Looking for students, business partners

Nov. 29, 2012 @ 05:53 PM

SANFORD — Southern Lee High School is seeking local businesses to help teachers plan out a new career education project focusing on tourism and hospitality.

After being approved recently by the National Academy Foundation to teach the foundation’s hospitality program, the school is now gearing up with the goal of having the academy up and running by the start of next school year. It will be open to rising 9th and 10th graders and will put them in a three-year program where they will take elective and core classes related to the tourism industry.

That’s where businesses come in, Brooke Rice, who is directing the Southern Lee academy, said. The teachers will get a great deal of help from the National Academy Foundation, which will provide curriculum and support. But local businesses can help by tailoring classes to fit specific local needs and can benefit by having a pool of students to draw from for internships and jobs. Teachers will also be looking for opportunities to get first-hand experience before teaching the material.

“Businesses can come in and kind of design experiences for the students and externships for the teachers,” she said.

Students in the program can pursue one of two tracks, with one focusing more on customer service and other business interactions and the other focusing more on the kitchen. And while they’ll take many specialized classes such as marketing — which Rice teaches — they’ll also take their normal core classes such as science, English, math and social studies. The main difference is those classes will ditch the traditional liberal arts approach and will instead revolve around the hospitality industry.

She said for the first year, she and the other staff are considering having a Titanic theme, since cruise lines are a big part of the industry.

“We could talk about tourism back in that time,” she said. “For marketing and customer service, if you were managing the cruise line after that ship sank, how would you react? For science, we might talk about buoyancy. For English, we’d read about it. For social studies, we’d look at what happened in court, what kind of effect the Titanic has had on our culture, and things like that.”

She said that since Lee County had the lowest growth in tourism out of all local counties last year, this is something that might help the local economy since it will increase the amount of knowledgeable local talent.

Lee County’s lack of a tourism bureau has been a thorn in the side of many local businesses for years, and one of the proponents of establishing an official bureau, Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce President Bob Joyce, said this is welcome news.

“I expressed to her my support for this, and I talked to the Chamber board about it,” Joyce said. “I think it’s a great program for our high schoolers in that it comes with a national model. It is a tested, prepared model that has worked other places. It’s not something where we’re going to have to reinvent the wheel.”

He said that since the county doesn’t have a large student population to turn to for staffing jobs in hotels, restaurants, country clubs and other such places, this program could help ease unemployment as well as create a more specialized workforce for those businesses to draw from.

“Our hotels would certainly be a great training ground for jobs or internships, and our restaurants, we have not only national chains but also great local ones,” he said. “From my own time waiting tables in college, I know it’s a great training ground for any job because you need to learn customer service for anything you do.”

Rice echoed that, saying that even students who aren’t interested in a career in hospitality can join and find benefits from learning about interacting in a business environment as well as from taking three years of small classes focused intently on career skills.

Eventually, the county plans to add a finance academy at Lee County High School and an engineering one at Southern Lee. Rice said that at this point, the academy doesn’t function as a magnet program — meaning it’s only open to students zoned for the school — but that that might change in the future.