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Aura Cely: Breaking Out of the 'Black Box'

  • Aura Cely

LEE member Aura Cely (TFA San Antonio ’14) is a connector — of people, of resources, of ideas. She believes in the power of organizing to bridge gaps and bring neighbors together, and in making distinct resources to work in tandem and make an even greater impact.

This past summer, Aura joined the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in San Antonio as a LEE Policy & Advocacy Summer Fellow. For seven weeks, informed by her experience as an educator, she compiled research and drafted ideas to contribute to  a curriculum designed to help parents navigate the school system and make use of available resources to be stronger advocates for their children. 

“The school system can be a sort of black box for parents — this dark, mysterious space filled with people, and yet you’re not always able to find help,” Aura said. The goal of the curriculum is to make the whole system more approachable. Lessons cover topics like identity development for students of different ages, how to talk to a child in difficult times, and civic engagement, to educate parents about the difference their vote can make for schools and students.  

NCLR partners with schools and nonprofits that serve Latinx populations to put the resources they create into the hands of the communities they’re designed for. At the NCLR Education Summit, Aura saw how cross-organizational relationships between nonprofit leaders can create essential and efficient one-stop-shops for community services.

“I saw a lot of beautiful work being implemented. As an educator, it was something I had only dreamed of until I discovered it was already a reality.”

During the fellowship, she also presented to community leaders on the work NCLR has done to denounce the proposed Mexican-American studies textbook in Texas. “The book frames Chicano activism as terrorism and makes progress and identity look like a threat to America. I was born in Colombia, but I’m an American and know nothing else but this country. Living together in peace can only happen through validation of our identities and consciousness of one’s own privilege.”

Aura is currently in Atlanta on a fellowship from Montessori for All, where she’s being trained in the Montessori method. She’s accepted a position as a founding teacher at a new Montessori public charter school in San Antonio for the 2017-18 school year, and she’s excited for what the future has in store — and how LEE can help her continue to build bridges.

“I’m continually surprised by everything LEE offers. They’re doing things that other organizations aren’t doing. With them, it’s not just about moving on to the next part of your career; it’s about being involved in your community. Sometimes you can feel isolated, like the dreams you have are your own — but they’re not. It’s so advantageous to be able to connect with other people who share your vision.”