Through her lens

Art teacher faces obstacles with new opportunities


Grace Elder

Art teacher Cierra Means helps students with their project on Feb. 18. She often has her students participate in new and innovative projects.

Filling out the college application to be a Ball State pre-dentistry major at her parents request tore Cierra Means apart in the inside. She knew her undeniable passion for art was too strong to ignore. 

“After a semester of that, I realized I wanted to go back into art,” Means said. “So I dabbled into some classes, and then I really fell in love with teaching when I took a work study at the Indianapolis museum of art in the library.”

Since moving to SHS, Means has faced news changes and challenges, but her passion for art and teaching has been a constant comfort in a time of uncertainty. 

Means always liked art in high school, she even took summer classes so she could double up on art classes during the school year. After quitting the dentistry program, she went to Herron School of Art for three years to earn her bachelor’s degree. 

Although she always wanted art to be in her future, it wasn’t until working with kids in the Newfields studios that she knew she wanted teaching to be in her future.

“I just had so much fun with the kids and talking with them,” Means said. “There were always these outlandish things that they would say that would always be hilarious.” 

Once she came to the realization that she wanted to work with kids, she graduated with her bachelors and started teaching. Since then, she has taught almost every grade and at schools all throughout Indianapolis. 

Before coming to SHS, she held a full time position at IPS for three years teaching a day treatment program. She would teach kids with mental health disorders or children who were just getting used to being at school. 

When taking on this role it wasn’t like anything she had done before. Little did she know how impactful it could really be. 

“We had a lot of kids that just didn’t have anything,” Means said. “They had a really great cafeteria worker who would just let kids take a lot of food to take home because she knew the only time a lot of them were going to eat was at school.”

Means spent her time there not only educating, but also doing her part to help the community around her. She recalls times of food delivery during COVID-19 helping her gain a new perspective and grow her love for her job. She found it fulfilling to give back through her passion for art.

“It was really rewarding being able to give them opportunities they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise,” Means said. 

When a friend texted Means saying there was a position available at SHS, she couldn’t resist. The connection with students she was able to create while she was at IPS made leaving that much harder.  It was an opportunity to build her career while staying close to her family. 

 “I felt upset because I was going to be leaving my students at IPS,” Means said. “But, I was very excited to move on and progress in my career.”

Once she submitted her application to work at SHS, she got a call from Principal Brian Knight the next day. The day after that she was able to come in for an interview, and from that moment on she was confident her future would be at SHS. 

Art Department Chairman Bruce Thompson was able to interview her for the position as well. He finds that there was no one else more qualified than Means to take on this large role due to her educational background and history in art. 

In the first week of December, Means began teaching three different classes at SHS: photography, jewelry and intro to 3D art. Coming at the end of the semester came with many challenges like getting caught up with little time. 

 “It was hard, almost unbearably hard,” Means said. “I just wasn’t sure if it was the right decision coming at the end of the semester, there was so much to get caught up with and just trying to make it my own.”

But, Means persevered and looked at the second semester like it was a new opportunity to establish herself in the classroom. With this new beginning, she was able to set fresh procedures and routines to make it her own. 

Thompson agrees. He admires Means for her willingness to be unique and get quality work from her students with her new methods of teaching. 

Sophomore Dorrie June has experienced first hand how impactful this new style of teaching can be. Means has implemented different projects for her students to learn from with creative freedom. 

“She does a lot of the projects with us,” June said. “She gives us an example beforehand, gives us the tools and then lets us go.”

Means strives to be intentional in her teaching to help ensure that her students become “creative problem solvers.” Through her short time teaching at SHS she has learned a lot about herself and her purpose. 

“I think getting back to the passion is what this transition to teaching at Southport is helping with,” Means said. “Being able to work with kids more and seeing kids create is building that passion, like why I come here everyday, it’s helping with that.”