Andrew Campanella: Your school sounds like such a happy place. Is student happiness a focus of yours?
Heather Cass: Definitely. Of course, as with any school, we have to make sure children are learning. It can’t be all about fun and games. But, I think what keeps them coming to school, keeps their attendance rates up, keeps them involved and want to be a part of what we’re doing, is making them feel part of the family. So, we do everything we can to keep them involved. We have arts and music, band, choir, a rock band, a keyboard program, acoustical guitars, 3D projects, painting, ceramics, and more.
Andrew: You also do so many hands-on learning projects and programs, many of them focusing on the environment. Tell me why that makes a positive difference?
Heather: We find that a lot of kids don’t do well with sitting in a classroom, looking at a chalkboard all day – or a smartboard in our case. So we try to do a lot of hands-on education, getting them moving, getting them touching, feeling, and experiencing things, and that tends to be very successful for us.
Andrew: For a rural community, why is it important that families have choices for their children’s education?
Heather: A child is a child, and regardless of where they live, they need to be able to decide what is best for them – and parents need to determine the best learning environments for their children. With anything, if there are choices, people are going to be able to find what’s best. Not every child is the same. We, as a charter school, have a little more freedom in how we teach, as long as we get our end results.
Andrew: What advice do you have for other teachers in rural communities, who might want to start a charter school?
Heather: You need perseverance. It’s not an easy task. The process itself is a challenge. We’ve been very, very fortunate to have a lot of really fabulous people in our past and in our future that have helped guide us through this process and keep us on task. A big part of the success of a charter school is making sure that your [school] government is there, with great people doing all of those things that are important to help guide you to the next level.
Andrew: How does your school celebrate National School Choice Week every year?
Heather: We love when the yellow scarves arrive! We do a whole week of activities and events. We do door decorating, class competitions, photo opportunities, anything motivational. The kids write about why they are excited they’re here, what they like about the charter school. We do some fun food days. We remind kids that they do have a choice, and they made a choice to come here and be the best we can be, and just lift everybody up.