Thoughts on Teaching and Learning: Why Small Schools Matter

October 7th, 2019

Since making the move to the Argyle campus, Selwyn has grown by about twenty-five students each year—once at just over forty students, we will soon reach over one hundred students this year as the Early Childhood Center continues to grow. We are excited to see this growth in enrollment as well as the expansion of our facilities because we want Selwyn to continue its legacy of offering an individualized experience that develops young thinkers into resilient, creative problem-solvers. That said, Selwyn is and will remain guided by research and small by design.

Selwyn’s small, inclusive environment benefits students and families in incredibly impactful ways. Consider a few of them:

Teachers cultivate personal relationships with each child.

These relationships foster social and emotional intelligence in Selwyn students, and allows them to learn in ways that are not possible in larger school settings. Writing in Policy Perspectives, researchers Biddle and Berliner found that “long-term exposure to small classes…has been found to increase measured student achievements, and the extra gains it generates may be substantial.” In fact, they found that students who learned in smaller classes read, on average, at reading levels over seven months ahead of their peers in larger classes.

In their meta-analysis of class-size research, Biddle and Berliner concluded that “the extra gains associated with long-term exposure to small classes were greater the longer students were exposed to those classes.” We have long seen firsthand the results of these gains at Selwyn in student outcomes: Selwyn graduates are creative and thoughtful, and they pursue degrees at top-ranking national universities.

No one gets lost

Each morning, we greet everyone as they come to school. Teachers and staff learn students’ moods—we laugh with them and cry with them while still teaching them. Our academics are second to none, but we still ensure that we nurture all forms of skills. Growing up, especially today, can be extraordinarily difficult. At Selwyn, students don’t have to do it alone. Our size is an asset that allows us to nurture a child’s personal well-being. No one falls through the cracks, and each child is loved in a way that helps them navigate the common difficulties of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. We are with them each step of the way.

Students have more opportunities for leadership

Each day at Selwyn presents students with leadership opportunities. In the Upper School’s seminar-style roundtables, students often lead discussions, and in the Lower and Middle Schools, students have real agency to decide what they want to study. Students have an unparalleled chance to engage in their education at Selwyn: they can choose to read to younger students, work in the garden, compete at PSIA, or serve on Student Council. At Selwyn, students are encouraged to explore their interests and teach others about their passions.

Students are truly at the center of our work here

Our spaces are designed around student needs. Our classes are tailored to accommodate the strengths of each child, and our community centers around everything we do.

At Selwyn, we leverage our size to cultivate the personal health and well-being of students. They are engaged throughout the day—every child is not just heard but listened to. Teachers and peers engage with each other’s ideas; they grow together intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Above all, true to our school vision, Selwyn students develop through high academic standards and age appropriate challenges from which world leaders emerge. Each morning when we greet students at the door, we see world leaders—we believe in them, we champion them, and are genuinely excited for their futures. We could not do this as well as we do without our intimate size which is one of our greatest assets.

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