Melvin Rhodes - Faculty | Handley 100th Notable
Melvin Rhodes – Faculty

On September 30, 2019, Winchester Public Schools dedicated the Melvin Rhodes Center to an advocate for children needing a different way to learn. Mel Rhodes worked with alternative education students at Handley from 1976 to 2004. 

An article published in The Winchester Star in 1997 stated that Melvin Rhodes knew all about feeling like an outsider. He was from Winchester and did not set foot in Handley as a student because of racial segregation. He graduated from New York University and started his teaching career in New York’s Spanish Harlem in 1970.

His first job at Handley was teaching in the In School Suspension Program in 1976. The program was for students who were tough disciplinary cases or had become apathetic toward education. Many students did not take ownership for their education. Mel stated in the 1997 article, “I believe getting an education is the best thing you can do for yourself. As a black man, I know it opened doors that otherwise would not open.”

The Virginia legislature offered funding for alternative education programs in 1986 when the state’s dropout rate hit 10%. Mel Rhodes worked with Tri-County Virginia OIC to build a Career Internship Program that would combine General Equivalency Diploma curriculum with job training. The first twenty CIP students were dropouts or potential dropouts. At the end of the first year, ten received their GED and ten returned for the second year.

From 1996-99, he served as a School Within A School teacher at Handley and assisted in the development of curriculum guides and programs for at-risk students. From 1999-2004, he was a Winchester Alternative Learning Center teacher and taught every academic subject to at-risk students.

Mel believed that if you create the image of teachers as people, barriers will break down, students will talk, and students will listen.

Mel felt that teachers were “slaves to curriculum” and not allowed to work with a student who was slow or who needed extra help. The Alternative Education programs allowed him that flexibility.

Flexibility and relaxed rules in the classroom did not equate to a lack of discipline. However, his was discipline with compassion. He taught self-discipline and tried to catch a student doing something good such as making it to school 4 days in a week. “We take a student with little success and give them some.”

Handley Principal Douglas Joyner said that Mel would never give up on a student. Mel Rhodes influenced hundreds of students at Handley before he retired in June 2004. He died of cancer two months later at the age of 56.

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