small schools

Championship Track and Field for a Small School

It begins with a one-hour plane ride from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Copenhagen, Denmark.  Our tiny school has rallied 14 competitors for the annual track and field NECIS tournament this weekend.  They join 555 athletes in the Danhostel where they will sleep and from where they will be bussed to the stadium venue each day.

One thing we consistently claim, is that our athletes “have heart” – they give it their all, even in the face of finishing last place.

One student was running the 3000 meter race and she stumbled and doubled over about 2000 m into the race.  Then she did it again.  She was lapped twice by the first place contender, yet she kept running.  Tears sprung to my eyes as I saw her struggle to finish.  It wasn’t until she was back in the bleachers that I found out she had actually vomited twice during the run.  As she said, “probably something funny I ate last night”.  With a smile on her face she reported that she’ll run track next year and she doesn’t regret her race today.  Wow.

The team had a smattering of placing from dead last to first place and everything in-between.  The spectators consistently cheered all athletes and I must say, some of those last places received the biggest ovation.  It just fills me with pride to see our little athletes running, jumping, and throwing with all their heart, a smile on their faces, and joy in the success of athletes all around them. 

It wasn’t all losses, in fact our team of 14 managed to collect 22 medals (bronze, silver, and gold).  Several students broke school records, including a senior who either set or broke four school records!  Amazingly, in shot-put he broke an 11-year old school record in his first throw and then with each subsequent throw increased the distance, reaching a goal he's been working on for two years.  An 11th grader who has never participated in track and field before this season medaled in all four of her events (three bronzes and a silver).  The 10th grader who earned a bronze medal in the 200 m race set a personal best time.  One of our 6th graders, a slight young girl, beat out 20 other competitors for a gold medal in the ball throw.  It was an incredible weekend.

So, we saw today that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Our team of 14 faced teams with 54, even 72 athletes!  Yet, we still offered competition and earned our share of medals.  One of the coaches from a bigger team came over to us and commented, “I’m doing the math here and if our team were like yours, we’d be walking away with over 100 medals and that’s not happening.”  Smiles abounded on our coaches’ faces and our athletes sat tall with pride. 

The best part, however, is the team spirit.  The eagerness with which all of our team left their seats in the bleachers to be at the trackside to cheer fellow teammates on is touching.  The effort each athlete put out on the track and field is inspiring. The true joy in the victory of others is compassionate. The celebration and wonder of excellent athleticism is sportsmanlike.  It’s an honor to spend a weekend with these individuals.

Small School Benefits

My son and I in front of the school.  The wonderful bike paths here in the Netherlands allow us to roller blade  anywhere . However, he chose the school.  Partly, I think, because he  really  likes it there.  

My son and I in front of the school.  The wonderful bike paths here in the Netherlands allow us to roller blade anywhere. However, he chose the school.  Partly, I think, because he really likes it there.  

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.

Family Atmosphere

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!"

Global Mindedness.

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. 

Personalized Education.

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!

Should a teacher answer the phone during class? At a small school like ours, the answer might be “yes”.

No one calls my phone during the day.  All of my friends are either associated with the school or keenly aware of my job as a teacher.  Plus, in the Netherlands, I just don’t use my phone much.  As such, I never bother to turn it off.  It sits quietly and happily in my bag all day long.

However, recently, it rang during one of my classes.  I was in the middle of guiding my IB students through some activities and they were working independently on and off.  My ringing phone was such a curious incident that I decided to check who could possibly be calling me.  I looked at the caller ID and noticed it was a parent from the school I know quite well because I teach one of her daughters, my daughter is friends with another of her daughters (who I also had as a student last year) and my husband has coached her youngest daughter.  I knew she would not be calling my phone during school time unless there was a need.  My students were working independently so I answered the phone.

Apparently, her daughter had left her sports uniform in the locker room at the school before the team had departed for an out-of-town basketball game.  This parent was on their way to the game but time was of the essence and they had not planned to stop by the school.  She was wondering if there was anyway I could help orchestrate getting that uniform to the front of the school.  No problem.  I sent one of the students, who was furthest along in her independent work, scurrying to the locker room to find the abandoned uniform and then take it to the front office where the parents picked it up a few minutes later and still make it to the game in time for their daughter to play.  All went smoothly and my student returned to the classroom within 5 minutes.

I realized such a scenario could only happen at a small school like ours.  We are located in the Netherlands so already the rules are different than in U.S. public schools based on cultural and political differences in the school systems.  Our high school student population is under 50 students.  We are a family.  Everyone knows everyone and they all are “there for each other”.  It felt absolutely good and “right” to have answered my phone that day during my lesson. I am so glad to be part of a school family such as ours.