Former toy store now houses Salem’s latest career education program

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Willamette Career Academy offers hands-on diesel mechanics, health sciences, and cosmetology classes to high school students in the Marion and Polk County Districts, many of whom are too small to have their own classes on campus. It opened with approximately 200 students this fall.

Woodburn High School senior cosmetology student Katherine Gonzalez trains on her dummy at Willamette Career Academy on September 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander / Salem Reporter)

Mason Cushway hopes to become a neurosurgeon one day.

But the Falls City High School junior said his rural school in west Dallas was too small to offer many hands-on lessons in areas such as health care.

Cushway is one of 200 students currently studying at Willamette Career Academy, a vocational technical education program in Salem that opened this fall.

Offering programs in diesel mechanics, cosmetology and health sciences, the academy welcomes high school and high school students from 11 surrounding school districts who are usually too small to offer their own programs on campus.

“I’m really thankful that it’s open,” said Kiara Luciano, a junior at Silverton High School who studies cosmetology.

It took several years to make Lancaster Road Northeast’s sprawling campus a reality. The Willamette Educational Service District led the project, working with representatives from each participating district and private companies to get the academy off the ground.

Mountain West Investment Corporation, which played a key role in establishing the Salem-Keizer School District Career Technical Education Center, purchased the academy building for $ 3.6 million and leases it to the service district, but is ultimately considering selling it for less than cost, Principal Johnie told Ferro.

Private companies, including Papé and Salem Health, donated equipment and covered some equipment costs.

Participating school districts cover operating costs of approximately $ 1.1 million per year and are allocated student spaces in proportion to the population of their district. With approximately 5,600 students, Woodburn is the largest participating district. Falls City, with about 200 students, and St. Paul, with about 300, are the smallest. The districts of Cascade, Gervais, Jefferson, Mt. Angel, Newberg, North Marion, North Santiam and Silver Falls also send students.

Housed in a building that was once a Toys R Us, the renovated center has space for further expansion. Farro said the service district plans to renovate and open spaces for three more programs next fall: information technology, manufacturing and construction.

These efforts will be supported by a $ 6.92 million allocation of lottery bonds, which lawmakers approved in the 2021 session.

Students in the programs divide their time between Salem Academy and their home school district, many waking up an hour or more before their classmates to catch the bus from Newberg or Stayton in the morning, before heading home. afternoon for classes.

A second group attends the career academy in the afternoon.

Willamette Career Academy health science students sort out Grey’s Anatomy stickers a classmate brought to share (Rachel Alexander / Salem Reporter)

The courses are taught by professionals in the sector.

Ferro said each district has developed its own policies for allocating high school class credits for courses taken at the center, but all have ensured that students can enroll while still receiving the credits they need to earn. their diploma.

“I have 11 different graduation requirements, 11 different policies,” Ferro said.

There is no bell and students learn in classrooms connected to convenient lab spaces.

“We’re trying to really replicate what it’s like to work in the industry,” Ferro said.

Before the first week of school was over, cosmetology students were already at work doing basic haircuts on mannequin heads, and healthy students were practicing introducing themselves to patients.

Health sciences students Mason Cushway, junior at Falls City High School, and Kyra Arneson, senior at Cascade High School, speak in a classroom at Willamette Career Academy on September 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander / Salem Reporter )

Cushway said studying with students from other schools helped him practice interpersonal skills he would one day use in healthcare.

“In my school, everyone knows everyone,” he said.

The health sciences curriculum includes classes in anatomy and physiology, but Ferro said there are no prerequisites, so students who attend schools too small to offer biology classes advanced are not excluded.

At the end of the two-year program, students can take the Certified Practical Nurse exam and earn their license.

The cosmetology program also offers students a chance to obtain a state license.

The Diesel Mechanics program worked closely with a similar offering at Chemeketa Community College to design the workspace. Students who complete the academic program will earn credits equivalent to approximately one-quarter of Chemeketa’s two-year diesel technology degree, and a preference for admission to this program.

Mary Weitman, a high school student from Stayton High School, enrolled in the diesel program with the intention of following in her father’s footsteps. She said she always preferred the hands-on lessons.

“I took workshop classes throughout my career in high school,” she says. “They’re always the funniest. We have the impression of being with family. “

Diesel mechanics students attend class at Willamette Career Academy on September 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander / Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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