“Charlotte firmly believed that her liberal education ideas were applicable to all children regardless of class, status, or ability, and she put her ideas into practice, as she always did.”
~John Thorley, Foreword to School Education
After my wonderful trip to England last summer, I have found myself even more attached to the ideas and spirit of Charlotte Mason’s work in education. Thus, when Dr. Nola Stephens, Professor of English and Linguistics at Covenant College, announced to our Advanced Composition class this fall that we would be selecting our own topics for a semester-long research project, I immediately began investigating ways to incorporate Charlotte’s work into my own. With guidance from Dr. Beckman, I decided to research the methods and success of two charter schools: The Classical Academy and Gillingham Charter School. The Classical Academy is a large, established, and successful charter school in Colorado that utilizes some of Mason’s methods such as nature, picture, and composer studies. Gillingham, on the other hand, is located in Pennsylvania and is a small, new school just over a year and a half old. While my formal study was inconclusive regarding the success of Mason’s methods in charter schools, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Gillingham and becoming acquainted with its headmistress, Nicolle Hutchinson.
According to Pennsylvania’s Education Law Center, charter schools are public schools that are created by agreement with the local school board. They are free to attend and are open to all students. They are also required to comply with state and federal assessment laws. What sets them apart from other public schools, however, is that they are free to design their own curriculum and pedagogy. In fact, most charter schools adopt a particular philosophy of education (Koppich 1997). Gillingham Charter School, at least to my knowledge, is the first and only fully Charlotte Mason public school in the United States.
Gillingham is seeking to fulfill Charlotte’s vision of making her ideas available and applicable to all children. The school faces many challenges along the way. First was the arduous task of designing a curriculum—many of us remember and even helped with that project. Now they continue to develop and “tweak” that curriculum as they teach. The school is under the watchful eye of the local government; it must meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP; federal achievement standards assessed by high stakes testing) just like other public schools. Gillingham must also consider its parents and students. Charlotte Mason’s methods are new to many of the families in the school. Furthermore, many of the students came to Gillingham because they had struggled academically at their old schools or because they have special education needs. But Nicolle Hutchinson and her brave teachers believe that they can rise to these challenges and that Mason’s methods will be successful for all their students.
In the 2011-2012 school year, after only five months of instruction, Gillingham’s students took the standardized tests. Discouragingly, the school did not meet AYP. Still, they rallied their courage, “tweaked” the curriculum some more, and plunged bravely into the new school year (2012-2013). Wow! My research and interest in the school obviously cannot predict the future, but it has led me to have a deep admiration of Nicolle, her teachers, and the vision they share. In a country where we often bemoan the state of public education, they are seeking to work within the school system to love and educate children as persons. I think that we are going to see marvelous things happen at Gillingham over the next few years, things that show that Mason’s methods are not only person-building, but are also the basis for a strong education, even by strict standardized measurements. Please join me in keeping Nicolle and all of Gillingham in our prayers as they continue on this journey.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
Education Law Center. (2008). Charter schools in Pennsylvania—Frequently asked questions. Retrieved
Koppich, J.E. (1997). Considering nontraditional alternatives: Charters, private contracts, and vouchers.
The Future of Children, 7(3), 96-111.
Thorley, J. (1989). Foreward. In Mason, Charlotte M. (1925). School education. Elkton, MD: Charlotte
Mason Research and Supply.
© 2012 HollyAnne Dobbins