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WhirLocal Salem

(112 reviews)

222 Commercial St NE PMB 2303
Salem, Oregon 97301

Salem, Oregon – What does it take to engage the interest of today’s youth in thinking about possible career paths when they grow up and graduate from high school? Meet Amy Caulder, the Senior Manager responsible for Career Connected Learning programs at the Willamette Education Service District (WESD).

Amy Caulder, senior manager - Career Connected Learning
Amy Caulder, Senior Manager Career Connected Learning

She and her team are on a mission to bridge the gap between education and industry, helping students unlock a world of possibilities.

Amy Caulder’s journey is one of purpose and dedication. Before joining WESD, she spent 17 years as a special education teacher. However, her passion for teaching extended beyond the classroom, encompassing the realm of “World of Work,” transition, social-emotional development, and more. Amy knew it was time for a change, and when the opportunity at WESD came available, it felt like a perfect fit.

Willamette Education Service District’s main offices are located in Salem, Oregon. But the district office actually serves as a regional support system for schools in all of Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties. Imagine it as a helping hand that schools can rely on when they need educational programs and services, particularly in areas like special education and hearing services. Amy described their mission simply, saying, “We help make the system more equitable” making sure each school receives the support that’s needed to serve their students in the best way possible.

Career Connected Learning: Empowering Students

Amy’s role at WESD is all about Career Connected Learning (CCL), a framework designed to empower students with the knowledge and tools to explore their future career options. This framework comprises several stages, including career awareness, exploration, preparation, and training. These steps lay the foundation for students’ journeys into the world of work.

students participating in National Apprenticeship Week. photo credit Fall/Winter CCL Newsletter
Students participating in National Apprenticeship Week. photo credit Fall/Winter CCL Newsletter

WESD’s CCL programs are not mere theories; they’re actionable initiatives that bring students and industries together. Amy and her team coordinate a wide range of opportunities from Industry Chats, which are usually 45 minute sessions where industries leaders visit classrooms to share about their industries with the students; to hosting regional career expos and hiring fairs, doing mock interviews, field trips, job shadows and offering industry connected projects. As well as, work-based learning opportunities where local businesses, industry experts, and tradespeople offer “on-the-job learning experiences” in the workplace. These types of interactions and opportunities help students make connections between their classroom learning and real-world careers.

One of the exciting events Amy mentioned is “Job Shadow Week,” which happened the week of January 29, 2024 to February 2, 2024, where students got a chance to step into the shoes of professionals from various fields. “Students doing individual job shadows were offered a $15 gas card to eliminate transportation barriers,” Amy pointed out.

The Transportation Challenge

Operating in a region as vast as the Willamette Valley comes with its challenges, the most significant being transportation. “Transportation is our biggest barrier,” Amy admitted. However, they are committed to eliminating this hurdle. They constantly seek funding to help schools and districts with transportation costs, ensuring that every student has access to these transformative experiences.

The Power of Collaboration

What makes CCL programs successful is the collaboration between education, industry, and government. Amy sees these partnerships as a win-win-win situation. “It contributes to the overall growth and prosperity of communities and economies,” she explained.

Recently, WESD joined forces with the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Asphalt Pavement Association of Oregon. Together, they sponsored a billboard contest focused on the importance of work zone safety. An impressive 86 submissions were received, from which the two outstanding entries pictured below were selected as the winners. The billboards now grace the region serving as a tribute to the power of collaboration.

Middle School Career Exploration: A New Frontier

One of the exciting new developments at WESD is their Middle School Career Exploration program. For the first time, middle school students will have the opportunity to explore different careers during a week-long summer camp at Willamette Career Academy. Plans are still in the works, but the idea is to begin each day by focusing on a different employability skill, but in a fun gamified way. And then giving the students the opportunity to explore a new field each day, like manufacturing, cosmetology and construction, for example. “We want to get kids excited about the future before they hit high school,” Amy said, highlighting the importance of early career awareness.

There are also plans to incorporate engaging activities and perhaps even virtual reality headsets for career exploration. Students can step into the shoes of an emergency room nurse, a solar panel installer, a bricklayer, or a welder, for example —all through the magic of VR.

A Call to Local Businesses and Industries

Amy’s passion shines as she discusses their efforts to diversify internship opportunities. “We need more diversity,” she said, underlining the importance of exposing students to a wide range of career options.

Amy welcomes local business and industry partners to join the Career Connected Learning movement. “There’s a level of commitment for everyone,” she explained. Whether it’s a 45-minute classroom visit or a summer internship program, every contribution matters. The first step? Potential business and industry partners can scan the QR code below or click on the link to go to a form to express their interest.

Career Connected Learning QR Code
Scan for more Info

As Amy said, “Just filling out the form doesn’t mean you’re committing to anything. You’re simply asking for more information so we can meet in person and share expectations.”

A Community Thrives When Dreams Are Nurtured

Amy Caulder’s work at Willamette Education Service District exemplifies what can happen with the local community works together for the future of our youth. She, along with her dedicated team, strives to create a future where every student has the opportunity to explore their potential and build meaningful careers.

Through the diverse opportunities provided by the Career Connection Learning arm of the Willamette Education Service District, countless young minds in the Willamette Valley are discovering there are a multitude of paths that lead to success and unlock future possibilities.

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