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Valuable lessons from a small school

By Staff | Apr 24, 2009

I recently attended a banquet to honor the five Wolford High School seniors. My husband was invited as the guest speaker for the event.

I sat next to one of the Wolford School faculty members who also happens to be a parent whose children attend the small school. I shared with her how I, too, grew up attending a very small school much like Wolford.

My class consisted of six students – three girls and three boys. We were more like brothers and sisters than schoolmates. We pretty much spent all our time together outside of our home life. The boys played basketball, and we were cheerleaders. We were all Catholic, so we ended up at all the same functions outside of school as well. It was like a big family.

I have always considered myself lucky to have attended a small school. I treasure the memories and closeness with my classmates and extended family of teachers and kids in other classes. I enjoyed home-cooked meals in the lunchroom. School became a home away from home, in a sense, with the teachers more like “extra” parents looking out for you and treating you like one of their own kids.

In sharing all my stories with this faculty member/parent, she made a comment that really struck me.

She said, “I think the world would be a very different place if everyone attended a small school.”

This got me thinking about the valuable lessons impressed upon students in a small school that students in a larger school might not learn.

Some people might argue that a larger school offers more academic opportunities. I’m not talking about academics at all. I’m talking about the formation of responsible, well-rounded people who have a sense of empathy for their fellow man. I’m talking about turning out children who understand the importance of pitching in and doing their part. I’m talking about children who go on to become mature, contributing members of their communities.

There exists in the small school an attitude and sense of personal possession and involvement on the part of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community residents. To a great degree, the school is the community center in many small towns and rural areas.

Morale among students tends to be higher in small schools. There are fewer students to be leaders in clubs and organizations and to participate in athletics and extracurriculars. Hence, students are generally exposed to more opportunities to develop leadership skills in a greater diversity of situations. Often, literally everyone must participate in order to make a project a success. If the majority of the students choose not to take part in band, for instance, there won’t be a band.

Students in a small school learn tolerance, patience and understanding. You learn to get along because you know you will be spending a lot of time with the same people. There’s no transferring to the school across town. There’s no switching classes if you have problems geting along with others or your teacher. You take care of the issues instead of avoiding them. You learn to become a more gracious and accepting person.

Reinforcing these values in children usually transfers to adulthood. There’s no question in my mind that the lessons of community pride and togetherness are what made me a person who feels the sense of responsibility to volunteer and contribute to my community as an adult.

In larger schools students can become anonymous, in a sense, and get away with doing their own thing, not worrying about what is needed to create a strong community. But that attitude doesn’t fly in a small school. Everyone chips in and does their part.

A small school teaches students that the contribution of each individual must be on a higher level in order for the school, as a whole, to remain strong and survive. Therefore, when students leave small schools and go on to start their families and pursue careers in other communities, they are armed with a greater sense of responsibility and understand the importance of doing their part. It’s these lessons that prove to be a vital foundation for children’s lives.

The morals and values ingrained in students at small schools are ones that every child should learn in order to create a better world for all of us.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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