Canton Central School

The staff at Canton Central School understands it takes a village to battle cancer, and they take that saying seriously when it comes to supporting students in need.

The community lost Ridge Thorbahn, a graduate of Canton Central, to cancer six years ago. He battled the disease for two years before passing away at the age of 21. 

Ridge was showered with endless support from the school community until his last days.

“Ridge was a great person. He had a wonderful personality and contagious smile. He always put others before himself,” said Paula Jones, a fifth grade teacher at the school. “He had tremendous courage and strength.”

A football player, Ridge had the opportunity to establish relationships with multiple members of the school community, including Athletic Director Bill Porter.

“Ridge was a young man that I held in high regard because of the person he was,” Bill said. “Although he had a large frame and strong body, I just knew that deep down, he was a person of solid character and sort of a softy. The kind of kid who wanted to get an engineering degree from Clarkson so he could make enough money to one day buy his mom a home. The kind of person who when we needed to move the football three yards during a game, Ridge would get us four. The kind of man who literally, while he in the last 30 minutes of his life, attempted to comfort a family member who he was speaking with on the phone. The kind of man who loved his life and the people in it. I was fortunate to know him. He made me a better human being.”

Despite his diagnosis, the faculty tried to teach Ridge to remain optimistic and stay positive, and in return he taught the school community to live life to the fullest.

“We taught him to always do your best no matter what curve ball life throws at you,” Jones said. “He taught us to live life to the fullest.”

“We have a huge role in student’s lives but here is the kicker—their role in our lives is just as valuable,” Bill said. “We learn from our students everyday. That’s why it is so sad when these dreaded diseases attack one of them. It is even more heartbreaking when that fight is lost.”  

But, Ridge is not the only student diagnosed with cancer the school has helped. Sami Curtis and Zach Hamilton are both battling cancer, and both students have the support of the school community behind them. 

“I feel we have a supportive, nurturing community environment at our school,” Jones said. “The school district needs to have good communication and an understanding of the physical needs of the student. We need to help and support the student any way we can.”

And it’s the supportive, nurturing community environment that makes Canton Central so special.

“We try to create a safe and positive environment for our students. The staff all enthusiastically work together to create a productive and rewarding atmosphere in which students can learn and grow,” she said. “Students here feel safe, connected, and engaged and this creates positive teacher-student interactions.”

Above all, Paula and Bill both believe establishing and maintaining connections between students and teachers are very important, especially for small town schools. 

“We have a huge role with the development of these young people, and therefore a tremendous responsibility,” Bill said. “The key component to providing a sound educational experience is to be ourselves and show that we care about our students and our athletes. Our staff is comprised of caring people who treat their students as family. How would any family member behave when a loved one is stricken with cancer? That is a school district's role in my opinion - to treat these kids as family and to do anything to help him/her and their family through these tough times.”