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Small vs. Large Schools

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Experience with small vs large schools

Feb 2010

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. Good luck. 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. Maria M.
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! Academy Dad
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. School veteran


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 kid.

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 for.

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 work together?

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


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