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Draper Journal

Career days help shape future of elementary students

May 09, 2024 01:25PM ● By Julie Slama

April Burnell told Oak Hollow fourth-graders she decided she wanted to be a national park ranger when she was an elementary student. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Brittany Gharring met James Blake while working on “Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse.”

As a celebrity makeup artist, she did his hair and makeup. Her services have been used for other celebrities, from Disney and Marvel productions to Nike and Kroger campaigns.

It’s a career that has taken her from Los Angeles to New York, but it started 20 years ago with a skill she learned at school. She now chooses Utah to raise her family; her kids attend Oak Hollow Elementary in Draper.

“I learned a skill and developed it to take it to where my career is now,” she told students at Oak Hollow’s career day. “Find your passion, your inspiration and start learning about it.”

She was one of hundreds of career day speakers at Canyons School District’s elementary schools’ career days, which dotted the calendar throughout the school year. 

Most, like Gharring, were parents invited by their students to share expertise in their field, said work-based learning facilitator Jared Vincent, who helped coordinate the career days in 27 elementary schools.

“It’s important to start planning early so they can be college and career ready; they may choose to learn a trade or attend a vocational school,” he said.

Oak Hollow fifth-grade teacher Alexis Johnson said prior to Gharring speaking, no student showed interest in wanting to cut hair or do makeup.

“Now everyone is excited about that career,” she said. “We want students to learn what careers are out there so they can find their passion and realize what they’re learning in school applies to future careers.” 

While fifth-grader Zach Boyster said it was “really cool” to hear about how she does hair and makeup, he connected more to hearing details of an orthodontist who came to speak.

“It might be a fun job,” he said. “I’d need to set a plan, go to college and get a degree.”

Speaker Zach Gibbs told classes about being a software engineer.

“Sometimes it can be really hard to get systems to talk to each other,” he said. “I have had to write a lot of programs and sometimes, there’s not enough memory so I have to problem solve and use critical thinking while working with others. I learned that in school.”

He’s even compared writing code to writing a school paper.

“I’ve spent all day writing code just to throw it out and start over the next day to make it better. Sometimes, you may have to write again and again when you have to revise an essay. It can seem long, but when you’re doing either one, you can be creative as you try again,” Gibbs said.

April Burnell told fourth graders she’s a steward for the environment as a national park ranger. It was a career she picked as an elementary school student.

“I asked questions; I studied everything I could about the environment, nature, animals, people; I got a college degree and was able to turn my passion of enjoying the outdoors into my dream job,” she told students. “The decisions you can make now can impact your future.”

At nearby Willow Springs Elementary, Steve Ball spoke about being a bomb technician to fourth graders.

“I studied a lot of math and science, especially chemistry, electronics, robotics, in school,” said the bomb squad leader of 11 years who also was a SWAT team member for 17 years. “In the U.S., there are 3,000 bomb technicians and every bomb squad—there’s eight in Utah—go to Huntsville, Alabama for more training.”

It’s a job that he finds is intriguing and where he always is learning new things.

“I like to help people and through my education and ongoing training, I can,” he said. “I hope students learned that learning never ends.”

That, too, was a message interior designer Candice Marsh, who spoke to Midvalley Elementary students in Midvale.

“I took art classes in school and use those skills all the time,” she said to students. “I use math when I measure and draw a design to scale. I need to communicate with my customers. I’ve been mostly doing residential houses, like the ones we live in, but now, I’m in school as I want to do commercial or design for hotels. You can always keep learning.”

She gave first-grade students a challenge. Each student received a piece of material and instruction to design a room around that color. It gave them a chance to be creative and apply skills they’re learning in school.

In a kindergarten classroom, Trent Labrum pointed out the router in the classroom and explained his career.

“I’m a superhero of the internet,” he said. “I work on stuff behind the Wi-Fi to connect you to the internet, and I put up safety guards to keep the bad guys away. I use my computer to do good things.”

Kindergarten teacher Kylie Falke said not only does it help their “brains to start thinking about careers they may want someday, but it also ties into learning about our communities and people who work in it. They’re learning that the reading and math they’re doing now could someday be built upon the careers and skills they’ll do in the future.”

Metal grinder Trevor Woodford, who has two children at Sandy’s Peruvian Park, talked to a class and told them that he fabricates new tools “that nobody else makes.”

“It can be challenging and creative to make something useful out of nothing,” he told students—most, who were learning about the career for the first time. 

Talking to a class nearby was filmmaker Dan Kettle, who’s first job was to make a video for a friend’s restaurant in trade for food.

“My camera has taken me to some cool places from Hawaii to Ghana,” he said. “Well, maybe not my first camera anymore. It fell into the ocean during a boat tour, but I dove in to save it.”

He walked students through writing scripts in preproduction, talked about the excitement that comes during filming and then editing where he “brings it all together with the best takes.”

Down the hall, Rivka Wilkins shared her work as an artist and graphic designer with students. They oohed and aahed when she showed them her Northern Lights artwork and were intrigued when she explained her technique.

Wilkins explained that while she loves blending colors, she also has a business mindset. That is a concept she wanted students to understand.

“As my own business owner, I do the marketing, the pricing and work with my 2,000 serious clients,” said the Instagrammer who has about 275,000 followers. “If I do nothing, I don’t get any sales. Then, my art isn’t shared.”

At Ridgecrest Elementary in Cottonwood Heights, students learned about doing surgery on animals to building a custom bicycle. They asked West Valley City police officer Hunter Burbage how to escape out of handcuffs.

A retired professor, a historian and grandfather of a Ridgecrest tiger, Ron Esplin, won the hearts of many students.

“I write the stories of our past so we know who we are, where we come from, the possibilities of what we can do and how we can be even better,” he said. “I look at documents, court records, journals, letters and books. I’m like a detective and get clues to get the story behind the story. Then, I write what I find out and connect the dots.”

Esplin said that he hopes the students do the same thing in school.

“Connecting what you read and learn in school with your writing is fun,” he said. “It’s like magic.”  λ