NEW PORT RICHEY — Ryan Bintz was walking a group of fifth graders back to their Longleaf Elementary School classroom when he got word to take them back to his theater portable.
The children cheered at the opportunity to return to the deskless classroom, where their teacher gets just as involved in their lessons as they do.
“He tries to make everything fun,” fifth grader Evan Lambert said of Bintz. “He’s very nice to everybody.”
And most definitely worthy of being named Pasco County’s 2022 teacher of the year, according to Evan, his classmates and just about everybody else you can ask on the campus tucked into the Longleaf subdivision of south-central Pasco.
Superintendent Kurt Browning led a group of dignitaries to the school just before Thanksgiving break to make the surprise announcement, which Bintz said brought him to tears.
“He’s fantastic,” said fifth grade teacher Mary Wainwright, who helps Bintz stage multiple live performances each year. “He brought theater to every grade level. That’s what we were missing.”
Principal Jennifer McCormack said Bintz, in his fourth year at the Florida Arts Model Achieve School, has been a “perfect fit” since his arrival. He has a strong rapport with the children, she said, blending arts, creativity, academics and more into a dynamic, welcoming atmosphere.
“You can tell,” McCormack said. “He builds confidence in kids like no other.”
It’s the kind of attention that Bintz, 47, said he needed as a youngster. He recalled being made fun of because of his interest in music and theater — something he loved because of the opportunities to “get out of yourself” and try new things.
He stuck with performing over the years, working on cruise ships and at theme parks and taking parts in shows, until he found it wouldn’t pay the bills. After returning from a cruise ship job, he took a substitute teaching position in Tampa to tide him over and discovered his true profession.
“It was my first time. I was very scared,” he shared. “A kindergartner looked at me and said, ‘I love you.’ It gave me a little fire, that this is what I was going to do.”
Students can sense his passion, whether playing acting games or writing short plays or covering dramatic concepts. Everyone participated in “Spaghetti,” a game that has students act out emotions while entering and exiting the stage, without declaring themselves too cool or shy or indifferent to take a turn.
“It’s always fun,” said fifth grader Brody Gibbs. “You have to step out of your fears.”
Fifth grader Bella LiVecchi said Bintz helped her shed her shyness since she first began taking his classes.
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“I was so afraid, super afraid, to act out in front of people,” Bella recalled. “He taught me how to be myself.”
Now she’s claiming lead roles in school performances, as well as parts in plays that Bintz directs in the community.
Longleaf parent Elizabeth Pesce, who also works at the school, said Bintz did the same for her son Jacob.
“He had never performed before,” Pesce said of her son, who has a mild speech impediment. Bintz “brought out something in him that we had never seen before.”
Bintz, a single father of two, said he loves that he can have such a positive effect on children. He dedicates much of his planning and free time to helping the students rehearse for the many shows he organizes. Each grade level gets at least one, as evidenced by the many photos and programs that line his walls.
“It’s what I was born to do,” he said.
Bintz next competes for Florida teacher of the year. His students are convinced he can win it all.
“He teaches us really well,” fifth grader Lianna Phillips said. “I believe in him.”
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