CCA teacher works with gifted students, helps run her family farm
Melissa Bannister is a CCA sixth-grade language arts teacher who helps run her family farm in Franklin County.
Melissa Bannister and her husband were living in Washington, D.C., when they had their first son. Because they didn't want to raise him in the metro area, they returned to her home – the farm her grandfather founded in Franklin County.
“I was born into it and grew up with it,” she said. “When I came back, my grandfather had passed away and my dad had taken over. We jumped in to help.”
Today, Bannister is a Commonwealth Charter Academy sixth-grade language arts teacher who works with gifted students. She is one of the school's teachers with an unusual, enriching sideline career – raising red and black Angus beef, plus crops, on that family farm.
Her career began in neither farming nor teaching. She worked for Washington businesses until that return to the Franklin County home, near Chambersburg. After Bannister returned to the farm, her uncle convinced the former college player to coach the high school volleyball team. While Bannister was coaching, she realized that the fundamentals of coaching could also translate to teaching. She returned to school for an education degree and taught for 10 years in the Harrisburg School District.
Through it all, the family farm was a constant. As a child, Bannister learned to freeze and can food, butcher and smoke meat, and pull newborn calves to save them from suffocation when they were trapped in their mothers’ wombs. Her grandfather also ran an oil distribution business with automotive gas pumps that she helped operate – even if she was working alone and a wagon of hay came into the farm.
“I’d have to throw all this hay on the elevator, let it go up top, and then run upstairs to the hayloft, and then I’d have a gas customer and run downstairs,” she said. “I became a massive multitasker.”
Today, Bannister and her brother keep the farm going with their dad, who “has a real passion for this,” she said.
Farm work, which Bannister performs on evenings and weekends, is never-ending. She motivates herself with reminders that “somebody or something is depending on you,” she said.
“It’s not fair to let it go. I know they’re being raised to be consumed, but the bottom line is they’re living creatures and you’ve got to take care of them,” Bannister said.
With her diverse background, Bannister can usually find common ground with her students, whether they come from farms or cities. If they have nothing in common, “I’m learning something new,” she said. In all situations, “communication is key.”
“When I left brick-and-mortar school, I was not certain how this was going to look from an educator’s perspective,” Bannister said. “I thought I might not get to know my students as well, but it’s exactly the opposite. I know them even better. I talk to their families. I get to know their stories.”