Thursday, March 21, 2019

Smarty always went to relatively small neighborhood schools. Her elementary school had about 500 students in grades TK-5. Her STEAM school also had about 500 people, but the range was from K to 8th grade, with only about 150 students in grades 6-8. But these schools are still rather large in comparison with her current private school. This year, it only had 62 students in grades 6-12, less than 10 students per grade. Clearly, this "micro-size" has some pros and some cons. Here is how I look at the pros and the cons:

Pros of a Small School

Small class sizes. The school creator and its headmaster believes strongly in maintaining small class sizes. In principle, the school is designed to have about 110 students and is still in its "budding" phase (it's its second year in a new location). Even at full capacity, the classes are not expected to exceed 12 students. Obviously, a good teacher can do so much more with a class of 12 students than with a bigger class, and the teacher can also differentiate better in a smaller class. In fact, all middle school students are taking core subjects together, and the teachers differentiate assignments somewhat based on ability/age of the student. 
Visibility. Smarty is a kid who likes recognition and likes to be noticed. She enjoys the fact that every other student in her school knows who she is (she defined it as "a weird smart kid") and she also enjoy the fact that her teachers also know her. It does not mean that all of them "get" her, but her headmaster definitely does as evidenced by some emails we had to exchange recently. 
Personalized Learning. Smarty's school really tries to understand each student and support them as individuals. Some of the students need extra 1:1 time with teachers, and they get that. Some others, like Smarty, are given access to online classes and allowed to progress more quickly. Yet another group are athletes that sometimes miss classes due to travel, and they are allowed to catch up. I feel a lot more comfortable that Smarty can ask for what she needs (we are teaching her to advocate for herself) and that the school will at least try to accommodate her.
"Being Sheltered". It depends on your point of view, but we like the sense of students being part of the family. Because the school grounds are small, there is less chance of any sort of bullying to be undetected. Three school administrators and teachers keep an eye on students even during breaks. Smarty is saying that she "likes everyone" and she feels pretty settled socially even though she does not have close friends. 
Focus. Because graduating classes are small, each senior has a personal mentor - a teacher that helps with college applications, scholarship applications, etc. Also, each year, even middle schoolers have a teacher in charge of their "college readiness" - exploring careers, choosing classes to take, etc. Considering the expense of hiring a private college counselor or a load on high school counselors, it's a big plus to know that there is someone out there who is looking after each senior. 


Limited Options. Because the school is so small, it cannot offer the same variety of electives, AP classes and extracurriculars as a big high school can. There are no sports (not an issue for Smarty, but could be an issue for other kids), no competition teams, etc. Even this year, Smarty had to take at least one elective not because she really wanted it, but because it was the only one that could fit into her schedule, and it worries me that she will have to make trade-offs in future years as well.
Limited Circle of Friends. Smarty seems on good terms with everyone, but she did not make close friends this year. Granted, she is "picky", but I can't help missing her nerd squad of boy friends from her math club last year, and I wish the school had more social events, like dances and field trips, for kids to get to know each other outside of the classroom.
Dependency on One Teacher. All teachers in Smarty's school teach multiple grades. Most of them (luckily, in key subjects of interest for Smarty) are quite good. But her geograph
y teacher is not on her "nice" list and demonstrated several times how unfair he can be. Unfortunately, he also teaches high school history, so Smarty is "stuck" with him for at least two more years when she takes required history courses. I pray that the chemistry/physics teacher is as good as her biology teacher - Smarty is happy that she will have Dr. B for several more years for life science classes. 
"Being Sheltered" - Yes, I mentioned it as a "pro", but it is also a con. When Smarty took a writing class in fall, she was disappointed by the number of kids in that class (it was about 30). She is getting used to small groups, to teachers who really know her, to being a big fish in a small pond. I wonder how she will adjust if she goes to a big state university where she is one of thousands, and whether she will be able to deal with sensory overload of a bigger group. My hope, though, that she will be more mature then and will outgrow some of her sensory quirks.
All that said, currently pros outweigh cons for us. Smarty is happy despite her high workload, and she cannot imagine switching schools even if she is offered a free ride to one and only super expensive gifted school located within reasonable distance from us. We can only hope that she is as engaged and enthusiastic in the next four years, so we don't have to make any other school choices until college. 

Your Turn

What kind of school did you go to?


Min Erva said...

I like schools that aren’t too big and not too small. Too big makes you feel like a number and too small can feel suffocating. Ideal is a school in a school model where they build smaller communities within a larger school setting.

MaryAnne said...

I went to loads of schools, but they were all on the smaller side except in France. I think that small class size is incredibly important, regardless of school size, and I wish it were prioritized more.

Ticia said...

I'm amused you list a school of 500 as small for an elementary school. That's actually a somewhat small elementary school here as they try to keep those smaller.

There are definitely trade-offs in school size. I went to a middle of the road school for size, and there were definitely some good sides to it and some ideas that caused problems.