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 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 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in hard-backed chairs from decades past, arching their backs at unnatural angles, writing in workbooks or reading at outdated school desks, which lack all the comforts of modern ones.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.
• The seat should tilt forward by approximately 2°.
• The seat depth should be positioned correctly: the thighs should not be in contact with the front edge of the seat.
• The backrest should be adapted to the back and support the lumbar region.
• A tilting desktop encourages an upright position that is better for the back.
Children begin to notice the difference in people’s skin color fairly early on. They innocently make comments that an adult would never get away with. Sometimes those comments about skin color are ironically spot on. This is the current understanding of skin color according to our five-year-old.
We watched the second presidential debate together as a family. Although my husband and I typically vote for opposing candidates every election and our kids are still very young (probably too young to truly understand the election process), we thought it’d be a good idea to try to watch at least some portion of the debate and use it as a teachable moment.
While we were watching, we explained the election process (very briefly and simply). We also explained that our last president was Barack Obama, the candidate running against him was Mitt Romney, and a debate was an opportunity for candidates to share their views.
I paused the debate when Barack Obama was on the screen.
The school year is in full gear, and by now, most schools on a traditional school calendar are hitting the halfway point of the first quarter. That means it’s about time for progress reports. Progress reports used to be mailed out around mid-quarter (or mid-marking/grading period) to students who were at risk of failing. However, these days progress reports are more and more common for all students, not just those at risk.
With the advent of online grading technologies such as Powerschool (my favorite) giving parents and students daily access to grades, attendance, and various other records, it may seem that there is less need for formal mid-quarter progress reports. On the contrary, I believe there is still a value add for official progress reports.
1. Even though online technologies offer parents and students a daily view of progress, not all parents/students access the records. So a paper progress report is still a useful tool for communication.
Months in advance of the start of this school year, we decided to send Lil Pig to the full day kindergarten program at his pre-school. After weighing all the pros and cons given our current family situation (ie. academic needs, class size, our jobs, sister at the same school, cost), this decision made the most sense.
Well, three days ago, Lil Pig started kindergarten. There wasn’t as much hoopla for us since he was staying at the same school with many of the same friends moving into the kinder class. Admittedly, I did little to prepare him or ourselves for starting “real” school. So, much to my dismay when he came home and said that he didn’t like kindergarten because it was “boring”, missed his former teacher, and wanted to return to pre-school, I was surprised and distraught.
We consoled and reminded him that he’s a big boy, ready for the exciting adventure of kindergarten. We asked him specific questions to see if we could get to the bottom of his boredom. After about 10 minutes of talking with our 5-year-old, we managed to conclude that he wasn’t bored, but in fact, he didn’t like the academic nature of kindergarten. After all, there was far less play time in kindergarten than in pre-school. This is a portion of the week one newsletter I received from the teacher:
In the first part of this two-part series, I wrote from the perspective of an administrator who honors parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. For the second part of this two-part series, I’ll share the perspective of an administrator who does not accept parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. There are a number of valid reasons for not allowing this sort of teacher selection to take place.
1. Self-selection makes it nearly impossible to create balanced classes. In other words, a class could end up with 5 boys/25 girls or 10 students with special needs or 15 students who are English language learners. When parents make specific requests and they are all honored, it leaves little room for school officials to balance the classes into a heterogeneous mix as needed.
2. I’m a firm believer that perception is reality and as such, many a teacher has been chosen (for better or for worse) based on general public perception and reputation. The problem with this type of selection process is not every good teacher is a good teacher for each child. Don’t just go by word of mouth as a teacher’s personality/style may not fit your child’s.
There is absolutely nothing more complicated in the middle and high school than scheduling. Whether it’s scheduling for athletics, use of rooms/meeting space, or bus scheduling, it’s all ridiculously complicated. And the larger the school, the more students; the more students, the more teachers and staff; And thus, the ever more complicated scheduling becomes. Above all, creating the master schedule is the Mount Everest that every school has to deal with during the summer months preceding the start of a new school year.
The master schedule is the schedule that shows what each teacher is teaching (called sections), in which room, at what time (or periods or mods for schools that are on 10-15 minute increments). It also shows what is called the “seat count”, meaning, if you have 1600 students in the school with 400 at each grade level, there should be at least that many spaces (seats) per grade level per period to ensure that there’s space for every student as well as some “give” or flexibility for students who may want to transfer courses. A master schedule typically looks something like this:
Have you ever wondered: how are students placed in classes? How are they separated? What are the factors that are involved? Do the teachers do it or does the principal do it? Can I as a parent have some say in the matter? What about new students?
In all likelihood, you child’s school has a process just like every one of the schools where I’ve worked. At the first school where I worked as a teacher, there were 5 grade level teachers. At this school, the teachers did the bulk of the work in sorting the students into classes for the following school year.
Starting in May, we completed a grouping card for each student in our class. These were color-coded (pink for girls and blue for boys–yes gender-stereotyped colors, but simple for everyone to recognize), 4×6 index cards that included information such as: overall ability level, special needs (ie. Special Education, Gifted, or ELL–English Language Learner), allergies, wears glasses, overall behavior, degree of parent involvement, names of other students from whom to be separated or placed with together, special interests/talents, and space for the current teacher to write any additional information that may be helpful to the next teacher.