Ballou Academy of Hospitality and Tourism Students Host Food and Heritage Festival

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Ballou students organized a food and heritage festival last month: senior Michael Green (black jacket), junior Dijon Kerns (white hat), junior Amya McKoy (kneeling) and junior Shae’Lnn Ames (standing).

On a recent weekend, as the front of the Dorothea Dix Building, 2730 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, on the campus of St. Elisabeth’s Hospital, was being bulldozed, the adjacent Gateway Pavilion was abuzz with local small business vendors and community members attending the Knights Table, a food and heritage festival organized by students in Ballou High School’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism.

As I maneuvered around officers from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Seventh District interacting with local youth and their parents, and walked past tables in the Gateway underpass offering food samples and displaying information about public health programs, I came upon a group of students playing bubble soccer.

With help from Francesca “Frankie” Thornton, a participant in community meetings since elementary school and now a junior marching-band member and auto-tech student at Ballou, I gathered three students from the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism to ask a few questions.

A Lot of Potential
After speaking with senior Michael Green and juniors Amya McKoy and Dijon Kerns, it is evident there is an abundance of potential and ambition among the students, who feel the full story of their school and community has not been told in light of a series of negative media stories this school year. “Ballou is full of creative kids who represent all types of different cultures and talents,” said McKoy, who wants to attend either Columbia University or North Carolina A&T State University upon graduation next year.

“Duke!” Kerns said repeatedly, while McKoy explained her college choices, showing the friendly academic competition between the classmates.

Green interjected, “This event and our program shows people want to give back to the community. We can all make a difference by coming together.”

Without missing a beat and with a gregarious smile, McKoy offered, “This project, as part of the hospitality and tourism class, has taught us all what it takes to put together a festival. There’s more coordination and attention to detail than most people would think.”

Although McKoy confided that their teacher Glenda Lee, a former sales and marketing manager in the hospitality industry, helped work though more than a challenge or two, she said students took “immediate ownership and responsibility to make the festival a success.”

Opportunities in the Academy
Now in its third year at Ballou, the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism will graduate its first class this June. With nearly a hundred students pursuing a certification in hospitality and tourism from the National Academy Foundation (NAF), about 10 percent of the student body is enrolled.

Wilson High School and Columbia Heights Education Center in Northwest also coordinate a hospitality and tourism program with comprehensive information-technology and engineering programs at Dunbar, McKinley, Phelps and Cardozo.

All academies are supported by industry advisory boards whose members include local business leaders, and each academy is staffed by two administrators who ensure students are receiving direct and regular college and career advising and are connecting often with industry opportunities.

“Our students gain real-world, experiential learning opportunities through a wide range of professional avenues in the hospitality industry,” explained Lee, a native Ward 8 resident who for nearly two decades worked in the travel industry – from guest service agent to convention manager to senior area sales and marketing manager, representing many of Travel+Leisure’s “Best Hotels in the World,” including The Jefferson, Morrison House and Lorien Hotel and Spa, where she served presidents, dignitaries, celebrities and business leaders.

Lee has used her connections to assist the program and guide students to greater career options within the hospitality and tourism industry across the entire region. Through a partnership with Destination DC, students participated in National Job Shadow Day this past February and were given a tour of the Washington Auto Show with a briefing on the logistics and marketing to execute a trade show of comparable size. Last October, students visited iHeartRadio studios in Rockville, to learn about marketing and radio broadcasting.

Through a partnership with the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, participants are able to work within their field, jumpstarting their professional development and marketability to a variety of current and future employers. After attending a recent job fair, students are securing positions for the summer. McKoy plans to work at the World Bank.

According to NAF, tourism and hospitality is the world’s fastest growing industry, bringing an estimated $5.2 billion to Washington, DC, every year. Within that figure, visitors spend $1.9 billion on lodging annually, with $207 million in tax revenue being generated annually from hotels. Visitors to DC contribute nearly $620 million in local tax revenue every year.

With the hospitality industry experiencing significant growth and high demand in the city, students at Ballou are uniquely positioned to take advantage of opportunities across the city and within Ward 8, with the expected arrival of Busboys & Poets and the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights later this year.

The Hospitality and Tourism program is recruiting for the 2018-19 academic year. For more information email Ballou Academy of Hospitality and Tourism at ballouevents@gmail.com or visit Ballou’s website at http://balloudc.org.