Rethinking Schools recently caught up with our new Executive Director, Cierra Kaler-Jones. Learn a little about her below and join us tomorrow, Wednesday, May 31st for a virtual meet-and-greet.
What sparked your commitment to education justice?
When I was in high school, state-wide budget cuts led my school district to put the arts programs on the board of education’s list for elimination. As I watched the board meetings and news coverage, I organized with my peers, teacher allies, and community members to write letters, create a social media campaign, and share testimonies at board meetings to pressure the board to reinstate the arts programs. While we successfully won our campaign to save the arts programs, I started to question why the arts were the first to be cut. From there, my friends and I started offering free arts lessons to elementary school students in our commuinty at a local dance studio, and I realized the power of the both/and strategy – fighting for educational institutions to provide access to a holistic education and forging our own community spaces. This experience led me to become a dance teacher, in which I strive to support young people in telling stories through movement.
How did you get introduced to Rethinking Schools?
When I was in graduate school, one of my professors shared Rethinking Schools magazine with the class and I was immediately drawn to the vivid artwork and rich storytelling. I had never seen anything like it before and I was enthralled. When I was a fellow with Communities for Just Schools Fund and Teaching for Change, I wrote a review of Monique Couvson’s Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues: Liberatory Education for Black and Brown Girls for the resources section of the magazine. Seeing my words in print transformed me. Rethinking Schools reminded me that I have stories to tell, opinions to share, and a community surrounding me. I’ve been grateful to write two articles for the magazine so far and moderate webinars on Teaching for Black Lives, New Teacher Book, and Where Do We Go From Here? in partnership with the Antiracist Teaching and Learning Collective.
What’s something people might not know about you?
Outside of my work at Rethinking Schools, I dance professionally with a D.C.-based company. I performed in four shows this year. I also choreograph for performances and teach dance from kindergarten age up through adults. I’ve been dancing for 25 years and it grounds, inspires, and challenges me.
What’s your go-to pump-up song?
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston. It always makes me get up and dance!
What is your last, current, and next read?
Last – Black Girls Must Have it All by Jayne Allen
Current – Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Next – Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care by Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba
To hear more from Cierra, join us on Wednesday, May 31st. Rethinking Schools’ editor, Jesse Hagopian, will moderate a conversation with Cierra in a Q&A format.
Cierra will discuss her background, reflections from her first few months, and vision for the work ahead. After the Q&A, Cierra will share her love of storytelling by guiding attendees through a creative mini-writing workshop. The workshop will introduce a writing prompt that encourages attendees to reflect on the world they’re dreaming of and fighting for, and how they’re building it every day.
Attendees will have the opportunity to connect in small groups about their reflections. Please join us for this community celebration to commemorate this exciting time in our organization’s history.
ASL interpretation will be available.