Story and photo by JUSTINA ZIEGLER
Pima Community College student Ana Chavarin won the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) Adult Learner of the Year award.
“When I was nominated, it was a surprise to me,” Chavarin said. “I’m not a person who does things for rewards or recognition; I do things because it’s in my heart or I like to do it. Just the fact that they considered me is award enough for me. What an honor; I’m very happy and still can’t believe it.”
Laurie Kierstead-Joseph, director of adult education services, said the award goes to someone who really exemplifies the power of adult education, and that Chavarin does.
“Ana is just amazing.” Kierstead-Joseph said. “I’m so happy for her; it is so deserved. And I think her story and her example is an inspiration to people. I feel proud of her and proud of the example she sets.”
COABE said it’s purpose is to provide leadership, communication, professional development, and advocacy for adult education and literacy practitioners to advance quality services for all adult learners. It also provides recognition for excellence in adult education by providing competitive national-level awards valued at $10,000, incentive grants to encourage best practices in the field, and scholarship opportunities.
Chavarin enrolled at Pima in 2012 for classes to get her GED, and is now almost finished getting her associate degree in psychology.
“I’m going to transfer to the University of Arizona to get my master’s after that, and then become a therapist,” Chavarin said. “I’m a survivor of violent crime, and I want to be a therapist to help others who have been in similar situations. I want to help people with trauma heal and get better.”
Chavarin said she is very community-oriented and passionate about the benefits of the Adult Education program.
“Ana at her core is just this amazing learner who has this drive to not only do well for herself, but uses everything she learns as a benefit to those around her.” Keirstead-Joseph said. “In the classroom she was encouraging her classmates; she’s a natural helper and I think that drives her to her own success.”
Chavarin became involved in Student Council and became an Ambassador of Education, helping advocate the program politically. Chavarin plays a key role at the national level by providing advocacy training and adult education representation.
“I talk to politicians who frown on these programs; sometimes they don’t support them,” Chavarin said. “It’s important they remember why these programs are important to the community. It’s good to bring students who can say, ‘Look what it did for me too, it works!’ ”
She is not shy to stand up and speak on behalf of this program.
“I love doing it and sharing the stories of students given this opportunity,” Chavarin said. “It’s important they know students have changed their lives with this program. It is needed in our community.”
Keirstead-Joseph said Ana has done a lot to help the adult education program in many ways.
“Ana has added so much to this program as a leader, classmate and ambassador,” Keirstead-Joseph said.
Chavarin said she sees it as following her heart.
“I believe in giving a hand to others,” Chavarin said. “If you understand something they need help with, stretch your hand out and help them achieve, too. When one achieves, we all achieve.”
She goes the extra mile, and provides contact information and encouragement to new students for enrollment, financial aid or anything they need help with academically.
“Sometimes people get scared to speak or to go through the process, and they need someone to grab their hand and say, ‘Go this way’ and push them a little. Adult Education did that for me. I want to be that person for someone else. Then one day that person can help another and so on.”
“It was the right resource at the right time for her,” Keirstead-Joseph said. “She wants others to have that opportunity.”
Chavarin says Adult Education does more than give you knowledge, it changes your whole life for the better.
“It’s not just an opportunity to go to school and get a career or better job,” Chavarin said. “Your whole financial situation can change with one decision. It’s not just getting a GED, you get a totally different life.”
Chavarin says it has also helped her bond closer to her kids.
“If you are a parent, or a role model, the kids see education is important because they see you doing your homework,” Chavarin said. “My kids do homework with me, and I know more to help them with theirs. It helps us to bond closer.”
Chavarin says the program has very friendly staff that are student-success oriented.
“It’s a very welcoming environment, the teachers want students to succeed,” Chavarin said. “They know all of the different pathways through the GED classes then the next steps for college. They help you through it and find out what you like, what area to study, how to get help. They will not stop until you reach the goal you had in mind.”
Chavarin says the program is flexible and has classes at different times of day, morning and night. Online courses are also available.
“I tell people who think they can’t do it because of their jobs or kids, ‘I’m a single mom with 2 part-time jobs, you can do it.’ Just take one class at a time, don’t sit there and wish you were; at least take one. It’s better it takes you a little longer than to never do it.”
Chavarin has also won the following awards and honors: National Coalition for Literacy / COABE Adult Learner Spotlight, National Adult Education Honor Society inductee, Pima Community College HSE Graduation Speaker, City of Tucson Certificate of Achievement & Ward V Council Office Recognition Award, Pima Community College Board of Governor’s Award of Excellence 2013, and an Arizona Association for Lifelong Learning Award.