Heritage Oak School Community Spotlight: Rich Engel

Posted by Alyssa Statom on May 25, 2017


 Heritage Oak School Community Spotlight: Rich Engel

Editor's note: Three of Rich Engel's students, Alyssa Statom, Peri Podratz, and Faith Hopkins conducted this community spotlight interview.

Sitting in the back of his classroom, a room that he made his own, Mr. Engel agreed to answering a few of our questions. Walls adorned with goofy, encouraging Garfield posters, paintings that provoke thought, and shelves filled with numerous books, the room is a projection of Mr. Engel himself. For 18 years our school knight has graced us with his presence and at the end of this school year, Mr. Engel is retiring. When he first arrived on staff, he taught English and history until Omnibus was incorporated into the school curriculum. Before he arrived on staff at Heritage Oak School, he perfected his teaching and patience by instructing public school children. Still vivacious about life, teaching, and God, Mr. Engel beckoned us saying, “I’m ready for my spotlight now.”

What motivated you to become a teacher?

“Actually, I was motivated to become a firefighter.” laughed Mr. Engel as he answered the question. He continued saying that he kept his teaching credential current just in case he didn’t make it on the fire department. Mr. Engel taught public school for three years, later becoming a fireman where he served for thirty years. After retiring Mr. Engel stated that he “thought it would be fun to go back into teaching." He taught at the public school for a year. When he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore, he came to Heritage Oak School. When he walked in, he asked if they needed an English teacher. Their response was “yes.” Soon he became an English teacher and the school administrator. He stated, “I enjoyed being around kids.”

What brought you to HOS?

"After I retired from the fire department, I taught for a year at public school." He noted that he still wanted to teach, but didn’t want to teach in the public school anymore. He knew there was a small school in Tehachapi, so he decided to ask if they needed an English teacher. When he walked in the door,  Mrs. Dearing was there along with Margo Hayes, the principal. They claimed that they were waiting for him to come in, considering he went to church there at the time. With the combination of Jesus and the two women, Mr. Engel decided to take the job.

Why do you like teaching at HOS?

"The students are pleasant. The foundation here is Jesus Christ, the main subject we teach in all our classes." He stated, "You can’t do that in public schools."   


How do you teach Christian Worldview in your classes?

"I let the curriculum teach the worldview. Because of the way it is set up, students are taught to discuss history and literature with a biblical worldview. We use the Bible to inform what we are reading, which reinforces the worldview in us."

What sets us apart from other students?

“You guys are a lot nicer,” proclaimed Mr. Engel. He mentioned that we are polite and we try to do the work well. "Every teacher at Heritage Oak School appreciates that," he relayed from his many discussions with other teachers.

What are some of your favorite moments with your students?

"My favorite moments are when I see the dawning of their minds on something that we are talking about. When they actually get it.” He indicated that another of his favorite moments is when he understands that a student actually did the reading. "Most of the time that doesn’t happen," he responded. Mr. Engel understands that there is a lot of reading so sometimes we pass over things.

What is your favorite memory of teaching?

"A young man came to me who had stolen money from the student treasury and gave it back before I had to ask him for it."  Mr. Engel said that the student's confession made all the difference in how the school dealt with the young man. He remarked that the student also went before all the other students and confessed his sin and gave up his job as treasurer. “That was a low time in the school. Things could have gone really wrong with the student, but didn’t,” he replied.

What do you want your students to gain from having known you?

“Oh gosh,” chuckled Mr. Engel.What I hope you gain is an understanding that even in an older age, like I’m at, that you can still enjoy people, enjoy life and enjoy being around and talking about God and stuff, to people openly, and that everyday is still exciting, even though I’m seventy-four years old,” stated Mr. Engel.

Since you are retiring, are there any fireman stories you would like to share?

"I probably share more before the end of the semester," said Mr. Engel as he laughed. One of the stories he shared was about a firefighter preparing his front lawn for new seeds. He spent weeks bragging about how perfect it would be. A letter showed up at the engine house from UCLA (wink, wink) promoting new seeds for a lawn that required zero water, mowing only once per year, and never needed weeding. Plant one square inch over each square foot and fill coverage would take only five days. Three flats were to be delivered in two days to the Captain. He started begging Cap for two flats. After a couple of hours, Cap gave in. Next shift he went home with two flats...of ragweed, crab grass, corn, beans and whatever his fire buddies felt appropriate. Needless to say, the bragging firefighter got his comeuppanse.

Do you have any advice for future teachers?

“Treat you guys [referring to the students] well,” was Mr. Engel's only response.


Mr. Engel has blessed us with a fantastic 18 years here at HOS with his God-given teaching skills and fun, nerve racking stories. He has made such an impact on so many students here and at other schools. Students have many encouraging things to say about Mr. Engel from how he teaches to how he handles incidents outside of the classroom. Mrs. Douglas, a school alumna and current teacher at HOS, recalled, “Mr. Engel is wise and understanding. He has such a wealth of knowledge that I haven't seen from anyone else. A memory I will always remember actually goes back to my childhood when he was the principal. He listened to those who felt wronged and truly tried to educate us on kingdom minded lessons, not just math and English.”

Another alumna and current teacher here chuckled over remembering a particularly funny memory of Mr. Engel. She had been in her second grade talent show and was extremely nervous before going on. The act before her happened to be a clown and Mr. Engel was sitting in the front row. Amongst all the commotion, Mr. Engel somehow ended up with a pie in his face. Then it was Mrs. Myer's turn to go up and give her very serious timeline. Of course Mr. Engel was sitting there as serious as can be, but with the pie still covering his face. Needless to say, it was hard for Mrs. Myers to get through her timeline keeping a straight face and without giggling.

Other students have put in many encouraging words about Mr. Engel. Fellow student, Alyssa Statom, said with a gleam in her eye,” I think he’s my favorite teacher." Another student, Gracie Knowlton, replied,“He's just an amazing teacher."

Mr. Engel has touched so many lives. We are sad to see him go, but we wish him the best on his next chapter in life.

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Topics: Community Spotlight