Students sit in a classroom on Chromebook computers as professor Joya Chavarin stands at the front of the class
In a pilot program, Joya Chavarin teaches a college child development course to high schoolers interested in becoming early childhood teachers. Credit: Ashley McBride

Once a week on Wednesday afternoons, Berkeley City College professor Joya Chavarin travels to Oakland High School to teach a class of 11th and 12th grade students all about child growth and development—a college-level course. 

It’s a subject that fascinates many of the students, who pepper Chavarin with questions about why their toddler cousin likes to bite or how babies learn multiple languages. The students are part of a new pre-apprenticeship program in Oakland Unified School District, training for careers in early childhood education—which generally refers to schooling within the first 8 years of life—a field that has struggled in recent years to attract teachers.

On a recent Wednesday, Chavarin emphasized to her students—who, in the summer, will complete an internship in the field—how critical it is to have a positive attitude when working with toddlers and young children who are at a crucial age for development. Throughout the lesson, she explained how what they were learning would apply to their future internships at a preschool or daycare. 

“You, as a teacher, need to understand that you have an ethical responsibility to think about your interactions with [the children], because they need warm, secure, healthy interactions,” said Chavarin, a Skyline High School graduate and the program coordinator for teacher preparation programs at Berkeley City College. “They’re learning about the world through us.”

Currently in its pilot year, the program enrolls 29 students from high schools across Oakland, including McClymonds, Madison Park Academy, Oakland Tech, Skyline, Sojourner Truth, and Street Academy. After school on Wednesdays, the students go to Oakland High School to take Chavarin’s course. Next semester, they’ll take another college-level course on the sociology of family, before rounding out the program with a paid summer internship. Students who complete the program will graduate high school with six to 12 early childhood credits, and be eligible for an assistant or associate child development permit, allowing them to get a job in a childcare setting.

The pathway is part of several “Growing Our Own” programs within OUSD that focus on training students and staff within the district to fill roles requiring a credential. The programs also put an emphasis on training and placing people who grew up in Oakland, attended Oakland schools, who can bring that familiarity with them to a job. It’s also one of several robust career education programs offered by OUSD, in which students are encouraged to take college and career courses, go on field trips, and complete paid internships in specific fields.

Cecilia Terrazas, who works in OUSD’s talent division and helps oversee the pre-apprenticeship program, acknowledged that the pilot program can’t single-handedly fill the staff shortage currently plaguing early childhood education. But it can help to build up a pipeline, she said. 

The program comes at a precarious time in the education workforce, especially in the East Bay, where the closure of Holy Names University took away one of the teacher accreditation programs that produced many educators who later went on to teach in Oakland schools. OUSD and districts across the state are also expanding transitional kindergarten programs, which will require more teachers. Existing early childhood educators may fill those roles, in turn creating gaps at preschools

Terrazas encourages bilingual students, students of color, and first-generation American students—all of which are reflected in OUSD’s student population—to apply for the program.

“How do we get young people to grow up and be the changemakers in their own communities? How do we find culturally relevant educators for our students? How do we offer them real employment opportunities that have trajectories?” Terrazas said about the questions the program is seeking to fulfill. 

Chavarin, who teaches several courses in workforce development programs, said the messaging around low wages in the field makes it even harder to recruit for these positions in daycares, preschools, and other early childhood education settings. But the OUSD pre-apprenticeship program isn’t just about getting an entry-level job, she said. It’s about exposing students to an array of professions working with children, helping them get a foot in the door with college credits, and eligibility for a child development permit.

“They could become a paraprofessional, an actual teacher, or work in afterschool programs. If they want to become a child psychologist or social worker, the classes they’re taking are transferable depending on what path they want to go in,” Chavarin told The Oaklandside. 

“There’s the people who surround the teachers, intervention specialists, working with children with special needs, expanded learning, occupational therapy. All the things that center around children and families are a possibility when you start off with this on-ramp.”

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.