Residential construction students build a foundation to practice their skills for the Build a House program.


Students at the Career Technical Education Center (CTEC) are connecting with their education in new ways that are better preparing them for the workforce.

It’s 11am on a Wednesday morning and students in the commercial manufacturing program are sitting in English class. But this is not a typical English class; there is no Shakespeare or Dickens. Instead, they are taking a different approach to English as they prepare for their oral reports.

They learn about doing research, note taking, citing sources for information, summarizing, and quotes. After a brief lesson, they head to the shop to apply those skills they learned in class, taking notes from machine manuals, interviewing their instructors, and gathering hands-on information that they will use for their presentations. The English teacher stays with the students in the shop, just as the manufacturing instructors sit in class with the students.

It’s a unique approach to learning that is not seen in most schools. The cross-curriculum and inter-curricular activities work together, allowing students to practice what they are learning in the classroom and see how it applies to real life situations.

“We’re learning English and math for a specific purpose and I think that motivates students,” said residential construction instructor, Alex Olsen. “They feel that it’s relevant, and that changes everything.”

That relevance is resonating with students. McNary senior and construction student, Sierra Salinas, said she struggled with math before coming to CTEC. Now, she is doing better because she is able to apply it.

“Right now, I’m in pre-calculus, and we actually do a lot of stuff that we do in this class,” she said. “You’re actually building something, so you’re more inspired to do it.”

One of the goals of CTEC, a private-public partnership between Salem-Keizer School District and Mountain West Investments, is to help prepare students to enter the workforce. Along with the cross-curriculum, the instructors have years of industry experience that they bring to their teaching.

Commercial manufacturing instructor Jerry Torresdal spent 35 years in the field before coming to teach at CTEC and saw first-hand the challenges the industry faced.

“One of the problems we had was getting good people,” said Torresdal. Many lacked the soft skills needed to hold down the job, while others lacked the training needed. CTEC offers that opportunity to reconnect with the trades that have for so long not been available in the schools and opens the eyes of students to the opportunities that are available to them, while also teaching the soft skills that employers are looking for.

“Now they’re able to touch it and feel it again,” he said. “That’s how it’s going to help them, getting their interest and realizing there are jobs, that they can actually make money at it.”

McNary senior and manufacturing student, Jacob Baily, said he plans to join the Air Force to become an aircraft mechanic. He said he’s learned a lot of technical skills that will help him in his future.

“I’ve gotten a better view of how I’m getting there now and have more ability to get there now,” he said.

Aside from the practical benefits of learning a skill, students are also gaining another key skill: self-confidence.

“I’m more of a leader now,” said Salinas, who is one of just a few female students in the program. She shared that construction was something she grew up believing “only guys could do”. Now that she is in the program, she hopes to inspire other girls as well as she looks forward to pursuing a degree in either engineering or architecture.

“I just really want to inspire others to better themselves.”

The full benefits of CTEC will be seen over time, though many business and community members are investing their time and donations already because they believe in the work.

“There are a lot of business owners that see the impact right now,” said Olsen.

Olsen believes that the impact on the private sector will be greater than anyone realizes. Not only will students graduate with a practical skill, but they will also know how to communicate, collaborate with a team, plan effectively, and have an understanding of entrepreneurialism.

“I think it’s going to impact everybody in the community,” he said.

He goes on to say that CTEC is a signal to the community and students that they are doing things differently.

“A great facility like this is also a signal,” said Olsen. “It’s a symbol of a direction that Salem-Keizer School District is taking, that they’re all in. I think that’s probably the greatest part about it is that this isn’t just a little drop in a bucket, this is a big splash.”

If you would like to learn how you can partner with CTEC or would like to get involved, contact Norma Sanchez,

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