In 2019, English Teacher Elizabeth Harsany attended a funeral for a relative of a Canton Prep student. She gave the Canton Prep freshman a teddy bear in an effort to show support and compassion.
From that point on, Harsany said she made it a tradition to donate teddy bears to scholars going through a challenging time.
“It is basically for students, their families, or staff who need extra support and encouragement,” Harsany said. “We have a plethora of reasons when we pass these out.”
The Teddy Bear Project, as it’s now called, donates a teddy bear for scholars experiencing grief, stress, or trauma. The stuffed animals are there for scholars who just transferred to the school and even for scholars who might experience a hard time on certain days of celebration.
Harsany said for Valentine’s Day, the Teddy Bear Project went around donating bears to scholars who might have needed the pick-me-up. She said she distributes the teddy bears in secret, putting them in students’ lockers when she has a free moment during the day.
Canton Prep has embraced the initiative, giving Harsany storage space on school property to keep teddy bears for when a student needs extra encouragement.
The Teddy Bear Project has no walls, though, as Harsany has included other local schools and communities in her efforts. Harsany and the Teddy Bear Project have gifted stuffed animals to National Heritage Academies’ (NHA) sister-schools South Canton Scholars and Arbor Preparatory High School when those schools went through challenging times.
After the Oxford shooting in November 2021, Harsany rounded up 1,400 teddy bears and gifted them to the Oxford community in their time of need. A local moving truck company donated a vehicle to help Harsany and helpful Canton Prep scholars distribute the teddy bears to Oxford.
“I personally handle things like this best when I’m doing something,” Harsany said. “This is something tangible to offer people. The students see it as ‘Wow. My school really cares about me.’ or ‘This school that doesn’t even know us cares about us.’”
Harsany’s title as Teddy Bear Project Coordinator is a year-round job. She runs the initiative all year long and will do home visits to scholars in the summer, exhibiting two of NHA’s nine Moral Focus virtues: compassion and encouragement. This kind of commitment to a Moral-based education has helped Canton Prep outperform surrounding schools in all subjects.
While the Teddy Bear Project is four years in and has expanded outside of Canton Prep, Harsany’s goal for the initiative is still ahead of her.
“A big dream of mine is to bring this to all NHA schools,” she said. “It’s been a really awesome support system for our scholars, our families, and our staff members.”
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Canton Preparatory High School is a tuition-free, public charter school in Canton, Michigan, serving students in ninth through 12th grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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