NRI AARTI KAUSHAL CHOPRA Candidate For South Orange County Community College Board Of Trustees
Los Angeles, September 24, 2020
For over 26 years, AARTI KAUSHAL CHOPRA have been a faculty, educator, student life coach, and grassroots organizer/activist for students, youth, and women in Irvine and Orange County.
She is running to make sure the voices of students, teachers, and the community are heard; because together we can create an exceptional higher education experience.
AARTI KAUSHAL CHOPRA sent us email, please read her biogra
For over 26 years, I have been a teacher, educator, student life coach, and grassroots activist/organizer for students, youth, and women in Irvine/OC. A former elementary special education teacher, I understand the devastating impact school closures has had on all students. As a longtime trusted advocate in my community, I remain closely connected to the ever-changing needs of vulnerable students attending community college as their only higher education option left in this ongoing pandemic.
An Irvine resident for 34+ years, I was raised in Irvine USD’s world class schools as a 1st generation Indian American woman of color raised by a single mother, and I bring a strong track record for collaborative solutions. My leadership will ensure accountability, equitable access, and sustainable budget provisions for all essential services. College campuses will reopen safely for the overall wellbeing of every student, faculty, and employee.
Ensuring that curriculum matches current social changes is also my goal, to ensure representation of all diverse student body experiences.
I am proudly endorsed by hundreds of parents, educators, faculty, elected leaders, and PAC’s from Irvine, Orange County and beyond, ensuring all stakeholders’ voices will be included for an exceptional higher educational experience.
A longtime educator and student wellness advocate, Aarti's leadership will focus on:
• • Overseeing safe reopening of Irvine Valley College, Saddleback College, and ATEP
• • Collaborating and balancing fiscal accountability and sustainability for essential services
• • Fair, equitable access for educational and/or employment opportunities for students, faculty, and employees
• • Providing overall curriculum and training that is affordable, socially and economically relevant, while retaining world-class higher education experiences.
Aarti is a mindful life coach for youth and families, a teacher and educator who has practiced and taught conscious living most of her life since childhood. In these challenging times due to the pandemic and social justice issues, students of all ages have been empowered through her “Quarantined Student Life Hacks” classes, as she has built a mindful wellness tribe around this called “SIPAAHIS”. Bringing other teachers on board, she has introduced young people to easy daily mindful practices to heal trauma, boost immunity, resilience, independence, and confidence in care-taking skills for themselves, family, and friends. Under Aarti’s guidance, students are encouraged to pursue creative learning ventures not just online but particularly outdoors in nature, while practicing safety, compassionate responsibility, and staying connected with peers and loved ones during ongoing school and college closures. She is grateful to have single-handedly built this education-based community organization and to highlight it in such challenging times, with her unique life story helping lay the strong foundation.
Aarti has powered through her own extreme hardships to hone her innate qualities as a visionary leader for students and youth, giving them a voice, a sense of belonging, and rising them in leadership as our education system’s most critical stakeholders. Her extensive work and network with wonderful local community groups, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and active engagement with community, business, and elected leaders and candidates, have been the building blocks fortifying her platform.
A British-born, first-generation, Indian American immigrant, Aarti was raised in both U.S. and India by her divorced mother and grandparents in a humble, middle-class family of doctors, engineers, scientists, and scholars. She completed most of her elementary schooling in New Delhi, immersed in her rich culture and heritage which cemented her multi-lingual and bi-cultural foundation. Despite her mother’s struggles as a survivor of domestic violence, she and her family members made numerous sacrifices to ensure the children thrived in close-knit joint, extended, and blended family units and assimilated into daily American life. Starting at age 10, Aarti became accomplished in Indian and world dances as a performing artist and dance teacher; upon returning to the U.S. at age 11, she was introduced to meditation and mindful living by her mother. Combining this inclusive upbringing with her teaching career, these factors proved a winning formula in overcoming numerous traumatic life events, going from surviving to thriving and building resilience. She now uses her story of triumph to encourage students to do the same in this increasingly challenging world.
EDUCATION AND CAREER
For Aarti’s family, education and immigrating to America was the only path to economic security and the promise of a better life. Residing in Irvine for over 34 years, she completed her education in Irvine’s world class public schools at University Park, Rancho San Joaquin Middle, and Woodbridge High School. She completed her bachelor’s degree in 1996 in Social Ecology at UC Irvine (emphasis in psychology and social behavior), and master’s degree and teaching credentials in Special Education at Chapman University. Her upbringing taught her strong family values, to have utmost respect and reverence for good teachers, being balanced and rooted in two beautiful cultures, lifelong learning, and solidified the value of hard work ethic.
