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"If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get."
– Frank A. Clark  
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 11 November 2018  

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Bill Radford

  D 49 teacher has plenty in common with students
  By Bill Radford

   Teacher Eric Lustig can easily relate to the students at District 49's Patriot High School, an alternative school focused on at-risk students.
   
   "I am an alternative high school graduate myself," he said. He initially attended Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, but usually he didn't bother to show up, "which is why they showed me the door,” Lustig said. He eventually graduated from Palmer Night School, which he calls "a life-changing opportunity."
   
   That background is one he shares with students.
   
   "I do feel it's important to be honest about who I am and who I was," he said. While he doesn’t strive to be friends with his students, he said, ”I do understand the importance of a teacher-student relationship." He said he is candid with students about his struggles as a teen, about being expelled from high school, about the drug addiction that gripped him when he was their age.
   
   "When I have kids coming to me crying and on the verge of a breakdown because they didn't pass all their classes and they have to come back and be a senior again, I can tell them I did the same thing," Lustig said.
   
   That openness, though, doesn't mean he is a pushover as a teacher.
   
   Lustig runs the culinary arts program at Patriot. ”I'm hard-nosed,” he said. “I have very, very high expectations. When I'm not satisfied, the students know."
   
   Lustig took an indirect route to teaching. He was born in Indiana and lived in Michigan before moving to Colorado –- he said he wanted to be everything from a firefighter to a doctor. After graduating from Palmer, he headed off to San Diego with $90 in his pocket and no career goal in mind.
   
   He did know, however, that he needed "a complete life change" to straighten himself out. In the Springs, he said, "I was really surrounded by the wrong crowd." He also knew that, as a drummer, he wanted to explore the music scene in San Diego. He ended up playing in several bands there, most notably “Surf Report.” Recordings with the latter band still bring him royalties.
   
   In touring, he played with a lot of big names. Lustig said, ”When I speak with younger people, I tell them I played with Korn and Blink 182, and they go 'no way!' With an older crowd, I mention names like Dick Dale (known as the king of the surf guitar) and Link Wray."
   
   His first day job in San Diego was in a restaurant –- experience that would pay off in his current job. He tackled a few other jobs as well before taking a custodial position in public schools. By then, he had earned his bachelor's degree in business, a process that took eight years because he dropped out several times.
   
   It was while working as a custodian that Lustig became interested in education. Teachers and students both liked him and encouraged him to go into teaching. "I thought they were all crazy for a while, until I realized maybe that was my niche,” he said.
   
   Lustig earned a Master of Arts in secondary education and teaching and taught math for five years at Garfield High School, an alternative school serving San Diego. He also met his wife, Holly, in San Diego. She was a teacher as well, and they decided that San Diego was too costly a city to live in for two people on teachers' salaries. They decided to move to Colorado, where Eric still had family. Holly would end up having family here, too, as her mother, sister and brother-in-law all decided it was time to leave California as well. "It was kind of an exodus of the whole family to Colorado," Lustig said.
   
   Eric and Holly Lustig found a home in Meridian Ranch in Falcon. They have a daughter, age 12, who attends Falcon Middle School, and Holly Lustig is a special-ed teacher at Meridian Ranch Elementary School. Eric Lustig taught math at Sand Creek High School for two years and has taught at Patriot, originally Patriot Learning Center, since it opened a decade ago. Initially, he taught math at Patriot.
   
   This fall will be his third school year running the culinary arts program at Patriot. But he still teaches math because that is part of the culinary instruction. "We don't get a lot of math nerds here," Lustig said, but the culinary students find practical reasons to learn math skills. "The kids don't ask when they'll need it," he said. "Sometimes we used it yesterday and now they're actually learning about it today."
   
   He said the culinary arts program "is open to anybody who wants to come here. You don't have to be a student at Patriot, or even a student from D 49." He said he is excited about the new kitchen the students will have to work in this school year, part of a school renovation project completed over the summer.
   
   Financial literacy is also part of the curriculum. "One of my philosophies is I don't care how good you are or how skilled you are in your craft, if you don't have some financial literacy you're going to have problems."
  
Eric Lustig has taught at Patriot High School, originally Patriot Learning Center, since it opened. He runs the culinary arts program. Photo by Bill Radford
 
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