In a time when being a proud Jew is especially important, Leah Wright leads the way in directions she never thought she would.
Wright, 38, lives in Haverford with her husband, Timothy Wright, and their daughter, Isadora. Wright also has two adult children who are part of her blended family. Monday through Friday, Wright teaches environmental science in Philadelphia.
But Wright doesn’t leave education behind when the final bell rings. Outside of her environmental science classroom, she’s the program director for The Jewish Children’s Folkshul & Adult Community, a secular humanistic Jewish community that focuses on social justice and human responsibility.
Her daughter also attends Folkshul.
“It’s not just the Diaspora, it’s not just the stories of the Torah, it’s talking about Jews’ place in the world,” Wright said.
Wright, a Folkshul alumna herself, said that through the program, she learned about how Jews of all sects and practices have been instrumental in life and the development and betterment of society.
“It gave me an expectation that I would continue that legacy and my life of being a Jew that makes the world a better place — because that’s what we do,” Wright said.
Folkshul offers Sunday school programming from September through May along with weekly classes for kids in kindergarten through ninth grade. Graduates in grades 10 through 12 can serve as paid classroom assistants, which is what Wright did. Folkshul also offers community activities for adults and life cycle ceremonies.
“It (Folkshul) is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s welcoming, it’s joyful, it’s tolerant — the people really share common goals and common values,” Wright said.
Today, Wright takes pride in her role as an educator, but that wasn’t always the direction she planned.
Growing up, Wright wanted to become a trial attorney. But as an undergraduate at Temple University, one of her professors pushed her to start earning her master’s degree in education.
While Wright initially stopped her master’s program when she graduated from her undergraduate studies, her passion for learning lingered and she finished the program later.
“As an adult, I realized that the big things that I’m naturally drawn to are things where you learn,” Wright said. “The thing I enjoy the most about being in education is that it’s constantly a learning process.”
In her near decade of teaching, the profession has given her valuable insights into the classroom and working with students.
“Don’t take anything personally — it has nothing to do with you, you should always admit it when you’re wrong and it’s good to say, ‘I don’t know, but let me find out’,” Wright said.
Another important aspect of teaching, according to Wright, is to show vulnerability.
Kids and people, in general, have boundless love and boundless empathy if you cultivate it, according to Wright. This philosophy has led her to form lasting relationships with the kids by showing that she’s happy to see them and trying to understand where they’re coming from.
The relationships are part of what Wright cherishes in the school and the shul, her favorite part of both is getting to know the community, kids and adults.
Teaching has also taught Wright to expect the best from and see the good in people.
“People tend to rise to the occasion,” Wright said. “If I say to one of my students or one of my assistants that I only think they can do this much, then that’s all they’ll do, but if I say, you know, ‘You’re capable of this’ or ‘Oh, I think only you can do this.’ it provides a motivation because they want to meet my expectations.”