By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
Class size is one of many factors to consider when grading a school’s success. But small class size alone, however, may not ensure a good education. Some of the other factors to add to your checklist as you navigate those school tours are: the quality of the teaching, the school leadership, the size of the school, the amount of parent involvement, and even learning experts in classrooms.
One California school is making an impact when it comes to shaping the student learning experience. BASIS Independent Fremont is fast-becoming a leading choice amongst South Asian parents in the Bay Area where communities are growing at a rapid rate. BASIS Independent Fremont is a K-8 private school that provides an accelerated liberal arts and sciences curriculum. Courses in logic, economics, fine arts, music, drama, engineering, world history, and more, taught by subject expert teachers comprise the world-acclaimed program. The school is the fourth to join the family of independent schools quickly establishing some of the very best private schools in the nation.
When evaluating class size, the student-teacher ratio can make a significant difference in the capacity to learn.
BASIS.ed-managed schools are guided by the principle that says the performance of the teacher has a vastly greater impact on student learning than the number of students in the room. This has been proven by the Gates Foundation, and is tested year after year in BASIS.ed classrooms. Some teachers would suggest that classroom discussion and academic vitality would not be improved by fewer children; but quite the opposite effect would occur.
Having two teachers in the classroom in grades K-4 not only allows us to keep student-teacher ratios low, but, more importantly allows us to differentiate instruction to best meet the needs of the students in our classes,” says Dr. Ashley Leyba, BASIS Independent Fremont Head of School. At the primary level, we expect to see a wide variety of ability levels in each class, so it is essential that we have the teaching staff necessary to ensure that each student is appropriately challenged and supported.
At BASIS Independent Fremont, the ratios are the following:
Kindergarten: 20 students per class to 2 teachers (Teacher and Teaching Fellow)
Grades 1-4: 25 students per class to 2 teachers (Learning Expert Teacher and Subject Expert Teacher)
Grades 5-8: 25 students per class to 1 Subject Expert Teacher
Dr. Leyba adds that having learning experts can enhance the capacity for learning for students in the classroom.
“Our Learning Expert Teachers (LETs) are with the same group of students throughout the day,” says Dr. Leyba. “As a result, they are able to build strong relationships with their students and really get to know how those students learn best. This gives them unique insight into how to best deliver content to reach the particular needs of the students in their class. Additionally, our LETs take the lead on interventions, working with students one on one who are above or below grade-level expectations.”
At BASIS Independent Fremont, size matters, but so does the quality of support. Here’s a look at the various roles teachers have and the support they offer students:
Subject Expert Teachers (SETs): These teachers are the shepherds of academic content in our classrooms. Their focus is ensuring high-level mastery.
Learning Expert Teachers (LETs): Their focus is on ensuring that the SETs are reaching each and every child in the class. They also play a lead role in literacy as well as Connections classes.
Teaching Fellows (TFs): These invaluable educators play a role across all grades, acting as support to a SET of a particular discipline and/or grade level. Typically early on in their career, they are teachers in training under the mentorship of a more experienced educator. They are also often the shepherds of our Student Support services, building rapport with students before they have a very class of their own.
Kindergarten Expert Teachers (KETs): Present only in Kindergarten classrooms, KETs are responsible for delivering most content to students and bringing pedagogical expertise to the classroom, with the consistent support of a Teaching Fellow.
You see that specialist educators can make a substantial impact in the classroom. Kyle Harter, BASIS Independent Fremont Art Teacher, Grades K-5 says:
“I absolutely love working at BASIS! As a subject expert teacher I am given the freedom, the resources, and the support to be the best possible teacher I can be. The administration works tremendously hard to keep the vision of BASIS operating out of a place of love and dedication. Everyone is very friendly, approachable, and professional.”
He adds, “There’s a general love of learning that is happening by teacher and students. You can feel it as you walk through the halls. The students at BASIS aren’t just “going to school”, they are getting an education. Be it through science, engineering, art, music, humanities — they are taking ownership and are invested. So much so that they draw and paint about how much they love the school in my Visual Arts class and miss it on holidays.”
BASIS Independent Fremont ensures the classroom experience is paired with critical thinking. The school’s “Connections Class” in grades 1- 4 is a great example of how, starting at a young age, students can bridge their content-rich studies with deep critical thinking skills by putting what they learn to the test in a scenario-based project learning block. Connections meets once a week for 85 minutes and allows young minds the opportunity to think creatively, build important social and presentation skills, and develop a crucial skill set to approach problems or challenges from multiple angles.
Here’s a look at the Connections class in action!
While classroom experience is key, teachers themselves also should be able tap into ways to develop their own skillset.
At BASIS Independent Fremont, the faculty is measured against a high standard.
“We believe that our teachers should be subject experts in their teaching fields, meaning, at the least, an undergraduate degree in the discipline they teach,” says Dr. Leyba. “This deep subject expertise allows our teachers to challenge our students and answer the types of questions for which BASIS students are known. More importantly, though, the teachers are passionate about their fields and are eager to convey this enthusiasm to their students.”
Over 70% of BASIS.ed teachers have a Master’s degree or higher in their subject. New and seasoned BASIS Independent teachers have professional training that takes place throughout the school year via a peer-mentoring program and collaboration with Subject Advisors (who are veteran faculty members), seasoned teachers, and on-site managers.
Subject Advisors partner with teachers to outline and discuss various instructive strategies and methods to allow them, as professionals, to determine which approach works best for them. As collaborators, Subject Advisors work with teachers to ensure students stay on track and master their subjects, and inspire teachers to present material to students in a way that is both challenging and fun.
So, in evaluating a school, look at the opportunities that are available to teachers and staff to enhance their working experience and capacity to teach.
Interested in learning more about BASIS Independent Fremont (K-8)? Visit their website to sign up for a tour, register for an upcoming event, or apply for the 2017-18 school year.
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This post was sponsored by BASIS Independent Fremont.
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