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Years After Graduation, Why Some Parents Continue to Give

Since she was 12 years old, Leah Waxman has known she wanted to be a teacher. When she finished  sixth grade, her elementary school invited her to come back and “lend a hand” with a summer program that helped young children transition into kindergarten


For a period of time, Eric Waxman tried to talk his daughter out of pursuing a career in education.

“She was a terrific athlete,” recalls Waxman, an attorney and partner in the Private Equity group at Ares Management. “She read the sports section every day. I said, ‘Go into sports broadcasting!’ But she said, ‘Dad, I’m going to be a teacher.’ That’s when I knew—teaching is a calling, and it’s Leah’s.”

Since she was 12 years old, Leah Waxman has known she wanted to be a teacher. When she finished  sixth grade, her elementary school invited her to come back and “lend a hand” with a summer program that helped young children transition into kindergarten. 

“That first summer I fell in love. I did it for nine years,” she says. So when it came time for her to apply to colleges, there was no question about her plan: she would only apply to institutions that had an undergraduate school of education. At the same time, sports were still important to her. The University of Michigan’s unique combination of a pathway to teacher certification and its robust athletic program was a perfect match. 

Although Waxman and his wife, Thelma, had both attained their degrees in California, they were thrilled to see their daughter head off to the midwest. They were eager for her to expand her horizons beyond southern California, where she had been raised. They also looked forward to exploring Ann Arbor and the U-M campus themselves. Soon the family was making visits to Ann Arbor to take in football, basketball, and hockey games. 

The Waxman family
The Waxman family at Leah’s graduation

During Leah’s time at U-M, she evolved and matured, and the Waxmans were impressed by their daughter’s transformation. She pledged a sorority, made lasting friendships, and did her student teaching at King Elementary. Most notably, Leah graduated with real-life experience, and the preparation she needed to begin her career in the classroom. “She did what she wanted to do, which was leave with a credential so she could start teaching. Michigan brought out the best in her,” says Thelma Waxman. 

After graduating, Leah moved back to California, where she began teaching at Sierra Canyon School. Today, nine years later, the first students she taught are now seniors. She currently teaches sixth grade history and English. And although her own athletic career is behind her, she loves watching her students—both former and current—play sports. “Seeing them in an environment outside the classroom, in a non-academic setting, is really important because it allows you to see a different side of a kid that you might not see in the classroom every day. ”

“I love hearing her stories,” says Thelma. Like the time Leah helped a struggling student prepare for a math test. The student’s parents were in the midst of a divorce, and he had fallen behind in class. Leah worked with him one-on-one, promising that he wouldn’t have to take the unit test until he felt fully prepared. At the end of the week, not only did he ace the test, the pride he felt in the work he had put in was palpable. When Leah relayed his accomplishment to her parents—and her approach to helping him—her student’s pride became their own. “I just thought to myself, she really is a champion,” says Eric.

Another time, when her students were preparing to enact a trial in class, Leah invited her father to come in  as a guest speaker and discuss his experience in litigation. When two boys acted up, he watched in awe as Leah swiftly got them back on track. Her ability to manage the classroom amazed him.

Leah Waxman
Leah Waxman with her students

“They say success is when preparation meets opportunity, and that’s Leah,” says Thelma. “She has the passion, and she probably would have been a good teacher no matter what, but I think she’s an exceptional teacher because of her experience at Michigan.”

Since Leah was an undergraduate, the Waxmans have enthusiastically supported the Marsal School’s Fund for Excellence. They recently made a gift to the Student Mileage Reimbursement Fund, which helps cover students’ cost of transportation to student teaching placements around southeast Michigan. 

“I think if you want to have a profound impact on anyone’s life, it starts with education,” says Thelma. “We’re both the products of immigrants who came to this country not speaking the language, having nothing. My dad went on to earn a graduate degree. If you really want to make a difference in the world, it has to start with teachers and education.”

“Education is still the path to success in this country and it should be available to everyone, so we try to support it in a number of different ways,” says Eric.

Through witnessing their daughter’s experience as a student and in the classroom as a teacher, the Waxmans have come to value the Marsal School as an agent of change. 

“We’re so proud of her and her accomplishments,” says Eric. “She truly is an extraordinary teacher. She makes a difference in those kids’ lives—she’s actually making a difference where it matters. And you can see it from the kids who are coming back to visit her. There was always that teacher, all of us can remember a primary school teacher who had a significant effect on us. Leah is going to be that teacher for so many of those students and it just makes my day when I think about that.”

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