Sierra Rivers

Sierra Rivers

Program / Year

Master of Arts in Teaching ’18
Elementary Education with ESOL


Bellingham, WA

What led you to enroll at Lewis and Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling?

Lewis & Clark has an incredible reputation for preparing its candidates to teach using social justice approaches that make our work in our classrooms equitable. I was motivated to develop my skills as a teacher through this lens.

Who or what inspired you to pursue your chosen field of study?

I want to be a teacher that creates a safe yet challenging space to foster a classroom community where students believe in their potential to impact the world. No singular event inspired me to enter this field, rather 8 years of experience working with youth has shown me that I have a heart and desire to help kids see their potential and harness their creativity.

What does social justice mean to you?

I believe social justice is the process of making practices within our society equitable between individuals and within diverse communities.

How do you hope to apply your social justice education in your chosen career?

As a teacher I plan to engage my students in place based curriculum that critically looks at alternative narratives within our society. I will expose students to books that showcase perspectives not commonly discussed and that reflect the reality of our student body more accurately. I will facilitate discussions which allow students to reflect on questionable practices. I will teach students generative listening techniques so that they can learn to respectfully disagree and have a discussion with someone who has a conflicting perspective. I will help ELLs and students with low SES access an education which can help them achieve professional success to elevate their SES. In these ways I will continue to fight for Social Justice by developing a generation of students that can critically analyze and reconstruct our broken systems.

Where have you been working/interning as a student, and what does that work entail?

I have been working in a 5th grade classroom in the David Douglas School District at Ventura Park Elementary. My work within the classroom involves using systematic ELD (english language development) to help scaffold instruction so that the ELL students in our school can access the content being learned while developing their English skills. I infuse my lessons with social justice concepts by making material critically relevant to students in their surroundings, as well as by bringing in mindfulness and restorative justice practices to help students learn important social emotional skills.

What is the most fun part of your program?

The best part of the program is the community that you develop within your small cohort. I feel like my peers are my family and I am excited to go into my career knowing that I have a community of folks to lean on and collaborate with.

What is the hardest part of your program?

Our program is condensed into one year, therefore the hardest part of the program is organizing your time and staying on track. This program requires your entire focus and dedication and candidates need to go into it aware of the sacrifices they may need to make to their daily life and schedule. In the end it is well worth it!

How would you describe your graduate school experience in one sentence?

Intellectually playful while critically engaging you to confront social prejudice and injustice.

Who has been your most influential professor, and why?

Linda Griffin has been my most influential professor. She demonstrates social justice teaching strategies in everything she does. She models it within her own teaching, articulates her purpose, intentionally plans her lessons to build and scaffold our learning, uses every minute of our time effectively and makes herself available to help us at all times. Dr. Linda Griffin is someone I hope to know and keep in touch with as a professional for a very long time.

What is a unique perspective you bring to your cohort?

As a SUN representative I help inform our cohort about campus and community events.

What career will you be pursuing after graduation? Did you intend for this to be your career path when you enrolled?

I will pursue a career in Elementary Teaching within the intermediate grade band (3-5). I intended this when I entered the program and my love and appreciation for this profession has only grown stronger in this process.

Describe an "ah-ha" or "right-turn" moment you have experienced here - a time when your perspective, opinion, outlook, or goals changed suddenly due to a specific experience.

A pivotal moment for me was a time when our program took a tour of Portland’s racist history. The tour itself was controversial, but a man who had been detained as a young boy in a Japanese-American internment camp spoke about his experience being held in the Expo center for 5 months before moving to an internment camp. His narrative was pivotal because it woke me up to the many ways that I am blind to injustice around me. It reminded me to continue to search for professional development opportunities and social justice communities that can help me continue to learn about the stories not often told within our society.

What do you think of Portland?

I moved to Portland for this program and have felt right at home. I appreciate many of the things Portland is trying to do and focus on within their education system, while simultaneously feeling deeply concerned by the severe gentrification that is impacting my student body and forcing low income families to move further east. I’m concerned about the Portland Bubble and the echo chamber that it is for progressive white liberals.