Once a Panther, always a Panther.

Coral Springs Charter School alum teaches life lessons at his alma mater

News of February’s deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, sent waves of shock and terror through the community.

Just 10 minutes south of the shooting that took 17 lives, students at Coral Springs Charter School struggled to process the tragedy. The next day, many of them went to their known “safe zone” – Joey Melendez’s drama classroom.

“Students from all different class periods flooded into my room to sit in our circle on the floor and talk about what was going on and what they were feeling,” said Melendez, a Coral Springs Charter alum who is in his third year of teaching at his alma mater. “They knew they could open themselves to the most real emotions without the fear of being judged.

“My room has always been a place of comfort for them, and this time some of them began to see that everything they have learned within the past two years – about spreading less hate and more kindness – had a reason why.”

For Melendez, 26, who teaches middle school theater, high school introduction to film and American Sign Language, being an educator means much more than classroom work and textbook assignments. He aims to impart life lessons to students at a school that helped him through the most difficult moments in his own life – even after he graduated.

His students appreciate the human connection.

“He can relate to you with anything,” seventh-grader Lily Escobar said. “He’s like your best friend.”

Ninth-grader Kelly Gillan agreed. Besides the real-world lessons Melendez has conveyed, she said her life has flourished since she joined the drama club a couple years ago.

“I have so many more friends now than I ever had before,” she said. “And you can talk to him about anything.”

Read more about Mr. Melendez’s story in redefinED

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