As a parent, it is heartbreaking to watch your teen struggle through adolescence. As adults, we know adolescence is the trial and error period leading to adulthood. Learning to navigate the adolescent years is a critical step toward becoming a satisfied adult. It is still difficult to stand by while watching teens question their role among their peers.
In the typical school environment, whether public or private, students gravitate to peer groups. Often members of these groups adopt behaviors and dress to indicate they belong and will push away those they feel may alter their social status. This has been further complicated by social media. For parents, staying abreast of the next Snapchat or Tindr can be daunting. Your chance to help in a fast-moving world of posts, messages, and disappearing photos seems out of reach. It can be tempting to wish for extraordinary solutions; for a little magic.
What Do Teens Need?
Teens need a community where they feel they belong, are not judged, are respected, listened to actively, and where they can be individuals without the pressure to conform; a community where they can try, fail, try again, succeed, grow, share, and know their peers and teachers are there for them no matter what happens.
A successful school “is realized to the degree in which individuals form a group.” J. Dewey, Experience and education. New York: Macmillan (1958)
What are the Benefits of an Inclusive School?
Because teens develop their sense of identity through how others see them - what psychologists term “the looking-glass self” - a small, empathic school environment provides the opportunity for community members to know each other well and to be less judgmental as peers.
- An inclusive school values individuality, whether in mindset, gender identity, learning style, physical appearance, introversion, culture, family composition, or race.
- An inclusive school celebrates differences and encourages students to use their unique perspective to pursue ideas, explore new information, to openly share, and to embrace diversity and change.
What is Special About a Small School?
With the absence of a focus on standardization, small schools are able to more effectively facilitate individual teen learning. Students can find their way at their own pace. They learn what their strengths are and how to build on those strengths in developing an identity within which they are comfortable and can succeed. Research has shown that a small school environment, with invested faculty, successfully supports positive growth in teens. Healthy community – where teens can thrive - is possible where empathy is fostered and inclusion is celebrated. It's not magic, but the positive growth you see in your own teen might make it seem so.