Zachary Wright '05
Teacher, Philadelphia Outstanding Teacher of the Year
- By Megan Morley Thomas
When Zachary Wright ’05 describes his UVM undergraduate experience he uses words like “transformative” and “transcendent.” His hope is that students in his twelfth-grade English and AP literature courses, many of whom come from some of Philadelphia’s tougher neighborhoods, get to enjoy a similarly powerful college experience.
“My years at UVM were extremely significant, and it remains an incredibly special place for my wife and me,” says Wright, whose spouse, Laura Salmon ’05, created an internship for students at the Vermont Respite House as an undergraduate. “The more you did, the more the school did for you. When I’d propose an idea, my professors were like, ‘Let’s go for it.’ I came away feeling that this is a place that has to be shared.”
Wright, who teaches at Mastery Charter School, one of about a dozen Mastery Charter Schools in the Philadelphia area that take over failing schools slated for closure and turn them around, decided the best way to share his alma mater was to load up an old van with eight of his students and drive eight hours to Burlington.
“They slept through New Jersey and woke up near Glens Falls, New York,” Wright recalls. “As we approached Vermont, they started seeing cows and forests for the first time and just couldn’t believe how peaceful it looked. Most of them had never been outside of Philadelphia and live in areas where hearing gunshots is normal. They were amazed to see how people could live so carefree and not have to worry about being safe.”
Wright was named 2012-13 Outstanding Teacher of the Year by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
After three years of making the trip with his senior students, Wright decided to call the UVM Admissions Office to inquire about Discovering UVM, a program assisting high school seniors from under-represented groups with their college search by exploring academic and extracurricular offerings at UVM during a two-day immersion program.
Things flowed from there. The result was the Mastery Catamount Scholarship, which allows for up to five Mastery Charter School students to attend UVM on grants, scholarships, and work-study with student loan responsibility not exceeding $5,500 per year.
“I was actually thinking about stopping the trips because I didn’t want to create dreams that weren’t possible because that would have been irresponsible of me,” says Wright. “But now with the creation of the scholarship they can live out that dream.”
Says Wright of UVM: " I wouldn’t want my kids to go anywhere unless they are loved, and UVM does the little things that will make them feel that way.”