A Miracle on Marquez Avenue

This is FreshSchools, so why not talk about a FRESH teaching perspective?


Meet Mr. Jeffrey Lantos, a fifth grade teacher at Marquez Elementary in Pacific Palisades.

Mr. Lantos, or Mr. L, as his students call him, is an icon (read: rock star) at the school. Sometimes, even in the mire and mandates that are LAUSD, miracles happen.

It was a miracle

               In Philadelphia

                             It was a miracle, it’s true

                                                            Fifty five men who sat right here,

                                                                                   knew what they had to do.

–from Miracle in Philadelphia, music by Bill Augustine, lyrics by Jeff Lantos.

Jeff Lantos is that miracle.

Now, full disclosure. I’m a Mr. L groupie. There are many of us out there.

Way before Common Core, Mr. Lantos was teaching critical thinking and finding solutions to problems through a student’s musical core.

Much has been written about the visionary teacher who combines history with fine arts. Such a simple premise…you’ve got to wonder if teachers around the country are thinking, “darn, why didn’t I think of that?”

Let’s face it, it’s all in the execution. Mr. Lantos spent many long hours penning shows about the constitution (Miracle in Philadelphia), the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Hello Louisiana) and the burgeoning industrial revolution, specifically the mill workers’ strike in Lowell, MA. (Water & Power) and made them toe-tapping, body-swaying, history-buff-pleasing FUN!

Every morning, while students in other classes are turning in their homework assignments or sitting for roll call, Mr. L’s students gather around his piano. With the maestro playing, the repertoire ranges from Sinatra to show tunes. Students also practice the songs from the history musicals that make up their fifth grade program.

But it’s not just history. When one of his math-challenged students solves a long division problem, Mr. L jumps to his piano and the whole class bursts into song. Some of the girls move to the front of the class, having added Beyonce-like choreography to the number. It is a signature piece, created specifically for a certain fifth grader in need of encouragement. For a moment, you think you’re watching an episode of Glee, except that Mr. L has been doing it this way before the show was a pitch in the creator’s head. It’s just how Mr. L. rolls.

I sat in on a couple of Mr. L’s classes and was bowled over by how cheery, confident and stimulated the children were. These are no wall flowers. Students are jumping up, shouting out answers, contributing to debates and humming tunes. There’s a joyous chaos to the class that is totally infectious. Getting ready for a Veterans Day assembly, Mr. L’s voice became soft and hushed. He spoke with reverence of his father who had been a veteran, but he also shared his opinion of the ravages of war. Every child was riveted and soon an animated discussion broke out about veterans and the meaning of the day. I left realizing that it’s not how loud a teacher speaks, but who he is and what he says.

In Language Arts, Mr. Lantos asks the students to memorize and recite the words to The Raven, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, The Gettysburg Address, Route 66 and Trouble (think Robert Preston in The Music Man), to name a few. If a student performs a piece before it is due, he or she gets to choose as a treat a chocolate or a prune. How random and wonderful is that? And in case you are wondering, a prune has been chosen.

With a fresh and innovative approach to teaching, a fierce commitment to the arts and a hunger to push students to their creative limits, as Gene Kelly sang in An American In Paris, “who can ask for anything more?”