A New Way to Learn: Smaller Class Sizes

by New Community Academy | Sep 15, 2015

New Community Academy is strongly based in the “Small School” Movement, which began in New York City in the 1970s as a reaction to the ever-increasing class sizes and lack of personal attention to students in public schools. Because the students at New Community generally come to us having had a negative experience with more traditional educational settings, we know that the path to a successful school experience can’t be found in a place that offers more of the same. Our students need a classroom that won’t overwhelm them socially and emotionally, or allow them to hide in the back row and fall through the cracks. They need a place to learn where they can be truly seen and heard for who they are, where their needs are recognized and respected. So our classes are purposely small – very small.

The typical class size at New Community Academy is 8-10 students.

We don’t group by ages or “class levels” as in a traditional school environment. Instead, our team of educators assesses each student’s personality, learning style, needs, and skills, and we strive to create class groupings that provide the most positive learning experience possible for every student. Our classes are small learning communities where every person in the room contributes to the well-being of the others, so that all students can learn and grow together while engaging with the material at their own pace. In many ways, the way we approach engaging with our students is very much like the one-room schoolhouse of the past. We don’t believe that it’s the age of our students that should dictate their educational path, but rather the setting and assignments that will best help them to grow.

Instruction in a small school setting means that our teachers can present ideas using a common curriculum, but are free to work with every student at their individual level. We carefully research every aspect of our curriculum to be sure that it’s exciting, engaging, and academically sound; then we adapt the assignments and our expectations to meet each student where he or she is in the learning journey. For example, students might be learning about the Middle Ages in Social Studies, and reading Robin Hood in Language Arts as a complementary text. But while some of our students will be able to read and engage with a passage easily, others will struggle to pick out keywords from the text. At New Community Academy, these students won’t have their performance judged against the skills and abilities of others.

Students in our school don’t receive traditional grades as a measure of their academic worth; instead, we work towards mastery of skills and look at the whole person. While grades are available to students and families who request them, we don’t rely on them as the best indicator of how well an individual is progressing educationally. As New Community Founder Kimberly Gunderson says, “We want to see if you can’t write a sentence, and then you can. Or if you can’t really use punctuation, and then you can. That’s what we’re looking for.”

That emphasis on personal progress can only be nurtured in a classroom where teachers have the time and space to engage one on one with every student, and that’s why the small school model is so important to our educational philosophy.