Rotary Report: Work-based learning at Martinez Unified

Rona Zollinger (at left) and Lorena Castillo at a recent meeting of the Martinez Rotary. (PAUL CRAIG / Courtesy)
Rona Zollinger (at left) and Lorena Castillo at a recent meeting of the Martinez Rotary. (PAUL CRAIG / Courtesy)

Special to the Tribune

Rona Zollinger and Lorena Castillo told Martinez Rotary about the exciting work they’re doing with the Martinez Unified School District finding jobs for students. In today’s competitive world this is super-important. Zollinger estimated that in 2018, only one-third of jobs will require a college degree or beyond. The vast majority of jobs – she estimated 57 percent – will call for work-place experience. The remainder of jobs – a proportion that’s diminishing quickly – will be available to those without skills.

The Martinez School District is responding to this situation with an aggressive program to provide experience. They’re directing students toward work-based learning, job shadowing, career fairs, internships and apprenticeships.

Zollinger works out of the School District Office. She’s doing outreach to help students throughout the District find careers. Castillo does similar work at Vicente School. They both emphasize finding internships and promoting work-based learning. They’re both into outreach. Both are as enthusiastic as can be. It was fun listening to them and interacting with them.

We live in fast-changing times. The career paths that Rotarians followed, and which worked well for us, often won’t work anymore. In today’s world, new approaches are needed that are attuned to new jobs and new job trajectories.

Zollinger and Castillo are working with a fascinating County program: Earn and Learn. The program has a wonderful website: There you’ll find detailed guidelines for students and for companies. The Earn and Learn tool kit emphasizes attributes needed in today’s competitive environment: timeliness, integrity, initiative, work quality, communication skills, teamwork, response to supervision, comfort with diversity, critical thinking and understanding workplace culture.

We’re lucky that Zollinger and Castillo are attuned to our changing world and that they’re working to help students find direction. I came away from their talks feeling optimistic about the future of Martinez students. The Martinez Unified School District is doing well by them. It’s not an easy world they’re growing up in, but they’re going to do fine.

If you work at a place that can accept interns or is interested in work-based learning, or know of someone who can help, contact Zollinger at (925) 335-5938 or

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