Jessica Richards has two major addictions — but she is fighting neither of them.
First, there’s her insatiable desire to travel.
“I have extreme wanderlust, and my goal is to visit everywhere and meet everyone,” says the teacher at Harrison Central High School, where she has taught U.S. history for eight years.
Independently, she’s ventured to Japan, Canada, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Portugal, Mexico and the Philippines. As a teacher, she’s led numerous trips abroad, with more than 100 young people participating and many going on to study overseas while crediting her with their fondness for travel and history.
“I love to give my students the opportunity to see, taste, smell, and hear different moments in history that are covered in my classroom,” Richards says. “Because of this, I have led international educational tours to Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, The Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, Poland and Hawaii.” This summer, she will take a group to Spain, and a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii is planned for 2020.
Needing a travel-friendly hair solution led to Richards’ second addiction. Twenty countries and 147 hairpieces later, she is fully hooked on wigs. On her YouTube channel, wigsandwanderlust, the teacher wears dozens of looks — from trendy, long hair in a rainbow of colors to curly, pixie and bobbed styles. Richards says she launched the channel in on July 4, 2018, to help alleviate the pain and anxiety she felt due to a miscarriage, which occurred on that day in 2011.
“Starting my YouTube Channel was the best decision of my life!” she says. “In less than a year, I now feel like I have over 12,000 friends all over the world.”
While Richards may not have children of her own, she says more than 1,800 young people call her “mom.”
“My students know that I love them; I tell them daily,” the Gautier native adds. “God could have picked me to do anything, but I am so blessed he picked me to teach.”
Despite knowing that she wanted to be an educator from a young age, Richards says her passion was met with negativity. Her plan after high school graduation was to eventually attend law school, but while visiting her mother’s classroom in 2007, she embraced her calling. Richards’s mother has been a special education for over 30 years.
“I fell in love with the relationship that my mother formed with her students,” Richards says. “At this moment, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in teaching.” Richards went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Central Florida in social science education.
In her career, Richards says she strives to combine her range of experience with her ability to be a caring, enthusiastic and intelligent teacher — and continue making a positive contribution to the community.
“I love to make history come alive for my students,” Richards says. “I do not use a textbook in my classroom because I love to teach history from a multitude of perspectives.”
With the wisdom that she’s gained from traveling and studying the past, Richards urges others to live like they only have today: Eat the sushi. Visit somewhere they’ve never been. Get the bangs.
“For so long, I made decisions based upon what others thought,” she says. “Had I lived for me, I would have saved myself so much time and money. Invest in yourself; fall in love with yourself. I didn’t know how much I didn’t love myself until I fell in love with myself.”