Chantal Chevalier, a Bronx native and first-generation Latina college student at Fordham, will become an 11th-grade social studies teacher at the New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries in the South Bronx this fall.
“I know what it’s like to be an inner-city kid, and it’s not always easy. I feel like I can help kids who may not like school, who may see me as part of the establishment. I want to let them know that I’m someone just like them, who ended up accomplishing their goals and actually getting into their career, regardless of what my background was or what people thought I could do,” said Chevalier, a 2020 graduate of Fordham College at Rose Hill who will be graduating this May with her master’s degree in adolescence education for social studies from the Graduate School of Education.
Chevalier grew up in a single-mother household on Bailey Avenue in the Bronx. She attended public schools with many students who looked like her, but she said only two of her teachers were women of color: a Latina second-grade teacher who taught English and a Puerto Rican high school social studies teacher.
“Those two inspired me to become a teacher because I never had anyone who looked like me in the classroom,” Chevalier said.
Culturally Relevant Teaching
This past year, Chevalier was a student teacher at IN-Tech Academy MS/HS 368—the same high school she graduated from. She said her goal in all her classes is to create a culturally relevant curriculum where her students feel represented. One recent example is an American history lesson plan where she taught students about not only the 1776 Declaration of Independence, but also another relevant event from that same year—a petition for freedom by slaves.
“Instead of just teaching my kids about the Declaration of Independence alone, I taught them about how the language of freedom not only inspired the enslaved in the United States, but all over the world, including Haiti,” Chevalier said. “I bring in primary sources that reflect another population that is usually ignored. I want to create a 360-world view of one issue instead of a 180-world view, which is what we’re accustomed to in our history education.”
Her longtime mentor Diane Rodriguez, Ph.D., professor of curriculum and teaching at GSE, said Chevalier is a natural educator who helps her students understand social studies differently.
“Teaching is not only helping students understand new concepts, but also helping them reexamine how they think,” Rodriguez said. “As a teacher, this is very powerful. In Chantal, it’s innate.”
As a Fordham undergrad, Chevalier was able to volunteer at a high school in the Bronx, where she taught in a classroom for the first time and realized she was passionate about teaching. This inspired her to pursue her master’s degree in education through the five-year track at GSE, she said.
“That opportunity provided by Fordham was the catalyst for me becoming a teacher,” said Chevalier, who was accepted to the University through the Higher Education Opportunity Program.
Anti-Racism Commitment at Fordham Was ‘Life-Changing’
Chevalier said the Graduate School of Education also showed her how to put anti-racism at the forefront of her teaching pedagogy.
“It’s been life-changing to see all of my classes talk about race, especially since many of my classes are Caucasian-driven. They make sure that people who are Caucasian are recognizing the racist ideologies in our society and advocating against them by being anti-racist,” Chevalier said.
A decade from now, Chevalier said she wants to start a nonprofit that provides early internship and college access for inner-city high school students, who often lack opportunities to network and explore potential career paths. For now, her goal is to stay in the Bronx and serve the community she came from.
“My ultimate goal in life is to make sure that I touch as many students as I can in a positive way, and that students remember me for my rigor, passion, empathy, and ability to connect with them as human beings,” Chevalier said. “I hope I can inspire young Black and brown girls and boys to reach their dreams and to work hard for them, no matter how difficult they are.”