Ten Questions: 3. Individual Attention

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Q: In the classroom, how much individual attention are you able to give each child?

Gary: A few years ago, a girl from our school transferred to a public school. Students who’ve spent all or most of their elementary years at LWS sometimes wonder if they might be missing something. So she went to public school for a year, and she came back to LWS at the end of the year. With just two weeks left of school, we let her back in, and she later told us that she learned more in those two weeks than in her whole year of public school.

Teacher with young boy, Living Wisdom School, Palo Alto, California
The teachers at LWS are sensitively aware of children’s individual differences. They know how to nurture each child’s strengths. (Click to enlarge.)

At the public school, it was continual workbook learning. It might give a parent a sense that “Oh, things are okay, they have lots of homework.” But I would suggest that parents ask some basic questions – What exactly are the kids learning? Are they enthused about learning, or is it onerous? Is it just workbook learning?

This girl went to the teacher at the public school and said, “You know, I really understand this stuff, and I can prove to you that I understand it. Do I have to do all the exercises?” Because it seemed so rote. And the most the teacher felt she could do was cut back a certain amount on the rote work, even though she agreed that the student knew it.

In middle school, in our math department, each child is working at his or her own pace. We correct their tests and go over what they don’t understand, but where they show real competency, they are encouraged to go on. That is how we can accommodate kids who are at very different levels of math in the same class, all learning at the same time, and being supported at their own level.

We’re blessed in this school to have an amazing student-teacher ratio. In middle school math, for example, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, we have three teachers for 15 students, or a 5:1 student-teacher ratio. And on Thursday, we have two teachers, for a 7.5:1 ratio.

It’s a phenomenal program. It works for the kids who are struggling, it works for the kids who are doing well, and it works for the kids who can go really fast.

When my son went to this school, I knew intuitively that everything was fine. I knew it by watching Bryan’s energy. When he came home from school, and when school would begin again after a break, I always noticed that his energy would be high.

So, really, I think parents have to use their intuition. They know their children, and they need to ask, “Is my child happy?” and “Is he or she learning?”

There will be challenges wherever they go to school – a play date doesn’t work out, or they argue with a friend. Those things happen at LWS, as they do anywhere. But if a parent takes a moment to reflect – Is my child happy? – I think that’s what counts.

I never had a doubt about this school when my son was here. And time has proven my judgment correct. Bryan went on to do well in high school and college, and his mother and I know it was the formative years that made the difference.

I encourage parents to come see our play, come to a music concert, and talk to the kids at LWS about their field trips.

The teachers here accept the child who’s sitting in front of them. Not every child will be taking calculus their freshman year, I can assure you. But we believe there’s not a child on the face of the earth who doesn’t have a gift. And if they’re allowed to be who they are, they can find themselves according to their own gifts, whether it’s through academics, art, music, dance, theater, or the gift of making friends.

Our education system now in this country is wound a little tight, and I encourage parents to remember “These are children – they need time in nature, they need time on field trips, and they need time to do math. But they also need time to sort through things.”

I think if parents keep asking that question – “Am I doing the best thing for my child?” – I think they’ll find that their child would be very happy at Living Wisdom.

Teachers in most schools, public and private, have to try to teach to the middle of the class. And in our math department, for example, we don’t have to teach to the middle. Teaching to the middle leaves out the super-talented ones, and it doesn’t really serve the ones who need more support. In our school, the classes are small, but because of the very low student-teacher ratio, the teachers can shoot high and still bring all the children along.

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Ten Questions Parents Ask About Living Wisdom School

Helen Purcell, Director, Living Wisdom School, Palo Alto, California
Helen Purcell

LWS teachers answer parents’ questions about Living Wisdom School. To learn about research that supports LWS teaching methods and philosophy, continue to the Education Research section below. The questions were answered by Helen Purcell, school director, and Gary McSweeney, middle school teacher and Education for Life board member.

Gary McSweeney, Middle School teacher at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, California
Gary McSweeney

We’ll be happy to answer any other questions you may have. Please feel free to contact us one of three ways: (1) Call the school office at (650) 462-8150 to schedule a call-back from Helen or Gary; (2) call to schedule a guided tour of the school during which we’ll answer your questions; or (3) email us your question(s):

Thank you for your interest in Living Wisdom School!

10 Questions Parents Often Ask About LWS:

  1. When students graduate from Living Wisdom School, how well do they do in high school and college?
  2. In traditional elementary and junior high schools, most of the day is spent on academics. With so many other activities at Living Wisdom School – field trips, theater, music, art, etc. – how do you find time for academics?
  3. In the classroom, how much individual attention are you able to give each child?
  4. Is the student body at LWS skewed toward families from a wealthy, highly educated demographic?
  5. Do you give the students an education that will support them with a sense of meaning in later life?
  6. How well do the children make the adjustment from a school with fewer than 100 children, to a high school that might have 2000 students?
  7. You seem to emphasize helping children find their own energy and enthusiasm. How important is that for their academic success?
  8. Parents are concerned that their child get a good education in math and science. Does math strike more directly toward the intellect, and require different teaching methods?
  9. In big schools, with big classrooms, the teachers can find themselves teaching to the lowest common denominator, and spending more time with the students who are slow. How do you deal with students who are less talented, without holding back the gifted ones?
  10. What about the spiritual aspects of Living Wisdom School? Is the instruction truly nonsectarian?