20 Years of Connection: A Student to Teacher Journey

February 9, 2023 5 min read

For 12 years, school is consistent in every student’s life. It’s not until they graduate that the next year looks different for every learner, whether entering post-secondary, joining the workforce, or other routes. High school graduation typically closes a chapter of life for students when they leave school, but that isn’t true for everyone.

For Danica McConnell (‘12), Calgary Academy is the definition of home, a safe place where she thrived. Danica has been involved with CA in almost every way possible—as a student, athlete, volunteer, teacher, and everything in between.

Over a decade later, Danica returned to CA as a teacher, hoping to impact her students the same way her teachers did for her, beginning a second chapter at a familiar place.

Student Life at CA

Danica first arrived at Calgary Academy in Grade 4, entering the school in a floral outfit hand-picked by her mom. She remembers her hair pulled tight in a bun that she tore out the second she was alone. While she never let her mom dress her again, Danica grew to love her new school, making lasting connections and memories over her eight years here.

When looking back at her time as a student, Danica credits her teachers as a support system, helping her navigate personal issues outside of school and encouraging her to be her best.

They made her feel safe, introduced her to different perspectives, and took time from their day to help, no matter the need. She remembers one of her teachers (and now colleague), Mr. Schuegraf, coaching her as a soccer goalie after school.

These lessons paid off, as Danica helped win gold for the school and eventually attended St. Francis Xavier University for their soccer program. She credits Mr. Schuegraf’s support as the reason for her success as an athlete.

“Mark Schuegraf was my Grade 9 teacher, my goalie coach, senior soccer coach, and the reason I was able to play varsity soccer my first year of university.”

Danica’s favourite CA memory happened at the end of her senior year. While most grad classes chose to do a senior prank, the class of 2012 opted for a water balloon fight. The students gathered in the school fields, pelting each other with water balloons. That day, free period was a water warzone.

Eventually the water balloons stopped flying, and Tim Carlson, a then-Senior School teacher, told everyone to go inside for the rest of the day. The students had different plans, slowly chanting, “Carlson, Carlson, Carlson.” As the chants grew, Danica watched in amazement as her teacher slid down a soapy Slip ‘N Slide in a full suit, minus the tie.

“Mr. Carlson takes off his tie, removes his keys and wallet and heads straight down the slide… He slid like it was his profession. It was the most graceful thing I’ve ever seen.”

From Student to Teacher

Danica returned to Calgary after her freshman year at Saint Francis Xavier, where she tore her ACL after 11 minutes in her first game. To her, it was a setback in life, but not something that would ruin her future. Danica already knew what she wanted to do—teach.

This realization happened long before graduation or her injury. In Grade 9, Danica was scouted for her soccer prowess and began a public education at Central Memorial High School. Two weeks in, she was faking sick to avoid going to class, feeling like the connection between student and teacher was missing.

Her mom knew those sick days weren’t legitimate, and within a few days, CA welcomed Danica back.

As she left the admissions office reunited with her school, she locked eyes with Mr. Schuegraf on the other end of the hall.

They ran down the hallway without saying a word, meeting in the air for a self-described “epic high-five.” Danica was back where she belonged, with people who cared about her. This was the moment when she realized she wanted to be a teacher at Calgary Academy.

“I wanted to be that teacher for that student. That moment, I realized hundreds of kids deserve this feeling as well. I knew I wanted to be on the other end of that high-five.”

Danica is proud to say she’s officially a CA staff member. A current full-time substitute teacher, Danica uses her time at the school to share her teaching philosophy: the value of failure with her students.

“Failure is something I’m familiar with—tearing my ACL, relationships failing. In school, failure is necessary. You need to learn how to embrace it.”

As Danica looks to the future, she hopes to become a full-time teacher with her own classroom, working permanently at the place she’s called home for 20 years.

“I feel humbled being here… It’s hard to put into words how much this school has impacted my life. I want to spend all my teaching days here.”