Chatham Day School’s David Buffum always appreciated his sprawling campus. Last year, when he saw more clearly what it could be, he absolutely loved it.
“I wouldn’t call us an outdoor school, but to have the ability at any given time to go outside, to use our footprint, is big,” says Buffum, Head of School. “It took a while to see the nose right in front of our face, which is that we’re surrounded by this beautiful 15 acres of nature. Why wouldn’t we walk the kids on a little mulch trail back into the grotto? We realized that what appeared to be good to react to coronavirus is an effective way to educate students in general.”
Enrollment Up, Not Class Size
Learning what works best for education is what Chatham Day does.
The school, usually just called CDS, prides itself on “Small by Design,” which means class sizes don’t exceed 14 students for preschoolers through 8th graders. It means differentiated teaching strategies under universal design method.
The school is seeing a big enrollment bump during COVID, as it remained open with a litany of safety protocols.
Parents were attracted to the small class sizes. And Buffum has no plans to increase those sizes—despite opening last year with 152 students and expecting some 175 students this year.
He’ll repurpose outdoor areas as natural classrooms, buying whatever furniture is needed. He’ll add second sections at each grade as necessary.
“We will not sacrifice on size of class,” he says. “We will hire more teachers and use more of our space. We’ve gone to two sections in a majority of grades now. Rather than adding a 15th or 16th person to a class, we’ve split it and made two classes of eight, or a seven and an eight. We feel very strongly about holding to that philosophy of small classes, because that really is the most important part of our mission.”
Being Kids a Little Longer
One of Buffum’s favorite parts of CDS is that as a preschool-8 school, eighth graders are like high school seniors.
They assume the mantle of leadership as their schoolmates look up to them. But they retain just enough “kid” in them to enjoy the silliness of joining those younger students for a holiday assembly rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.”
In an age where kids seem to grow up too fast, it’s a delicate balance Buffum treasures.
“We are able to have them be kids for longer,” he says. “At a preschool through eight you keep that alive for longer.”
700 Shunpike Rd., Chatham