The Mystery of the Disappearing Local Community School

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Not long ago, we told you about Angle Inlet School, Minnesota’s last one-room schoolhouse.

As it turns out, other small schoolhouses still hide out in a few spots around the country. New Suffolk Common School in New York is one of them.

As the Wall Street Journal reports,

New Suffolk Common School has 17 children in three sunny classrooms. There is no space for the principal, who works part-time from home.

As tiny districts in New York and elsewhere across the country face pressure to consolidate with neighbors to cut costs, this one stands out for its homey charm and fierce independence. …

Built in 1907, the wood-frame schoolhouse is the heart of a sleepy hamlet that once had a U.S. Navy submarine base and a thriving oyster industry in Peconic Bay.”

Judging from the article, the attractiveness of this little red school house goes far beyond its homey charm, as it:

1. Encourages community
The rise of district consolidation banished the local schoolhouse from its role as the hub of American communities. New Suffolk, however, still has that “community hub,” which brings people of all economic backgrounds together. Interest in the school is multi-generational as today’s students spend time in the same classrooms as their parents and grandparents once did. Indeed, such a situation makes it easy to see why “the phrase ‘one big family’ comes up often in interviews.”

2. Provides high quality instruction
With only 17 children in the building, the entirety of New Suffolk Common School is practically the small class size that many teachers only dream about. Yet New Suffolk is able to break this number down even smaller in a teaching style akin to private tutoring. Such individualized attention seems to have paid off, for “several graduates went on to be high school valedictorians.”

3. Offers superior socialization
Like many homeschool students, the inhabitants of New Suffolk Common School also deal with critics who “say that children mingling with so few peers are deprived of socialization and diverse points of view.” But such a situation is actually character-building, as “fans [of the school] say they develop patience and tolerance because they have to get along.”

Between 1939 and 2006, the number of school districts in the United States declined from 117,108 to 14,166, while the student population increased from 25.7 million to 48 million. With this dramatic change, many local community schools disappeared. One wonders if the benefits of those schools have also largely disappeared.

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