First introduced in 2019 through Colorado Succeeds’ annual business and education delegation trip, the Cajon Valley Union School District in San Diego, CA is a leader in career-connected learning. A P-8 district with the mission of “happy kids, healthy relationships, in a path to gainful employment,” Cajon Valley implements a comprehensive district-developed career awareness system called World of Work that transforms the way students think about their future, giving them a chance to learn about different careers, including which paths fit their interests, strengths, skills, and values best.

The virtual learning session, facilitated for the 8 Homegrown Talent Initiative communities, features Dr. David Miyashiro, Superintendent, and Ed Hidalgo, Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer, Cajon Valley Union School District. These innovative leaders in career-connected learning shared their World of Work and RAISEC model, how its integrated across K-8, and how it positioned them for success during the initial COVID-19 shockwave.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Rooted in a Clear Vision & Leadership

Not unlike our partners in Cañon City, Colorado, Cajon Valley started their transformational journey to providing career-connected learning to students with a clear vision and strong leadership. They embraced the idea that career development is the school’s responsibility and identified a model that aligned with their core values and diverse learner needs.

Another a common thread amongst many who are finding success in transforming the educational experience as well as navigating learning during a pandemic – leadership and collaboration. Early conversations were had with all key stakeholders at the table, including the school board, police chief, fire chief, city council members, chamber of commerce, and industry representatives. Dr. David Miyashiro and Ed Hidalgo listened to these stakeholders’ stories about their pathways to success; they talked about the ways the curriculum would support diverse pathways and prepare San Diego’s workforce; and they helped them understand the role of a school district in community and economic development.

2. Career Development is a Human Process

Cajon Valley’s World of Work curriculum was developed using the RIASEC model, stated as one of the most researched vocational psychologies and the number one predictor for happiness in a career. The model acknowledges that development happens across the lifespan, a human process. The RIASEC, which represents six personality traits across careers – Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional – pinpoints strengths, interests, and values for an individual student. Further, while strengths and values can and do change over time, interests have shown to stay consistent over time as well as be a key predictor of positive employment outcomes. Thus, Cajon Valley’s model is grounded in interest, which they feel organically answers the question of, “Why do I have to learn this?”

The process is about having conversations, building relationships, and understanding the fears and hopes kids have for their possible selves, they said. And, the earlier you can ask these questions, the better the process of career development is.

3. It’s Not About “The Job”

Some of the HTI community participants wondered if Cajon Valley had concerns about labeling students and career paths too early. While they want to ensure students are exposed to relevant, in-demand jobs in their community, the leaders were quick to remind us that it’s not about “the job.” It is about the opportunity, experience, and support. It is about exposure to a variety of pathways, and students understanding the strengths, interests, and values of them and if it resonates.

Further, this model has removed the additional stress on educators to align core content to career-connected learning – a barrier schools and districts often run into when trying to transform the educational experience. World of Work provides the curriculum and lesson plans integrated into the subjects they already teach.

Check out their website for details, including an example of the K-8 World of Work Grid that aligns careers and RIASEC traits.

4. Full Integration

If you spend any time with Cajon Valley, in-person at their San Diego campuses or virtually, you will quickly realize that a primary success factor is that they went “all-in” on their vision and model for career-connected learning. The World of Work and RIASEC are fully integrated into the culture of the district, and they were intentional about getting leadership and educator buy-in first. Mr. Hidalgo said it’s critical to take your leaders and staff through the process and experiences to fully understand it, connect with it, and support the effort going forward.

Parents and families are a critical stakeholder of all school communities, and especially in Cajon Valley where a large portion of students come from Spanish-speaking homes. The World of Work and RIASEC materials are all translated, and lessons were developed to engage families in the experience – “RIASEC at Home.” Like the teachers, parents also take the test and learn about their strengths, interests, and values, which gives them the knowledge and common language to support their students.

Lastly, the model is integrated into every corner of every classroom in Cajon Valley. Mr. Hidalgo said, “this is where it starts” – where it comes alive. Teachers and students alike drove this transformation, regularly coming up with new visuals and activities that integrate the six traits into lessons. For example, there are window clings, foam boards, digital materials, classroom job boards (“mini-internships”), and RIASEC-themed career fairs. Kids have even gone has far as connecting the RIASEC to Charlotte’s Web characters and discussing how their trait impacted their behaviors!

5. World of Work and The Pandemic

HTI communities were keen to understand how this model positioned Cajon Valley to respond to COVID-19, and what successes and lessons learned they had experienced so far.

A good portion of the curriculum was already adapted for or integrated with digital learning experiences. For example, level three of the World of Work curriculum is “Meet A Pro,” where students and teachers join in on virtual tours and activities where industry professionals provide real life context and application for their knowledge and skills. Cajon Valley also takes advantage of the unending resources there are online, such as TED-Ed and, to build a truly modern curriculum.

Other key lessons learned:

  • A consistent message, expectations, and format for providing learning materials is critical. Cajon Valley used a “playlist” format on YouTube to push out high-impact, accessible content, as well as adopted “WoW Wednesdays,” for a consistent and fun way to prepare students and families to engage in World of Work content.
  • Because of the work done to engage parents and families and empower them at home, the transition was much smoother. Many even started participating as pros, providing their own “Meet A Pro” experiences.
  • They continued to listen to their community and made it a priority to understand and meet social-emotional needs above all else. This included providing flexibility to teachers and families as they navigated to schedules, childcare, and meeting the basic needs of their learners.

To get connected with Cajon Valley, the Homegrown Talent Initiative, or COVID-19 recovery efforts, email:

The Homegrown Talent Initiative (HTI) aims to provide the resources and supports needed to develop a Colorado where ALL students are lifelong learners. HTI is rooted deeply in the context of local community assets and needs, cultivating and solidifying partnerships between often siloed organizations. Facilitated by Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado Education Initiative and supported by local and national foundations, including the Daniels FundWalton Family Foundation, Gill Foundation, and The Beacon Fund. 

To learn more about the communities and access additional resources visit: