Halee Porter, Ed. D, Hospitality Educator, Northside High School, Houston, TX
Click here for a printable PDF of this article
Thinking Creatively to Support Real-World Learning
The year 2020 had an impact on our world that affected many lives, and most were pushed in ways they did not expect. Some industries and professions were changed in more ways than others, and teaching was certainly one of those. Teaching students remotely and providing the same opportunities as when they were learning in-person seemed nearly impossible. Despite numerous challenges, one teacher sought to find ways where all of her students could learn and benefit regardless of their location. Halee Porter is a Hospitality educator at Northside High School in Houston, Texas and has been helping coordinate internships for her students with local hotels throughout the years. She has her students throughout all 4 years of their high school journey, so she especially appreciates seeing them thrive in their hands-on internship experiences during their junior and senior years. When COVID-19 arrived in 2020, so did new challenges. How would she be able to get her students into hotels and experience the real life scenarios, when the whole world had shut down? Ms. Porter was no stranger to challenging situations and has grown from those previous experiences, so she was determined to find a solution.
Overcoming Life’s Hurdles
Ms. Porter’s journey in the hospitality and restaurant industry began when she helped her mom bake pastries and cakes at their successful home bakery. At the time, she was working on her bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management. Her original plan was to open a restaurant one day but when she became very sick during the last semester of school, she was unsure what the next phase of life would look like. She finished her degree but was so sick for a couple of years, she struggled to do anything at all. Ms. Porter still helped her mom with the bakery and hoped she’d eventually find something else that she was passionate about. One day, her mom suggested she start tutoring at a school she heard was hiring, since Ms. Porter was always great at math and would not have to be on her feet as much. She loved tutoring and was able to make the transition over to teaching full time. When her school was in search of a culinary arts teacher, it was a no brainer for Ms. Porter. To find a job teaching what she loved doing, was a dream come true. Through the years at her school, she ended up becoming an assistant principal and getting her master’s and doctorate degrees in executive educational leadership. Ms. Porter is now back to teaching hospitality services, practicum of hospitality services and hotel management. This fall she will be an adjunct professor with Houston Community College.
Facing Teaching Obstacles With Perseverance
Ms. Porter’s strength to persevere through challenging times shines through her positive attitude and love for teaching her students, even with barriers in her classroom. In her school community, 90 percent of the students are Latin American and for many, Spanish is their first language. She says a lot of their parents do not speak English at all so there can be a divide when trying to communicate with her students’ families. This can be especially difficult if she needs the parents to help with something the student needs for school. She also said oftentimes her students are not able to attend class because they have to go to work with their families to make ends meet.
"I may not see them for another month or so. And that’s just because of the culture, you know? And so that can kind of be a little bit of a hindrance."
A lot of her students live a very sheltered life and are not aware of the opportunities they have outside of what their family does for work or outside of their culture. She says one of the best parts about her job is getting to expose her students to various opportunities. "It’s a beautiful thing to be able to contribute to that part of their educational growth."
Real World Application of Classroom Lessons
An important aspect to Ms. Porter’s curriculum is giving her students the opportunity to have an internship in a hotel and see how the operations work. She loves getting to expose them to the concepts they learn about in class.
"I think the overall biggest goal for our students is exposure into the industry and leadership - and for them to be able to learn how to think creatively, think critically, and be problem solvers. They need to be able to learn what real customer service is like, and not necessarily always getting a positive response, but how do you problem solve and change a negative situation into a positive?"
Her senior level class is called Practicum of Hospitality Services, which means that in their senior year, students are supposed to be interning at a hotel. Many of her seniors have been internationally certified in the hospitality industry at the end of the program, and having an internship credit is a key part of getting that certification.
As the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone’s lives into a spiral, in-person internships were no longer an option for Ms. Porter’s classes. She was determined to find a great solution for her students to receive their internship credits and certifications. That is when she came across, and started using, Knowledge Matters Virtual Business simulations.
"Knowledge Matters was the only remote program that is acceptable with the American Hotel Lodging Educational Institute to complete the work competency component of their certification."
In her classes she uses Knowledge Matters as a supplemental component to her student’s coursework for the practical application to how things work in a hotel. Not only was it the perfect fix to get her student’s the internship credits they need, but they loved working in the sim as well!
"What I love about it [is] that it reaches everybody in my class. Some were special education (SPED) students, some were English language learners, some learn more kinesthetically, versus auditory. Differentiation is important for [a] teacher. Knowledge Matters helped reach each one of those different types of learners in one way or another."
Success Reaching Diverse Learners
At first when Ms. Porter started using the Knowledge Matters simulations with her students, they were a little nervous. But by the time they finished their first lesson she said they really enjoyed it. In her class, the students really love the lessons where they have the opportunity to plan and organize. For example, in one lesson they learn how many staff members they need to hire at the front desk depending on the time of the day and the demand of guests checking in and out.
"They may not be in a physical hotel, but when they are, they will know the ins and outs of how it works from the back of the house and from another standpoint. So they love that."
Another component her students were able to grasp was how to be in a managerial role, make decisions, and see how their decisions played out instantaneously. Ms. Porter explains that they now are able to understand what it is like so they can actually see it.
"It’s a teacher’s dream I tell you! I just love the idea of how inclusive the program is. I can’t stress that enough, especially working in a school where the only laptop a lot of students have is one that the school issues. They are able to have that connection to the industry in such a real world application."
Ms. Porter appreciates how Knowledge Matters gives students the tools they need at their fingertips to be able to be successful. She describes it as a very well-rounded experience, which she feels is unique. The simulations allow students to dive into various important aspects of the hospitality industry and put into practice what they learn in the lessons she teaches.
Student Finds Her Passion
Ms. Porter has seen breakthroughs with a few students while using the simulations in her classroom and she recalls one in particular who was set on majoring in chemistry when they went to college. One day in her class her students were working through how to set up and schedule banquets in the simulations when her student said, “I don’t think I realized– I’m actually good at planning, I think I’m going to switch my major,” says Ms. Porter. She ended up switching her major from chemistry to hotel and restaurant management. A few other students have ended up incorporating hospitality in their college studies and Ms. Porter says it was all based upon what they learned through class work and Knowledge Matters simulations.
Credits and Certification Success
Ms. Porter credits Knowledge Matters for enabling her students to earn their industry certifications during a trying time. For two years in a row, her seniors have been internationally certified to work in the hospitality industry, which would not have been possible without the simulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms Porter stresses, “We couldn’t work in a hotel because of COVID and we needed another component, because they wouldn’t have been certified if they didn’t have that work competency. So, Knowledge Matters! They came in to save the day.” Ms. Porter has been so impressed by this efficacy and how much students benefited and enjoyed using the Knowledge Matters simulations that she chose to continue using the program post pandemic.
*The American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute has partnered with Knowledge Matters to provide an industry-recognized certification and credential. High school students can complete the Virtual Business - Hotel simulation to satisfy the 100-hour internship component of the Certification in Hospitality Tourism and Management Professional (CHTMP). Students may also complete the Virtual Business-Hotel simulation to satisfy half of the required hours of the Hospitality & Tourism Specialist (HTS) credential.
Ms. Porter received the 2022 Career Compass Teacher Award for her incredible work in helping guide students in their career discovery.