Alumni On Campus: Jaleesa Arias ’07

August 23, 2023

By Kimberly Banti

Internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami wrote in his 2007 memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “The most important thing we learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.”

This insight isn’t lost on CWA kindergarten teacher Jaleesa (Robinson) Arias, who happened to graduate from the Upper School that same year, having experienced all three divisions since becoming a Tarrier in fifth grade. While citing the culture of learning on campus as being a driving force in her life, Mrs. Arias particularly cherishes memories and lessons from her experiences off campus, in less traditionally academic settings with classmates and teachers—traveling across the world on international trips or exploring our own backyard on Outdoor Ed. 

Graduating from California Lutheran University with a bachelor’s degree in multimedia and earning a master’s degree in education from Moreland University with a focus on early childhood education, Mrs. Arias rejoined CWA last year as a kindergarten teacher in the Lower School. Below, she shares her insights on how CWA inspired her to become a lifelong learner and what it means to her to teach—and parent—future generations of Tarriers. 

How was your love of learning fostered during your time as a student at CWA?

I love that CWA has always had a focus on experiential education. The moments that stand out to me are those that happened away from campus exploring a new country, hiking with my classmates and teachers, or whitewater rafting down the Nisqually River. CWA was a safe place to try new things and a place where learning was a cool thing to do. I have a longing desire to continue to grow and learn, and I believe this is due to my positive experience with learning here at CWA. I hope to provide an encouraging experience for all my students, as I believe it to be one of the best gifts I ever received! 

What sparked your interest in teaching? Were any of your CWA teachers an inspiration for you to enter the field? 

My interest in teaching started after I had my first child five and a half years ago. I wanted to have a positive impact on his generation, and what better way than to teach? 

My ninth and eleventh grade English teacher, Candance McClelland-Fieler, is a teacher I will never forget. She had a way of connecting with us students and making sure we all felt seen and heard, which—during that influential time in my life—was powerful. As an adult, I understand now how capable and thoughtful children truly are, and I want to empower them to take charge of their learning here and now and as lifelong learners. 

What do you enjoy most about teaching kindergartners? 

Kindergartners are excited and passionate about so many topics, and for many of them, this is their first time experiencing so many new things. It’s incredible sharing that excitement with them every day, whether it be forming a hypothesis on water levels in the creek during forest time or hearing Assistant Teacher Mollie Keenan share her Snapple fact each day at lunch. There is a never-ending curiosity, and kindergartners take the lead in their learning! Their creativity is inspiring. For instance, while learning about money in math, we made and flew an airplane to Florida with a captain, a flight crew, and a ticket agent, and they made all the tickets, snacks, and rules. Kindergartners indeed are Tarriers, and they model joyful learning to the fullest!

What makes teaching at your alma mater so special for you?

A few years ago, I hosted an international student at CWA for two years. Being back on campus with him for events, I always felt so happy, and it just felt right. I realized I wasn’t ready to be done with CWA. Fast forward a few years, and after going back to school to pursue a degree in education, I ended up back where I fell in love with learning. Now that I am an employee here, I feel at home and am proud to be back and part of this incredible community. 

How is it special for you to see your children experience a CWA education? Do they enjoy knowing that they are attending the same school as their mom?

My children, Judah ’36 and Violet ’38, are so young and just starting out on their learning journey. I feel full of anticipation and excitement knowing about all of the adventures and learning ahead! For now, I think my children enjoy being at the same school as their mom.