Big school or small school: Which do you prefer?

Our elementary school in Georgia was around 1,000 kids. When I went to the same school as a child it was about that same size. I never thought that it was too big. They had the kindergartners in one area and the fifth graders far away. They were never together in the lunch room or on the playground. The children arrived and dismissed in an orderly manner and there were always plenty of teachers on hand to help. The teachers and staff were friendly and you got to know them all. I always felt like it was a warm environment even though it was bigger than some small colleges.

I felt that because of the size, the school would have any resource that my children or other children might need. Some of the smaller schools didn’t have science, math or writing specialists the way our school did.

The school here that both kids attended last year is about the same size as our school in Georgia. I wasn’t afraid of the school because we had been at one that size. However, it feels bigger. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go there as a kid and we haven’t been there as long? I’m trying to figure out if the feeling is just comfort level or truly a reflection of the size of the school.

Now Walsh is in a different school, and it is almost half the size. You can feel that there are hundreds of less students. It feels calmer in the mornings when I drop off.

I’m still trying to figure out though if there are fewer resources at the smaller school or if you just get the benefits of there being fewer kids.

I am wondering if it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, it just depends on the leadership and organization. Can a big school feel small depending on who is the principal?

So what have your experiences been with schools with more students and schools with less students?

What is too big for elementary school? Middle school? High school?  (Parkview is so much bigger now that is was when I was there. I do think that would be scary.)

Have you found that smaller schools offer less services to their students or does it just make it more personal and they have a chance to get to know the students better?

If you could choose a big or small school, which would you choose?

28 comments Add your comment

jarvis

September 29th, 2011
1:11 pm

Big school. Big fish in a big pond.

jarvis

September 29th, 2011
1:11 pm

If you can make it there you can make it anywhere.

JOD

September 29th, 2011
1:53 pm

As a fellow Gwinnettian I attended mega schools throughout my education and don’t remember it ever being an issue. Bigger schools have more opportunity: more clubs and activities, more challenging (and less challenging) classes.

Assuming it is an excellent school district, I wouldn’t hesitate to send DD to a big school (in fact, she will attend big schools as even the magnet schools here are big). If I found that she felt lost in her school, I would work with her to find her niche and adjust.

Echoing jarvis, if you are used to being in a ‘big pond’, the really ‘big pond’ of adulthood isn’t so shocking.

Lori

September 29th, 2011
1:57 pm

My son’s in private school and I purposely chose a large one. They just had more to offer. His school has a library, cafeteria, gym, computer labs, language classes, music, art, sports, drama, you name it for it’s 1200 students. (That’s 1200 total among all K-12). The smaller schools have smaller class sizes and more personal attention is class, but I didn’t feel that my son really needed that as much as he needed the wider variety of activities available to him. Also, assuming we will one day switch to public school, which we will probably before middle school simply because I can’t afford private school for two (another son on the way), I thought it would be less of a transition for him to have been to a school that was comparable in size to a public school. I like that the size of his school still requires him to be responsible for himself, his behavior and his belongings because with 23 kids in the class, his teacher doesn’t have time to baby them.

Jeff

September 29th, 2011
2:08 pm

My HS in south carolina was 3200-3400 students. My graduating class was 750. I saw people at graduation I had never seen in my 8 years in that district.

Part of what I value so much from my expereiences is the variety of people that being in any big environment provides.

I don’t know which my daughter will prefer or which will serve her better. TBD I guess.

Fred

September 29th, 2011
3:01 pm

I think it’s a matter of personal preference, kind of like going to a little church or a mega church. In a little school everyone knows everyone and there are more personal relations as kids attend the same classes year after year with each ohter. In a huge school, that doesn’t happen. But as noted, a large school will have a wider variety of activities and a larger resource pool upon which to draw upon. It also depends on the child.

When I lived in gwinnett (no kids then), my neighbor had two daughters. One “got lost’ at Brookwood and drifter into trouble. The other flourished. There is no “one size fits all” or “right or wrong’ answer to this question.

thewindwhistler

September 29th, 2011
3:04 pm

Is this column spending tooomuch time devoting it self to size. Is the room too small or is the school too big or does it just seem too big or is it the Principal that makes it seem big.

I am beginning to feel like Alvarez being cross examined in the Michael Jackson trial.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

September 29th, 2011
3:22 pm

windwhistler — these are just things I think about — i have to choose next year whether to send L. to the bigger school or the smaller school — If she goes to smaller with Walsh I will only have one pick up but is that in her best interest or mine?? Walsh is there for a special program that they don’t have for K’s but it sure would make my life simpler — so I am constantly looking for logical reasons to choose one or the other.

