Four Pillars of Effective Small Schooling


Students thrive because of small classes, personal attention, and challenging opportunities. The research-based four pillars of our small school design are: 

Small Learning Communities

Students learn best when learning is tailored to their learning styles.  Teachers need sufficiently small cohorts of students to be able to diagnose and differentiate instruction and assessment for each learner.  Positive educational results accrue when small cohorts of students stay with the same teacher for multiple years, allowing the expert teacher sufficient time to understand each learner and tailor curriculum, and accelerating each student’s overall learning progress.  Most importantly, small schools where no adolescent is anonymous are safer places for all, and students experiencing challenging circumstances are more likely to be noticed and assisted.  Small learning communities and schools report fewer incidents of student violence and increased levels of student happiness. 

Project-Based Learning and Assessment

Students learn deeply when they are given complex instruction that connects skills and knowledge across subjects, and when they are asked to demonstrate their learning in real-life ways.  Music and art are naturally project-based: children learn by doing through a “hands-on” education and they demonstrate their skills through performance or exhibition.  All middle school learning, not just music and art, can be project-based, and teachers can be supported with time in their day to develop project-based instruction and assessment across all subjects.  

Social-emotional Learning and Wellness

Students learn more when their social-emotional needs are attended to, and there is a school-wide focus on social-emotional wellness.  Students’ chances for success in middle school, high school and beyond increase when they are explicitly taught skills to cope and self-regulate, and when the entire school learns and practices these skills.  Students and teachers report higher rates of happiness at schools where wellness techniques are taught and practiced consistently, and adolescents at those schools report lower rates of anxiety and depression.

Individual Advisors and Daily Advisory Time

Students benefit from having an advocate on campus, and each student is assigned a faculty member responsible for monitoring and supporting the student’s academic and social-emotional progress.  Students meet daily with their advisors during advisory, the time when students can get help on projects, or support for any academic or social-emotional issue that is interfering with the student’s learning.  In addition, the advisor is the main connection between the school and the family, and research shows that having a single point of contact increases parent engagement and support for all students.