Head of School Blog

Lessons from the One-Room Schoolhouse

Jill Singleton
If you were a student anywhere on the American landscape from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, you would have spent your days in a one-room schoolhouse surrounded by children of all ages. At various points in the day you might have found yourself being challenged by a lesson with an older student, and at another, being a mentor to a younger schoolmate.

The industrialization of our country and the need to quickly and efficiently acculturate and assimilate a large immigrant population changed the face of our schools forever. Children were no longer in rooms with children of all ages, but instead were placed into classrooms of same-age peers, where all could use the same textbook, and (ostensibly, at least) move at the same pace.

An advocate for multi-age education once said to me many years ago – “Children aren’t born into litters, and they shouldn’t be educated as one.” It was one of those “aha” moments for me, causing me to reflect on why we practice education the way we do. The child’s first school, the family, certainly is made up of people of all ages – as is the community in which the family lives. When you really stop and think about it, spending the bulk of one’s day with a group of same-age peers is a decidedly unnatural phenomenon.

At All Saints, we work hard to complement classroom learning with a variety of opportunities for cross-age collaboration, exploration and discovery. Each and every grade level enjoys a number of partnerships designed to give children a chance to work with students younger and older than themselves – allowing them to practice leadership skills and to learn from their older, more able peers. This arrangement, we feel, allows for the best of all words – small, intensive academic work in the classroom coupled with experiences within a broader community allowing for a richer, more natural learning experience.

Here are just some of the ways students engage with children outside of their classrooms:
1. Students from different grades meet up at Break and Lunch;
2. Reading Buddy programs bring students from different grades into relationship with one another to share a love of literature;
3. Weekly Club Time allows for socialization between students in Grades 4-8;
4. Different grades pair up with one another for Field Trips;
5. Weekly Assemblies bring entire divisions together into community (Grades 1-4 and Grades 5-8);
6. Students in Grades 1-4 mix it up each week when they work on the Sandwich Squad together – through team work, they are able to make 75 bagged lunches for guests at the St. Matthew’s Lunchtime Ministry Program;
7. Milestone Projects at each grade level (such as First Grade’s Waffle Inn, Third Grade’s Shakespearean Bard Bash, Kindergarten’s Farm Day and Fourth Grade’s Boardwalk Celebration) bring all K-8 classes together for schoolwide celebrations and learning.
8. Nothing comes closer to the one-room schoolhouse feel than the After Care and Enrichment Classes, where children of all ages learn and play together. I often find great pleasure hanging out with students in After Care after a long day of hard work. Whether concocting something in the kitchen, playing a board game or watching a movie, students enjoy the company of children regardless of what grade they are in.

At All Saints, we are blessed with the best of both worlds – small grade-level classes that support intense academic learning, coupled with ample opportunity for cross-age, schoolwide celebrations and interactions that provide socialization with peers of all ages.