Desiree Cera is one of GITC’s new Teaching Angels. She is both a Behavioral Interventionist in the STARS Program for San Diego Unified, and a GITC Faculty Trainer for teachers from San Diego who meet after school at Wegeforth Elementary in Serra Mesa. Desiree’s heart has always been in serving people, especially children.
Desiree began her career in education assisting kids with emotional disturbance and was soon noticed for her quality of character and her skill set. She was then recruited as an itinerant behavioral interventionist by the San Diego School District’s Behavioral Support Department. Her job consisted of moving from school to school to support the teachers. In the process, Desiree learned different teaching styles and modalities. She gained an in-depth understanding of effective teaching strategies and classroom management to make learning accessible to all children including those who are severely affected by Autism and a wide range of other conditions.
When the Department reorganized again, they reassigned Desiree to the STARS Program: Successful Transitions Achieved through Responsive Support. STARS is an alternative special education program in specialized settings and is located on five different campuses in our home district. STARS students are considered challenged but college-bound. From her cumulative experiences, Desiree was well-equipped to bridge the gap between classroom instruction and the needs of these high functioning but highly sensitive and potentially volatile students. She can quickly identify and analyse their needs and create a plan to meet those needs within the scope of the available resources.
As is true for most special educators working with moderate to severely affected students, Desiree’s job has long been difficult and physically dangerous, but she has never given up. Like her SpEd colleagues, she serves as the buffer between students in crisis and those around them, containing, redirecting, calming, channeling and modulating student behavior in ways to keep students safe. This is courageous work.
Throughout her journey, music has been an important part of Desiree’s personal life. “Music has carried me through the weight of the emotional stressers of my job. After work I sometimes feel drained and empty. That’s when I pick up my guitar and sing. I literally strum my way back to energy. Then I am able to return to work refreshed.”
The inclusion of GITC ukulele has been life-changing for Desiree. It gives her context, daily, to express who she is more fully as she teaches members of the faculty and also implements the tools she has learned in her work with students. Desiree shared with us how GITC has allowed her to deeply integrate her personal creativity and musical life more into her work as an educator. The organization supports her to make meaningful connections between music and meeting the needs of both children and colleagues. She explained, “Everything I do now is under one umbrella - the business side, the creative side and the nurturing side.”
She finds the work of training other teachers after school exceptionally rewarding. "It's humbling and inspiring to support these amazing educators to cultivate their own musicality and bring it into their classrooms. As they begin to make connections between singing, playing ukulele and guitar, writing lyrics, and working meaningfully with their students, I feel immensely excited to share their discoveries and to guide them on this journey."
Desiree believes strongly that Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom offers a succinct solution to meet the needs of children. “GITC is simple, adaptable, and supports teachers and students.” She carries her ukulele everywhere on campus and feels equipped to respond to emerging situations through music as they occur. As a result, she is seeing daily miracles that illustrate just how profoundly and immediately music can address every need within a dynamic student body such as the one at Wegeforth.
Over the span of just two and a half days in the past week, she has seen music make a crucial difference in a crisis intervention, a literacy lesson, and as a de-escalation strategy for aggressive behavior. In one instance, Desiree had shared singing and strumming ukulele with a socially isolated child. This girl discovered that she felt so passionate about playing and singing that she actually initiated social contact through music with a younger student who she found alone in tears. Bending down to be with this little one, she made up a song on the spot to soothe her - a first and very remarkable act of creative compassion for this student. Music became her bridge to others.
On another day, Desiree inserted ukulele and songwriting into her work with one of her students, George. In a group, George and some other students rewrote Woody Guthrie’s classic love song to America, “This Land is Your Land” into “This Class is Our Class.” George, who is working on communication and social skills, was suddenly uncorked! Through the compelling melody and rhythm, he found himself a capable and confident lyricist. This breakthrough gave his self esteem and verbal skills a tremendous boost. Here he is conversing with her about his experience. We share this video with permission from his family.
Desiree brings so many great gifts to the work we are doing here at Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom. She leads with her heart and follows with her incredible mind. She teaches both children and educators how to sing down obstacles and strum up bridges with music and hope, friendship and learning. She leads us all across- special learners, teachers, faculty and community members, too. Desiree Cera is inspired and she is an inspiration to all who meet her. We welcome her wholeheartedly to our ever-expanding musical family and look forward to a long and fulfilling relationship!
Written by Gail Wingfield
Written by Sarah Cusey, GITC Programs Coordinator