Address loss of students with an idea from the past: combining grades

DUMMERSTON — It's about Act 46 again! If you aren't familiar with this law, the school population has been dropping in Vermont, and the state thinks we should consolidate our schools to save money.

The concern is that we in the smaller towns will lose our school boards - and control of our schools. If things get too bad, our schools could be closed or even sold!

Looking at this purely from a financial (greed) standpoint, nobody wants to buy a house in a town without a school! Even if you don't have school-age children, someday you will want to sell your house, and it could be very difficult to find a buyer. Scary thought.

About school population, let's look at history.

Over the years, for various reasons, the number of children decreases - and increases - pretty regularly. At the moment we are in a decreasing period. On the other hand, if you go into the market to shop, there seem to be babies and toddlers everywhere you look! So it's quite possible the future will be brighter.

But what are we going to do now?

First of all, let's remember that we are talking about grammar schools, not high schools. Grammar schools exist to give students a foundation. “Reading and writing and arithmetic,” primarily, plus introductions to history and geography and art and music and proper behavior, etc. - pretty much the same topics at every level. Which means that grammar-school students of all ages are all learning the same things, just learning more about them each year.

Now, here's something we don't often consider. Children do not learn all things at the same speed! One child might pick up reading right off but not get arithmetic at all. Another might just be a late developer who does not do too well in the first year but catches up later.

Many foreign schools and private schools recognize this problem, and the solution is very simple: Instead of keeping each age group separate, you combine them! Same-size class, but different-aged students. That way, the student who doesn't understand something the first year will hear it again the next year and perhaps the next. And since the teacher is the same each year, she will know the problem.

In the old days of small towns, this happened naturally: There was only one school and one teacher, so children went to school when they seemed ready and stayed until the teacher and parents thought the time had come. That way, all pretty much got the education they needed.

So let's think some more about this idea. I went to a five-grade, one-room school in Connecticut in the 1930s and loved it. My brother was seriously dyslexic - he was four years older and we were in the same grade - yet he later got into the college of his choice with no difficulty. So I know it works, and not only scholastically but socially as well!

The simple plan for now, as I see it, is to combine grades - at least two, but as many as needed to make a normal sized class - and with good teachers. Close the unused classrooms or rent them out for office or storage space.

I see this plan as a win-win for all concerned. And when those classrooms will be needed again, they'll be there - and so will our school boards.

Think about it. Seriously!

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates