People often ask me, “Does school size matter?” In a nutshell…yes, school size matters.
Historically large schools (especially for middle and high school) have been the norm for many reasons. A school building, in and of itself, is expensive to operate and maintain. So the fewer buildings that a district has to pay for, the less capital outlay it is for the district. Secondly, the more students in one building, the more funding for that school. The more students in the school, the more likely it is that the school can offer a robust number of programs. In other words, the more students, it’s more likely that you’ll have a better football team, basketball team, and even a math team.
Despite some of the positives of a large school, sometimes in a large school setting, it’s too easy for a student to get lost. Particularly, students who don’t fit the norm and are not well assimilated into school, for whatever reason. My high school graduating class was roughly 170 students. A high school that wasn’t too far away had 1,000 students per graduating class. Take a minute to think about that from a student to teacher/adult ratio. Of course, large schools have more staff members, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer students fall through the cracks.
So why do I think that school size matters?
While classrooms have evolved quite a bit over the past few decades, in many cases, classroom furniture has not. It’s a typical scene from a school classroom: children sit for hours at a time in hard-backed chairs from decades past, arching their backs at unnatural angles, writing in workbooks or reading at outdated school desks, which lack all the comforts of modern ones.
It’s also a scene that some parents have become concerned about, due to the toll this sort of posture exerts on children’s spines and backs throughout their childhood and in later years. Tips on ‘sitting properly’ from an ergonomics perspective tell us that how most children sit in classrooms isn’t correct:
• The lower leg should be vertical to the floor, the thigh horizontal.
• The lower arms should be resting on the desktop in a relaxed position.
• Desks and scholastic furniture should be height adjustable.
One of my nephews, whom I will refer to as Thor (because he loves the movie character), was born at the end of September. His older sister, whom I will refer to as Rachel Alexandra (because she loves horses), was also born at the end of September.
Neither of them made the September 1 cut off for Kindergarten in their public school district. Both tested for Kindergarten readiness in the month of May after they turned four, and both were accepted to start a year ahead of schedule. My sister and brother-in-law decided to start Rachel Alexandra early and to start Thor on schedule.
Fast forward two years. Rachel Alexandra is not only able to keep up with her grade level peers (who are all a year older) but also has been and continues to participate in the accelerated academics program. Thor is well above his grade level peers both academically and in physical stature and participates in the accelerated academics program.
One school district where I worked had 12 schools K-12. Between those 12 schools, especially among the 9 elementary schools, there was a sizable socio-economic divide. A few of the schools were Title I (a federal program that entitled lower-income populations to additional funding), while other schools in the district were incredibly affluent. In fact, a few professional athletes’ kids attended those upper echelon schools within the district.
I happened to be the principal at one of the Title I schools, so our parent club, while incredibly supportive, was not able to provide any monetary support. You might be wondering, “Why would a parent club provide monetary support?” Well, in this day and age, with the budget crises at the state and federal levels of government, funding is cut nearly every year.
As districts tighten their belts and trim any remaining fat in their budgets, district officials have to make very difficult decisions about what to cut. Cuts are never popular, but without funding, there aren’t any alternatives. Fortunately for this district, they had a well-established education foundation. Through the efforts of the ed foundation, the district benefited nearly $750,000/year. Although those funds are not guaranteed each year since it depends on what funds are raised, it is a big contribution to a district’s annual operating budget.
Summer is coming to a close; the sun is setting earlier; it’s time for back to school!
Here are a few simple tips for getting off to a successful start and on into the school year.
1. Build a strong rapport with your child’s teacher(s) right off the bat. Introduce yourself in person, make sure to attend Back to school night (often called Curriculum Night) and then send a follow-up email letting your child(ren)’s teacher know that you and your family are excited for a great year. In your email, share the best way for the teacher(s) to get a hold of you and a little bit about your child that may be good and/or helpful for the teacher(s) to know. And for those of you with middle and high school students, this tip is still very much valid. Be sure to include the specialists (ie. PE teacher, Art teacher, etc…) Taking the time to connect lets teachers know that you’re serious about supporting them and your child in having a successful year.
2. Notify your child’s teacher of any special needs that are out of the ordinary. For example, if your child is deathly shy in a large group, this would be good to let the teachers know in advance so they can be sensitive in engaging your child.
During the course of my career as a teacher and school administrator, I’ve received my share of memorable gifts from students. And one of the first things I learned as a teacher is to appreciate each gift, regardless of what it is; although honestly, that didn’t keep my teacher friends and me from having a little fun with some of the more unusual gifts we received.
Since most of the gifts were given to us on the Friday before the winter holiday break, the other grade level teachers and I agreed to wear any and every gift that was wearable on that day. We did this every year.
One year, my colleague pinned on a 2 inch long, 1-inch tall rhinestone “JESUS” brooch and tried really hard, albeit without any success to put on the pants that a student had given her. They were dark green jeans. I put on a pair of the biggest gold-plated hoop earrings I had ever seen along with a vest (the kind that buttons up the front).