By Devin Vodicka
As K-12 school administrators, we strive to provide the best educational experience for our students. One way to achieve this is by implementing a developmental sequence for career-connected learning that builds on each level of education. In this post, we’ll explore a three-step developmental sequence that we used while I was Superintendent in Vista Unified School District. This approach incorporates service learning, Talent Cities, and career pathways in elementary, middle, and high schools, respectively.
It is crucial for K-12 school systems to implement developmental sequences that incorporate community-based learning, service learning, and career-connected learning. These experiences can help students develop critical skills and knowledge that are applicable to the workforce, while also fostering engagement and motivation. Community-based and service learning experiences can help students develop social and emotional skills, such as communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, that are necessary for success in any career. Exposure to career-connected learning can help students explore different career options, develop technical skills, and build networks with professionals in their desired fields. By providing these experiences, K-12 school systems can help ensure that all students are prepared for success in college and career, and that they have the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute positively to their communities.
Research has shown that community-based learning experiences helped high school students develop career readiness skills and increase their knowledge of career options. In addition, community-based learning experiences can help students develop key social and emotional skills, such as communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. These skills are important for success in the workforce, and community-based learning experiences can provide students with an opportunity to develop and practice them.
Overall, the research suggests that community-based learning and career exposure can be beneficial for students in terms of both academic achievement and career readiness.
Step 1: Service Learning in Elementary Schools
Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. In elementary schools, service learning can help students develop a sense of civic responsibility, empathy, and problem-solving skills.
It’s important for service learning experiences to include community-based experiences that are integrated with core content. This approach not only provides students with hands-on experiences in their communities, but also reinforces learning in academic subjects. Service learning that is integrated with core content helps students understand the relevance and importance of what they are learning in the classroom, and can enhance their engagement and motivation. Additionally, integrating community-based experiences with core content can help students develop a deeper understanding of complex social issues and how they relate to their local communities.
Step 2: Talent Cities in Middle Schools
Talent Cities is a program that partners with local businesses to expand young people’s vision of themselves in the world of work. The program brings middle school students into the workplace to allow them to speak to employers and employees and see for themselves what it takes to be successful. More than a field trip, students engage in self-exploration activities and assessments, research priority sectors, and develop the background knowledge to make the most of the experience. In exchange, local businesses get a voice on what young people are learning and experiencing, as well as valuable analytics about their future talent pool (EdWeek, 2017).
To implement Talent Cities in middle schools, administrators can partner with local businesses and organizations to provide students with an immersive workplace experience. Prior to the visit, students engage in self-exploration activities and assessments to identify areas of passion and talent. They also conduct research on the priority sectors in their community to gain essential background knowledge about local industries and possible careers. This groundwork enables students to make the most of the workplace experience.
Vista students design solar lighting as part of an industry challenge with Solatube, a local business that hosted Middle School visits.
Step 3: Career Pathways in High Schools
Career pathways are programs that provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a career in a specific field. Career pathways can help students explore career options, gain work experience, and develop professional skills.
To implement career pathways in high schools, administrators can start by identifying industries and professions that are in high demand in their local community. Schools can partner with local businesses and organizations to provide students with internships, job shadowing opportunities, and mentorship programs.
Schools can also offer courses and certifications that align with local industry needs. For example, Vista High School offers pathways in sustainable agricultural science which is a critical element of the local economy.
Career Pathways at Vista High School
By implementing a developmental sequence that builds on each level of education, K-12 school administrators can help students develop a sense of civic responsibility, self-awareness, and professional skills. Service learning in elementary schools, Talent Cities in middle schools, and career pathways in high schools can provide students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for college and career success.
Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.
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Next Generation Learning Challenges. (2017, December 4). It Takes a Village: Talent Cities at Vista Unified. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenlearning.org/articles/it-takes-a-village-talent-cities-at-vista-unified
EdWeek. (2017, December). Opinion: It Takes a Village: Talent Cities at Vista Unified. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/technology/opinion-it-takes-a-village-talent-cities-at-vista-unified/2017/12