A fair education – private school serves children of carnival workers

Cammack Christian Academy teacher Jordan Forrester works with Dylan Lopez during class. Outside the school, the Arizona State Fair is in full swing. The school was started to educate the children of fair workers. (Photo by Ty Scholes/Cronkite News)

Dylan Lopez, the son of a worker at the Arizona State Fair, takes a break from classes at the Cammack Christian Academy – a school founded to educate the children of fair showmen.
(Photo by Ty Scholes/Cronkite News)

The mechanical roar of Galaxy Coaster combined with joyous screams blare over the faint scratch of pencils on paper. Dylan Lopez chips away at this week’s science homework; the din of the Arizona State Fair doesn’t faze him.

For Dylan, it’s just another school day at the Cammack Christian Academy.

Smack dab in the middle of the fair is a doublewide trailer, painted red and white in the classic schoolhouse style. The surrounding trailers and rides separate the school from fair-goers; no one expects such intensive education mere feet away from the funnel cakes and games.

“It used to be distracting with loud rides and people screaming. Now the only distraction is when I’m really hungry and I want a corndog, I want to just walk right out and get one,” said Dylan.

Family fun is the name of the game at the Arizona State Fair, but family is also the reason the traveling community of carnival workers at Ray Cammack Shows Inc. put in the work to open a portable private school.

This is Cammack Christian Academy’s inaugural year. Prior to the opening in September, each student stayed home while their parents worked the fair at any of the nine cities that RCS Inc. visits throughout carnival season.

Kate Bishop married into the business seven years ago, and has known many of her current students since they were little. She left her teaching job in Texas to set up the school because it “felt right, and I knew we could make this work.”

“Before this, we didn’t take the kids on the road, and some of them were struggling in school with the stress of flying back and forth,” said Bishop. “Nowadays, it’s like one big family all together, like it should be.”

Harley Pickett, 11, a descendant of fair company founder Ray Cammack, wants to be the fourth generation to join the family business. She traveled with the fair from birth until school age, when she started kindergarten in Ahwatukee. Until this year, she flew out to meet her parents on the weekends, and they flew home to see her on their off days of Mondays and Tuesdays. Now the family stays together.

“It was a lot. I mean the people at the airport got to know us by name. I definitely don’t miss all the flying,” she said.

Seven of the 10 students at Cammack Christian Academy are cousins, but the whole crew might as well be blood by the way they play. After class, the group leaves the schoolhouse to run around, shoot hoops, snack and ride the rides – as much as they want. The only limits to these kids are the boundaries they make when playing hide and seek around the fairgrounds.

Pasyn Leavitt, 12, said that sometimes they get bored of rides, so bungee jumping and hide and seek are her favorite pastimes.

“We have to make boundaries when we play that, otherwise it’d take hours to find each other,” said Pasyn.

As fun as it is to have the fair as your back yard, the children work diligently to get a head start on life. Many of the students are learning Spanish at a high-school level.

“I mean, a couple of them are better than we are,” said Bishop. The students benefit from conversations they have with the Spanish-speaking showmen.

Bishop intends to give her students top-notch education with one-on-one attention.

“We’re trying to keep our kids ahead of this game. We incorporate technology as much as possible. We go on field trips at all the places the fair goes to. And where else are they going to get five students to a teacher?” she said.

The school received accreditation through Association of Christian School International, and according to the Cammack Academy’s website, they emphasize “mentoring and training students to change the world for Jesus Christ.” While religion is an important aspect of their education, STEM topics and technology are also highlighted.

“We have iPads, desktops, laptops and a new flatscreen to shake things up from the normal routine,” said Bishop.

Getting an education and traveling the country to stay with mom and dad seems like a sweet new deal for the students of Cammack Christian Academy. Some of the students are even going to New Zealand on their “summer” break before heading back to class next February.

The only downside?

“I can’t go to any dances. And I can’t date anyone, I mean all the girls are my cousins,” Dylan said and with a sad look in his eye.

That will just have to wait for high school. For now, the children of the RCS showmen will have to be content with the fried snacks and unlimited rides.