Fourth-grader Zoe Su wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up. But on Thursday she was happy to don a chef’s hat and a starched, collared shirt to spend a morning as a cook at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Sacramento.
Zoe and 29 of her classmates at Genevieve Didion elementary school were participating in Camp Hyatt Career Day, an annual program that allows students to get a taste of hospitality careers ranging from doorman to engineer. The students toured the hotel, worked alongside Hyatt Regency employees and ate lunch by the pool, dining on turkey sandwiches and chocolate-dipped strawberries prepared by Zoe and a few other student chefs.
“It’s great experience for when we grow up,” said the 9-year-old.
For the past 11 years, the Hyatt Regency has annually hosted one class of elementary students; this year, it was teacher Laura Nann’s fourth- and fifth-grade class from the Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood school.
Brigitta Witt, vice president for corporate responsibility for the Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp., said the career-day program is intended to show young students the array of jobs in the hotel industry, as well as the various education levels required.
“Hospitality is an incredibly meaningful career,” Witt said. “We really like being able to expose kids to this opportunity.”
By 10 a.m. Thursday, the lobby was swarming with excited elementary-schoolers awaiting instructions on their job duties. Fourth-grader Daryle Johnson arrived in dress pants, an ironed shirt and a green tie. He picked the outfit himself.
“I wanted to dress as nicely as I could to give a good first impression,” Daryle said.
At 10:15 a.m., Nann and Hyatt employees corralled the students into elevators headed for a large meeting room on the 14th floor. They scampered past tables that came up to their shoulders and explored two balconies for a bird’s-eye view of the state Capitol. For some, it was their first time in a hotel.
After the free time, the students received their job assignments. They gasped and cheered when Hyatt General Manager Scott VandenBerg announced that fifth-grader Peter Genus, 11, was boss for the day.
“Peter, give me a raise!” Nann said. Other students became engineers, housekeepers, doormen, concierges, accountants and human resources officers. Daryle put a black bellhop uniform on over his shirt and tie. The temporary engineers wore brown work shirts and tool belts. Brenda Kirian, director of sales at the hotel, gave Abby Morioka, her double for the day, a silver necklace that matched her own. Then, students spread out across the hotel.
Laticia Hall, assistant director of housekeeping, led a small army of junior housekeepers on a tour of the facilities. The students turned heads as they marched through the on-site Starbucks and got shushed in the fitness center, where a guest was getting a massage.
An employees-only door opened into a concrete-block hallway: the unglamorous backstage of a luxury hotel.
“This kind of scares me,” said fourth-grader Delaney Ainslie.
They quickly moved on to the kitchen, where their classmates were making lunch. Hyatt chef Jason Poole oversaw the assembly of turkey sandwiches and boxed lunches. Karli Cooper, a fourth-grader, carefully squirted aioli (“just a fancy word for mayonnaise,” Poole explained) on 33 slices of bread, while her classmate Kiana Sen followed closely behind with lettuce and tomatoes.
Out front, Joey Grandchamp was working a quiet shift as a doorman.
“Nobody has come,” Joey said, wearing a white uniform shirt that came down to his knees.
His adult co-worker for the day, Kami Khalaj, has worked at various Hyatt hotels for almost 30 years.
“I get so excited when the kids come because I see the future of America,” Khalaj said. “Maybe they’ll choose this job.”
Kirian said Hyatt’s corporate headquarters have “strongly encouraged” branches to host annual career days, which staff members eagerly await.
“Our employees like it as much as the kids like it,” Kirian said. “They always look so cute in their little uniforms.”
At the front desk, bellman Rusty Western showed Daryle and his classmate Anthony DiSantis the behind-the-scenes room where guest packages are kept. The two fourth-graders stood by dutifully as their more senior colleagues checked in guests and handed out visitor maps.
The students’ three-hour “work day” was unpaid, except for their free lunch. Sitting by the outdoor pool, the children were given permission to take off their uniforms as they enjoyed their sandwiches, chips, cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries. They shared stories about what they’d done and what they’d learned.
Delaney, who spent part of her housekeeping shift carefully dusting a hotel room, was meticulous.
“If a celebrity comes in here, I’ve got to make sure it’s perfect,” she said.
She earned a special award – a purple Hyatt string bag – for reporting to her supervisor an exploded soda bottle inside a hotel mini-fridge.