Think back to your elementary school days: Many of us were frequently asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Common answers might include firefighter, astronaut or doctor. These are great careers for some, but imagine if youth were equipped with the knowledge to aspire to a wider range of cool, high paying and in-demand roles like civil engineer or computer scientist? Fortunately, these are real answers for a growing population of students in East County San Diego.
For Cajon Valley School District students, entering the World of Work (WoW) is not just a daydream or a far-fetched aspiration; it’s a normal part of their classroom curriculum. Most educators and school districts around the county focus on career exploration in the form of internships, externships and experienceships during high school. Some are starting earlier with middle school students. Cajon Valley is introducing career exploration to kindergartners.
Why introduce career exploration in early childhood education?
“We need to start building relationships between who they are and where they fit into the World of Work,” says Ed Hidalgo, Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer in the district and co-developer of the Cajon Valley WoW initiative.
Research shows that one of the biggest concerns for students across the nation is that what they’re learning in school is not relevant for them, and in turn, not relevant for future employers. An innovative and modern curriculum being introduced at Cajon Valley is helping young students identify and develop their unique abilities that are then matched with in-demand jobs, while providing them with recession-proof essential skills needed in today’s workforce.
“We make learning relevant through work-based simulations and career development tools that help students begin to understand their connection to the world of work based on the RIASEC framework,” said David Miyashiro, Superintendent of Cajon Valley Union School District. “At a minimum, each child, each grade, each year will have exposure and experience with six types of careers—so by the time they graduate eighth grade, it’ll be a minimum of 54.”
About the World of Work Framework
The WoW framework is composed of four levels: Exposure, Stimulate, Meet a Pro and Practice. Each year, a student experiences all four levels with a career that is within their own RIASEC themes. These categories within the RIASEC framework (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional) are a huge component of the WoW approaches to career exploration because it allows students to make the connection between their strengths and interests and the careers aligned with their personality type.
The vocational interest typology developed by Holland (1959,1997) is the most widely adopted theoretical framework for interest measurement. This process is not about selecting a career but rather to encourage exploration, problem-based simulation, exposure to business professionals in a meaningful way and to get students excited about their future possible selves.
When students meet a pro as the third level of the WoW journey, they are being fully immersed into a day in the life of various employers, through Nepris, a virtual platform that connects industry professionals with classrooms. Since workplace field trips can be a challenge for both educators and employers, Nepris allows all students the opportunity to experience various careers without having to leave their school.
“As of now, we’ve had more than 41,000 student views of live industry chats—there’s no way I can put all those kids on yellow buses and take them out into the world of work,” said Hidalgo.
Early career exposure as a path to income mobility
Roughly three-quarters of the students live in or near poverty and the region is home to many refugees. The WoW framework is allowing low-income and new American students to explore career options that they (and their parents) may have never heard of before. By first learning about their own interests and strengths, they are developing skills that will benefit all aspects of their future selves. With each lesson they have at school, children will see how the lessons involving everyday subjects relate to a new field and why it is important to learn those skills and values.
“There is no doubt that these students will come out ahead as adults,” said Laura Kohn, director of CLIMB at the San Diego Workforce Partnership. “Cajon Valley’s World of Work initiative is helping its thousands of students to recognize the enormous range of career opportunities available to them, and to know which ones align with their unique strengths, interests and values. World of Work is not just an excellent education strategy—as we heard from the teachers about improved behavior and academic motivation—it is also a powerful income mobility strategy.”
How to Expose More Students to the World of Work
Partnerships, collaboration and the ability to “take the risk of changing our education system” is all it takes to bring these career exploration experiences to more students, according to multiple Cajon Valley educators. It starts at the top with superintendents and must be instilled in every teacher, every parent and with the involvement of local employers to expose our children to the opportunities available to them.
The vision of Cajon Valley says it all: “Happy Kids, Healthy Relationships, On a Path to Gainful Employment.”
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