Aarti’s career experience spans over 26 years in Orange County as a special education teacher, mentor, tutor (including SAT), educational therapist, advocate, consultant, and now student life coach. From 1999-2009, she taught in three local school districts as a mild-moderate special educator in both self-contained classrooms (SDC) and as a resource specialist (RSP). From 2009-2011, she was an educational therapist at UCI’s Child Development School for ADHD and Related Disorders in their day treatment program. For the last 12 years, she has focused on increasing youth academic success by improving their mental and emotional health, centered on multi-sensory and holistic approaches. In the years 2015 to 2018, she became a devoted student and proponent of Oprah Winfrey’s parenting expert, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, and was fully immersed in Dr. Shefali’s “conscious parenting” and “conscious teaching” principles. This was a game-changing period of growth for Aarti as both an educator and co-parent, inspiring her to start the journey towards eventually becoming a foster parent. She has cherished her classroom experiences teaching students with neuro-diverse learning challenges mainly from low socio-economic backgrounds, hoping to eventually return to school teaching due to pandemic-driven teacher shortages.
SOCIAL ACTIVISM AND VOTING
After the November 2016 presidential election and her own personal challenges that year, Aarti decided to venture more into grassroots community organizing for vulnerable populations of children, students, women survivors of abuse/violence, and racial and educational justice. Her doctor mother was a fierce health care advocate for her patients, and she mentored many divorced single Indian mothers under her wing. A second-generation divorcee, Aarti’s own divorce background and being a survivor of family violence finally propelled her to share her own traumatic life experiences, shaping her brave, “outlier” character and fueling her drive to help others with similar challenges. She is known in her Greater OC community to have worked tirelessly advocating for mental health and victims’ rights,
creating safe spaces for victims to build courage to share vulnerable stories, heal emotional trauma into strength, and confidently pursue more empowered life paths.
Aarti’s strong activist pedigree is evident. She was raised by her grandparents on stories of her grandmother’s and great-grandfather’s role as freedom fighters under Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent “Satyagraha” movement – the culmination of a century-long struggle for India’s independence from oppressive British colonial rule. India’s hard-won independence in August 1947 also divided the sub-continent and created present-day Pakistan, forcing her entire family to leave everything and flee, resettling as refugees in New Delhi in 1946 to an independent but traumatized India. This fateful “Partition” by the British yielded still the largest and one of the most devastating human exoduses in history. In 1984 New Delhi, she also witnessed devastating riots as a child that left an indelible impression in mind about the inter-generational impact of political violence-based trauma.
Aarti has prioritized educating about the oppressive divide-and-conquer remnants of the British “Raj” (colonial rule) that still haunt citizens and immigrants from the Indian sub-continent (South Asia), and still affect impressionable younger generations even today. Her personal knowledge, background, and training in collaborative problem solving techniques has uniquely-positioned her to address recent socio-political developments, with an ability to objectively negotiate diplomatic and mutually beneficial outcomes with focus on civility.
Her commitment to voting in each election was inspired by 3-generations of voters in her family, setting forth a model example of good American citizenship. Special memories etched in her mind are the extreme pride her grandparents felt upon taking the oath to become U.S. citizens, and when they diligently exercised their right and duty to vote in every single presidential election. This same call to duty (dharma) to vote is being brought by Aarti’s campaign to energize and encourage registered voters – young, old, and in between – to be civically engaged at all levels.
GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Aarti strongly believes the combination of literacy, vocational skills and workforce training, STEAM opportunities, entrepreneurial ventures, and active civic engagement are all equalizers required to create successful economic opportunities to level the field – especially for vulnerable and marginalized populations. From 2008-2018, she did special needs’ advocacy and ran support groups with various ADHD, dyslexia, and autism organizations, while raising awareness about “1-in-5” students having invisible learning disabilities. December 2016 to April 2018 was dedicated to creating a “Taboo Topics’ Facebook talk show, raising awareness of the following: removing stigma of disabilities and mental health, the school-to-prison pipeline, OC Women’s March, gun violence prevention, protests for homeless housing, and local city council candidate interviews. Taboo Topics helped her become an increasingly informed and engaged activist in many local campaigns as a strong voice raising awareness for social justice.
From April to June 2019, Aarti traveled with various activist groups to Sacramento to lobby for gun safety, gun violence prevention, mental health legislation, affordable housing, and increasing federal special education funding. In May, she helped facilitate a meeting between a Democratic female presidential candidate and Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah - one of the politically-astute Indian American stalwarts and humanitarians in the U.S. since the 1950’s. She attended state party conventions in San Francisco and Long Beach, connecting with many Asian American elected leaders at all levels and has been involved in numerous public issue campaigns shaping local and state policies. Her positive impact has been felt in many organizations that champion equality and social justice such as Be The Cause; with mental health as her priority, supporting the advocacy work of local groups like Irvine Prevention Coalition (IPC) and those doing food drives is important to her. Aarti is also a champion of sensible climate action plans that reduce the carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels towards more sustainable energy forms; she also leads a compassionate vegan lifestyle and advocates against animal cruelty.
