How career awareness equals equity in elementary school

In this district, students produce videos, plan events and design alongside architects
By: | Issue: May 2020
April 15, 2020
In designing pre-K and elementary school career awareness programs, educators in the Gresham-Barlow School District started with the end goals of post-graduation success.In designing pre-K and elementary school career awareness programs, educators in the Gresham-Barlow School District started with the end goals of post-graduation success.

Career awareness in the elementary poses questions about equity in the Gresham-Barlow School District near Portland, Oregon.

All students should have the advantage gained by kids who learned early on—most likely from their college-graduate parents—how important a degree is to a successful career, says Carla Gay, the district’s executive director of innovation and partnerships.

“Our job is to broaden their worldview of what their opportunities and options are—and we need to do that early and often. We want to expose them to a broader world of work than they may be exposed to in their homes and communities.”

In designing pre-K and elementary-level career awareness programs, educators started with the end goals of post-graduation success.


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Then, they took advantage of districtwide renovations to create a construction career pathway. Representatives of the building contractor spent four months with teachers creating project-based lessons on the construction industry.

This partnership allowed groups of students to come up with several design proposals for an outdoor learning space, complete with benches, that they pitched to the contractors.

This year, the district added a pathway in multimedia that’s allowing students to team up with local professionals to organize a year-end celebration for an elementary school that’s closing.

Fifth-graders are producing a video about the school, while fourth-graders are working with an architect to envision future uses for the school site.


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Third graders are working with an event planner, while first and second graders are using a 3D printer and laser cutters to make commemorative snow globes.

Kindergarteners are creating coloring books that will be printed by district high school students.

“We’re taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves,” Gay says. “And we’re training teachers to integrate these opportunities into content standards.”


Read the other stories in DA’s series on elementary school CTE.