Photo Credit: Sienna Renee Photograhy

Chondra Norman

Founder & Director

As I made my way through elementary, middle, and high school, I often found myself wondering why the traditional educational system was set up the way it was. Looking around, I could see that many of my classmates were comfortable and content. But I was kind of unique, and I wanted the things around me to vary a little bit, too.

Seeing things differently, I especially noticed how differences were not particularly valued in my educational setting at the time. All of the students needed to work on the same things, at the same pace, in the same way, in order to keep the system running smoothly. Many people were able to go with the flow, and work on the specified task, at the specified pace, in the specified way. I was not one of those people. And the specifications made me feel like my individuality was threatened and my creativity was stifled. 

My childhood education was a succession of observing, wondering, and determining. I observed that the system around me didn't seem to fit me as well as it did some of my peers. I wondered if the system could be changed to accommodate a wider variety of learners, and how. And finally, I determined that it could indeed be run differently. More inclusively. But, I knew that the changes would only come with the help of people who see things differently. Perhaps, differently like me.

When I graduated from high school, I had already earned a certificate in entrepreneurial studies from the local community college, and I held in my hands a business plan to start a preschool. Heading off to college, I felt so fortunate to have had the encouraging support system that I did. I was so grateful for the adults who encouraged me through what was sometimes a very frustrating and discouraging journey, trying to follow a path in what often felt like shoes that were shaped to somebody else's feet. I looked back with great fondness on the teachers who I had adored and admired- teachers who inspired me to become my very best self, even though the shoes were misshapen and my feet could feel the ache. And I wondered if those teachers had felt stifled by the system, too.

I held my dream in my heart as I attended college, earned a BA in Psychology, worked at a children's home while my husband went to grad school, and became a mother. Fast forward a few years, I started to realize that we were raising a child who saw the world differently. Even more differently than I ever had. My husband got his dream job as an aeronautical engineer, and we moved to a nearby city with one of the best ranking school districts in the nation, hoping that our unique children would find a place to thrive there. But instead, we found more of the same. All of the questions I had started asking in kindergarten were still unanswered.

After 2 years of trying our hardest to make it work, it became clear that our children did not have a place to thrive in the traditional educational setting, and we decided to take a different path for our family. I began homeschooling them in a way that I hoped I could one day share with the community. I had friends tell me that they wished they could send their kids to school at our home. I would smile, and say, "Well, maybe someday. Maybe I'll build a school for our grandkids." At the time, we called it "The Normanschooling Way". Today, it is The Ashlar Way. A door opened up sooner than I would have predicted, and suddenly we find ourselves walking over the threshold. It is beautiful. It is exciting. It is an adventure.  It is many of the things I yearned for as I questioned the system around me in my youth.

 

So, when people ask me, "How long have you been thinking about starting a school?" My mind goes back to the very first questions I asked about our educational system. Back to nearly as far as I can possibly remember, at just 5 years old. Ashlar has always been there. From a question, to a dream, to a project with a mission. And now, I am working to make it a reality for our community, and I am truly honored to have the opportunity.

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