“Oh, I went to a very small school…”

(note: All of the names in here have been changed.)

This is normally how I respond whenever someone asks about my school experience growing up.  When I say very small, I mean that the middle school only had about 30 students.  I graduated the 8th grade in a class of 10, most of whom had been my classmates since pre-school.  While I was there, I didn’t really consider how different it was from traditional public schools because it was all I’d ever known.  It wasn’t until going to pubic high school, that I realized just how unique–and possibly detrimental–such a small school was.

Over the weekend, I met up with my best friend, Patrick, who was my classmate from 4th grade through high school.  We talked about how our former classmates were doing and where we’d all ended up.  Like the two of us, there was another set of best friends that remains just as close as it’d been before graduation.  Patrick and I agreed that one benefit of the small environment was the strong bonds it helped us create.  We also acknowledged that the small class sizes and one-on-one teacher attention were definitely academically advantageous.  Our classmates mostly succeeded after graduation.

Mostly.  As we went down the (short) list of our classmates, Patrick and I remembered Ivan.  While everyone else had gone to college, Ivan’s circumstances were drastically different. 9 out of 10 of the classmates, including Ivan, went to the same public high school.  There were undeniable struggles during the transition, but everyone seemed to do well.  Ivan, however, did not graduate.  A month before senior year ended, he was arrested for violating over a dozen girls’ privacy.  We were all surprised but not shocked.  Ivan had a history of unhealthy interactions with girls, and actually with just his peers in general.  After the incident, many hated Ivan because what he did was unforgivable.  Patrick brought up a valid point, though, when we talked about it.  “I know we both hate Ivan,” he said, “but we still do have to realize that he was bullied as a kid.  That’s no excuse, of course, but it did happen.”

Ivan never fit in.  At such a small school with so few options for friends, being in the out-group was sometimes a one-person club, which compounded the isolation.  Nobody in our class was ever violent or directly malicious towards him (past ~elementary school,) but he did not have any friends.  He went to that school for 11 years and left without any true relationships.  His behavior was often inappropriate, sometimes to the point of actually causing alarm.  But for 11 years he was trapped in a vicious cycle of acting “off,” not having friends as consequence, and then acting even more “off.”  As Patrick and I digested the situation, we recalled other classes at our old school.  Teachers and parents always praised ours for being one of the nicest, but obviously there was still a problem with exclusion.  Each of the other classes had one student like Ivan that never fit in, but they were even more vicious.  One class supposedly had an I Hate Emily Club in the 5th grade.  Emily is in college now, but from what I’ve heard, her social life never really recovered.

Even the teachers made it apparent that students like Emily and Ivan didn’t seem to belong.  Teachers called Ivan out regularly for being disruptive, but occasionally did it in a way that was downright humiliating. Because this was the kind of school where we called teacher by first names, they were greatly influential.  In the case of Ivan’s treatment, some of them failed to serve as role models.  Patrick and I wondered if maybe teachers there just weren’t equipped to handle a student like him.  The school was pretty homogeneous, so it’s possible that the teachers lacked the experience with diversity that public school would have afforded them.   Perhaps Ivan would have fared differently at public school.  Teachers there may have been more familiar with a student like him. He also would have had more opportunities to meet friends instead of facing constant rejection.  When asked why he did what he did to the girls, Ivan cited rejection.  He told the school officer that he’d been rejected so much in his life that he thought what he did was the only way around it.  Am I in no way excusing his heinous actions, but it is an explanation.

In short, I appreciate my school for its academics and for teaching me to be an independent thinker.  However, the homogeneity, diminished teacher-student boundaries, and small size may not have been worth it.  I can’t help but hold my old school responsible for creating a monster.

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2 Responses to “Oh, I went to a very small school…”

  1. haydenvick says:


    I love your words! I also went to some smaller schools but nothing like this. As a huge proponent of small class size, I’m interested to hear about your experience. Do you think all smaller classes are dangerous of cultivating poor student experiences, or do you feel that, by and large, smaller classes are still better? I also think it’s important to remember that no class structure will ever benefit every single student, but we have to do the best we can. Thank you for your thoughts!


  2. jordansegal says:


    Thank you for your comment! I think this post ended up being more negative than I expected it to be when I started writing it. Initially I just wanted to write about how different the environment was, but then it took kind of a dark turn when I remembered more. I do believe that smaller class size ended up definitely being more beneficial than harmful, especially when it came to learning the material. At the end of the day, learning is the main purpose, and my old school served me very well there.

    I totally agree with you when you say that no class structure will benefit every student. Not all small classes are doomed to have one child who’s left out, but I worry that small classes do increase the chances of that happening. (Then again, I didn’t go to public school until high school, so maybe that just happens everywhere and I haven’t seen it.) I don’t think my old school would have been so problematic if it were just elementary or just middle school. But because the same people were together from pre-school until 8th grade, we were far more susceptible to in-groups and out-groups than say a public or larger elementary/middle school. I think K-12 private schools of that size would probably be even worse in that regard.

    I felt relatively unprepared for public school, too. Going from a whole middle school of 30 to a single English class of 35 was overwhelming. I think what it really boils down to isn’t so much class size as it is school size. When I had smaller classes (e.g. 10 students) in a larger high school, that was pretty perfect. Small class size was super beneficial there. I remember there were 2 sections of one course, one section with 30+ students and one with 10. The latter ended up scoring way higher on tests. But the entire school was diverse and large, so there were tons of opportunities to meet people rather than being confined to one group.

    Kinda went off on a tangent there, but hope that answers any questions you had!



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