I’ve come to realize that one of the more striking things about Peninsula School’s local culture is not that it’s like a startup, or that the students intuit progressive educational pedagogy, that dogs like it, or that it’s unselfconsciously global. Actually, those are all striking. But something I really noticed today while on a field trip with my daughter’s first grade class is the relationship that the older kids have to the younger ones.
In the public schools I went to, younger students were Fresh Meat. If any attention was paid to them, it was pretty negative. At the skating rink, however, I kept seeing the older students– roughly middle-schoolers– helping the first graders: picking them off the ice, holding their hands for balance, getting adults if they’d fallen and were upset. I was wondering at it, and then realized, I see this all the time.
There are “student helpers” who come around to the nursery school classes, and read and play with the smallest kids. There are numerous events where the older grades host the younger ones (the fourth graders do a brilliant carnival, for example). Finally, there are a few things (the annual re-enactment of the destruction of the Spanish Armada, the winter and spring fairs) that bring the whole school together.
In other words, there’s quite a bit of contact between age groups– and more of it than I remember in my schools, where you tended to associate (or merely huddle) with your own class. This tends to humanize all ages, I think: the older kids see the younger ones as small versions of themselves, while the younger ones are less awestruck or frightened by the older ones.
I don’t recall seeing an older kid– or group of them– ever picking on an elementary schooler. It’s not impossible, but it would be hard to do regularly, in part because other students wouldn’t stand for it any more than the teachers. They’re a surprisingly tough bunch when it comes to enforcing local norms. Two of my daughter’s classmates berated me for buying her a drink– an action that Generated Inequity and ran the risk of Making The Children Whose Parents Weren’t There Feel Bad. (Apparently, feeling bad is the next step after Channeling the Spirit of Oliver Cromwell.) I suspect that if they’re like this at five, they’re not more reticent at twelve.