Program puts students into visitor industry

“The Academy of Hospitality and Tourism couldn’t be a better opportunity for students to get a head start in networking within the industry,” said program director Leah Aiwohi.

AOHT is affiliated with the National Academy Foundation and is offered to students in the Business Academy at Kauai High School.

The program fits into the school’s redesign efforts, which include smaller learning communities and better preparation for the world of work.

Although the program has been at KHS for a number of years, originally as the Academy of Travel and Tourism, it is taking on a fresh look with Aiwohi as director.

At Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, Aiwohi developed the EAST program and moved to KHS to build a continuum. After attending the NAF summer conference, she discovered that the organization and structure of NAF was similar to EAST.

“I can deliver the same type of learning experience,” Aiwohi said. “With our academy, it seemed a natural fit for project-based learning — it’s just a different focus.”

The teen concierge project serves as an example of project-based learning. With Sheraton Kaua‘i as partner, students planned a week of daily activities to engage teenage hotel guests. During the winter and spring breaks, students manned the teen concierge desk to sign-up guests and then delivered the activities.

“(The project) was really successful,” Aiwohi said. “The students built solid relationships with the Sheraton and its management.”

Aiwohi said the management team was very supportive, making themselves accessible to students via e-mail and phone.

“They were an awesome team,” Aiwohi said.

A two-year program, AOHT juniors start learning business management principles. In the first quarter, they learned to develop a business plan.

In the process, they looked at work force diversity, equitable and equal employment. On the business end, they learned to track inventory, do daily cash sheets and budgets and keep records of vendor orders.

The plan served as a foundation for a snack shop that they opened at the beginning of the second quarter. The snack shop is the main source of consistent income for the Academy.

By the second quarter, the juniors were also ready to assist the seniors with the fundraiser the seniors had planned with the Norwegian Cruise Line.

While seniors were planning the teen concierge project in the third quarter, the juniors were studying systems in hospitality and tourism.

They learned to use up-to-date technology while working with spreadsheets and producing domestic and international travel packages.

The seniors mentored the juniors in the teen concierge project, so the juniors can carry on the project next school year.

For the fourth quarter, the seniors are completing their exit portfolios. They will present these to the members of the AOHT advisory board, who will rate them against a rubric.

The three-part portfolio contains one section on general information that includes a personal reflective essay, resume and statement of goals.

The second section includes evidence of work done in their junior and senior years. The third section includes evidence to demonstrate proficiency in each of the Department of Education’s general learner outcomes.

The juniors are working on their business forms for interviews and internship placements.

AOHT students are required to do a summer internship. Aiwohi secures the internship positions, but the students must go through interviews and be accepted into those positions.

Aiwohi said she is fortunate to have a good, engaged group of people as board members.

“They have the students’ best interest at heart and are very loyal,” she said.

Most take in interns; some take multiple interns. Some have volunteered to supervise the snack shop when school staff was unavailable. Some have volunteered to chaperone the familiarization trips the Academy takes to neighbor islands. Some have volunteered to chaperone AOHT activities like the fund raiser coming up as part of the KHS Spring Festival on Friday.

The board meets quarterly, at 7:30 in the morning.

“The board members like to stay on top of what the students are doing,” Aiwohi said. “They give advice and direction.”

In addition to the elective courses from Aiwohi, AOHT juniors and seniors take English from Betsy Sakoda, U. S. History and Government from Elena Kealoha and Economics and Global Studies from Lane Tokita.

The NAF has developed curriculum for Economics, but not for U. S. History or English.

Sakoda has been teaching AOHT English for seven or eight years. She addresses the Hawai‘i content and performance standards, but offers her students choices in the materials used and the literature read. She gears these to student interests and careers.

She supplements the curriculum with hands-on projects that develop problem solving strategies and learning processes.

For one project, Sakoda had her students become tour guides. They went around the island and gave reports based on their research.

“It was a fun learning experience for all of us,” Sakoda said.

Sakoda has attended three NAF summer conferences. Besides being introduced to ideas from other teachers, Sakoda said she appreciated the reassurance that the KHS AOHT was on the right track.

“We were doing something positive with our students by providing more experiences . . . ‘a classroom without walls,’” Sakoda said.

Kealoha also teaches to the standards and brings in information regarding hospitality whenever she can.

As part of her first quarter review of the 50 states, she assigned a research project. The research they did served as a springboard to the travel packets the students had to do in Aiwohi’s elective class.

Kealoha said recruiting for next year’s junior class did not go as well as expected.

“All juniors have to select academies,” Kealoha said. “We’re competing for numbers.”

Kealoha said students might have been attracted by the lure of music video production when the four academies at KHS did their recruitment.

“Who doesn’t want to be a movie star?” Kealoha said.

Sakoda said problems with recruitment have been discussed with national leaders. Getting students to sign-up for a two-year commitment has been a common problem. There also seems to be a misconception that AOHT courses are not on par with college preparatory courses.

“When students, parents and the community have more knowledge of academies, they will understand the value,” Sakoda said.

In reflective essays, Sakoda’s students have written comments like, “I’ve learned a lot because of the Academy . . . The Academy gave me confidence . . . It has opened my eyes to what is out there.”

“I don’t think parents and the community know how much students gain from experiences rather than textbooks,” Sakoda said.

Aiwohi said she was surprised that more students did not select AOHT, especially since tourism is the major industry on Kaua‘i. In addition, NAF offers $1500 scholarships on a competitive basis to AOHT seniors. The KHS AOHT offers $5000 worth of scholarships from money earned through the Visitor Industry Charity Walk.

The summer internships are paid internships.

“Many of the summer interns keep their jobs throughout the school year,” Kealoha said.

AOHT students are guaranteed shadowing experiences. The juniors will be doing their job shadowing at one of three locations, Sheraton Kaua‘i, the Grand Hyatt and the Marriott Waiohai on April 26.

There are also many service projects.

“One of our students gave Elizabeth Freeman an idea for next year’s theme for the Festival of Lights,” Aiwohi said.

Of the six AOHT programs in the state, KHS has the busiest calendar of events, Aiwohi said.

Aiwohi, Kealoha and Sakoda remain optimistic. They will continue to recruit and to improve the program.

“We can move forward and a lot faster,” Aiwohi said.

•Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at


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