When Michigan City High School Principal, Candy Van Buskirk, was a senior in high school, she would have never thought she would end up being the driving force in Michigan City’s educational atmosphere. Today, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Van Buskirk originally came to Northwest Indiana when a friend she met while coaching basketball at Moody Bible Institute suggested she start a basketball camp in the La Porte area. After hosting basketball camps in the region and New Buffalo, Michigan, for years, she eventually moved her family from Rochester, New York, to New Buffalo when a teaching/coaching position opened up in the area. This led her to becoming an Associate Principal at New Prairie High School, and, last year, she joined the pack at MCHS.
“It is amazing where just meeting people and following your passions can take you,” said Van Buskirk, while sitting at her desk at the helm of MCHS.
Although education is her passion, she did not originally see herself pursuing a career in the field. In fact, as she was about to take the MCAT in college, a coach who had previously worked with her at a basketball camp confronted her about her talents unrelated to biomedical sciences.
“I had run basketball camps for her and different things involving kids, and I had really enjoyed working with students,” Van Buskirk reminisced. “She just said, ‘You might want to think about education.’ I continued down the biomed route and was applying to med schools, then I was hired right out of college to coach in Miami, Ohio. There, I was able to teach and work with high school students, and I loved it!”
Since her first coaching gig, Van Buskirk has coached a basketball team every year until this year. However, she now “lives vicariously through the athletes on the basketball team.” Basketball plays a large role in MCHS culture, so Van Buskirk feels right at home.
Van Buskirk’s children also attend classes at MCHS, making the school feel even more like home. Her son Dawson is a sophomore and currently holds the title of Class President. Her daughter Sela is an eighth grader at Barker Middle School, but she attends classes at MCHS through the new Transition Cohort program. Through this program, which is currently in its pilot year, students who meet certain standardized testing requirements can take Spanish 1, Biology, and Algebra 1 with MCHS teachers.
“Right now we have sixth grade students and seventh grade students taking Pre-Algebra because it’s our first move. We have eighth grade students taking Algebra 1 because we didn’t have any Pre-Algebra at the lower levels. Next year, this year’s sixth graders will take Algebra 1 as seventh graders, and eighth graders will come over and take geometry.” said Van Buskirk.
This is not the only innovative move she has catalyzed as principal; this is also the first year that all MCHS students have their own Chromebooks. The initiative was funded by a $600,000 grant from Michigan City, and students are using those computers as their textbooks. Incorporating as much “21st century technology” into the classroom as possible has been a goal of MCHS for a years.
“With our Chromebooks, we’ve had professional development where teachers are adding pull everywhere. Kahoot, Flipgrid, and Triller videos are used in their classrooms in order to make [MCHS] an engaging, fun environment to be in,” said Van Buskirk.
Michigan City, as a whole, is very focused on providing an enjoyable environment for its citizens and visitors, as shown through the city’s slogan, “Create. Play. Repeat.” Through Van Buskirk’s efforts, MCHS students are preparing to be Michigan City’s next generation of creators. Recently, students gathered in the parking lot for Pizza and Painting Night. Each student driver was assigned their own parking place, and they were able to paint any design on their spot.
“I had students purchase their parking passes, and we assigned them their own spots. The goal behind it was that they would have the opportunity to paint the space and make it their own. It was so fun to see the creativity, and it was so fun to see the family that came out to help them paint their spots,” said Van Buskirk.
Engaging students and their families in both MCHS initiatives and the community in general is one of Van Buskirk’s primary goals as principal. In the past, banners featuring varsity football players hung proudly down Franklin St. each year during the season. This year, Van Buskirk printed banners for each senior athlete, and those will hang throughout the athletes’ seasons. At the end of the year, portraits of each distinguished graduate will be displayed as well.
“All of our senior athletes work very hard, and I think it’s very important that we honor that,” said Van Buskirk as she sat next to a fresh stack of banners. “It also honors their families and the time that they’ve put in.”
In addition to these banners, two more will hang with the message “One City. One Pack.” written on them. This is the new motto for Michigan City High School, and Van Buskirk is happy to see it unite the Michigan City area and MCHS.
“Michigan City is a great community to be a part of. I’m proud to see my own children in this environment that provides so many opportunities. Whatever you want to do, it’s a possibility here because of the options that we have in Michigan City. Our staff and our students are at a point where they’re hungry to continue that movement forward,” said Van Buskirk.
The wolfpack is, indeed, hungry for knowledge and progress, and through her many successful initiatives, Van Buskirk has proven herself to be the perfect alpha.