Jun 21, 2023 · 5 min read

Schools Are Partnering With Communities To Boost Student College and Career Readiness

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announces support for innovative education practices in California and New Mexico.

Work-based learning opportunity for high school student
High school student engages in work-based learning opportunity in New Mexico | Photograph courtesy of Future Focused Education

In the wake of the pandemic, schools are redesigning graduation requirements and connections to the workplace to better prepare students for the future. These changes are guided by research showing that relevant learning experiences based on student interests and real-world issues increase motivation and enable deeper learning.

Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced grant support for school districts and organizations partnering with schools to study and implement innovative practices — such as learner profiles, capstone projects, and work-based learning opportunities — that provide new measures of student success. Developed in collaboration with local families and communities, these practices are designed to boost students’ college and career readiness by tailoring learning to their needs and interests.

“Communities across the country are charting a new course for education that includes rigorous academic preparation and recognizes the critical roles that student well-being, purpose, and agency play in achieving a life of success and fulfillment after high school,” said Sandra Liu Huang, head of education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “These grants will validate and expand the use of research-backed, locally-developed tools and practices that advance a broader definition of student success.”

In New Mexico, education leaders are centering the voices of students and communities to address the impacts of the pandemic and long-standing historical inequities. Earlier this year, the New Mexico legislature approved a $30 million expansion of the Innovation Zone initiative, a collaboration led by Tribal and community leaders, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and the state’s Public Education Department designed to foster a more student-centered approach to education.

Participating school districts and charter schools receive grants to implement innovative learning experiences, including graduate profiles, capstone projects, career and technical education, and work-based learning opportunities. Preliminary research shows that students who participate in internship programs are much more likely to persist in high school. Over the course of four years in two high schools, 0.6 percent of interns left high school early compared to 12.9 percent of non-interns.

CZI’s grants to Future Focused Education will support partnerships with Innovation Zone schools to implement community-driven graduate profiles and capstone projects for high school students. Graduate profiles define the knowledge and skills that each community believes are important as students transition to adulthood. They include measures of academics and career readiness, as well as skills that honor students’ cultural and linguistic identities. Capstone projects allow students to demonstrate that they have mastered the skills in their graduate profile. During these months-long projects, students dive deep on topics that interest them, conduct research, and present their findings in public exhibitions of learning to school, family, and community.

“Connecting students to the knowledge, wisdom, and cultures of their communities is a powerful way to keep them engaged in learning and on the path to graduation,” said Tony Monfiletto, executive director of Future Focused Education. “When we give students agency to shape their education and provide support to meet their unique needs from a network of caring adults, they rise to the occasion, becoming leaders for healthier and more prosperous communities.”

In Southern California, CZI is supporting the work of two innovative school districts with diverse student populations that are strengthening practices to foster student agency and career connections. With CZI’s grant, the Anaheim Union High School District will partner with researchers at the University of California, Irvine to study the impacts of the district’s Career Preparedness Systems Framework, which includes embedded career and technical education and work-based learning opportunities, as well as youth voice and civic purpose programs that contribute to a sense of belonging.

“Our students are more than a test score. They deserve an education that prepares them for success in college, meaningful careers, and active citizenship,” said Michael Matsuda, superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District. “In Anaheim, our students build career-preparedness skills and problem solving experiences through job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships, as well as industry-developed technology and data science courses. Throughout their education, they develop the skills necessary for success in today’s workplace: communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and compassion, all while in classrooms everyday and across all content areas.”

The Cajon Valley Union School District will receive funding to refine and implement its community-based career-development model, World of Work. Through this grant the district will assess the impact their Modern Curriculum and Launch Pad Initiative with the San Diego Workforce Partnership are having on students’ academics and aspirations for the future. They will engage families in designing activities that build on students’ interests and skills, and develop strategies to measure impacts on student learning, school climate, and sense of purpose.

Students explore career interests
Elementary students explore career and vocational interests | Photograph courtesy of Cajon Valley Union School District

“Our World of Work solution provides students with the opportunity to explore career and vocational interests every grade – every year beginning in Kindergarten,” said David Miyashiro, Superintendent of Cajon Valley Union School District. “Students’ interests evolve over time – from artistic to enterprising, social to investigative as they gain exposure to the workforce and industry professionals. Through this grant we’ll partner with experts like Child Trends and others to understand the impact this theory of career choice is having on students, in order to continuously improve.”

Standing with a growing community of partners, CZI is working to equip teachers with the research, tools, and partners they need to center students’ well-being in support of academic achievement and success. For more information about how CZI and our grant partners are supporting student and teacher well-being, visit chanzuckerberg.com/education/.


About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our communities. Through collaboration, providing resources and building technology, our mission is to help build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

Unlocking Student Potential: CZI Looks Back on 8 Years
Educators Turn Student Insights Into Action Using the Expanded Along Teacher-Student Connection Builder