Ashley Allen can pinpoint the exact moment she decided on her dream career.
The Kelso Elementary Structured Learning Center teacher's educational epiphany came to her after volunteering at a camp for teens with autism and working at Impact Learning in Sandy.
"Those things were kind of springboards for me to get my license (to teach special education)," she says.
Allen earned her license from Portland State University after completing her undergraduate degree in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.
To fulfill her student teaching requirement, she taught in the Oregon Trail School District in Boring Middle School's resource room. The experience made her decision to take her first teaching job in the district that much easier when it was offered to her in 2015.
"I love it," Allen explains. "It's interesting because I didn't know anything about the school, but then I came here and thought 'It's a really good school.' I'm really happy to be here."
Just as she works hard to create an all-inclusive environment for her students, she is glad to find that her colleagues at Kelso strive to be just as obliging.
Becki Luff and Tami Rutledge have earned some especially high praise from Allen, as the two educators she works the most closely with.
"We are a very strong team," she says of their collaboration to create an atmosphere of positivity and care for Kelso students of special needs.
"All of the teachers are very welcoming," Allen adds. "They show a lot of interest in my students. They want to include us."
Even more rewarding for her than her relationships with her co-workers, are the relationships she is able to create with her students, celebrating with them their good days and being a helping hand for them when times are tough.
"The biggest reward is getting to interact with the students every day, getting to know them, their quirks … and what makes them special," she explains. "Just seeing the progress they make is remarkable. They're all so different in here. They're all so unique. They're awesome."