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Front Page » Opinion » How Can We Be Doing So Many Right Things At The Wrong Time

How Can We Be Doing So Many Right Things At The Wrong Time

Written by on May 26, 2005

By Michael Lewis
It’s not always about the guy in the spotlight.

"We are here to help children become something in their future," Michael Aller said Thursday as he received the Tourism Professional of the Year award.

Mr. Aller, Miami Beach’s director of tourism and conventions and chief of protocol, stood before hundreds of applauding diners at the Wyndham Miami Beach Resort. But the reasons for the event weren’t present.

The $17,000 proceeds will help students at four Miami-Dade County high schools in the Academy of Hospitality & Tourism, which takes young people without career aims or college aspirations and educates them to become industry leaders.

The program is working. Since 1987, it has graduated more than 1,400 here and joined a national network that annually serves more than 50,000 high-school students learning finance, tourism and technology.

Eleven academy graduates work at Loews Miami Beach. A cruise line executive in the dinner audience is a graduate.

Think of the concept: Primarily minority pupils who may not plan to finish high school and lack career direction soak up an industry, talk with professionals, infuse it into school daily and often wind up going to college on scholarship and heading toward success.

Sanford Weill, then chairman of Citigroup, conceived the program. In 1982, he spearheaded the first academy, in finance, at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn with 35 students. Success came rapidly.

Then he hired Jeanne Westphal, former tourism director here, to create the first Academy of Travel & Tourism. It opened at Miami Springs Senior High in 1987. Since, tourism academy programs have followed at Miami Beach, Norland and Homestead highs – and in 30 other states and the District of Columbia.

Ms. Westphal still volunteers on the academy’s advisory committee. At Thursday’s dinner, she cited the program’s unique features.

One is the curriculum. It’s crafted not just to teach but to educate for a career.

Miami Springs, for example, offers eight English for tourism classes. There are courses in tourism studies, tourism destinations, tourism marketing. There’s algebra for tourism, geometry for tourism and biology for tourism – every bit of learning is geared not just to the classroom but to the future.

Beyond the usual textbook learning, students learn how to dress for work, communicate for business, write a resume, interview for a job.

And, Ms. Westphal noted, field trips – funded outside the school system – are also unusual. Students fly to another Florida city to learn about air travel. They visit a tourist attraction. They stay in a hotel because most of them have never done so. Even a cab or bus ride is tourism education.

The program meshes with the aims of schools Superintendent Rudy Crew, who emphasizes that all high-school grads need work knowledge, experience and career aspirations.

This program fills the bill.

Students get six-week paid internships. They attend conferences, trade shows and seminars. Professionals mentor them. Students can even take local college-level credit courses free.

The success is a model for the school system. Not only are students steeped in tourism but so are teachers, who have been specially coached by local experts to understand tourism and business – not the normal path for educators. And while students weren’t present as Mr. Aller received his award, their lead teachers were.

How well has the program done? Some 70% of grads – youngsters who once weren’t expected to get to college – wind up with two-year or four-year degrees, and 60% worked while in college. Of those out of school for five years or more, 92% have jobs and 21% are in the visitor industry.

The academy has not only brought the industry talented minority workers but, far more vital, has sent youngsters down the road to success in whatever industry. Most have stayed on that road.

This school system success could serve as a pattern. If you get committed volunteers in any industry who mentor youngsters, raise money for the program and hire the best and brightest of the graduates, then give industry-specific training to committed teachers, nothing is impossible.

That, I think, is what Michael Aller meant as he was named professional of the year. Someday, a graduate of the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism is likely to be receiving that same award.

Why don’t we replicate this in every vocational field? Top Front Page About Miami Today Put Your Message in Miami Today Contact Miami Today © Copyright 2005 Miami Today designed and produced by Green Dot Advertising and Marketing

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