Youth program opens in Fresh Meadows

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Fresh Meadows parents need look no further than Ryan Junior High School 216 on 175th Street....

By Daniel Arimborgo

A place where kids can go after school, where they can be safe and maybe learn a few things about maturity, too — it’s probably what every parent longs for.

Fresh Meadows parents need look no further than Ryan Junior High School 216 on 175th Street. The school hosts a Beacon program offering free recreation for neighborhood youth young as 5 years old. Funding for the Beacon program is provided by the city Department of Youth and Community Development.

Beacon programs are sponsored by different agencies — this one is by the Samuel Field YM & YWHA in Little Neck — and housed in schools throughout the city.

“I’ve seen kids really mature because of the program,” said Bill Jenal, site director. “We’re trying to provide an environment where parents can leave their kids and know they’re safe.”

The rec program has many activities to chose from, including a tae kwon do class, a break-dancing club and arts and crafts.

Kareem Spearman, a break dancer, teaches the spinning, topsy-turvy dance form to anyone interested. He started the club about a year and a half ago, after getting heavily into it himself. The club presently has about 15 members.

“I was just in the neighborhood and volunteered,” he said.

“You can break dance to just about any type of music,” he said. “Old hip-hop, new hip-hop, and techno, even James Brown — he’s really popular.”

Spearman said new recruits for the dance crew are often drafted after they see the moves and then want to learn them. He said a waxed wood floor or smooth linoleum surface makes perfect break dance surfaces. He said the worst injury he has ever suffered was “just a bruise.”

“It helps for fitness like you wouldn’t believe,” he said, adding it is good to stretch for 15 minutes before beginning.

Richard Weston, a New Hyde Park teen who teaches tae kwon do, said there are 35 to 40 students in his classes, which he co-teaches with a Kung Fu instructor.

Weston used to live in the neighborhood, and his father still teaches at a “dojo” — marshal arts school — on Francis Lewis Boulevard, near Ryan.

He said the classes offer a great introduction to the art forms and just might encourage young people to pursue the disciplines.

There are four classes divided by age groups, which meet Friday evenings beginning at 6 p.m. There is no requirement to wear the traditional white robes usually mandatory at such schools.

“I first started coming to Ryan when I lived in the neighborhood.” Weston said. “I used to come by and play basketball after work.

“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” he said of the Beacon program. “It keeps kids off the streets.”

Vladimir Valme, a teen who started and maintains the Ryan Beacon web site, helps register people and updates the site’s lists of events and sports leagues results for volleyball, soccer, and Junior Knicks Basketball.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys we have,” Jenal said.

Recreation isn’t the only thing offered at Ryan’s Beacon program. Homework help, specialized high school test preparation, behavioral counseling, and a parenting skills workshop are also available for free.

The Beacon program at Ryan JHS has expanded to include recreation and courses for adults and senior citizens, something not found at other locations. There are adult computer classes and a senior social center which meet Saturdays.

To find out more about the Beacon Program at Ryan Junior High School, call 445-6983, or go to the web site:

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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