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By Gabriella Landeros

Assembly Member Mia Bonta (D-Alameda) honored three CTA members as the 2022 Assembly District 18 Educators of the Year in June. The event honors the diversity, generosity and contributions of individuals and organizations throughout the district.

Fifth-grade dual immersion educator, Mayra Alvarado is one of the honorees.

“Thank you, Assembly Member Bonta, for this recognition and for your continued advocacy for all our AD 18 residents. You’re an inspiration to me and an orgullo,” said Alvarado, a member of Oakland Education Association.

Assembly Member Mia Bonta (left) and Mayra Alvarado (right)

Her passion for teaching came from the inspiration of her University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) undergraduate department mentor, Dr. Mary Bucholtz.

“I was a first-generation college student and was struggling academically. Dr. Bucholtz saw my potential, took me under her wing and helped me find a major I loved and ended up being the first one in my family to graduate from college! I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher until I met her. Every time I see a student doubt themselves, I remember Dr. Bucholtz and how she helped me reach my potential. I bring that hope to my students every day.”

– Mayra Alvarado, CTA/ABC Committee (District C)

Alvarado has been a K-12 educator since 2015. Prior to that, she was working with students as an undergraduate at UCSB. There, she mentored and tutored high school students through the School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society program. Now, Alvarado is proud to give back to the community that has given her so much.

“Many first-generation Americans and Latinas like myself rarely see themselves reflected in the people they see receiving recognition for their work in teaching. This award is symbolic of the many people who have supported my work as a teacher: my public K-12 educators, professors who mentored me at UCSB and the University of San Francisco, my colleagues in the Oakland Education Association, and most importantly: my students and their families. The work I do is because of them, their love and support,” said Alvarado.

For fourth-grade educator and member of the Alameda Education Association, Ryan Brazil, this award makes her feel that she is doing something right. Brazil and her class were recently featured in the CA Educator for writing and publishing a book called “Anti-Bias ABC’s.”

Ryan Brazil

“This means I am making waves, no matter how small and I can continue to make our community a better place. This means that I cannot stop doing this important work no matter what, and that what I do in my classroom can make an impact on others. Our students of all races, genders, faiths and backgrounds deserve the same compassion, opportunity and acceptance,” said Brazil. “I acknowledge that my voice is heard louder because of the color of my skin, so I will not be quiet. I will continue to make noise for equality and being able to teach the truth in classrooms. This honor just confirms how important this work is, and it matters so much.”

Brazil just completed her fifth year of teaching. Her inspiration to become an educator didn’t come from one thing or any one person. Brazil was a nanny throughout college, and she always loved children and their enthusiasm to figure things out and willingness to do things wrong.

“I think their excitement for life and knowledge just rubbed off on me, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

– Ryan Brazil, Alameda Education Association

Brazil thanks Assembly Member Bonta for receiving this award, and she promises to keep fighting the good fight. “I felt this wave of joy and pride when the idea of me getting Educator of the Year started to sink in. I feel validated and seen in my community, which always feels amazing. I have my award in my classroom ready to share the news with my students in the fall,” said Brazil.

Erica Viray Santos, the third honoree, is a United States Hxstory, Government/Economics, Social Justice Theory, Social Justice Action, and Social Justice Praxis (SJ Elective Courses) for 10th, 11th, and 12th graders and member of the San Leandro Teachers Association.

For Santos, she was genuinely surprised when she received the award. “I think just like me, most teachers aren’t used to being celebrated, which is sad. It felt good to be recognized for my work and leadership in the Social Justice Academy at San Leandro High School because it has undoubtedly been my labor of love for nearly 15 years, fighting hard to sustain and grow it. I have poured my blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of love into this work, so it is validating for it to be recognized,” said Santos. “I do want to make it clear though that this is not my work alone, although I am the longest-standing teacher and am also the coordinator. I have colleagues, families, community partners, and most importantly, students that have stood with me, fought, and have poured their all into the Social Justice Academy as well. I am honored to have had them in my life and in this work, so this is award is ours as a collective.”

A message to Assembly Member Bonta: “Thank you for seeing me, seeing our work in the Social Justice Academy, it feels good to be seen,” said Santos.

Erica Viray Santos

Santos has been a community organizer for over two decades and a high school teacher for the last 17 years. She started her career at James Logan High School teaching in the Ethnic Studies department. However, for the past 14 years, she has been a teacher in and the coordinator of the Social Justice Academy at San Leandro High School, a program serving youth and families that focuses on building community, critical consciousness, holistic humanization, and transformative solidarity.

“Oscar Penaranda, a teacher in the James Logan High School Ethnic Studies department disrupted the generational trauma, miseducation, and conditioning that defined me. He challenged me to love myself, to understand my family, learn my hxstory, and resist. The decolonization, agency, and healing that he and ethnic studies gifted me led me to community organizing and most importantly, education. I became a teacher because I wanted to be the teacher that I needed, the teacher that would see that kid,” said Santos.

For Santos, she strives to be someone that helps to truly liberate students and cultivate a space where they feel critical love, hope, joy, freedom, and justice; one that honors their presence and celebrates who they are, their experiences, and the communities they belong to. A transformative space that also agitates them to resist, interrogate, and challenge systemic and intersectional inequities and injustice.

“I am committed to teaching in the communities that I grew up in to serve youth who have struggles and experiences similar to my own. I want to teach students to embrace those struggles and experiences as sources of strength because I know that once I did, I started to truly love myself and understand my family. It is when I started to heal and know resilience. I want that for my students. Those struggles and experiences also help to inform how I create and develop curricular content and build pedagogical strategies within an ethnic studies and social justice framework.”

– Erica Viray Santos, San Leandro Teachers Association

“The Social Justice Academy at San Leandro High School has been my labor of love, the embodiment of the teacher I always wanted to be and the type of education that I always wanted to provide. I have had to fight tooth and nail for the past 15 years to sustain it. That will to fight for it is inspired by the enduring relationships I’ve been able to build with the youth and their families and the compassionate, conscious, resilient, and unapologetic people I can see my students become,” said Santos.

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