South Mississippi Strong: Harrison Co. teacher uses her own story of loss and perseverance to inspire students

Harrison Co. teacher uses her own story of loss, perseverance to inspire students

HARRISON CO., Miss. (WLOX) - Most of us can recall our favorite teacher. For many students at Harrison Central, that teacher is Jessica Richards.

The U.S. history teacher has won the hearts of current, past and even future students. Her bold looks challenge the status quo, and that’s just how she likes it.

Through her own story, she’s found a unique motivation to truly inspire others.

She isn’t your every day history teacher. Her lessons extend far beyond the pages of a textbook and into the hearts of students. Being a teacher is one of her childhood dreams, a chance to follow in the footsteps of her mother. But she almost chose a different path.

“I remember when I was in high school, I would tell people, ‘Oh I want to be a teacher,’ and they would be like, ‘Oof, why?’" said Richards. “So instead of pursuing my dream, I went to law school but I knew it wasn’t my true calling.”

She found her true calling - just as she knew she would - in teaching.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” said Richards. “I love teaching. It’s who I am. I’m a teacher.”

And her students love her. They’ve become so close to her, they call her mom.

She always make you feel like you’re her kid, and she’ll always be there for you no matter what. She’s like another mom," said student Tommy Strickland.

“She treats you as her own, not as a student," said student Maddie Dedual. “She treats you like you’re her own kid or something.”

It’s hard for Richards to stick to the four walls of a classroom. Her wanderlust keeps her on the go.

“I love to learn about different cultures and people,” said Richards.

That’s the experience Richards wanted to share with her students. She brings history alive by leading international educational tours, taking her students all around the globe to places like Spain, Austria, and France.

“To teach about the Treaty of Versailles ending the great war, World War One, but then taking kids to the Palace of Versailles and they get to go into the hall of mirrors, its life changing for kids,” she said.

“I’ve traveled to places like Mexico, but I never traveled to Europe, and that was crazy," said student Haley Owens, who has been on an overseas trip with Richards. “She introduced a lot of stuff to me that I thought I wouldn’t like.”

When Richards isn’t teaching or exploring, she’s YouTubing. Her channel wigsandwanderlust has more than 25,000 followers, and her videos have gained her nearly 2 million views. Many of her videos are reviews of wigs; in fact, you might consider her a wig connoisseur.

She’s collected more than 400 wigs, and you never know which one she’ll wear next.

“I’ll be in the middle of a lecture and I’ll be blonde, and after we take our break, I’ll come up and I’ll have red hair,” she laughed.

But for Richards, the channel is about more than wig reviews. She credits it with helping to bring her out of a dark place.

“The only thing that I want to be more than a teacher is a mom. Because I know how it feels to love children that I didn’t birth so I can only imagine what motherhood would be like," she said. “So I was pregnant, and I miscarried on July 4th. And that was back in 2011 and I remember just feeling so ugh.”

Every July 4th since then was full of pain for Richards. It became a day she dreaded. Until July 4th of 2018, when she picked up a camera and turned to YouTube to reclaim the day.

“This YouTube is bigger than, ‘Oh you were sad,’" she said. “So take the day back. It’s a way to help other people overcome their July 4ths if that makes sense.”

It’s a message she spreads not only online but also right here in her classroom, room 118, a room where students know they have someone they can rely on to get through any July 4th that comes their way.

“I think that’s why I haven’t been blessed with children yet, because I am like a school mom to so many kids. I love them and I know they love me,” said Richards.

Ms. Richards was recently nominated for a Life Changer of the Year award. The national program recognizes K-12 school employees who make a positive difference in the lives of students. The grand prize winner will share a $10,000 award with their school. The community can show their support by visiting the Life Changer website.

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