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The Seaside Series: An Empathetic School Culture

With an emphasis on creativity, empathy and imagination, Seaside Community Charter School opened last month at full enrollment!

By Carrie Lee Ferguson

Carrie Lee Ferguson is a mother and writer, furthering global awareness by creating new perspectives and connecting mind with heart. She writes on childbirth, childhood, education and social change. Holding a masters degree in education, Carrie has always been passionate about teaching and learning and views childhood as a critical stage laying the foundation for compassion and creative thinking. She is co-author of A Child's Way: Slowing Down for Goodness Sake and blogs at

September 10, 2013

Editor's Note: With the start of the new school year, we're launching a new series on the blog with contributor extraordinaire, Carrie Lee Ferguson, who is back with insights into the building of an empathetic school culture at the brand-new Seaside Community Charter in Jacksonville, FL, where her daughter attends and she serves as chair of the education committee.  Now presenting...The Seaside Series!

It’s hard to look ahead and know exactly how to get somewhere. Oftentimes, a vision feels too big; how do we act on it? 

That is exactly how I felt when, standing near the monkey bars, a fellow mom asked me, “What do you think about starting a charter school?” Our children had spent their preschool years in a nurturing, joyful environment filled with art, music, gardening, storytelling and other meaningful activities that were brought with a sense of awe and reverence. We did not want the cultivation of creativity, empathy and imagination to end with the introduction of academic work. But my initial reaction, despite my desire for a holistic education, was, “How?!” The thought of building a school from the ground up was intimidating. At the same time, I knew that this urging for a new school culture was the urging of an entire community, and that if we could build it, the people would come. 

I returned to this urging again and again after we decided to act anyway—to apply and to open a charter school—without knowing everything that it would take. The urge was something of a force of its own, asking to be brought into our community. It was the same urge that had propelled the parents before us to establish an initiative to bring Waldorf-inspired education to our area. Now we were there to carry the ideal forward, to be reflected in an elementary school deeply respectful of children and how they naturally learn.  Within this framework, all the necessary tasks that could have seemed too overwhelming were transformed into sustained acts of devotion. 

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Each individual in our core group was able to give an enormous amount of time and energy to the project. The fire behind our devotion was maintained by constantly getting in good relationship with the unknown and by the recognition that no matter how hard we worked, what we would accomplish together would be a matter of grace, a matter of imagining the urging itself into being. 

The building of our school culture began before we even knew it. We started with our desire, our beliefs about how children learn and our vision for a school where everyone is valued and where everyone can be successful. Now, two years after that day on the playground, a day when I couldn’t see how we’d get there, Seaside Community Charter School opened on August 19, 2013 at full enrollment.

I hope you’ll follow this series of articles on how we are continuing to build an empathetic school culture that encourages students to grow into future innovators of our world.

Read Chapter 2 here.