Ryan Carper, a political science and economics teacher at South Williamsport Area High School, finds creative ways to engage his students in government topics.
During a recent school trip, Carper organized an outing to the Cinema Center downtown so students could see the film, "Lincoln," and tie it into recent election discussions.
Carper said he appreciated that the Cinema Center staff opened up early for the students and let them have the theater to themselves for the meeting.
South Williamsport Area High School teacher Ryan Carper, far left, is shown with students Marco Estrella, Jen Jackson, Katy Fuller and Roxie Keller in his classroom.
"This was a good opportunity for the students to see state vs. federal law," Carper said of the movie.
Student Marco Estrella, a senior, has taken Carper's American Government and Economics class and was part of the group that saw "Lincoln."
"I liked the movie, it was very good," Estrella said, adding that he likes Carper as a teacher.
"He gets the point through to you," he said. "He makes you think about different topics. He also makes me think differently than most teachers."
Katy Fuller, a junior, has had Carper as a teacher and as adviser of the school's Student Council.
"He allows us to think on our own and he makes us take the lead," she said. "It's the same with clubs, too. He'll say 'all right, it's time for you to take the reins.' "
Roxie Keller, also a junior, worked with Carper for two years, when he was the former Leo Club adviser, and this year on Student Council.
"He does a really good job," she said. "If you are the head of a committee, he holds you accountable to do your own research and makes you work on your own."
Keller said her favorite activity at the school is Mini-THON, which Carper began and organized last year at the school.
Mini-THON is an event designed after Penn State's annual THON event, which raises money for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. THON raises funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer. Although many schools in the state participate in Mini-THON, South Williamsport is the only school in Lycoming County that holds the event.
Keller said last year's Mini-THON raised $18,000 and this year, the Student Council has a goal of $25,000.
During a recent school visit, Carper was meeting with students after returning from the movie so they could brainstorm ideas for the school's Mini-THON, which will be held March 8 and 9.
Carper said this is his seventh year teaching at South and his sixth year as the Student Council adviser.
He also was adviser of the school's Leo Club for five years, but resigned from that because of the amount of work it takes to plan and organize Mini-THON.
He graduated from Shippensburg University with a bachelor's degree in education-history in 2006, and received a master's degree in education from Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, in 2009.
He said his favorite part of teaching is when he sees "it click" with students and he has helped facilitate their learning.
"Helping guide students to problem-solve solutions" is very rewarding, Carper said.
Carper said he enjoys working with Student Council because they are the "glue for the school" in terms of pride and unity.
He was inspired to become a social studies teacher because of his sixth-grade social studies teacher. During a lesson about the fall of the Roman Empire, the teacher asked the class, "Could this happen in America?" Carper recalled, which spurred an interest in history and social studies.
Carper also comes from a family of educators, so he said his career choice was a combination of having great teachers and a passion and interest in the field.
He said teachers these days face many obstacles and must become mentors to their students and empathize with them.
"And we have to adapt to the changing education policy," he said.
Carper added that technology can be a double-edged sword, but laptops, iPads and cellphones can have their place in a classroom environment.
"They are a resource," he said about technology. "It's still the substance of the lesson that counts."
Carper also has students hold mock elections at the school every two years so they can get a better understanding of government and the electoral process.
"We do mid-term, gubernatorial, House, Senate and presidency, depending on what's going on," Carper said.
This year, he was surprised by the outcome, in which Republicans took a clean-sweep of all governmental offices, including the presidency.
Four years ago, Carper said Obama was a clear winner. He wasn't surprised, though, because the students' votes were reflective of the overall area.
He said his students study attack ads and who is publishing the information, so the students can become informed and look at both sides.
He also has both sides of the campaigns come in and talk with students, sometimes on the same day, even though no two have ever agreed to a debate.
"I can stand and talk until I'm blue in the face," he said. "But when we study primary forces, that's as primary as it gets."
He said local lawmakers also have allowed his Advanced Placement students the opportunity to be a guest page for a day at the Capital.
Overall, though, Carper said he likes teaching politics and developing well-rounded students.
Sometimes, after students graduate, they will email him about political questions they have, and he enjoys keeping in touch with students after graduation.
In one class, students are required to complete legal briefs. Most students, he said, give him a lot of grief about that assignment.
"But later they'll come back and tell me how much that helped them down the road," he said.
Outside of school, Carper is active as a Hughesville High School football coach and with his church, New Covenant Assembly of God in Montgomery.
He and his wife, Kristin, are the parents of a son, Brayden, 2, who also keeps him busy.
In the Classrooms is published on the first Monday of each month. To nominate a teacher for consideration, email Education Editor Dana Borick at education@ sungazette.com or call 326-1551, ext. 3108.