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From the darkroom to the legislature

December 1, 2015 Xanthe Couture, Special to the ATA News

As the head of the communications technology department at Jasper Place High School, Donovan Wright extends a great deal of freedom and trust to his students. This trait is the reason why MLA Thomas Dang considers Wright to be his favourite teacher.

For Thomas Dang, Alberta’s youngest MLA, the title of favourite teacher goes to the one who bestowed on him an unbelievable amount of freedom and trust as the head of the communications technology program at Jasper Place High School. That teacher is Donovan Wright.

“He was always someone who supported me,” Dang says. “It didn’t matter if I’d made some sort of mistake or had done something wrong. Wright helped me reach my full potential in all the work I did with him.”

At 20, Dang has put a hold on his computer science studies at the University of Alberta to represent Edmonton-South West as one of 53 members of the NDP government.

Dang isn’t shy about sharing that he was a “total geek in high school.” He says that almost all his teachers made a positive impact on him, but he singles out Wright as a key influence on his education throughout high school.

“A lot of his influence was through encouraging me to go out and do what I wanted to. It was that ability to say ‘Well, why don’t you try it and find out? It’ll be a learning experience’ and then provide a little bit of guidance that I really found useful.”

In particular, Wright let Dang set up and restore his own photo developing studio within the classroom.

“They had long since stopped using film, but I love shooting film so he helped me both set up and learn how to develop film,” he says.

Wright also let Dang take a leadership role in setting up the school’s daily news program, called JPTV, as well as a program to provide lighting for the school’s shows and events. Dang feels strongly that these experiences helped him get to where he is today — the youngest serving MLA in Alberta’s history.

“These leadership opportunities shaped my teenage years in a way that has allowed me to develop into someone who goes out and says ‘I want to work hard at everything I do, and I want to work hard to help others.’”

Dang believes in making connections with teachers by finding shared interests that help students engage and excel.

“Your teachers are people, too — they have families, they have interests and they have goals and dreams. There is a very good chance that you will have a shared interest with them,” he says. “These little connections, they are what form the greatest relationships between students and teachers.”

Dang’s relationship with Wright has extended into his career. Wright helped Dang with his election campaign, and they still get together every so often to catch up, more as friends than as teacher and student.

Dang’s message to students in school today is to remember that teachers are there to impart their knowledge and help students advance themselves.

“The number of times Wright helped me is enormous,” he says. ❚

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