Crystelle Moe, 19, has always liked to cook.
But it wasn’t until she began attending Hospitality High School, a public charter school backed by some of the region’s largest hotel companies, that she realized she could make a career of it.
“The first time I heard about this school, I didn’t know what it was,” said Moe, who graduated in May. “I thought it was about hospitals. But the teachers got us involved and the more I learned, the more I began to love it.”
In the fall, Moe will head to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to major in hospitality management and minor in culinary arts.
Since its opening in 1999, more than 2,000 students have graduated from Hospitality High School, the first industry-specific public charter school to open in the District. About 60 percent of the school’s graduates have ended up working at hotels and restaurants. More than 75 percent enroll in college.
“Career opportunities in hospitality are amazing, but unfortunately the industry is often overlooked,” said Edward Baten, general manager of the W Washington D.C. hotel, who serves on the board of Hospitality High School. “To be able to introduce teenagers to the industry and hopefully inspire them to have a career here later is really a great opportunity.”
On Wednesday, the school celebrated the opening of its first permanent location.
The move had been years in the making. Hospitality High School was first proposed in the 1990s, when the current convention center was being built. In recent years, the school has operated out of the third floor of Roosevelt High School in Petworth.
It took about two years to find, buy and renovate the current building, which formerly housed the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, on the corner of 9th and T streets NW, said Tiffany Godbout Williams, executive director of Hospitality High School. The building has about 20 classrooms, an industrial kitchen and a hospitality suite that includes a mock lobby where students can practice their skills.
“For many years it has been thought that it would either be college or a career,” Michael Durso, chairman of the school’s board, said at last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “There’s really no reason our young people cannot choose to do both. Our high school has been working to dispel that myth.”
The area’s hospitality associations and hotel giants — Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International and others — have made sizeable investments in the school. Marriott donated $500,000 for the purchase of the new property. Hilton is investing $100,000 toward the renovation of a new kitchen. In all, members of the Hotel Association of Washington D.C. have pooled together more than $1.4 million for the charter school.
There are more than 120 hotels in Washington, with another 23 under construction, according to Destination D.C., the marketing arm of the District. That adds up to tens of thousands of jobs — more than any other sector in the area, except for the federal government.
“Our industry is the most labor-intensive industry in the country,” said Richard Marriott, chairman of the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. “We have a tremendous need for educated and talented young people. There is a limitless amount of opportunity in the hospitality industry.”
It was that need that sparked the idea for the charter school, Williams said.
“Hotels were coming to us saying they were getting two-thirds of their managers from outside the city,” she said. “So we thought, why not educate the citizens of the District for these jobs?”
In addition to course work in lodging management, culinary arts, and travel and tourism, the charter school also connects students with summer jobs, internships and shadowing opportunities
“Many of our students have struggled at traditional schools,” Williams said. “But they thrive here because we’re connecting education to real life.”
Today, the school’s alumni have degrees from a range of schools (Montgomery College, Temple University, Michigan State University) and work at hotels such as the Capital Hilton, Wardman Park Marriott and Gaylord National.
Many current and former students said they valued the school’s small classes (most are capped at 17). Others said the curriculum gave them the opportunity to try out their interests before picking a career path.
“Once you get out of high school, you have to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life,” said Kortney Washington, a rising senior. “I was like, let’s just see what hospitality is like. I wanted to try something different.”
Washington says she has always wanted to be a lawyer. Now, after three years at Hospitality High School, she would still like to be a lawyer, but one who specializes in hospitality issues.
“That’s my plan A,” she said. “My plan B is to work at a hotel.”