School of Life

The Desmond Project

Fifteen years ago, Great Valley School District superintendent Rita Jones formed an unusual creative alliance with Michael Chain, owner and president of the Desmond Hotel in Malvern.

“We talked about how we could give kids experience in the real world, but also to connect it to what we were trying to teach in the classroom,” says Jones, who retires as superintendent this summer.

The Desmond Project’s Rita Jones, with Great Valley High School students Chris Marroletti, Taylor Saia, Laura Hashem and Erinn Carlin. (Photo by Michael Sahadi)Jones is referring to the Desmond Project, a highly successful pilot work-school program that’s unlike anything else in the region. Today, some 70 Great Valley High School students work with staff and volunteers at the 194-room hotel. Open to sophomores, juniors and seniors, the program has spawned a new class space complete with a computer lab and windowed planning room where students hone their sales skills and get up the nerve to call the sponsors who fund scholarships for the annual Student Achievers Banquet.

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At the banquet, a live video feed from the Desmond kitchen captures what anyone in the program already knows: “The kids do the work,” says Chain. “They buy the food; they learn the recipes; they cook the food; and they clean the kitchen afterwards.”

The 70-plus openings at the Desmond are always the talk of the school, with students from all grades and social circles vying for them. “They’re learning about work; they’re learning about life,” says Jones.

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