PERSIST – Personal Initiative and Social Transformation – is a program at Berkeley City College that acts as a gateway toward achievable workforce preparedness and knowledge-based careers. Students in PERSIST identify and focus on an issue vital to their living and learning environment, working in teams on a semester-long project, gaining academic skills as well as insight on the problems facing their communities. This learning cohort approach acknowledges, even draws on, the students’ personal and academic experiences that often hinders their ability to succeed. Different learning styles are identified as strengths, and PERSIST students use them to develop communication and leadership skills while acquiring math, writing and critical thinking skills crucial to a certificate program or degree.
PERSIST began with the efforts of concerned instructors to create a learning cohort for Basic Skills students. The initial effort, called Foundations, began in Spring 2008, with instructors from Math, English and Counseling meeting once a week to discuss the progress of the cohort, individual students’ performance and issues outside the classroom that had possible effects on these learners. Early on, discussions often focused on our own awareness of teaching styles. Midway through that semester, we heard a Staff Development Day presentation by Diego Navarro, laying out the learning cohort approach of Cabrillo College’s Academy for College Excellence (ACE – formerly Digital Bridge Academy). The three instructors of Foundations, along with English chair Jenny Lowood, signed up for DBA’s weeklong Faculty Experiential Leadership Institute in June 2008. BCC’s own Nola Hadley Torres and Katie Koelle had preceded us in this transformative instructor’s experience.