomore year, switching due to her mother’s concerns about “distractions” surrounding the neighborhood of her charter school. Fortunately, HHS provided a striking change. Soon Richardson was really learning “more.”
McEducation or a Million Dollar Opportunity?
A partnership between the Hotel Association of Washington, DC, and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington helped lead to creation of HHS. Aware that the new Walter E. Washington Convention Center would spark the need for more skilled managers in hospitality and culinary arts, the association proposed that DC Public Schools increase its programming in those areas. DCPS gave the idea the cold shoulder, causing the associations to develop a charter school.
The Marriott Foundation was a strong initial financial supporter, but now funding includes generous support from hotel chains, restaurants, associations, and foundations.
Not all extended a warm welcome. A listserv posting in 2001 derided HHS as “McEducation” training for students to become “happy waitresses and doormen.” HHS students, however, are receiving solid opportunities. A 2011 Pew Research Center study, using U.S. Census data, showed the average adult with a bachelor’s degree would earn an additional $1.4 million over a 40-year career, beyond what the average high school student would earn during the same span. Even subtracting college expenses means the average college graduate nets $550,000 more in earnings than the average high school graduate.
Sandra Carter, HHS’s guidance counselor, insists, “Our goal is to send students to college.” Statistics back up her assertion. HHS’s 2011-12 annual report shows its graduation rate for the 2012 senior class was 90 percent. Eighty percent of seniors took the SAT in the 2011-12 school year, and their average score was 1025. Every HHS student applying to college in 2012 was accepted. Not all students enrolled in HHS finish it, but those students willing to take advantage of the school’s offerings can expect good opportunities.
Richardson is a case in point. Soon after arriving at HHS, she was making friends. “I was introduced in a class of 15 people. Soon I had 30 friends,” she recalls. Small size helps HHS foster a friendly environment, and teachers pride themselves on being accessible and willing to extend help when students request it. Richardson discovered a career suited to her personality because she likes “going that extra mile for people.”
Richardson once dreamed of becoming a lawyer or working in criminal justice, but at HHS she saw her outgoing personality “clicked with everything I was learning” about the hospitality industry.
As for “the more” she was learning, Richardson insists, “One of the best parts of the school is that it takes us out of the classroom and we go to hotels. It’s better to see them and how they work than just read about it in a book.” All students and staff spend a day in February participating in Groundhog Job Shadowing Day, when they follow hotel and restaurant personnel as they do their jobs, whether they be in accounting, human resources, management, engineering, housekeeping, communications, catering, reservations, or front desk services.
HHS provides students with guest speakers from the industry and an in-house career fair. Students are also required to obtain industry certifications. Richardson views junior year to have been special because she participated in sports and student government, but she also took a hospitality marketing class. “The teacher made the class fun. It gave me the ability to motivate people to get them to buy.” That summer, Richardson worked a paid internship at the Embassy Suites hotel near the convention center, first as a server at its Finn & Porter restaurant, then as a front desk agent.
Richardson spent her senior year working part-time for Embassy Suites, balancing her work with studies and playing basketball for HHS. She enjoyed the hospitality law class taught by Michael Cucciardo, hospitality administrator at HHS, which covers topics such as liability, safety, and contracts.
Professionalism by Example
When visiting executives come to HHS, they see student work portfolios and often ask students about their school attendance and grades. “That will draw the connection between what you do in school and how it reflects to the outside world. Suddenly, kids become more responsible and dependable and see that [attendance and grades] matter,” says Tiffany Godbout Williams, HHS’s executive director.
Learning is tied to the objectives and standards professionals must meet in the workplace. Michael Cucciardo, hospitality administrator, is proud that HHS is a member of the National Academy Foundation, which “provides a project-based curriculum focused on literacy and job skills development in and out of the classroom.”
As graduation draws near, Carter’s senior seminar acquaints students with important aspects of the application process. Students visit hospitality programs at colleges and universities. Partnerships have been forged between HHS and hospitality programs at institutions including Cornell University and Michigan State University.
Life after HHS
As for her own college plans, Richardson credits Carter with providing nudges to make sure she applied for scholarships, of which she won several. HHS helped show her that she prefers a smaller school environment so she chose to attend Tuskegee University. “It’s not high school all over again but you can talk to the teacher as opposed to being just one person in a class of 100,” she explains.
Playing it smart, Ms. Richardson has a double major in hospitality and finance. She worked last summer as an intern at the Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC, Hotel, in the food and beverage division, helping to chart the day’s proceeds and spending by customers. Richardson graduates from Tuskegee this spring and feels confident about her job prospects.
Many students arrive at HHS with standardized test scores that are below grade level. That presents a challenge for any school. HHS had the highest growth throughout the city in math and reading on the DC-CAS Comprehensive Assessment System for 2011, only to see those gains dissolve on last year’s results. HHS is redoubling its efforts, hiring a data accountability specialist to encourage students and instructors to use test data to increase achievement. Carter encourages students interested those fields to double major in finance, marketing, or management. Even if students choose a different course of study, says Carter, the professional mindset HHS imparts to its students can be useful for whatever career alumni want to enter.
Stephen Lilienthal is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC.