Career Exploration in the Middle Grades Case Study: The Launch Pad: A Career Center Reimagined

The Launch Pad

Cajon Valley Union School District, El Cajon, California

The Cajon Valley Union School District serves a diverse community of 17,000 TK through 12th year students across 28 schools in eastern San Diego County. Since 2017 we have integrated a modern curriculum known as the World of Work™ (WoW), a career development framework grounded in career theory for every child in every grade starting in kindergarten. The unique approach is deployed by teachers who integrate the experiences and a gateway technology in classrooms.

Many teachers have risen to the WoW challenge and built strong communities of practice co-inspired by the district vision of developing happy kids living in healthy relationships on a path to gainful employment. Across the district, the work of helping every child know themselves, know their options, and making informed choices is becoming a reality.

As communities of practice continue to advance within the district, there was one external organization that was considering new ways to share its resources more effectively with K12 schools. The San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) is the “workforce board” for the San Diego County region. As a quasi-governmental entity, they are also a nonprofit, funded through the US Department of Labor. There are 550 workforce boards across the nation that primarily deploy the federal funds to regional partners who then deliver services to adults who are laid off, and need reskilling and support services to regain employment. SDWP has worked to significantly expand the limited impact of a traditional workforce board. By diversifying their funding with many private sector and philanthropic partners, they are reimagining what it means to do workforce development. Among their innovations is to deploy their labor market research with educational tools and technology—reaching and empowering job seekers of all ages with personalized career pathways exploration that is navigable and impactful.

In the spring of 2019, with the support of American Student Assistance, a new community of practice and strategic project was initiated between the Cajon Valley Union School District and the San Diego Workforce Partnership. The goal was to expand the reach of the SDWP tools and data, and leverage the World of Work™ framework to reimagine a middle-school library space and transform it into a WoW-inspired career center. It is called the Launch Pad.

Together with SDWP, we created a community building process for feedback generation to ensure the designs would meet the needs of our diverse community. Included in this process was the superintendent, library media technician, WoW coaches, education services, family and community engagement officers, teachers, counselors, parents, students, and graphic design team members.

After several months of development, the SDWP team narrowed their findings to provide recommendations and the design team landed on six primary design installations that included eleven “missions” or rotations to help students and adults answer three questions: Who am I? Who can I become? How can I get there?

SDWP makes their labor market information (LMI), essential skills rubrics, and MyNextMove career exploration tools available within the Launch Pad to help students and other visitors gain access to valuable tools to help with career exploration activities. A core mission of this community of practice is a dedication to not only serving students within the district, but also the multi-generational family members.

What started as just one Launch Pad will soon be eight new Launch Pads, with new installations planned for the coming school year. This agenda will extend the community of practice across grade levels. Site administrators are tapping existing teachers, library media techs, and counselors to host extension classes and elective periods, and two middle schools now have dedicated career development teachers.

For districts planning to develop a careers-focused community of practice, whether designing a career center or other approach, the local workforce board should be considered in the planning. LMI shared by the board can amplify a program’s success by highlighting the careers, pathways, and sectors with the greatest potential job growth. The SDWP team is available to help others plan their approach and the National Association of Workforce Boards can also provide guidance and support for those looking to make the connection.

With the help of ASA, the San Diego Workforce Partnership has provided us with the initial and ongoing support to set up and drive a career center for all ages. The importance of creating this WoW extension and community of practice in middle school is to purposefully advance the integration of career development in our schools. Our work will continue until all students can make informed postsecondary and career pathway choices that lead to gainful employment.

Visit the AMLE/ASA Career Exploration Resource Center for additional case studies, templates, research, and more.