Gulfport Reduces Class Size For First, Second and Third Graders

Research shows that class size has a dramatic impact on how well children learn during the first few years of school. That's why the Gulfport School District has reduced the number of children in it's first, second and third grade classrooms. No teacher is assigned more than 15 students.

Bryan Exum flew in from Washington D.C. to see first hand what kind of education his daughter is getting. He says watching how Helen Dunn interacts with her second grade class has given him peace of mind.

"I actually enjoy the [class] size," said Exum. "Ms. Dunn has been very attentive and knows all of the kids. [She's] very active and the positive enforcement that she gives to each child individually. I'm completely impressed with."

Some school principals say they have seen reading and math scores rise dramatically, since class sizes have shrunk. Teachers say having fewer students gives them more flexibility in their teaching styles and more time to look for children's trouble spots.

Teacher Helen Dunn said "I have never had so much fun teaching or been so challenged to meet the needs of the individual child. I know each child very well individually, and I know their strengths and their weaknesses."

Central Elementary was one of four schools which needed more space to accommodate smaller classes. Teachers here say having smaller classes now will help better prepare students for larger classes later.

"They're still just babies in the third grade getting ready to go into an environment in the fourth grade where they're starting to mature," said third grade teacher Sarah Romeo. "Some of them aren't ready for that yet, and it does help prepare them."

Educators say smaller classes have another advantage. Teachers spend less time disciplining students. The Gulfport School District no longer has assistant teachers in its first through third grade classes. It used that money along with grant money to hire the extra teachers needed for the smaller classes.

by Danielle Thomas