As you might imagine, my school is a haven for those who have been bullied in previous institutions. Because we are small and we are also multi-age, it’s a lot harder to do that thing where kids decide (never the adults, do not kid yourself into thinking you have any say about popularity in a typical age-graded institution) who is and is not acceptable. Also, because we follow the philosophy of St. John Bosco, we actually hang out with and play with our kids a lot more than in traditional schools. We do this to mentor them more effectively and also to watch out for trouble spots.
Let’s think about a traditional school for a moment. In a typical school, there are 15-35 kids in each class (the exact number varies dramatically) and based on the historic segregation of Disabled people as well as people of color, the kids are typically one race and “abled” enough to be tossed into “gen pop” (those so Disabled that they make teachers’ lives too hard in gen pop get hidden in segregated classrooms).
There is one teacher or sometimes there might be two adults. The children greatly outnumber the adults.
And all the kids are the same chronological age.
No wonder they so easily ferret out who is different and make school a living hell for those people who don’t pass muster as “worthy.”
But my school is different.
My school is multi-aged (K-8). Currently, we are not as culturally diverse as we were, but we are diverse in terms of socio-economic levels and abilities and/or neurotypes.
(I should make a quick note here that historically people of color are reluctant to homeschool, or engage in alternative-type schools unless encouraged to do so by the public school authorities. It’s not because they don’t want to or can’t homeschool or look for alternative schools; however, there is heightened risk in parenting differently when you are a Person of Color. Many school authorities have bullied Black parents with a call to child protective services if they don’t raise their kids the “right” way. With longer-term success, I hope we can have more culturally diverse families using our program since it won’t be an “experiment” any longer.)
When children are constantly confronted with peers who are different ages, genders, races, and neurotypes/abilities, they are more acceptance of difference as no big deal. When class sizes are small, kids learn quite quickly to make do with whoever is in the class with them, too.
Normally, all goes well here.
But we take what we learned from the “outside” with us.
Sometimes, I have to explicitly teach friendship to my students.
Here are the main rules I give them, with adjustments made based on specific circumstances.