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Several dozen Napa Valley teachers are spending a few days this summer in the “real world” learning about local job and career opportunities, which they will bring back to students in their classrooms.

The externships pair wineries, hotels, and health care organizations with educators who gain first-hand knowledge about the types of jobs these industries have to offer.

“As career ambassadors they’ll be able to go back to their classroom with resources to help kids understand what job pathways there are here in Napa Valley. And there are great jobs here,” said Peg Maddocks, executive director of NapaLearns, a nonprofit that partners with education systems throughout and beyond the valley.

In its second year, the Napa Educator Externship program (NEXT) is sponsored by the Napa County Office of Education and NapaLearns. Last year, 20 teachers participated in the program and this year there are 57 educators up and down the valley from American Canyon to Calistoga.

Most of the partnering businesses are hotels and wineries, but this year OLE Health and Collabria Care have joined the program as has St. Helena Hospital.

With low unemployment rates in the Napa Valley, businesses are eager to have candidates for jobs that are waiting to be filled. And it’s not just about entry-level jobs.

“We’re looking to foster a closer tie with the community and ensuring the industry brings in the next generation,” said Robin Akhurst, senior winemaker at Clos Pegase in Calistoga. “Teachers are a good conduit towards that. You think of the wine industry as maybe just cellar or tasting room work, but there are a huge amount of different roles and career paths.”

For teachers, visiting the sites is eye-opening.

“Most teachers go right from college into teaching and they don’t really know much about the world of work outside of teaching,” Maddocks said. “They know project-based learning and making learning relevant, but they don’t have a lot of content.”

Carla Surber is the college and career center coordinator at Calistoga Junior-Senior High School. Last week, she and two other educators — Debra Carnes from Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School in St. Helena, and Sophia Androlowicz, from American Canyon Middle School — spent the day at Solage Calistoga. They went behind the front desk and learned about guest services; they met with Chef Gustavo Rios and learned about jobs in the restaurant and kitchen; they toured the grounds with maintenance, and got advice from Human Resources on what the resort looks for in candidates.

At the spa, Surber said she learned what it takes to get certified to be a massage therapist.

“I didn’t know a thing about that before,” she said. “This is why this is such a valuable experience.”

Solage already has many former and current students working at the resort, Surber said, “But they see it as only seasonal and entry-level work. They’re not aware of the advancement opportunities that exist in the hospitality industry, but the career path and opportunities are amazing,” she said. “We have all these amazing resorts right in our back yard and it’s not on their radar.”

Surber said she heard “story after story” of employees being promoted after only six months of working at Solage. If employees have the passion and personal skills, the resort will help cultivate the rest.

“We basically heard the same message — every department would be willing and able to train a new employee in the systems and protocols, but potential employees needed to bring enthusiasm and passion in order to succeed and grow within the organization,” she said.

“Our students really need support in developing their interview skills and work ethic. Many of our students are unprepared for the level of professionalism that is needed, and Solage is ready and willing to partner with me to provide workshop opportunities for our students to develop in these areas.”

Dan Rosales is a Science/Computer Science teacher at American Canyon High School. Last year, he spent time at The Meritage Resort and Spa shadowing sous chefs, and also learned how such industries use databases and software for communication and marketing. He then went back and created an assignment for his class based on just such a real-world situation.

“Teamwork and communication seemed like the other important skills necessary for this work that I would take back to my students,” Rosales said afterwards.

Surber agreed.

“So much of what they can learn in the hospitality industry are transferable skills they can take anywhere. It’s all about communicating,” she said.

The NEXT teachers will meet in August to debrief and talk about the lessons from the experience and best practices to take back to the students.

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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com or 942-4035.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.