Educator teaches more than laws of physics

Jeffrey Wright, a teacher at Male High School, used a handheld Van der Graaff generator wand in his physics class March 26 to demonstrate static electricity. Wright, a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, is known for his unique teaching style and his extra effort to answer students “big questions” about life and the universe. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Jeffrey Wright, a teacher at Male High School, used a handheld Van der Graaff generator wand in his physics class March 26 to demonstrate static electricity. Wright, a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, is known for his unique teaching style and his extra effort to answer students “big questions” about life and the universe. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Jeffrey Wright, a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, hopes his students learn more than just the laws of physics in his classroom. He hopes they also learn to care for others.

Wright is a physics teacher at Male High School and is passionate about getting his students involved in class lectures.

He is known for his unique style of teaching and genuine care for his students. It’s a teaching style that has grown from both his commitment to his calling and his experience with family hardship.

Wright’s son, Adam, now 12-years-old, was born with Joubert Syndrome. Joubert Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that affects the vermis region of the cerebellum, an area of the brain that controls body functions such as balance and movement. The teacher has taken pains to incorporate what Adam deals with into his lessons for students and their questions about the nature of the universe, our place in it and “why bad things happen to good people.”

Wright’s teaching — and Adam’s plight — have received a great deal of national attention, including an article in the New York Times, an appearance on the television show “The Doctors,” and a YouTube video that’s been viewed more than a million times.

Wright isn’t enamored with the attention; he simply wants to bring learning to life for his students.

“He teaches in a way that I’m able to grasp,” Trey Coleman, a Male High senior, said. “He’s very hands-on with all his demonstrations.”

Wright’s class is fast-paced and loaded with demonstrations such as the explanation of a Van de Graaff generator, an instrument that demonstrates static electricity. The device is best known for making your hair stand on end when touched.

In addition to teaching about velocity and vectors, Wright hopes he can impart a love of learning to his students.

“When I see a kid get excited about learning, it’s very fulfilling,” he said. “When you affect a kid’s life I think you have a little affect on the future.

Wright, a 1985 graduate of Trinity High School, views his profession not as simply a job but “more of a vocation instilled by a higher power.”

“Kids, especially this age group, are asking some pretty big questions,” Wright noted.

And some of those “big” questions prompted an unplanned lesson about eight years ago.

Wright had introduced the subject of entropy — often related to the idea of the universe in a chaotic state.

“We were looking at a picture of the milky way and discussing how big the universe is and how that how if 99.999% of the universe has no clue you exist, than what’s the point of it all?”

Wright related this idea to the fact that his students had just raised $10,000 for the Salvation Army.

“I told them that they raised that money because they cared. And isn’t that what it’s (life) all about — caring for others.”

Adam’s experiences have led his father to present a lecture about his son and Joubert Syndrome to his students each spring. The purpose of this lecture, Wright said, is to remind students that they are not the center of the universe.

“I have a perfectly intelligent kid that can’t tell his body what to do,” he said. “He knows a lot and wants to get it out but without the fine motor skills even sign language is a challenge.”

Less than 1,000 people in the world have this rare disorder, Wright said.

Though his son’s experience, Wright said, he hopes to teach that “by loving and doing things for others, you give your life purpose.”

Besides sharing Adam’s story, Wright invites his students to bring their personal stories to class.

“When I look at the lives of some of my kids, some of the things they go through — some really, really rough things — I can’t imagine dealing with that and having to be strong” at such a young age, Wright said.

Students say Wright’s style is hands-on and far-reaching.

“This is my favorite class. Some other classes give us busy work but in his class he never tells us to do something without explaining why. It’s very relatable,” Courtney Eaton, a Male High senior, said.

Camon Phillips, a junior, said Wright’s class is unlike any other he’s ever taken.

“All the interactive things we do, all the students that get to participate in demonstrations, this class revolves around the students’ needs. He helps us learn in our own individual ways,” he explained.

Wright recognizes that many of his students will not use entropy or Newton’s Third Law in their professions, but the fact that they are now thinking on a totally different level does make a difference, he believes.

“I don’t have all the answers; I’ve just got to get them to ask more questions.”

The often-viewed YouTube documentary is titled “Wright’s Law” and was made by former student Zack Conkle.

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