2020 HONORS: STORY CORPS & CITY COMMISSIONER APPOINTMENTS
Even during the ongoing pandemic, Aarti has shown to be a highly effective, out-of-the-box thinker with a successful track record of creative problem solving. Her unifying leadership approach towards grassroots coalition-building assures that student social justice and employment issues will be a laser focus, solidified by the following recent honorable recognition:
• • January – one of only seven residents interviewed for “STORYCORPS – Stories From the OC”, by prominent female Haitian American activist, Guerline Josef. Interview is nationally archived forever in the U.S. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
• • February – Honorable Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox made Aarti her newest city commissioner to the “Child Care Committee”, which then appointed her as liaison to the “ICYFAC – Irvine Children, Youth, and Families Advisory Council”. These two important city commission appointments have cemented her dedication to issues and policies improving the lives of young people in OC and beyond.
GANDHI PEACE MARCH AND UNITY RALLY
In June 2020, during the heart of the lockdown and immediately following George Floyd’s death by police, Aarti helped organize a ground-breaking event in Irvine. Along with two prominent Indian American community leaders, they held a “Gandhi Peace March and Unity Rally” with the goal of showing support for black lives lost to injustice. Powerful speakers, including youth, extolled the teachings from the most prominent civil rights’ leaders – Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela – of nonviolent passive resistance against systematic racism, oppressive brutality, and towards freedom. Despite opposition and organizational challenges due to city closures, this socially distanced event was well-attended by over 60 enthusiastic, committed peace and unity marchers and city council members, and was endorsed by both the city and Irvine Police Department.
This event became an unprecedented game-changer, helping Indian Americans open up difficult conversations around racial tensions and law enforcement brutality against black people and marginalized people of color. It enabled Aarti to build alliances with the esteemed speakers who represent different community organizations. The pastor from OC’s second largest black church was the guest of honor, who became an ardent supporter of her grassroots organizing efforts as a woman of color. Together with a coalition of other leaders, she is committed to efforts at justice through voter empowerment on issues faced by immigrants, communities of color, women, and most of all, youth.
The Gandhi Peace March and Unity Rally also led to Aarti being recently appointed to the “Diversity Council” by the campaign of party-endorsed candidate Lauren Johnson-Norris for Irvine City Council.
COMMUNITY AND EDUCATION INITIATIVES
• • As city commissioner for the 2 children and youth-centric committees, Aarti held a series of online forums during school closures in April-May to hear students, parents, teachers’ concerns about the change in Irvine Unified School District policy from grades to credit/no credit (spring 2020 semester).
• Currently supporting the following initiatives: o additional COVID-mental health outreach for vulnerable students of all ages served by the district
o increased student representation through dedicated public comment time in meetings and educational committee appointments
o adoption of history/ethnic studies curriculum with appropriate representation for entire student body
o factual education about misappropriated symbols used to target groups for hate crimes
o connect students with internships and skills-based employment opportunities in chosen field of study before they graduate
o ensure faculty and school employees get reasonable living wages and benefits
• Volunteers at non-profit food drives at community centers for those experiencing COVID-related hardship.
CANDIDATE IN 2020 ELECTIONS
Aarti believes all levels of government must shift focus from divisiveness to collaborative, visionary leadership, sound legislation and policies, incorporate voices of all citizens/stakeholders, and remove voter suppression through increased registration and education – because she knows representation matters. To evolve these beliefs into practice, she decided to run as a local election candidate in the March Primary for Central Committee of the OC Democratic Party to represent the 74th Assembly District. She was the only Asian American immigrant woman in the county’s most competitive central committee race, but as a new, unknown candidate, she secured an impressive 6061 votes. This was also double the votes received compared to candidates with longtime party involvement and Members’ of Congress endorsements. Clearly, Irvine and Coastal OC Democratic voters related to her platform of student mental health and positive representation for the region’s vastly diverse residents.
Immediately after this election run, COVID-19 entirely upended the lives and traditional educational experiences of all K-12 and college students, forcing unprecedented and prolonged institutional closures. As schools and colleges remain online awaiting safe reopening, Aarti is prioritizing her commitment to empower all students, faculty, and employees for their total wellbeing, to ensure equitable educational access and training using all modalities and encourage other viable career paths towards economic stability.
Currently, Aarti has qualified on the Nov. 3rd presidential election ballot for the South Orange County Community College District, Trustee Area 1 race. SOCCCD includes Irvine Valley College, Saddleback College, and ATEP in Tustin Legacy; Trustee Area 1 represents most of Irvine. In these challenging times, community colleges increasingly offer exceptional possibilities for a world-class higher education experience. Aarti’s youth-powered campaign has energized and resonated with voters from diverse ages, backgrounds, and affiliations, presenting her pragmatic solution-generating prowess and solid, inclusive leadership to these three institutions.