In its fifth year as a gateway to the District’s hospitality industry for students, Ballou Senior High School’s Career Academy on Hospitality and Tourism gained national recognition as a top-tier career preparedness program with industry-specific curricula, work-based learning experiences and connections with professionals.
The academy counted among nearly 90 programs that received a distinguished ranking by NAF, a national network of education, business and community leaders. During the latter part of last month, students, teachers, alumni, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) officials and hospitality industry mavens celebrated this milestone during an on-campus ceremony.
“Ballou’s Career Academy on Hospitality and Tourism broadened my view on what I can do in marketing and communications to help people and get my voice out there,” said Amya McKoy, a Ballou senior and recipient of scholarships from the Washington Hospitality Association, Academy Partner, Inc., and the American Experience Foundation.
During her stint in Ballou’s career academy, Amya interned at the World Bank and participated in a hospitality summer program at Cornell University. She said those experiences shaped her business persona and inspired her to represent local youth, particularly those from Southeast, as a viable audience for hotel, restaurant and venue owners.
“I learned that hospitality brings in tax dollars and helps the schools,” said Amya, who also expressed plans of studying communications at Bowie State University next fall.
“The industry attracts people all over the world. People should know that D.C. is one of the most diverse places in the country, where you can do literally anything. There are many places in Southeast for people to explore; they shouldn’t just go to places they feel are nicer.”
Ballou, along with Columbia Heights Education Campus and Wilson Senior High School, both in Northwest, offered a hospitality and tourism academy this academic year.
In a matter of days, Amya’s class will be the second graduating class from the Ballou Career Academy of Hospitality and Tourism on its way to entering what’s estimated to be a $5.2 billion playing field. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development said the District’s hospitality industry supports more than 80,000 local jobs, including hotels, restaurants and performing venues with tens of thousands of seats, in making it one of the city’s strongest sectors.
On the road to graduation, career academy enrollees took courses related to hospitality, marketing, event planning and customer service, along with two academic core courses that complement those activities. Students also complete industry-recognized certifications in aspects of customer service.
Other components of the hospitality and tourism career academy include events with hospitality industry leaders and workday activities where students see every level of operation within a business that attracts tourists. Such was the case during a visit to Nationals Park earlier during the school year.
“Hospitality is one of the top employers in our city and region,” said Erin Bibo, deputy chief of college and career programs at DCPS. “It’s not just hotels. We host so many conventions and events. The students are interning in high school and they go off the college. There’s an interest on both ends for our young people to work [in these companies] permanently. It’s a strategic approach to developing a loyal workforce that understands your brand.”
NAF gave the Ballou Academy of Hospitality and Tourism high marks in the areas of student enrollment, certification passage rate, workplace learning and completion and strength of the advisory board.
The hospitality and tourism academy advisory board, comprised of local leaders in the hospitality industry, ensures that students at the Ballou Career Academy of Hospitality and Tourism benefit from access and institutional knowledge. The information that students divulge during events makes for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Founding board member Thomas Penny said such a connection could pay dividends in bridging the gap between longtime D.C. residents and transplants in a thriving city.
“We got a unique group of board members who understand that this is a unique time in the city’s history and we have a responsibility to introduce young people to the fruits of the hotel industry,” said Penny, president of Donohoe Hospitality Services, a company in which he started as a dishwasher nearly three decades ago. He told The Informer that he often shares that story with Ballou students.
“They can transition to college and come back to our industry,” Penny said. “Throughout the time in our academy, we provide scholarships and students spend a significant amount of time with hospitality professionals, understanding what they have to do to have a similar experience. The beauty is that we have the highest ranking professionals in the D.C. area.”