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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