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City teachers thankful for smaller classes

Oct 31, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Riverton's kindergarten through second-grade teachers have been enjoying the smaller class sizes they experienced this year because of the relocation of all local third-graders to Rendezvous Elementary School.

"When you have 16-18 kids in your room, and you have five of them gone with the flu, it's unreal, it's unbelievable," Jackson Elementary School principal Owen Lampert said this week. "You wonder where they are, like this isn't right."

Lampert and other school officials attended Tuesday's Fremont County School District 25 Board of Trustees meeting to express appreciation for district efforts to comply with the state-mandated 16:1 student-teacher ratio requirement. In addition to housing all third- through fifth-graders at Rendezvous, the district has hired an additional 13 teachers over the past two years. As a result, Superintendent Terry Snyder said ratios in Riverton's kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade classes have gone down from an average of 25:1 two years ago to an average of about 20:1 currently.

At Ashgrove Elementary School, principal Alleta Baltes said there are 45 fewer students roaming the hallways.

"I really didn't know how much difference it would make, but it did," she said Tuesday. "The school climate is really greatly improved."

The building is quieter, she said, and fewer students are sent to the principal's office for discipline referrals because instructors like Jennifer Dell are better able to address behavior issues in the classroom.

"When a student acts up, we as teachers are able to nip that behavior in the bud and get control," said Dell, who teaches second grade at Ashgrove. "And there are fewer students having issues in transition times to the bathroom or playground, lining up. With fewer students it takes less time, and that decreases behavior issues as well."

She was more excited about the educational impact of smaller classes, however. Dell said with fewer students she is able to pay more attention to advanced learners as well as children who may be struggling with new concepts.

"We're able to hit both ends of the spectrum," Dell said. "With smaller classes we're able to individualize things a lot more and make sure there are no students slipping through those cracks."

Other teachers said they have been able to call on more students to answer questions on a daily basis. And if a child answers incorrectly, teachers said there are more opportunities to work one-on-one with that student instead of simply giving out the correct answer.

"I know you didn't give us more time, but it feels like you did," Aspen Park Elementary School kindergarten teacher Darsi Buss said. "I can have little groups of four kids, and I can get to all of those groups in one day."

She also noted the increased safety that comes with smaller classes. Aspen Park recently had a fire drill during which Buss was in charge of walking her students several blocks to the Holiday Inn.

"It was not awful," Buss said. "I think if it was a real emergency I could get 18 kids out of there. I wondered about 26. That made me really nervous."

Buss added that she also has more time to interact with parents in the mornings and during parent-teacher conferences.

"I spent 20 minutes with each parent instead of 10 just to get them all in," Buss said.

Bridget Franks, a second-grade teacher at Jackson, said the change has benefitted teachers too, and not only when it comes to paperwork.

"This is my 18th year, and this was just great to have the smaller classes," she said. "I feel like I'm making a bigger difference this year."