Alexis Castillo greets a guest at the front desk of the Marriott Hobby Hotel. Castillo, a junior at Memorial High and a Hotel Management student, was offered a job after only two weeks in the program.
FROM CLASSROOM DESK TO FRONT DESK
For Memorial's Castillo, Job Offer Could Be The Room Key To Her Future
By AL CARTER
ISD Communications Office
Alexis Castillo isn't really any different than a lot of other travelers. After racking up a few points with Marriott, she's made a reservation.
To work there.
Castillo's life journey has only reached her junior year at Memorial High, where she is enrolled in the Hotel Management program offered by the L.P. Card Career and Technical Center. As part of the program, Castillo spends one hour each morning, four days a week, training at the Marriott Hobby Hotel.
Since the start of the school year, her assignment has been the hotel's front desk. Castillo has taken to it like a fish in a lagoon.
"I'm a people person," she says. "I love to talk."
It didn't take long for Marriott management to fall in love with Alexis. After just two weeks, she was offered a job - a real job.
Castillo became the first student in the four years of the Pasadena ISD's revamped hotel management curriculum to be offered a job while still enrolled in the program.
Unfortunately, her dream quickly collided with reality. Because of a hotel rule requiring all employees to be at least 18, Castillo won't be able to start until she turns 18 next September.
Although disappointed, Castillo says she's willing to wait.
"It's exciting," she says. "It like I'm really not ready for my senior year to start, because once it does, you have to start thinking about what you're going to do next. It's scary to think about the future. But this is one reason I want my senior year to get here."
The Card Center's Hotel Management program is one of nearly a dozen offered by the Pasadena ISD in fields ranging from Pharmacy Tech to Computer Maintenance, as well as traditional trades such as Cosmetology, Welding and Automotive Technology.
Seven students from four high schools are currently enrolled in the Hotel Management program. Students earned three credits for the full-year course, which is open to juniors and seniors.
Castillo says she had no clue what the program was about until last spring when she did an on-line questionnaire at school designed to match career choices to students' interests.
"It came up hospitality and tourism," she said. "I didn't even know what that meant. But it said I needed to take this course. I know that sounds kind of silly, but that's how I got into it."
Silly, but very satisfying -- especially to Marriott management.
"She's so eager and willing to learn," says Elisabeth Atchison, the front desk manager at the hotel. "She has a genuine love for helping people. She has hospitality in her blood."
Atchison says it was clear that Castillo had special abilities from her first few days on the job. With almost no training, Castillo learned out to check out guests and print their bills.
"She had it down in a heartbeat," Atchison says. "I have employees who train for a month and still can't do it. I'm sure our guests have never figured out that she's not really an employee."
After just two weeks of watching Castillo handle the front desk, Atchison walked by one day and dropped a job application in front of her.
"I'm not joking," Atchison told her. "I want you to work here for me."
Castillo was to report for work -- after school and weekends -- starting the following week.
As Castillo was filling out her application, she remembered that she was supposed to start a new job at Party City that same day. Thinking she was about to start at the hotel, she never went it.
Then, the following Monday, came a jolt.
Atchison learned of a hotel rule requiring all employees to be at least 18. She looked at Castillo's application and saw that she wouldn't turn 18 for another year. She was forced to withdraw the job offer.
"I nearly cried," Castillo says. "All my dreams were set on this. When they said, "Oh, we're sorry," it was like I got the wind knocked out of me."
"I tried everything I could do," Atchison says. "They said that if her birthday had been within a few weeks or a month, it would have been different."
Fortunately for Castillo, the extra income didn't turn out to be critical. Her mother, a single parent, took a new job -- with better pay -- shortly thereafter. Castillo says she would still like to find a job for after school and weekends, but transportation is a problem.
Had the Marriott job materialized, she says, she could have arranged transportation with a sister, who lives near the hotel.
Next week Castillo begins a new phase of her Hotel Management course. She'll move to a new shift - the restaurant phase of operations. Later, she'll do housekeeping. And then she'll get to pick from any of the hotel's operations, including the front desk.
"She'll see every aspect of it," says Tanya Hagar, who manages the Hotel Management program. "She'll be able to determine if maybe there is something else she is more interested in than the front desk."
To hear Castillo tell it, that's not likely.
"I even ask myself, 'Why do I love this so much?'" Castillo says. "I guess it's the interacting with the guests. I absolutely enjoy it. I'm dreading going to the next shift. I don't want to leave."
"She's just a natural," Hagar says. "She is so good with people. They've certainly taken her under their wing. And she's picked things up so quickly."
Castillo she's not sure her future is in hotel management.
"I'm at a fork in the road - I'm not sure which path to choose," she says.
"I love this industry. But ever since the seventh grade I've said I'm going to be a psychiatrist. I love how the human mind works. My mom wants to be able to call me Dr. Castillo. She really wants me to go to medical school."
Still, she admits, money earned from working at the Marriott could go a long way toward helping her pay for college.
Starting next week, however, she'll be working for free in the Marriott restaurant.
"She will do an excellent job, whatever she does," Atchison says. "I'm going to miss her terribly, but I'll probably be calling her away from the restaurant a lot. Everybody here is going to be fighting to have her. But I'm going to win!"
Pasadena High senior Norma Estrada listens to instructions on how to prepare a salad from the chef at the Marriott Hobby.
Alexis Castillo cheerfully awaits late-morning check-outs at the front desk.