By Kristina Pritchett

A new program coordinated by a Dana Point resort and Dana Hills High School is allowing students to getting hands-on learning experience in the hospitality industry.

Twice a week, students from Dana Hills High School leave campus and head across town for a different kind of learning. A new program was created this year that partners with Monarch Beach Resort to allow students to learn about different aspects of the hotel industry.

The students spend time with different department leaders of Monarch Beach Resort to see what it takes to work in the hotel business. On Tuesdays, the students enter a classroom at the hotel and learn about a specific department.

“Leaders from different disciplines will speak for the first 15 to 20 minutes about their journeys, they’ll talk about their roles, and there’s a Q&A,” said Lisa Ferrara, director of human resources at Monarch Beach Resort.

On Thursdays, the students take what they learned and work on a project.

“We ask our leaders to create a project, or a special interest, for a hands-on learning experience,” Ferrara said.

The different disciplines include housekeeping, guest services, reservations, culinary services, accounting and more.

The program came together about a year ago when Dana Hills High School Principal Jason Allemann met with members of the school district including Pati Romo, executive director of career technical education for Capistrano Unified School District and Ferrara.

“It’s grown into this very unique partnership,” Romo said. “It’s almost unheard of for students to go into a site and intern during their school days.”

Romo said it’s a positive experience and allows the students to learn career pathways and real life skills, college skills and people skills.

Allemann said the program is a way for the school to support local businesses and that it could grow to be successful for the students.

“It’s one thing to be in the classroom and learn, it’s another thing to get immediate practice,” Allemann said.

Allemann said this program will allow the students to decide whether they want to pursue a career in the hospitality field or rule it out. Selected students had to interview for a spot in the program.

“We want the resort to find value in employing those individuals,” Allemann said. “It [could] get a kid a career that makes them happy and be able to support them.”

Ferrara hopes the program will allow the hotel to be able to hire the seniors once they graduate during the summer before they head off to college.

“We hire our beach attendants and pool attendants for the summer, and it would be great to have some of those students return,” Ferrara said. “We can create those relationships each summer.”

So far, Allemann said the program was going well.

“They’re eating it up,” Allemann said.

Ferrara said the program is not only a success for the students, but for the employees at the resort.

“The response we received has been overwhelmingly positive,” Ferrara said. “As we move through it, there’s more and more creativity. They’re excited, I can see a change in them as well and I didn’t expect it.”

Next semester, each student will choose a department in which they want to further their education and essentially intern with the leaders of those areas.

“They’ll identify their preferences,” Ferrara said. “They’re all interested in different areas; there’s a lot of culinary and event management.”

For now, the officials are seeing how this year goes to decide whether it will expand.

Dana Hills High School students spend two days a week at Monarch Beach Resort to learn about the hotel industry. Photo: Courtesy of Marie Shirran, program coordinator at Capistrano Unified School District
Dana Hills High School students spend two days a week at Monarch Beach Resort to learn about the hotel industry. Photo: Courtesy of Marie Shirran, program coordinator at Capistrano Unified School District

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