By Jon Cronin
Richard Carranza, the city’s new schools chancellor, paid his first visit to MS 216 George J. Ryan School in Fresh Meadows as part of his listening tour to get acquainted with the city’s schools.
Carranza visited three classes in the middle school, which is designated to focus on software, engineering and programming. The tour, led by Principal Dr. Reginald Landeau Jr., took Carranza around the school and showcased its curriculum and artwork created by students.
The first stop was a class focused on computer science, where students learned how to write their own software. The second visit was a robotics class during which students built and programmed their own robots. Carranza witnessed students on the ground with their laptops in the classroom and in the hallway teaching the robots to fight a sumo-style match or follow specific direction along mapped routes. He noted that this early training could one day turn into programming for self-driving vehicles. The robotics class teacher, Peter Xanthus, spent two years writing the curriculum for this class before the city Department of Education allowed him to teach it.
“I have seen a lot of robotics classes before, but really liked what the teacher and the students said,” Carranza said of the hands-on learning approached that he witnessed in the classroom. “[I saw] thoughtful instruction, very thoughtfully planned pedagogy on the part of the teacher—but for students, the fact that they could tell me exactly what they were doing was also very impressive.”
Lastly, the chancellor visited a social studies class—a subject he once taught—and viewed students creating and delivering short speeches on the topic of whether the Constitution’s First Amendment should be changed.
“The First Amendment—What a meaty topic, especially in light of current events, where students have expressed their right to express their feelings,” Carranza said.
He noted that he was amazed at the student’s grasp of the subject and the written feedback given by the teacher for each student. Following the tour, Carranza said that he was impressed with the student art that adorned the school.
“The facility looks fantastic,” he said. “I love the student art that you see everywhere. It is important for students to have academic rigor, but it is also important for students to be happy to be in school, to be happy to be learning. Everywhere I went today, I saw students happy to be learning.”
Carranza said that when he asked Landeau about disciplinary issues at the school, he already knew the answer after seeing students at MS 216 engaged in their work.
“You’re going to see those incidents of truancy, of acting out—anti-social behavior—are going to plummet because students are engaged and they’re happy and joyful while learning,” Carranza said