Correction 9/9/23: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to Chavarin as tenured rather than tenure-track. It also incorrectly referred to Lisa Cook as Chavarin’s department chair.
By Tamara Copes, Staff Writer
July 11, 2023
Through holding a multitude of positions in Education, leading socially focused community organizations, and raising a family, Joya Chavarin will bring over 25 years of moxie to Berkeley City College’s Education Teacher Preparation Program (TPP). As the program’s first full-time, tenure-track faculty member, she hopes that it can continue to grow with her passionate and tenacious guiding hand.
Chavarin was raised in East Oakland, the oldest of four siblings in a nuclear family that highly valued education. She became the first in her family to attend college, pursuing a major in Business at Clark Atlanta University (CAU).
She recalled, while attending CAU, how difficult it was to be away from home without a support system nor the “cultural capital to navigate college as a first time student.” This isolation combined with the strain of out-of-state expenses became too much. Fortunately, she met her husband (now of 26 years) at CAU and they were able to move back to the Bay Area together.
Upon her return, Chavarin discovered that her business courses from CAU would not transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than retake the same business courses, she decided to explore different areas of interest in Interdisciplinary and American Studies at the Peralta Community College District.
While attending UC Berkeley, Chavarin became pregnant with her first child. She enrolled her daughter in an Early Childhood Development program on campus and became a parent volunteer, eventually working as a preschool teacher with the program. She discovered that being around children and learning about their cognitive, social, and creative development was fascinating, and something she wanted to pursue.
Chavarin shifted her focus to studying childhood development. With the strong foundation she and her husband shared in marriage and academic vision, they were able to continually push and support each other in school. While he became a K-12 teacher, Chavarin attended and worked at California State University, Monterey Bay, receiving her Master’s in Education with a focus in Early Childhood.
During that period, Chavarin’s children witnessed their parents move through an educational system that was not built for students and academics of color, nor one that implemented more than a single approach to students’ success. Being under her children’s watchful eyes helped to propel her forward, as she didn’t want her visible battles to deter her children from pursuing higher learning.
“Many of the struggles our children of color experience in school is because you need a higher trained teacher who understands how to be culturally responsive and understand their own implicit biases and their own perceptions of academic success as it relates to our children who are born to thrive,” Chavarin explained.
Later, Chavarin would watch her own children’s journey through university school. She saw how the college experiences of her daughters were very different from that of her sons. This perfectly encapsulated the issues Chavarin saw in the system and gave her a clearer picture of the many things that need to change in the structuring of educational institutions.
“So my two girls were the oldest and they navigated school easily and successfully,” Chavarin said. “Then my two boys are the youngest and they experienced the education system in a whole other way. You know, they’re very tall. They’re very big. And so how they showed up.”
After earning her Masters at CSU Monterey Bay, Chavarin went on to earn her Doctorate of Education from Mills College.
During this time, Chavarin developed and worked with a number of programs that focused on youth development and social services, while also teaching part-time at Peralta.
Cheryl Williams-Jackson, a mentor of Chavarin who encouraged her to attend graduate school and attain her doctorate, reflected on Chavarin’s talents, dedication, and impact on students and educators alike.
“I have been honored to see her over and over again take projects and make them into something effective and productive. Mentoring such a gifted and visionary colleague as Dr. Chavarin has been an honor, her insights and dedication have positively impacted students and early childhood educators,” Williams-Jackson said.
In 2020, Chavarin became the Interim Dean of Math, Science, Business, and Applied Technology at Berkeley City College (BCC). During this time, she was offered and accepted a role with BCC’s TPP.
The program’s purpose is to find and foster a diverse group of well-rounded, socially aware future educators; to provide the guidance and support system vital in achieving their academic and career goals, inevitably ensuring success.
Together with outgoing BCC President Angélica Garcia and BCC’s Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Lisa Cook, Chavarin is determined to utilize the TPP to produce substantive results.
As the TPP’s first full-time faculty member, Chavarin is working with her colleagues to identify and eliminate systemic barriers and bridge decentralized educational systems to create more seamless pathways to certifications and degrees. In addition to support in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, the program equips students with more immediately applicable skills for employment during matriculation.
Chavarin is working towards these goals by being involved in every step of the curriculum process, before potential students even reach the doors of BCC. She serves on the Early Childhood Educators Credentialing workgroup for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the BCC Academic Senate, and has worked with the BCC Curriculum Committee.
Cook, Chavarin’s dean and part of the TPP, is an advocate and champion of Chavarin, her changes, and innovations. Chavarin’s resolute questioning of how to improve, inspire, and find a way where there is no way, continually keeps Cook on her toes.
“We have experienced a lot of pain trying to build this program just in the way things happen in the Peralta District, in that not everybody sees things the same way. And we’ve seen what happens when people get what they need, and that the students that are in those classrooms will change the world. This is an education program, they are the ones that will change education with their very presence in those spaces. And it’s absolutely essential that they hold those seats – whether that’s as a principal, a child, an early care educator, as a community college teacher, a high school teacher, special needs, whatever they end up doing,” Cook said.
There are many people in the community already working with children in some form, but who are without proper mentorship or knowledge to take the next steps to become licensed educators. The TPP provides that support.
The road ahead is bright and TPP is committed to making sure that the program receives the resources necessary to achieve success.
“Nothing matters besides the students; besides creating opportunities and removing barriers,” Cook said.
The TPP was recently awarded a $25,000 LEADING for Equity grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and a $1.5 million grant from Girls Inc. of Alameda County to begin teacher preparation pipelines. With these funds they will provide additional “embedded supports” such as hands-on guidance from educators, laptops, tutors and supplemental staff that are culturally reflective of the community. The partnership currently trains 20 students in classes that qualify as transfer credits toward a Bachelors in Education and they hope to handle dozens more.
Chavarin highlighted that the TPP’s pipeline provides an attainable and legitimate approach to a career in education, but noted that the program also allows for exploration. Chavarin believes that not everyone is suited to become a childhood educator. The range of courses and options allow students to spend a summer working with children, discovering where their strengths lie, and finding out if working with children is a good fit for them.
Whatever they ultimately decide, Chavarin said, “at least you’ll be a better person or a better parent.”