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News Item: Homepage

VUSD Students Explore Career Options with Talent Cities

By Cinthya Jones


“What do you want to be when you grow up?”


That’s a question children hear a lot. In the early years, they might respond with doctor, lawyer, or even astronaut. Kids are likely to change their minds multiple times as they get older, but what if they’re not aware of all the possibilities available to them?


That was the inspiration for Talent Cities. 


The Talent Cities program is a partnership between Vista Unified School District, New Learning Ventures, the Vista Chamber of Commerce, and various local companies. The goal is to help students imagine themselves in different careers and see firsthand what it takes to be successful. Rancho Minerva Middle School Principal Juan Ayala says, “Talent Cities connects students to the world of work and gives them insight into careers that they may not even know exist.” 


Gerri Burton, of New Learning Ventures, is thrilled with the progress of the Talent Cities implementation at Vista Unified School District, now in its third year. “This year, more middle schools have become involved, more students are having the opportunity to experience the world of work, and more employers are joining the movement! Data show that 90% of students at the middle school level get their career information at home, so offering all students a big ‘welcome’ to the world of work is inclusive,” she says. “We are confident that the San Diego economy will reap the reward of this great talent in the near future.”


Students sit in conference room for Talent Cities
Students get a taste for a boardroom meeting with Talent Cities.


High school graduates often lack the essential skills to be successful in the business arena. Talent Cities helps students see the connection between their school work and future careers. They can see these skills being used at a local business, in sales and marketing, manufacturing, finance, operations, or product design. And just like in school, they use their science, math, and collaboration skills to come up with fresh designs to their challenges. 


Students learn about and do research on five high priority sectors in the San Diego region: 

  • Life Sciences
  • Health Care
  • Clean Energy
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Information and Communication Technologies

These priority sectors are projected to create economic growth and career opportunities in the San Diego region. Linda Spector, Executive Assistant at Solatube (the first business to open its doors to Vista Unified students), explains, “Students don’t always see where their careers can take them. They see the job market changing, and positions that exist now will be replaced with technology in the future. Talent Cities helps give them ideas of how to work with technology, rather than to be afraid that technology will replace their jobs.”


Solatube warehouse tour for Talent Cities
Students tour every aspect of a business, including warehouses, and get to know a business inside and out.


Students are being introduced to these career paths early. “In Talent Cities, we’re starting in the middle schools. Every middle school student will engage with this program,” says Robert Crowell, Service Learning Lead. Linda Spector agrees, saying that this is the perfect age to introduce students to careers outside of what they know through their parents and teachers. 


Students don’t just learn about the local companies, they also get to visit them. Students go through a series of activities leading up to an excursion to a local company. Mr. Crowell explains, “By the time the students get to the job site, they’ve taken an assessment to learn more about their own talents and strengths and they’ve evaluated their own 21st century skills.”


These excursions aren’t the typical middle school field trip. On job sites, students visit every department at a company, engaging in a mini-challenge at each stop. Students participate and learn, rather than only watching.


“That’s one of our focuses here at Rancho Minerva,” says Principal Ayala. “We really push the world of work and we want students to be engaged and focus on potential career paths.”


Talent Cities business presentations
Members from all departments at Solatube meet with students during the Talent Cities excursion.


Students are exposed to a variety of career environments. “We send a lot of kids to Qualcomm, where they get to spend the day creating through coding,” Principal Ayala continues. “The kids see corporate environments with bean bags instead of chairs, so they get to see that the business world isn’t always the same.” This year, more local businesses have signed on to participate in Talent Cities with students. Some of these businesses include Watkins Wellness, Vista Irrigation District, Datron World Communications, Rokenbok, Vista Community Clinic, Taylor Trim, and DRS Daylight Solutions


Solatube returned to the program once again, and opened their doors to middle school students on March 21. “Everyone here gets so excited when the kids come and we can show off our product!” says Linda Spector, Executive Assistant at Solatube. “As their challenge, we ask them to design a Solatube for their needs, not what their parents might want. They have such fun ideas! Some of the designs this year had USB or Alexa functionality and connected speakers. One of my favorites was a chandelier made from different shapes that reflected light. The shapes rotated like stars in the sky and scattered the light.”


Workplace tours for Talent Cities
Students see what the workspace looks like at the businesses they visit.


Some of these challenges turn into bigger projects. One of these projects is ABC Printing Bulls, a graphic design class (and print shop!) named after the Rancho Minerva Middle School mascot. “It’s been a huge success for us,” says Principal Ayala. “Students have their own website and state of the art printers that print projects on paper, vinyl, and even 3D printers.” Yes, the students are printing in 3D! 


More impressive, they’re also learning entrepreneurship skills. Principal Ayala continues, “They run the shop like a business. Anyone in the community can place orders.” The program not only teaches the students how to design and print, they also learn the soft skills needed in a public facing business, such as customer service. Students meet a few times with the client to go over the project to make sure they understand the details. Sometimes, the client has a need that the students fill by coming up with their own design to 3D print. “They make all kinds of little gadgets,” Principal Ayala says proudly.


The KWN Panasonic program is another of these project successes. Short for Kids Witness Network, students are taught to create and produce videos. Principal Ayala explained, “We don’t just focus on the video production, we also focus on literacy.” The teacher focuses on the storytelling process, walking students through the storyboarding process before they even pick up a camera. “She lays down the fundamentals and students are able to flourish from there.”


VUSD Talent Cities Goals
Goal flowchart for Talent Cities


Recently, students won a national competition held by the KWN Panasonic program which included trips to New York and Japan for national and international competitions. Principal Ayala said, “This award doesn’t just go to their ability to film, but also to their ability to write a script.”


Principal Ayala says he’s most proud that, “We’re always willing to take a chance here.”

Posted by: Lisa Contreras, District Admin, Vista Unified School District Published:4/16/18
Audience: Homepage and Homepage