Justis Lopez Full of Energy and Ideas in First Month on the Job

It’s all happening in Mr. Lopez’s classroom.

Justis Lopez is the most recent recipient of the Alma Exley Scholarship. Since receiving his master’s degree from UConn in May, he has begun teaching social studies at his alma mater, Manchester High School.

I had the chance to visit in his classroom the other day when I dropped off some books for his “Lopez Lounge.” And what I saw amazed me.

Only a few months removed from UConn, he has established a classroom that is a testament to his creativity and his connection with his students.

Justis Lopez in the “Lopez Lounge”

One of his first moves upon setting up shop in Room 290 was to establish the Lopez Lounge in one of the back corners of the classroom. There’s a couch, an easy chair, a computer table, a lamp with a Tiffany-type UConn lampshade, and a bookcase crammed with books on a variety of subjects.

“Students who have a hard time sitting still for the entire period can take a break and get comfortable on the couch,” Mr. Lopez told me. “Sometimes before making a presentation to the class, they like to relax there and collect their thoughts.”

Also, Mr. Lopez’s classroom is the place to be during the school’s “Power Hour.” That’s a free period for all students, when they can consult with teachers, work on projects or catch up on their homework.

In Room 290, however, every Friday during Power Hour, it’s time for “Open Mic.” Mr. Lopez invites students from throughout the school to drop by to recite poems, rap, sing, or do whatever their spirit moves them to do in front of the microphone. In just few weeks, the Open Mic session has become a highlight of the week for many students.

Justis Lopez is well known as a showman. He portrayed Jonathan the Husky at UConn sports events during his sophomore year. He has made a name for himself as a master of ceremonies and DJ for hundreds of social events. Now he has a company, Justis League Entertainment, which provides music and photography for school functions, weddings and business events.

He brings his DJ equipment in the classroom every Friday for what he calls “Freestyle Fridays.” He does a freestyle DJ mix of music for his students as they walk into classroom to create a lively environment for learning.

With Mr. Lopez’s showmanship carrying over into his classroom, it seems there’s never a dull moment. I wish I could go back to school and take one of his social studies classes. I’m sure I’d learn a lot and have fun at the same time.

The wall behind Mr. Lopez’s desk is covered with about a dozen photographs of lighthouses. “A teacher is a lighthouse,” he said. I took that to mean that he sees himself as lighting the way and guiding his students through unknown waters on their journey of learning.

– Woody Exley