My name is Allyson Varlas, and this is my fourth year as a fifth grade Title I Reading Specialist for the Marshall County School District in West Virginia.
I was inspired to host an all-female career fair through my female youth mentoring program, Central Sisters, after seeing a need for experiences from my students. Working in a Title I school means that I serve students who come from a low SES background, and because I am a Title I employee, I am required to hold community and parent involvement events. This is what began my journey to the Central Sisters All-Female Career Fair.
Central Sisters is a mentoring program between the 5th grade Central girls and the high school girls from John Marshall High School. The group meets on Saturdays to participate in various events including making polymer clay earrings or baking holiday cookies. The program was created to help girls build positive relationships and influences, experience different things, earn community service hours and hopefully inspire high school girls to go into education.
They host an annual all-female career fair. 2023 will be the second year for this event, the purpose of which is to encourage females to broaden their career choices to include male dominanted fields, career and technical education, college-driven careers, trades, and the workforce. I wanted my students to see the positive female leaders in our community and understand that they can do anything they set their mind to.
When deciding who to invite to the all-female career fair, my first thought is the community. I identify women who are leaders in their fields, own a business, make big decisions, or make an impact on others. I invited our district superintendent and assistant superintendent, former house of delegates members for the state and other women who work in state and local government, local colleges and universities, the high school CTE counselor, engineers, beauticians, nail technicians, small business owners, librarians, social workers, accountants, photographers, realtors, and women in the medical field. All these women are leading our communities in some manner.
Many of the young girls go in saying they want to be a nurse or a teacher, which are rewarding female-dominated careers, but certainly not their only options. When they complete the career fair, the girls leave saying they want to be an engineer, a realtor, or own a business. This lets me know that this event is making an impact on my students because they are opening their eyes to a bigger world and gaining knowledge about a variety of careers. When I was a young girl, I never knew what an engineer was or that females could be politicians. Giving the girls the opportunity to talk one on one with a female engineer or a female politician is something that I wish I could do for all young girls. I know that giving my girls this opportunity will show them the endless possibilities the world has for them.
With the help of Learning.com, the participants at this past year’s fair were able to scan a QR code and access information about how that job is impacted by technology. The students have grown up with technology and have mastered technological skills. Letting them learn that those skills are essential in any 21st century workforce will give them an idea of how technology is beneficial in a variety of ways. Students were also encouraged to play a game called, “Find Someone Who,” where they tried to find someone who used different types of technology in their careers, check out the free resource download here.
Exposure to careers in STEM is so important for girls.
When they see women succeeding as engineers, in medicine, and technology fields, they can start envisioning themselves doing the same. In Marshall County we are extremely fortunate to have a wonderful Career and Technical Education (CTE) director and team. The high schools and middle schools in the district offer a wide variety of CTE programs for students. They have opportunities to engage in Project Lead the Way, agriculture, welding, medical sciences, autobody, home mechanics, machine shop, drafting, business and marketing, as well as computer repair. Within these programs, the students can experience a stimulated workplace while earning certification credits. The CTE programs also host a CTE camp in the summer for incoming 6th graders and returning 7th and 8th grade students in the county. My hope is that by highlighting the women in STEM and our district’s CTE programs, girls will want to get involved in the summer camp and take CTE courses in middle school and high school.
The all-girls career fair is something I hold near and dear to my heart. It takes a lot of time to plan and a lot of communication from the participants, students, and their families. I still consider it one of the most rewarding parts of my teaching career.
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I am a Title I Reading Specialist from Marshall County, WV. I earned my bachelors in Elemntary Education from West Liberty and a master's degree from West Virginia University in Literacy Education. After my master’s, I earned my certification in Educational and Instructional Leadership from West Virginia State University and am currently working towards my Ed.D from the University of the Cumberlands in Leadership Studies with an emphasis in education. When I’m not in the classroom, I am either hanging out with my husband Andrew and dog Abe, using my Peloton, or reading a good book with a cup of coffee.
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