Twenty years ago, if you had walked through a crowded forest in the suburbs of Washington D.C., you might have noticed a mother and her four children painting tulip poplar leaves.
Winter would find them tucked cozily in their living room in front of a fire, listening to Treasure Island being read aloud by their father.
Every now and then, he would stop and say, “Matthew, can you tell that back?” and I would—eagerly.
If my mom had had her way, my three sisters (soon to be four) and I would be homeschooled using Charlotte Mason’s method until 8th grade, and maybe even through high school. However, “a man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”
As a seven year old, I had no concept of the future, but a trauma my family suffered that year changed the course of my life. When we were on an outing, my dad slipped down a rock face and suffered a severe brain injury.
Knowing my mom would not be able to homeschool us anymore, family friends reached out to Leslie Voorhees, founder of Ambleside School in McLean, within a week’s time. Even though the board knew our family couldn’t afford tuition, Leslie arrived Monday evening with uniforms. That night, my mom sat us down at the dining room table and said, “You’re going to school tomorrow.” I had never been to school in my life.
My first day was September 11, 2001 — we were there for one hour. A few weeks later, someone anonymously paid our full tuition, and my mom ended up becoming Head of School within two years. She has been serving faithfully there for seventeen years.
Despite many disciplinary trips to the principal’s office, I graduated from Ambleside in 8th grade, grateful for the education but excited to move on. I studied economics in college and was thinking seriously about going into wealth management. When the St. Cyrs asked me to come to an internship, I accepted, but knew that I had other plans. Even if I wanted to teach, I couldn’t in the fall because I had to fulfill an old promise: to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail with a friend.
Halfway through the hike, I got an email saying that there would be an open position at an Ambleside School in October — the same month we were planning on finishing the journey. My mind immediately turned back to those first days of my Charlotte Mason education spent painting in the woods. I chose to accept the offer.
Five years later, I am still working at the same school. Three months ago, I married a teacher I met at my mom’s school in McLean. Frances and I now work together at the school. When I reflect back on my and my family’s unexpected journey, my ears can hear a word behind me, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
Teacher, Asst. Dean of Students, Ambleside at Skylark
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