There was a distinct buzz in the air when we arrived at Andrew P. Hill High School. Students were dashing around attending to last minute details and huddling with their teams to go over their assignments. We were there to film a school-wide Mass Casualty Drill that nearly every student on the campus was taking part in, spanning multiple pathways at the school.

When the signal went off to indicate that a large earthquake had just occurred, the students sprang into action transforming into their respective roles – paramedics, first responders, security, ambulance drivers, and hospital staff. Thanks to partnerships that the school district formed with the local community, students benefited from the on-site presence of these real-life professionals. Members of the local fire department, police force, and hospitals worked with students to prepare for the drill, and were on-site that day to ensure that the simulation was as accurate as possible with the proper procedures being followed.

Many schools and pathways around the country are incorporating work-based learning events like this into the school day in order to lift the curriculum off the page and have students experience the world of work in authentic ways. Over the last five years, the East Side Union High School District has been doing just this. The District is implementing Linked Learning pathways— building and sustaining a system of work-based learning, and providing funding and logistical support for activities like the Drill.

At ConnectED, we believe that if work-based learning is to be implemented equitably and at scale, school districts must play a critical role. At East Side, for example, the district takes on employer outreach and coordination, transportation, legal and liability, which then allows site leaders and teachers to focus on the instructional connections and alignment with the pathway theme. As Tim Nguyen, East Side’s Director of Career Services, says, “It won’t work systemically if you don’t have one person at the district level whose sole job it is to do that.”

East Side is located in San Jose, California, and certainly benefits from its proximity to many of the world’s largest and fastest-growing tech companies in Silicon Valley. Many of these companies struggle to find qualified workers, particularly ones from diverse backgrounds, so the possibility of building a local talent pipeline is appealing–and beneficial–to them.

While East Side’s location may be unique, their approach to scaling up work-based learning so that all its students can be college AND career-ready, can be replicated in any community that has the commitment and vision to make it happen.