New to Collegiate School this year, Upper School English teacher Dr. Leah Sievers has been incorporating her expansive educational experiences into her English classes at Collegiate. Having heard great things about Collegiate throughout her time living in Richmond, she knew she wanted to send her two young children here. Now that they have been here for several years, she decided she would like to have the opportunity to work here as well. Sievers particularly emphasized the value of excellence as something she likes at Collegiate. In her short time here, she has noticed, “Everyone at Collegiate works so hard: the students, the faculty, the staff, the administrators, and the many parent volunteers. This collective work ethic translates to a professional environment in which excellence knows no bounds.”
Sievers grew up attending the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland, which she describes as a “formative experience.” During her time in Baltimore, she also developed a passion for swimming as a member of North Baltimore Aquatic Club (a team that has produced several Olympians, including Michael Phelps).
After high school, Sievers attended Yale University, majoring in literature while also studying world religions. A short time after, she furthered her education by obtaining a Master of Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School. Finally, to earn her PhD, she applied to graduate school for religious studies. The University of Virginia was her top choice, and not only did she get in, but she was also chosen for a highly-selective Jefferson Graduate Fellowship.
While at Yale, Sievers swam on their varsity team and led Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips (FOOT), a program in which incoming freshmen backpack on a week-long trip along the Appalachian Trail. Also during college, Sievers knew that she wanted to be a teacher, so she taught fourth grade environmental science once a week at a public elementary school in downtown New Haven. Additionally, she completed internships at the Friends School of Baltimore and Northfield Mount Hermon School. After graduating, Sievers spent two years teaching, coaching, and supervising dorms at Peddie School, a well-known independent school with impressive swimming program in New Jersey. During her span at Harvard, she worked as a hospital chaplain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
A job at the Museum of Tolerance, an educational branch of an international Jewish human rights organization, prompted Sievers to move to Los Angeles. There she managed volunteers, the museum’s child and adult education programs, and oversaw the testimony program with local Holocaust survivors. While in Los Angeles, Sievers also worked at the Skirball Cultural Center, a Jewish-focused center that provides a broad range of cultural experiences such as concerts, films, classes, galleries, and more.
After getting accepted into UVA for her doctorate, Sievers chose to live in Richmond and commute to Charlottesville. Meanwhile, she worked at VCU School of World Studies, Union Presbyterian Seminary, the Virginia Holocaust Museum, and the University of Richmond. Despite loving teaching at these various locations, she wanted to return to the private school world and teach younger students, which led her to Collegiate, a place that she now loves. She said, “Collegiate gives me the confidence to know that my students and I can fearlessly work together while pursuing individual strength and independence. Best of all, Collegiate promises me a smile every day: something funny happens in class or on the pool deck, one of my colleagues makes a witty remark, the school gathers for a celebration, yet another good soup appears at lunchtime. No wonder I look forward to going to work every day!”
Currently Sievers teaches three sections of ninth grade English and two junior/senior electives: Literature of Elegy and Redemption in the fall, and Rhetoric and Composition in the spring. With her substantial background in religious studies, Sievers enjoys incorporating her knowledge into her classes when it is appropriate, as she did with her Literature of Elegy and Redemption class this fall. Other campus contributions of hers include coaching the swim team, helping with Upper School History teacher Ashley Sipe’s advisory, advising the Harry Potter Club, working on the new senior Capstone Project, and helping with freshmen Community Engagement Week. In her free time, Sievers enjoys reading, being outdoors, and swimming competitively on Masters’ swim teams, a national adult swimming program, wherever she lives.
To both faculty and students, Sievers has been a wonderful addition to Collegiate. Maya Mehta (‘18), a member of her Rhetoric and Composition class says, “Dr. Sievers is always smiling, and it brightens the class’ mood.” Her colleague, Upper School English teacher Vlastik Svab, remarked, “Sievers and I met a year ago when our kids were playing together at the same pool/gym we belong too, and once I learned about her background, I had her come and guest lecture in my Graphic Novel class last winter about the Holocaust-themed graphic novel Maus. And that was before she even applied for the [English department] job. She has a wealth of knowledge about religion that informed our discussions of the book Maus. She’s also quite funny! I think she’s been a great addition to the English department.” Having brought a lot of knowledge and experience to Collegiate, the school is lucky to have her.
Featured image of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles courtesy of the Center, via wikimedia commons.