“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question adults often ask young people. Used to help gauge kids’ interests, the expected response is usually tied to a future profession or job. In the Cajon Valley Union School District, they’ve added a few follow-up questions: “What skills and experiences will you need? What do you do well? How can we help you to meet your goal?”
Led by Dr. David Miyashiro, Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD) supports a diverse community of learners through a modern curriculum that embodies the district vision of developing “happy kids, engaged in healthy relationships, on a path to gainful employment.” During a recent visit to San Diego, participants from the ASU+GSV Summit had the opportunity to witness this vision in action firsthand.
“Not only do we have an opportunity to go out into the community and see what learning is taking place and seeing how teaching and learning practices are coming to life, but we also have the opportunity to take those practices back into the work we’re doing across the country,” said Kimberly Smith, executive director of the Center for Inclusive Innovation and the League of Innovative Schools, of which CVUSD is a member.
Advancing the mission of the district’s World of Work initiative—a program focused on integrating useful, real-world skills into everyday curriculum in meaningful ways—CVUSD recently opened the Launch Pad, a transformed library at Cajon Valley Middle School that facilitates career exploration and experimentation to help students and their caretakers pursue their dreams.
The immersive environment places learners in the World of Work, making the district’s career development framework all the more accessible and tangible for students. Wrapped with colorful skins depicting dynamic graphics, charts, and information, the Launch Pad is the creative vision of Ed Hidalgo, chief of innovative and engagement officer for Cajon Valley Union School District, and several project partners. There are plans to expand these gateways to all of the district’s K-8 and middle schools through the course of the next year.
“The Launch Pad is really just an extension of what we’ve been doing; it brings another level of legitimacy to the work in a space that is sometimes underutilized for much of the day,” Hidalgo said in an interview with District Administration.
“You have these beautiful experiences that we do in different modalities in the classroom, but now they’re up on the walls. You can experience these missions and go to these stations. The teacher, library media tech, or counselor can be involved with reflection exercises, which are really where the rubber meets the road—as kids make connections between who they are and who they want to become.”
Though career development is embedded in the World of Work curriculum, district staff and educators insist it’s really about helping learners see what’s possible and develop a “language of self.” Using a RIASEC (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional) framework, students learn that they all have unique gifts and practice self-reporting their interests early on to identify possible careers that might augment those interests, as well as their strengths and values.
This summer, the district hosted Camp Cajon 2021—two, three-week sessions of free summer school, which engaged approximately 5,000 students in the community. With offerings including language arts, math, outdoor immersion, sports, and performing arts, the objective was clear: Blend learning experiences with joy and happiness. Karen Minshew, assistant superintendent, stated it more simply: “Students are our primary customer and the center of our universe.”
Camp Cajon 2021 also hosted two Launch Pads to support students in navigating the district’s modern learning model. During the program, learners explored possible career journeys, taking into consideration their strengths, desired workplace values, and “stair steppers” to gain the skills and knowledge needed to pursue those careers. They also had the opportunity to meet with local business and community leaders and professionals.
The district—where 71 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, learning to speak English, or in the foster youth system—also hopes these efforts will help bridge the disconnect between education and industry, and demonstrate how students can participate in their community through a career aligned with their interests after high school graduation.
The jobs of the future are yet to be seen, yet Cajon Valley Union School District is confident their students will be prepared. Career journeys can and will change, and CVUSD students are gaining exposure to a variety of skills that they can tap into to pursue limitless careers that can drastically impact their lives.
“Seeing the students so inspired and engaged tells me that they’re going to find their place in life and they’re going to contribute to themselves, their families, their communities, and the world around them,” said Christine Theokas, chief applied science officer at Turnaround for Children. “I see kids who actually are going to keep changing the system and keep making it better so that all kids get the rich learning opportunities that they get here today.”