2013-06-20 / Schools

Woodshop teacher crafted good pupils

By Anna Bitong


FILLING A NICHE—Tom Wrigley, who retires this year, taught science and woodshop at Conejo Valley High School for more than three decades. Principal Martin Manzer says Wrigley had the ability to connect with the students.“He built trust with them. Students felt they could confide in him.” 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers FILLING A NICHE—Tom Wrigley, who retires this year, taught science and woodshop at Conejo Valley High School for more than three decades. Principal Martin Manzer says Wrigley had the ability to connect with the students.“He built trust with them. Students felt they could confide in him.” RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Conejo Valley High School teacher Tom Wrigley had a gift for motivating at-risk youths, a task that stumped some of his colleagues.

He had a simple message for students: “Try to do the best you can,” said Wrigley, who taught science and woodshop for 33 years before retiring this spring. “If you want to get ahead in this world, you have to get a good education and stay away from drugs.”

CVHS Principal Martin Manzer, who has known Wrigley for 13 years, said the teacher was an unofficial counselor who frequently advised students at the alternative high school.

“He has a remarkable ability to connect with students that the rest of the staff had a difficult time (reaching),” Manzer said. “That was his niche. Those students that a lot of people were struggling to have a connection with. He built trust with them. Students felt they could confide in him.”

Wrigley forged the connections by respecting the privacy of students, the principal said. They may have also related to the teacher’s own personality.

“He is very reserved. Sometimes the quieter, hard-to-reach students found somebody they could connect with (in him). They knew that whatever they spoke about with him was going to be private,” Manzer said.

Wrigley attended Moorpark College and San Diego State University before earning his teaching credential from California Lutheran University. He taught at Newbury Park High School for four years and moved to Conejo Valley High in 1980.

The teacher enjoys science and had planned to be a medical technician before he chose his career as an educator.

He tried to get students interested in the subject by keeping fish tanks in his classroom and linking science to occurrences in everyday life.

Erik Ehlert, who will graduate this summer, was in Wrigley’s science class for one year and took his woodshop course the next two years. He said the teacher gave students one-onone attention and helped them do their best.

“He’s very encouraging,” said Ehlert, who plans to attend Moorpark College and transfer to a four-year university to study computer programming and software design.

The 18-year-old initiated conversation with the teacher in science class and the two soon became friends. On some days they would have lunch together on campus.

“We talked about a lot of things, life issues and small talk,” Ehlert said.

Manzer said that when students can connect with their teachers they are more motivated to succeed in school. In that way, Wrigley contributed to the success of many CVHS graduates.

“Any time a student is feeling they have a connection (with a teacher) they’re more likely to keep coming to school,” the principal said. “He helped a lot of students meet their graduation requirements, stay on track and see the big picture. (His focus) wasn’t just what was happening in the classroom. It was helping the whole student.”

Wrigley, a resident of Westlake Village, said the highlight of his career has been seeing his students graduate.

Every year he lined up the chairs for the June ceremony and watched with pride as students received their diplomas.

“(It is inspiring) to see the students come back and see them successful. That’s rewarding,” he said.

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