Some years ago I wrote up a proposal for our local school district for starting Neighborhood-Associated Primary Schools--NAPS. The idea was to have Preschool-Grade 3 in home-like buildings located throughout residential neighborhoods. This would allow children to walk to school, to be near their familiar neighborhood surroundings, to know where they are and how to get home from where they are. It would also mean that their first experience of school would be on a small, human scale, not very different from what they are used to in their own homes and neighborhood.
Classes would be small groups and parents would rotate as teacher's assistants. Students would get individualized mentoring as they learn social behavior as well as reading, writing and arithmetic. Each student, parent and teacher would be known to all the others. No one would slip through the cracks. Students would be tested at age 7 and each year thereafter; no one would be advanced to the local elementary school until they had gained the basic skills necessary to succeed as 4th graders.
NAPS could be located in any residential development in one of the larger homes, or a special community services building could be built for every 20 homes in the development and would include a NAP School. Ideally NAPS would be part of Professional Parenting Communities (see IDEA #5 below), and graduates of Schools of the Nurturing Arts (IDEA #3 below) would make ideal teachers and involved parents.
The school board which heard my proposal turned it down as too costly and too hard to maintain in multiple buildings spread throughout the district. I think education is a poor place to economize. Economies of scale may be necessary for adult workplaces, but quality education for our youngest children requires small classes and low teacher-student ratios. We cannot afford to have any of our youngsters fail to learn basic social and academic skills, and numerous studies have shown that young students learn better when they receive personalized attention in a comfortable social setting.
Today parents can join together with teachers to form charter schools along the lines of NAPS. Many homeschooling parents might find NAPS an ideal midpoint between educating their children themselves in isolation from others their age and sending them to the local elementary school. I believe elementary school teachers would be delighted to have NAPS graduates coming into their 4th grade classes ready and fully equipped to learn.
As charter schools, NAPS might have different emphases while being alike in teaching the basic academic and social skills. Some might be bilingual whether or not the students speak a language other than English at home. These early years are the very best for learning language skills. Others might emphasize multi-cultural or historical learning-by-doing, re-enacting scenes from other countries or eras. Others might specialize in observing nature first-hand or growing their own food in school gardens. Still others might emphasize the arts and music.
The school district might offer use of elementary school gyms and playgrounds to NAPS at specific times and use of school buses and vans to take NAPS students to children’s museums and other local learning opportunities.
I believe a society that puts its children and its people first will eventually end up creating something like the NAPS. Why not here and now?
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