This month, the Los Angeles Times profiled Mel Feuer, my grandfather and a lifelong educator, who at 92 still volunteers as a teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District. I wanted to offer my own thoughts and reflections on what Grandpa Mel taught me about the meaning of education.
Some of my favorite (and most important) childhood moments happened during Community Circle, a special program at Castle Heights Elementary. Every week, “Mr. Mel” came in to lead a session about—I don’t know how else to describe it—being a good human being.
We students would role-play scenarios—Mr. Mel always called them “dilemmas”—that would test our character, situations with no right answer. What if you walked into the candy store and there was no clerk… could you just take a candy bar and leave money on the counter? What if your best friend was bullying someone you didn’t like very much… what should you do? On paper, Community Circle sounds a bit like one of those corny programs that fifth graders wouldn’t enjoy very much, but Community Circle was the highlight of the week for everyone in the class. My teacher used to joke (half seriously) that Mr. Mel was the only person on the planet capable of engaging thirty youngsters for an hour.
Mr. Mel also happens to be my grandfather, and this year will mark his 25th year of Community Circle. Before that, he was a teacher and principal in San Bernardino for thirty years. To me, he is the embodiment of strength and courage: while I spent my twenty-first birthday in college, my grandfather spent his in a German prisoner of war camp, after his B-24 was shot down over France. When he returns to Castle Heights Elementary in the fall, I’ll bet he’ll be the only 92-year-old teaching a class in Los Angeles Unified.
Steve Lopez at the Los Angeles Times just wrote a beautiful profile of Grandpa Mel and his work in LAUSD: “WWII vet’s rap sessions connect with fifth-graders.” Steve captures the most important part of Community Circle, which I didn’t realize until many years later: Community Circle isn’t just about building character, it’s about building self-confidence, self-worth, and responsibility. Mr. Mel would often have us repeat “I am somebody” until he felt we said it with enough conviction.
Grandpa Mel’s teaching shaped me as a child.
And he’s had a big influence on our work at Panorama Education. He’s shown us how much about a great education goes beyond reading and math, and how important it is for every student to think about themselves as capable of learning, growing, and of being a kind and generous person.