Today we had a prospective student visit the school. By the end of the day she had determined that she “was definitely coming”. When students visit the school, they always choose our small, family-like environment over the larger international schools in the area (there are three within a one hour radius of us). I wonder why they consistently forgo the impressive facades, extensive course offerings, and large social scene for our little school. So, I’ve been thinking about it. There are clearly some benefits to being in a class of ten students. And when I say class, I mean the entire grade. I think I can summarize as follows:
Participation in School Sports
Basically, everyone in middle and high school participates in all the sports. Even if you’re not into athletics you are recruited to the teams because it’s part of the school culture to be a team member. No one is excluded. Of course, this also means that we aren’t the strongest teams on the courts and fields, however, true team spirit is developed as the students struggle for every win and fight hard in every loss. The students bond and because everyone is playing, it creates a real sense of unity at the school.
I’ve overheard our students explain to prospective students, “Well, we are a family here. We all know each other and we all care about each other”. There is amazing acceptance of differences, frequent offers and acts of students helping each other out, and genuine celebration of successes and sorrow for losses. A couple of years ago we had a student, who has returned to his home country, who really struggled in science and then was absent due to an illness for a long period of time. One student came up to me and said she’d be willing to stay after school and do all the labs with him that he had missed. Daily I see students reaching out to each other through little acts of kindness to long-term committed service to a friend in need. It is really cool to see. When I mention the words "family environment" to prospective parents they all nod vigorously adding, "Oh, I can feel that!"
Many of the other bigger international schools still carry a very American cultural high school experience. However, at our little school no one nationality dominates. The students truly come from all over the world and are fairly represented. It is so commonplace to have friends with entirely different family traditions, thus broadening acceptance of and appreciation of other cultures. In the classroom this brings a vast diversity in perspective and approaches to learning. As a teacher, I delight in the different mindsets and I see the world literally opening up to my students.
For me as a teacher, this is one of my favorite aspects of the school. First of all, there are almost no discipline issues. And with such small class sizes, I can truly attend to the individual needs of each of my students.
For example, today, in one class, a student was out for illness, a learning support teacher aided one student, and the rest of the students were working independently on their science fair project. There was one student who had just not grasped the “big idea” of her project, was struggling to comprehend some of the research articles and generally needed some help. I was basically able to sit down with her for the entire block and work 1:1 with her. Afterwards she beamed and exclaimed, “Thank you so much. Now I get it. Now I really get it”. And that feels good.
Equally, I am able to provide accelerated material for those students eager for more.
If a student wants a course not offered, we have a very structured access to online courses – some ridiculous amount of course offerings, like 50 or so. I know of students taking IB Economics and IB Mandarin through the online program.
An amazing accomplishment is that we have a 100% success pass rate for the IB diploma. There are students who receive the diploma who probably wouldn’t have been admitted to other IB programs. However, because of the individualized attention, they succeed at our school.
All of our students are accepted into colleges, universities and other programs of their choice. They move on to have productive and successful lives.
Our school is a joyful place. The students are upbeat and the teachers are cheerful. The other day a new transfer student said, “I like it here because the teachers are so happy and they always smile at me”.
Choosing A School
A small school environment is not necessarily the best decision for everyone. However, if you’re moving to a new place and considering several schools, it might be worth your while to have your children visit the schools and allow them to be part of the decision making process. It may take you on an unexpected and wonderful journey!