BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
Small vs. Large Schools
Berkeley Parents Network >
School & Preschool >
Small vs. Large Schools
Looking at various kindergartens for our daughter. Would
love to hear some of your collective experience on small
vs. large private elementary schools. What did you
consider when making this choice? How did it work for
you? Did anyone's child make a change from one setting to
another and how did this work? Thank you in advance.
-Grateful Others Have Been Through This Before.
Our son attends The Academy (currently in 3rd grade) and we cannot
imagine a more nurturing environment. The whole school is like a family
and all the teachers and staff really knew him as an individual person
practically from the first day.
The academic standards and structure are what drew us to the school,
and they certainly deliver on those fronts, but the small size was an
unexpected benefit as well.
Happy Academy Parent
Our son goes to the Academy (6th grade). Both he and we (the
parents) think it is a wonderful school on account of both
its academic content and its small size. Our son also spent
two years at Bentley (K-1) and one year at a very reputable
large public school in Princeton, NJ (4th grade), so we are
in a position to make informed comparisons. Although at the
beginning we were somewhat concerned about the small size of
the Academy, we quickly realized that it is, in fact, an
advantage: it creates a warm family atmosphere and provides
a genuine possibility for generous individual attention to
students. Our son spends a lot of time in after school care.
We found that in the small schoolyard of the Academy he
played and exercised more (because he went through more
pairs of shoes faster) than at Bentley's or Princeton's
bigger facilities, where supervision could be a problem if
the staff was not adequate and the children were not always
allowed to play where they wished. We also find that the
Academy effortlessly and without rhetorical bravura delivers
this highly desirable (at least at Berkeley) but generally
elusive quality called ''diversity''. We cannot recommend the
Academy highly enough.
Hi, we made the switch from a large elementary school to a
small one two years ago. Our twin boys went through
Kindergarten and 1st grade at BAM public elementary school
here in Berkeley. They were in separate classes and each
had different learning and social issues which we thought
might be due to the environment. We switched to The
Academy, a small private school off College Avenue, and
it's been great. The teachers were much better and the
smaller environment (8-10 kids per class!) meant more
attention and more emotional support. The academics are
rigorous but the kids are getting a great grounding in the
basics, plus a lot of extras like French, music, art,
computers, and science. They also have a really good
afterschool program which isn't that expensive. If you're
considering small private schools, they're one of the best.
Eric & Betsy
Here is a vote for smaller schools.
We recently made the transition from Ocean View Elementary School, one of
three elementary schools in Albany Unified, to the Academy in Berkeley. Our
only regret is that we didn't start our son at the Academy from kindergarten.
Though Ocean View is one of the better public schools in the area, the
Academy's small class size, pedagogical quality, and welcoming environment
have made this transition fantastic.
Our experience at Ocean View was fine until this school year, when it became
clear that, with the large number of kids in the class and increased budget cuts,
his education would have been middling at best. He is now in a class with only
8 other children and a teacher who has over thirty years of experience under her
belt. We really couldn't be happier!
It depends on the school and the kid. It also depends on the
age of the kid. Up to about the 4th grade, I found that my
kids would adapt to just about any classroom situation. They
related well to whatever teachers or kids were presented to
them. They did fine in small schools as well as bigger
public schools, found friends to play with and were
comfortable with the school routine. But for us, 4th grade
was the tipping point. One of my kids was completely
overwhelmed by a large public school that had *four* 4th
grade classes. He felt intimidated on the playground, and
his deteriorating academic performance went unnoticed by the
school as they focused on much bigger problems than my one
kid. On the other hand, a small 5th grade class at a very
small private school was a disaster. My kid found few
like-minded kids among the small student population, and a
personality clash with a teacher left us with no alternative
but to stick it out. His small imperfections were greatly
magnified compared to at a bigger school, and his
self-esteem suffered accordingly.
By middle school my kids became much more selective about
who they wanted to hang with and what activities they
enjoyed. For one kid, a bigger pool of kids was important,
which brought a diversity of interests and activities. For
the other kid, a small group of more compatible kids worked
out better for him.
Just speaking as a parent, I much prefer being in a bigger
school population. There is a better chance I'll find
parents I click with, and also it is easier to keep a low
profile if you need to, or like me, just want to.
You know, it is very hard to tell what kind of kid you'll
have by the 4th grade, when you are looking for a K for a 4
or 5 year old. I think you should make your best guess, and
later if you need to change it, you can.
Just to share our experience. Our kid started out at a K-
8 private shool where there were 2 classes per grade, 20
students per class K-2. The school ''re-grouped'' students
each year, so you wouldn't have the same students in the
same class year after year.
After finishing 2nd grade, my kid went to the Academy, a
small K-8 private school where there's one class per
grade, about 15 students per class.
We picked the first school not necessarily because it's
larger than the 2nd school. We liked the teachers,
the ''feel'' of the school in general, and other things that
we thought would be a good fit for our kid.
We left it for the Academy not necessarily because it's a
small school. We liked its teachers and their strong, no-
nonsense academic focus, the school culture, and, again,
other things that we thought would be a good fit for our
There are obvious pros and cons with the size of the
school, but it's helpful to look at them in perspective
when you make a decision.
For example, 1 class per grade obviously limits your kid
to pretty much the same group of kids every year. If your
child doesn't get along with some of the kids, he/she
would be ''stuck'' with them year after year. However, if
they are a group of nice and sweet kids, like my kid's
class, it's the most wonderful thing you could ever wish
Another example, if a school with 2 or more classes per
grade manipulates the ''re-grouping'' process, putting most
or all spirited kids in one class, and your child happens
to be a nice, well-rounded kid who's put in the same class
as a buffer or balance, it would be the most terrible
thing you and your child would ever want to experience.
So, take a long and hard look at the school--its teachers,
students, policies and practices--not just its size. Does
the school take whoever they could get to fill the
classes? (Most private schools have no resources for
spirited or learning disabled students.) Are most or all
board members' kids in the same class? or does one class
look more focused than the other? Do teachers sound
enthusiastic about teaching AND teaching the students they
have? Does the school practice what it preaches? (Look
beyond fancy brochures, newsletters and whatever the
school publishes and ask for examples, data and
information.) How does the school feel--do students look
like they get along well and do teachers communicate and
My kid went through the transition okay, after a few days
of tears and sadness initially and a few weeks of samll
adjustments after starting at the new school. New friends
were made almost immediately, and new academic skills were
caught up in a couple of months. Overall, the difference
in school size was hardly an issue.
Happy Small School Mom
this page was last updated: Apr 24, 2010
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network