STODDARD — As many schools struggling with over-crowded classrooms and deteriorating buildings, at the James Faulkner Elementary School the big problem some days is keeping the weeds from overtaking the vegetable garden.
Faulkner Elementary is a unique school that operates more like a one-room schoolhouse than a modern school, according to Patti Osgood, community outreach coordinator for SAU 24.
"All of the kids have recess together, they work in the garden and the greenhouse, and every kid in the school has a pair of snowshoes," Osgood said.
There are only 55 children enrolled at the school, which serves kindergarten through fifth grade, so there are multi-age classrooms. Kindergarteners learn along with first-graders, second and third grades are paired together, as are fourth and fifth grades.
Kindergarten and first-grade teacher Kathy Guertin said that combining classes works well.
"I've been teaching for 25 years and I love having multi-age classrooms," Guertin said. "We can revisit things I've taught the first-graders so the kindergarteners know, and the older kids model what's expected of them for the younger ones."
That modeling makes for smooth transitions between grades, said Osgood. Teacher Laura White told Osgood that with the multi-age classrooms, the teachers never have a completely new class.
Each year half of their students can serve as "ambassadors," and teach the incoming students the routine.
"The big kids help the little kids and they all play together," said Osgood.
And the students all participate in school-wide field trips, instead of heading out one class at a time.
Principal Mark Taft, who works part-time in the school due to its small size, said the school is like a family.
"We all treat the kids very consistently and respectfully," he said, "and like a family, they all learn to get along with one another because they've gotten to be together all these years."
White actually pays visits to each of her new students' homes before the start of the school year, said Osgood, so that she can fully understand the needs of each student and establish a relationship before the first bell rings.
A centerpiece of the school is the community garden, complete with a greenhouse. The food grown in the garden supplements the students' school lunch, is used to teach math, science, even art, and serves as an after-school farmers' market for parents when the harvest is strong.
"The kids learn the best when they're solving real-world problems," said Taft. "This is an idyllic setting."