Fernando Tapia checks the group reservations at La Fonda
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Hotels bring on Santa Fe students for summer

By Teya Vitu tvitu@sfnewmexican.com

Matejo Heitzman figured he’d have a summer job flipping burgers.

The 17-year-old rising senior at The MASTERS Program charter school at Santa Fe Community College instead is doing sales and marketing and working the front desk at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi.

“I’m glad I found this because it’s a significant upgrade,” Heitzman said.

The job — actually a $15-an-hour summer work-based learning experience — found him and 21 other students at Santa Fe-area high schools working at hotels alongside adults.

Hoteliers banded together with the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, which hooked up three hotel general managers with the Santa Fe Public Schools’ Work-Based Learning Program that launched last year.

Bosses at La Fonda on the Plaza, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi and Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe gave their pitch to the culinary arts students at Santa Fe High School, business pathways students at Capital High School and at The MASTERS Program. Forty-three students ended up applying.

Not all students followed through.

“I think every student that was interviewed was hired,” said Vanessa Romero, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning at Santa Fe Public Schools.

The students are not doing grunt labor. They are working in finance, sales and marketing; at the front desk; as restaurant hostesses or in the kitchen; as valets and butlers; or at the Detour shop at La Fonda.

“I’ve been making pre-arrival calls,” said Heitzman, referring to the calls the AAA Four Diamond Inn of the Anasazi make a week before arrival to well-heeled guests paying more than $700 a night.

Fernando Tapia, who will be a senior at Capital High, is splitting time between sales, where he’s working on billing, and human resources, where he helps organize job applications.

“At first, it was let’s just do it for the summer,” Tapia said. “Now I feel like I can do this my whole life.”

Hoteliers at first also looked at these as summer jobs, but already there has been mutual interest among some students and bosses to keep the positions open-ended.

“If they want to stay, 100 percent we would love for them to stay,” said Roxanne Fereydouni, people and culture assistant manager at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado.

The hotel-SFPS partnership is called Level Up. This is the pilot year with four hotels participating.

“In the following year, other hotels can be part of the program,” said Lutz Arnhold, managing director at Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. “We want to approach more schools. Some of these students already decided they want to do this as career transition.”

The school district describes these as work-based learning experiences rather than paid internships. There are education components at the hotels and at the schools.

At the end of summer, the students have two weeks in the classroom to create a presentation about their summer jobs. They also will research college costs in-state and out-of-state, as well as living expenses, said Jose Villarreal, the school district’s work-based learning coordinator.

“My goal was to prepare students for the job interview,” Villarreal said. “We helped them build a résumé and gave them skills you need for an interview. We were making sure they were not working at entry-level, like making coffee.”

Many times, a person’s lifetime job path is set in the teenage years.

“Your opportunities are limited by your experiences,” said Peter McWain, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Santa Fe Public Schools. “We are expanding their experiences. We are setting them up with authentic opportunities.”

The opening month was an “amazing experience” for Tapia.

“There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes,” Tapia said. “I feel more confident now. I feel I can do anything.”

Heitzman said he views this summer job as a potential career.

“It’s a job that has a future, a path forward for me,” Heitzman said. “I’m definitely looking at staying after the summer through the school year.”

Every two weeks, La Fonda General Manager Rik Blyth has education meetings with his 10 students that give them insights on how the hotel functions.

“What really spurred this was the closing of the hospitality program at the community college,” Blyth said. “This is more extra staff. They are not taking away from someone we would hire otherwise. They are assisting us. This time of year we are always stretched thin.”

Blyth a year ago took part in a LANL Foundation meeting with business leaders to get them more involved in education. Blyth brought up hotels’ desire for summer student jobs.

The foundation had set as a goal creating internships through its College, Career and Community Pathways program.

“The reason we created this is we saw the need,” said Jenny Parks, the foundation’s CEO. “How do we get our kids to see themselves with a career here? [The hotels] were talking about how they need to provide their own employees. They want to build their own workforce.”

Just as Blyth brought up the hotels’ needs, Parks discovered Villarreal was brought on to formalize the school district’s work-based learning experiences program.

“We partnered up with the school district to help make this program a success,” Parks said. “We helped set them up. We built an internship tool kit for employers. [The hotel bosses] were really committed to this.”

La Fonda has 10 students on board. Five students are at Inn of the Anasazi, four at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, and the two at Hotel Santa Fe are Native American students. The hotel is majority owned by Picuris Pueblo.

“It’s nice to have them here as part of their education,” Hotel Santa Fe managing partner Paul Margetson said of his students working the front desk and as butlers. “They are delightful and charming. These two are just so forthcoming. They have come such a far way in a few weeks.”

The school district also has work-based learning experiences in engineering, business, transportation, hospitals and as tutors. But tourism is a huge employer in Santa Fe.

The program tries to answer the age-old doubt that high school students have about attending school.

“The hotels want to create a workforce pipeline,” McWain said. “The students see a reason why they are going to school.”


Original Article in The Santa Fe New Mexican