As school opens this week for many Douglas County schools, Canyonville Academy will begin the school year with its fifth name in the school’s 94-year history.
Only this time, the latest name change won’t include any mention of Christianity.
It was originally known as the Gospel Mission Bible School when it opened in 1924, and about five years later, it became Canyonville Bible School. In 1935, the school was renamed Canyonville Bible Academy, and it stayed that way for 64 years until 1999, when it was changed to Canyonville Christian Academy.
Now it will simply be known as Canyonville Academy.
Last fall, a committee, which convened to discuss the name of the school, determined that “Christian” stamped on diplomas proved to be a disadvantage for some international students where Christianity remains a minority.
discussed the name of the school, and whether or not it was putting their international students at a disadvantage, with a diploma that was stamped with the word “Christian” on it.
Roger Shaffer, whose family established the school, still teaches some classes there, and was on that committee. He said committee members agreed they don’t want to put their students in a situation where having a diploma from the school is seen negatively, when they return to their home country.
Shaffer said that even with the name change the school will continue with its same faith-based education model and Christian values.
“But we absolutely do not have any plans to make changes as to the nature of the school and the education,” Shaffer said.”On our website, we are trying to indicate that the school has a Christian heritage and Christian-based education, it’s just that the name won’t be on the documents.”
School officials say they are hopeful it will attract more of the international students to the boarding school in downtown Canyonville, which has a diverse student body from many countries.
“We want to protect our students who come from all over the world,” said CEO Corinne Burkhert. “Some of the countries they come from are not so keen on Christian schools, and I feel that students from those countries will feel more comfortable, and the parents number one concern is to make sure their student is safe.”
Burkhert said through the years, the school has been a college prep school and prepares students for academically and in lifestyle, so when they leave, they’re better prepared to make decisions on their own and better prepared academically to enter college, and this move is just bringing to light, what they really are.
“And that’s a college preparatory school,” she said. “The school has been training and preparing students for college and life for many years, and right now that’s what the focus is on.”
The name change is a work in progress. The administration is still getting all the signs changed, promotional information, website material, and even changing the school name on the athletic uniforms.
The school has an enrollment of about 80 students this year, and about 80 percent of those are international. The enrollment is down a little from past years, but Shaffer attributes that to the large senior class that graduated last spring.
Students come from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Hong Kong, Korea, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, South Africa, some from Vietnam and the school just picked up a student from Lithuania. There are also several U.S. students including some from Douglas County.
Quite a few of the students stay for the full four years of high school, but there are lot of transfers that will come in as juniors or seniors. Most of the international students don’t come as freshmen, but come during their sophomore or junior year and stay through graduation, and for many, it’s to get them ready for a U.S. college.
“They come to improve their English skills and to become ready to go into a college classroom and handle a lecture situation and paper writing and those kinds of things,” Shaffer said. “We feel a real obligation to college prep, so that when the international kids leave us, they’re ready.”
The academy’s reputation of being a safe place with a good education, is attractive for many of the foreign families.
“A lot of the parents are looking for a place that treats their kids as their own child,” Burkhert said.
Canyonville Academy has orientation on Monday, Labor day, and classes will start on Tuesday.