Once Again

September 29th, 2011
3:59 pm

Home school. However many kids, 1 teacher – mom or dad. That’s the perfect school.

Fundamentally the market in education is massively regulated, significantly impacted by the presence of the tax funded government system which undermines any serious competitive environment, and horrible restrictions on schools that destroy innovation and limit options.

A school operated by the parents in each subdivision would certainly be outstanding, but won’t happen until the current system collapses of its own weight and inefficiency (and government bankruptcy). One parent educating multiple children from multiple households cannot happen until government restrictions are lifted. Small, low cost schools in strip malls, etc. also will not happen until zoning regulations and other restrictions are lifted.

We have the choice we have today because these are all that government allows. Government destroys freedom. Until we get government out of the education business entirely we will never be able to find out just how great education delivery in this country can be.

Johnny boy

September 29th, 2011
4:00 pm

I teach at a small school (460 from pre-k 3 to grade 12). The high school has 105 students. I can say with certainty that some students absolutely thrive in the atmosphere. For whatever reason they appreciate knowing basically everybody in the school and they like knowing their teachers. Then there are some who hate it, particularly for the lack of activities. Also sometimes there are petty disputes and then the students involved can’t avoid each other like they could at a large school, but on the other hand it forces them to adopt strategies to deal with the situation. The nature of the students’ parents means there is an average of about 25% turnover every year in the student population, and we usually ask students to report on how they are faring at their new, often large public school. Some report feeling lost and some report feeling liberated.

The simple answer is that there is no ‘better’ as a rule; it depends on the student. There may be some merit in throwing students into a big school to learn survival, but on the other hand there are some students who would benefit from teachers who know them well enough to intervene quickly before a crisis happens. I can think of a couple of students who probably have avoided serious trouble because of this.

BlondeHoney

September 29th, 2011
4:37 pm

@Once again, home school may be the perfect school for YOU but that’s not so for everyone. Since you have no relevant comments to make on this topic, perhaps you should comment when the topic is on home schooling. My son had an incredible public school experience, graduated 50th in his class of about 500 with an International Baccalaureate diploma, has his degree in chemical engineering and currently serving as a submarine officer in the Navy. His school was huge but was all magnet and divided in academies. Can’t say enough great things about his high school.

Hannah

September 29th, 2011
4:45 pm

I did the small private middle school (200) where I knew everyone and the big Gwinnett high school (800) where, like Jeff, I was sitting at graduation practice looking around thinking “Who are these people??” I absolutely preferred the large setting. Of course some prefer the small school, but I can say that I knew more people who were unhappy with the small school whose parents would not allow them to transfer. I didn’t know anyone in high school who wanted to go to a smaller school; however, most likely none of them had experienced it. Still, they weren’t exactly yearning to try it out.

Amy in the ATL

September 29th, 2011
5:03 pm

I grew up in East Cobb and went to big schools K-12. I did okay, but it does make things a lot less personal (it was impossible for administrators to know most kids, etc) and it makes it a lot harder for the average kid to get to participate in coveted activities. We had more than 300 girls try out for 12 spots on the cheerleading squad, for example!

My girls go to a small neighborhood school for elementary school and I love it. Of course, the downside is that it doesn’t offer as much other stuff, including specialized programs for kids with different needs. But at least we do have a good default elementary school that does offer those programs should we find we needed one…

DB

September 29th, 2011
5:29 pm

Well, mine went to a private K-12 school — the elementary school was tucked away in a separate building from the rest of the campus, but the students had access to everything the school offered, including swimming lessons at the pool, etc. We had various reasons for choosing a private school that I won’t go into here, but we were very, very satisfied with the results. There were about 100 people in their graduating class. At one point, my daughter made noises about transferring to the public high school, but changed her mind later. I felt that the private school had a lot more flexibility to address change more readily. I loved that their 2nd grade teachers attend graduation ceremonies :-) They really grew up in a community.

There’s pros and cons both ways — and what’s right for one kid may be completely wrong for another. However, I sure wouldn’t enroll L. in a separate school for K! You went nuts trying to cover parent’s night at two different schools — what would you do with three!? :-) Give yourself a break — L.’s not going to fail coloring if she goes to the same school as Walsh!

