Hanoverians bring educational excellence back to small town

When it looked like Canaan Elementary School (Ind.) would close two years ago due to budget cuts, Deena Buchanan Schafer ’79 wouldn’t let the idea of a local school for the small rural town die. She had been a teacher there for more than 30 years as had many of her family members; the roots were just too deep.

Even before the last day, however, Schafer had the idea of starting a charter school. Garnering support from generous community members and a similar school in Sullivan, Ind., along with sponsorship from Ball State University, Canaan Community Academy (CCA) celebrated its first day of school Aug. 8, 2012.

“It (wasn’t) fancy stuff,” she said of the donated items at the beginning, “but we’ve been able to serve the needs of the kids and meet all the (necessary) regulations and requirements.”

The school, which doesn’t charge tuition nor receive any support from area property taxes, was able to secure a federal grant for $490,000 for textbooks, supplies and high-tech items like smart boards for the classrooms. CCA does receive state tuition support — about $5300 per student — which helps pay the teachers and support staff.

Joining Schafer at the new school are Melanie Perry Eder ’98, Patric Morrison ’10 and Noelle Duke ’12.

After spending a number of years in the business world, Eder decided to pursue teaching  and spent two years as a substitute. She was ecstatic to get her own classroom in a place close to home.

“I like the small school atmosphere where you know everybody, and you know all the kids you could potentially have the next year” said Eder, who teaches 15 second-grade students. “I feel it’s more like a family when you work at a small school.”

Currently, there are 79 charter schools in Indiana. Where they differ most often from their traditional counterparts is in the type of instructional styles they use. Though their requirements are the same for both, institutions like CCA have more flexibility in exchange for more accountability to their sponsor, which can result in increased innovation.

CCA has adopted the C.L.A.S.S. method (Connecting Learning Assures Successful Students), which focuses its academic style on a theme. With “Learning and Growing,” the school emphasizes personal qualities such as caring and responsibility as much as academic skills.

“Basically, their feeling is these (characteristics) are the things you need to teach to help teach the academic areas,” said Eder. “Once (students) know how to behave in a classroom, then it will be easier to teach (the subject matter).”

“You’re making a difference in the student’s life,” added Duke, who teaches 13 fourth-grade students. “You’re not just giving them information or giving them a test and sending them on their way.”

At the end of the school day, students participate in T.E.A.M. (Teach, Enrich and Mentor) activities, such as gardening, homework help or service projects.

“When it’s nasty outside, some of the kids will help with cleaning up the school,” said Morrison. “You think, kids don’t like doing these things at home, but they absolutely love doing them at school.”

Morrison’s class has 10 sixth-grade students, but he also tag-team teaches math and science with students in the fifth-grade, whose teacher focuses on language arts and social studies. The two switch off subjects between morning and afternoon.

When not in the classroom, Morrison and Duke coach the Canaan Cougars girls basketball team, who were unbeaten until a recent loss.

“(It’s) is still pretty good considering we only have three girls out of nine who have ever played basketball before,” he said.

Duke is also in charge of Movement Club, where students can learn different sports or even a workout video.

“It’s just to introduce them to new sports they may never even have thought of or (ones) they want to play,” she said. “It also gets their energy out at the end of the day.”

Like Eder, Morrison and Duke also grew up in the area, but the connections don’t stop there. He played football for Eder’s father, long-time Hanover coach Wayne Perry and Duke’s father, Larry, has provided play-by-play for the Panthers for more than 30 years.

Though Schafer attended the College for only one year, it didn’t stop her from appreciating the benefits of a Hanover education.

“I just want to thank Hanover College for sending me three excellent teacher candidates.”