The first time I walked onto the campus of Ambleside Ocala (AS), I knew very little about the school. I enjoyed the morning assembly and the quiet beauty of the stone courtyard surrounded by picturesque windows and blooming flowers. After that short time on campus, I could sense that I was walking out of a school unlike any other that I had visited; however, other than thinking it was the most C.S. Lewis-like school I could imagine, I had no idea the depth to which the school sets itself apart, nor the community I was about to become a part of.
With over 150 students attending AS, that quaint courtyard can sometimes feel very full. If you look to the face of school founder, Shari Ausley, or school principal, Jill Romine, the school’s growth is something that often brings each of them to tears. As a school established on deep relationships with self, knowledge, and others, the thought of keeping those relationships at the center is never far from sight. One way in which we seek to stay in community with each other is our campus meetings.
As our school has grown, campus meetings have changed over the years, but the idea is still very much the same. These crucial meetings provide families and staff the opportunity to get to know each other in the more informal setting of a shared family-style meal. As a community, we are continually seeking to grow in knowledge and wisdom alongside our children; therefore, these meetings are filled with beautiful ideas, meaningful information, and often, delicious food. Each detail of our campus meetings is meant to be intentional and designed to inspire and encourage all those who attend.
Last year we started connect-four groups with the aim to build relationships within our community. These groups are not only carefully thought out and kept the same throughout the year, but designed so that you will get to connect with various families and deepen your relationship as the year goes on. As a natural introvert myself, walking into a large room filled with people I had just begun getting to know, was a daunting task. Even though there was no doubt in my mind that I was surrounded by some of the kindest and most-welcoming people, I was brand new and felt out of place. See, I was always the one that skipped game nights and got to church just late enough to miss the mingling that happens beforehand. If it hadn’t been for my table hosts who called beforehand to tell me at which table I would be sitting at and what to expect, I would have walked around that room in circles avoiding eye contact and trying to find the safest place to sit. I am so thankful that I wasn’t given the opportunity to do that. We are wired for community and deep relationships in which we can be fully known and fully loved, but our default may not be to go out and talk to the person on the other side of the room whose name you don’t know. Thankfully, we wear name tags.
Another favorite campus meeting is our annual “Night at Ambleside,” in which parents can attend their children’s classes and learn the very lessons being taught in the classroom. While parents are often engaged with classroom happenings and encouraged to talk with their children about the ideas being discussed at school, this night gives parents the opportunity to walk in their child’s shoes, to sit in their child’s desk, and even tell back about the lesson being taught.
Ambleside works alongside parents in the vital work of bringing children up, and because of this, parent attendance is required at these meetings. Of course, these get-togethers are designed to make us stop and think about how we can better raise our children, but they are also designed to remind you that this task is not one that you are being asked to do alone. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an intentional community to help that child flourish. As Helen Keller once said, “alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”