World of Work to expand at Duquesne City next year

Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/5/2023

Ashli Detweiler calls Duquesne City superintendent Dr. Sue Mariani a “maker and shaker.” As Detweiler, the World of Work coordinator said, Mariani and the Duquesne administration are always looking to provide new opportunities for the district’s students.

When it comes to World of Work — one of the district’s most unique approaches to learning— that pathway took Mariani all the way to the Cajon Valley School District in San Diego, California. Over a year ago, Mariani and Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward and South Fayette’s superintendents found themselves in San Diego for a conference.

Along the way, they learned about World of Work, a learning framework that gives students early exposure and self awareness to career paths. They found themselves fixated, so much so that they wrote for a grant that would fund a World of Work coordinator across the four districts.

The Grable Foundation supported the grant, Detweiler’s position was created and the rest is history. This school year, Duquesne City, Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward and South Fayette have piloted World of Work at a grade level. At Duquesne City, 2nd graders have learned about World of Work.

Next year, all four districts will expand the framework. Duquesne City will expand it to grades 1-5 and plans to have grades K-7 implementing the framework in the 2024-2025 school year. Collectively, the four districts have become trendsetters, taking on the role as the Cajon Valley of the east coast.

“Because of a leader like Sue and the other members of this administration, I believe that they want more for our kids. But they don’t just want it, they act on it. That’s huge,” Detweiler said.

“They’re constantly seeking different opportunities and different pathways and exploration so that kids feel important and valued and eventually successful.”

Detweiler, who taught in the district for a number of years before taking her current role, said she felt like she was teaching World of Work to her students before even knowing what it was. The core tenant of World of Work — finding out a student’s strengths and interests — is something Detweiler values. So too do Duquesne’s 2nd grade teachers implementing the framework, Emily Johns and Erica Slobodnik.

World of Work puts a tight framework around those aforementioned values, teaching students what their RIASEC code is, which helps students understand what qualities they have and value. They then get to learn about different jobs, engage in activities related to that job and meet someone within the profession. Duquesne City students have learned about chefs, musicians, fitness instructors, entomologists and software developers, among other professions.

“I feel like the students have really been inspired and engaged with learning about the different careers,” Slobodnik said “It’s given them exposure to careers that they had no idea even existed.”

Beyond career exposure, students are now able to confidently identify their RIASEC code. Within a RIASEC code, students learn about the qualities of being realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional, and which of those qualities they identify with. Being able to self-identify allows for more personalized learning, Detweiler said, which the district has placed a focus on.

“I believe in building those relationships and having genuine, authentic conversations whether the kid is 7 or 17. I really believe in telling kids that they are important, and what they believe in is important and what they like is important. You don’t need to change who you are to figure out what you want to do with your life,” Detweiler said.

“I think it’s important for teachers to provide kids with those opportunities, because I don’t know what kid isn’t engaged when it comes to themselves and bettering themselves. When a kid feels empowered and they understand their purpose, I think that can help support what the teacher is trying to do with the personalization. I think if kids are happy and they feel safe and loved and secure, they’ll work for you.”

The early groundwork for next year’s expansion has already started. The four districts had a professional development session in April, and will meet multiple times over the summer, too. Each district will be able to share details about the grade levels they piloted this year, easing the process.

Getting to this point might seem like it’s been quite a process, but Slobodnik said it's been seamless. She’s been able to easily weave the framework into her regular curriculum, attaching an entomologist's career to her teachings about bugs, and attaching a chef's career to her teachings about measurements, for example. Or, when reading a book, Slobodnik might ask her students to identify what a character’s RIASEC code is.

In turn, Slobodnik said this makes her teaching more effective, as it allows the students to see why they’re learning about something.

“With World of Work there’s so much opportunity. It focuses on their strengths and interests and values, which comes into everything that we do. We get to build even more powerful relationships and really get to know the students,” Slobodnik said.

“I think the earlier they get exposure to what their strengths and interests and what careers are out there, the better. Starting early definitely gives them the stepping stone to expand on it throughout the other grades.”