A Charlotte Mason Education, Educational Reform, Mason Charter Schools, Mason Schools
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Gillingham, Granting Children Access by Christie Werkheiser

This morning when I awoke, the sky was a mist of gentle gloriousness; a peachy haze with edges of fiery lavender that barely concealed the sun.  It burned with a refreshingly, cool intensity and rested on the mountains in the distance, softly anointing the trees at the horizon…another way of expressing this idea would simply be…it was a lovely sunrise today.  What a disservice this would be to the extravagant beauty presented to me.

One of the aspects of Relational Education that I have come to appreciate the most is the idea of close observation.  In my mind this concept defines the difference between “wolfing down” a scrumptious dessert and savoring every bite. Noted in An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, “There is a series of small triumphs to be observed any day of the week, and these same triumphs are brought about by dramatic display, so ingenious, pleasing, fascinating….” Charlotte Mason.

As one of the Administrators of Gillingham Charter School, my role includes much of the first contact with perspective parents and students.  Reasons that are given for a desire to transition to a Relational Education Charter School are as varied and intense as the above-mentioned sunrise.  Since we are a school of choice, and this is a new concept to many, discussions with families are frequently very meaningful, poignant and revealing.  During these interactions, an important part of my job is close observation; I must help families understand what Gillingham is about, honestly answer questions, and learn to look for the unasked questions…sometimes questions that parents want to canvass but are reluctant to.

What are the varied reasons students look to transition to Gillingham?  Very often, our approach is the answer that families have been longing for; a rich, full approach that truly looks at their child with the eye of genuine appreciation.

Perhaps families are looking for a more suitable school fit; an opportunity that simply works for them better, an association for their particular and unique sensibilities.   Maybe they just moved to the area and are specifically looking for a charter school.  Some families come because they believe in school choice and have researched us and desire our methodology…. so many reasons.  One of the most devastating issues that comes to my attention is the issue of bullying that students have faced elsewhere; they may be beaten down physically, psychologically and emotionally.

The questions that underlie these meetings are some of the ideas I must figure out…things that parents and students won’t ask:  “Will my child love school again?”, “Can you save my son?”, “Will this be the answer we’re looking for for my child with this amazing mind?”, “Will my daughter be safe here?”, “Can my child thrive here?”,  “Is this the hope we need?”, “Might this be the turning point for our educational needs?”

The answers are only discovered after a student has been with us for a time.  Gillingham is not the solution for some families.  However, in so many wonderful instances, we’ve observed incredible change, been told of remarkable impacts, and in fact, observed for ourselves the refreshing of the spirit and renewed optimism about what school can be.  As quoted by Grundtvig, the poet in 1845, “Where there is most life, there is the victory; a school which should inspire, admiration for what is great, love for what is beautiful, faithfulness and affection, peace and unity, innocent cheerfulness, pleasure and mirth…a well of healing in the land.”  Charlotte Mason, An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education

What I do know is this.  Gillingham is about granting children access, access to life and the beautiful world around us; all that life has to offer.  When a child has access to choices, the possibilities of where they can go, and what they can do are boundless.  I love observing that hope in our students.

© 2013 by Christie Werkheiser


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.

1 Comment

  1. Kara Stalter says

    This leaves within me such a beautiful, lingering picture of all that Gillingham strives to be for its students. Relational education shines intense rays of life, hope, and beauty upon all who choose to walk through its doors.

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