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When Small is Big
The benefits of an intentionally small school
Dr. Seuss’s wisdom is never far away when thinking about kids and learning:
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
As our twin boys take their First Steps into school, we are glad to have steered them to FISW. Looking at the larger scheme of things, as parents we strive to do all it takes to make the right decisions for our children. Something as simple as filling a snack box often entails reading the ingredients, nutrition scores, even WhatsApp discussions with other parents to seek advice. When we go through so much to choose a snack, it is easy to imagine the microscopic detail we look into while deciding on the school curriculum and process. As FISW Principal Dr. Jeremy Majeski eloquently says, “It’s like choosing a doctor. You have to trust the process wholeheartedly.”
Why did we choose an intentionally small school?
First and foremost, we wanted our kids to love the idea of coming to school and look forward to being there. The idea of making friends, experiencing joy in learning new things and finding a space where they would not be overwhelmed, were our top three criteria for making the decision. The very first year of school is about them loving school itself.
I appreciate the sense of community FISW instantly creates. Let’s face it, school is as much a milestone for the kids as it is for us. As a new chapter begins in all of our lives, we too seek out a shoulder to lean on. In this aspect, there is an instant connection at FISW. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming a new school can be for a parent, too. I truly believe a small school allows you to nurture your individual needs and make friends that are like family. The support of the other parents has made us feel welcome from day one (and even before we joined)!
The big question we had about a small school was whether it might create a bubble. When a school claims that their size allows for all the kids to choose an activity they like, does this ever allow them to experience competition? When Dr. Majeski was at the receiving end of these questions, certainly not for the first time, he pointed out that removing competition from the equation allows for a child to fearlessly experience different things and identify their strengths – and in the process, areas for improvement. It creates room for growth and curiosity. Taking away the fear of failure allows for the development of their individual and unique talents.
Personally, as our kids take their First Steps into a school environment, this is what we wish for them, too. We want to provide them with every opportunity to try new things without the fear of failing getting in the way of experiences. A small school is able to provide us with a space where perfection (sic) competition doesn’t get in the way of progress (Churchill).
There is never just one question though, and the next big one for me was how to measure the outcomes of our children's growth when comparing it to our own educational experiences? Since the schooling system has changed from our time in school, the yardstick to measure success must also. The curriculum and learning approaches, especially in a school like FISW, may be different from our own experiences and hence, as difficult as it may be, we must not start sentences with ‘When I was in school...’
A small school allows you to nurture your individual needs and make friends that are like family.
This sounds easier said than done, but personally, it has been a positive revelation and has allowed us the capacity to be more open minded to the school’s philosophy and modus operandi. While it is our “job” to choose a suitable school, it is as big a job to trust that choice.
When I asked Assistant Head of School Dr. Michael Johnston about measuring progress, his instinctive response was to focus on the feedback instead of the grade. Dr. Majeski also stressed the understanding of what is being measured. We may be programmed to focus on grade over feedback, but once we make the conscious and deliberate effort to focus on feedback, we will truly be able to see our child’s progress.
Early years instruction at FISW follows the Primary Years Programme (PYP), which is an inquiry-based, transdisciplinary curriculum framework that builds conceptual understanding, rather than simply evaluating student success by scores and memorization. The nurturing that takes place alongside this approach to learning – especially in an intimate setting like FISW – is what sets our children’s education worlds apart from our own.
As our children grow and progress in school, there will always be new questions that arise connected to their development and learning. But the most important will always remain: is my child happy to go to this school? As an FISW parent, my answer is yes.
Mrinmayee Kundalia FISW Parent
  November 2022 FIS World 15

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