JoDee

September 29th, 2011
9:29 pm

My public school was a centralized district for 6 rural towns—had 1100 students K-12 in the same building. I had 76 in my graduating class. What the school lacked in resources they made up for in relationships. Every teacher knew me. All of my classmates knew me and I knew them. Education is about relationship, in so many ways. I learned how to learn in that environment, and I was well served by it.

catlady

September 30th, 2011
9:50 am

Research (including my own) indicates that for children at risk of quitting, failing, getting pregnant, etc, size DOES matter. I would always prefer my children to attend a small school until high school graduation. Those of you who have no experience with a small school have no idea what you have missed.

I taught in a K-7 school of about 300 students for almost 20 years. Although demographicly (SES, parental income, race) no different from “town school,” the students at the small school, every year, outdistanced their large school friends. The honor graduates were disproportionately from the little school. The dropout rate in high school was much lower for the little school’s kids. Yet they had FEWER “resources” than the big school (no special pe teacher, art teacher, music teacher).

So, what was the difference? Parental investment. The parents felt like the school was special, and felt comfortable there. They supported the school. Most of them had attended the school. Some of them have 4-5 generations who attended the school.

The teachers all knew the kids. The kids were accountable to everyone. The school was the backbone of the very rural community. At one point the state decided the school was too small and it would not fund upkeep, AND THE PARENTS BANNED TOGETHER AND REROOFED AND REPAINTED THE SCHOOL.

I would always want my children to attend a small school, other factors being equal (sometimes they are not, and that would figure into the equation for me).

There are kids that don’t get hurt or lost in a big school, but they would do well in a crowded closet, too.

LM

September 30th, 2011
10:46 am

I started off high school at a mega school up in Detroit, there were over 5000 students. After moving several times during high school, I gradutlated with 113 students.

Each school had lessons to learn about adapting to life’s situations. I would not recomend my childhood experiences to anyone, but I will say I am stronger and more flexible for it.

FCM

September 30th, 2011
12:40 pm

Probably like college….there are merits to U of TN and to Berry.

Once Again

September 30th, 2011
5:46 pm

BlondeHoney – Maybe you should read past the first two sentences. The government system is failing miserably and despite your own beliefs, your children absolutely could have gotten a better education than they did. I post on this and the get schooled blog because parents need to be constantly reminded that there could be a far superior system of education available to them and their children if they would only abandon the govenrment system and allow the free market and its unbelievable power of innovation to be unleashed on education the way it has been unleashed on technology. Even in far too many private schools the influence of the massive government system has undermined the innovative spirit and has reduced far too many of them to just private copies of the failed government system.

The economy will worsen. Governments at all levels are beyond bankrupt and the system will collapse sooner than later. Unless parents start working towards untangling the government from the control of their lives and those of their children, there will be no workable foundation to build a new educational system once the collapse happens.

People don’t want to face the harsh realities, but they are coming because those in government are pushing us in that direction.

newblogger

October 2nd, 2011
10:39 am

@Once again, aren’t you just a burst of sunshine? There will be no collapse in education, some people just have to face the “harsh reality” of public education because they are not as fortunate as you to homeschool. I am using the word fortunate in a sarcastic sense. Are all homeschooling parents as pompous as you? If you hate the government system so badly, why don’t you do us all a favor, pack your bags and move to another country.

Grandma

October 2nd, 2011
10:56 am

My elementary schools (I went to one 1st thru half of 5th, kindergarten wasn’t required “back then” and the other one 5th & 6th) were of average size. About 25 students per class. (I started school in 1955.) Jr. High (7th & 8th) was about the same…probably smaller as it was a fairly small school, and there were several Jr. Highs in the area. My high school’s classes were about 22-28 students per class, depending on the class, and our graduating class was 350. I didn’t feel lost in my schools, and even the teachers I didn’t have for classes seemed to know all the kids, in all of my schools.

Grandma

October 2nd, 2011
10:56 am

P.S. This was in Virginia, near D.C.

have to respond

October 2nd, 2011
11:10 am

“Once again” you seem obsessed with telling us how perfect your home-schooling world is. Are you trying to convince us or convince yourself? I teach in a public high school and used to work at a private school. So I can say I have varied experience and know that no situation is the perfect choice in every case. I have taugh many home-school and private school transfers, and am amazed at hope ill prepared some (not all) of them are. I am sure you are probably a great home school teacher, but trust me, not all home-school taught students are getting what they need. SO…..home-schooling is just like public school and private school….it can be good for some but not so good for others. And I am not saying public school is perfect, just that everyone needs to realize that NO choice is perfect in every way. You may want to examine your self-rightous and judgemental attitude.

Mom of 2

October 2nd, 2011
11:30 am

My kids went to an elementary school with about 750 students and a middle school with 1500 students. At those schools, the “extra” programs and opportunities were abundant. There was something for everyone who wanted to do anything beyond the normal courses. Extended learning in the classroom was the norm. The children were challenged daily to learn.

I was extremely involved at the elementary school and know the administrators and other school-wide were familiar with my children. At the middle school, as a parent, I wanted to help and be involved, but I couldn’t break through the existing parent cliques. My child felt like a number. There were too many kids. The administrators and other school staff didn’t know my child from any other child.

However, I felt as though my children were getting an excellent education with all the AP classes and other speciality classes offered. In addition, the teachers and administrators seemed to expect all children to put in an effort to learn. Homework was given and expected to be completed. Classroom instruction appeared to greatly extend past beyond a teacher reading out of a textbook.

We moved to a new area where the entire school – K though 12 – has only 750 students. There are no AP classes offerered, no speciality (robotics, band, chorus, art, etc.) classes offered, no extra programs much beyond football and baseball. There doesn’t appear to even be an organized PTA.

The teachers and administrators assume that there is no parental encouragement to do well in school or to complete homework. Therefore, homework is not assigned. The principal actually discourages the teachers from giving the kids homework. (Yes, I had an at length discussion with him regarding that.) The vast majority of the teachers and administrators went to the school themselves. Subsequently, there is no fresh blood and no new ideas. It’s literally like stepping back 30-40 years!

On the other hand, if you like personal attention and everyone knowing your name and who you are, there’s an abundance of that. Since it’s a small town, everyone knows everyone and their parents and cousins and grandparents, etc. The same families have been attending the same school for generations. As outsiders, everyone at the school knows us on sight, too.

Given the choice, considering my experience, I would pick the big school over the small school. The big school offers so many more opportunities to the children.

On a side note, we’ve thrown homeschooling into the mix, too. We won’t pull our kids out of the local school since socialization is such an important skill, but we don’t feel that they are getting an education there. Therefore, we homeschool in addition to the public school.

ha

October 2nd, 2011
11:30 am

Munch munch munch on the carpet carpet carpet

ha

October 2nd, 2011
11:30 am

and now for the clicker swirl and orgasm

Midwestern Expatriot

October 3rd, 2011
12:04 am

“Big school or small school: Which do you prefer?”

I prefer a big school, actually. I attended high school at a school in Indianapolis, Indiana that wasn’t really all that big by Midwestern urban standards, with only 2500-3000 students, but the campus was larger than most being the size of a small college campus with separate historical buildings for each department, some of which date back to the Civil War-era (both the ROTC barracks and the administrative building, which was actually a military arsenal for the Union during the Civil War with four-foot thick walls and is appropriately named The Arsenal, date back to the early 1860’s and are, along with the campus as whole, nationally-registered historical landmarks).

(There are other high schools in and around Indianapolis that have as many as 5000 students as Ben Davis High School on the westside of Indy has just over 4900 students and over one million square feet of building space on a campus of about 200 acres)

My personal preference may be for a mega-big Midwestern school as my personal experience growing up was going to school at a very rowdy and sometimes very unpredictable urban high school with safety issues (let’s just say that there were more than a few stabbings, full-out lunchroom/campus brawls and physical attacks on teachers and administrators that occured during my four years; there was also a very rough period of a week during my Junior year where there were close to 50 fights-a-day breaking out while a couple of local Crip and Blood-affiliated gangs were fighting over control of the school’s territory and a period during the Fall Semester of my Senior year where there were close to 300 expulsions before Thanksgiving of that year), the ideal environment for learning is admittedly and preferably at a smaller school with fewer safety issues.

Midwestern Expatriot

October 3rd, 2011
12:15 am

LM

September 30th, 2011
10:46 am

“I started off high school at a mega school up in Detroit, there were over 5000 students. After moving several times during high school, I gradutlated with 113 students….Each school had lessons to learn about adapting to life’s situations. I would not recomend my childhood experiences to anyone, but I will say I am stronger and more flexible for it.”

I can kind of relate to your experience as there were only about 2500-3000 students at my high school (the school would start the year with about 3000 students, but would lose hundreds of students to attrittion, relocation, expulsion, dropping out, incareration and even death and would end the year with under 2000 students).

My class started with about 1200 freshmen and finished four years later with only 230 seniors as I grew up in an urban environment where just getting a high school diploma was considered a major, MAJOR accomplishment.