Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

With students opting for free periods at the end of the day, some AP classes have smaller rosters, creating tight-knit classroom communities

The classroom can be many things. Lively or dull, warm or cold, full of friends or full of strangers. However, a classroom isn’t usually full of empty space.

This year, the schedule change made it so that school starts later in the day. Many students chose to change their schedules to take a free 5th and/or 6th period in order to get out of school early. In some cases, this left some afternoon classes with a smaller class size.

Senior Callie Salazar’s AP Literature class is less than 20 students, and it does have a lot of space. Despite its small roster, “it doesn’t feel empty.”

“[The atmosphere] is a lot more warm and collaborative compared to other classes I’ve had,” Salazar said. “There’s no one I outright don’t want to work with.”

What the smaller class does, according to Salazar, is allow the class to be a bit more laid back than her other classes.

“[Mr. Takesue] lets us joke around with each other because he has reasonable faith that we’ll get it back on track, and he has the ability to get us back on track. Plus, it’s partially because [the class] is made up of AP kids that want to be there,” Salazar said. 

While a notable advantage, AP Lit teacher Kitaro Takesue says that the advantages go far deeper than just one-on-one time with students.

“Because it’s smaller, it allows kids to become more comfortable with each other, so there’s more camaraderie, and there’s more trust in each other,” Takesue said. “There isn’t going to be any judgment about [what’s said] because everybody assumes the best of intentions. [The students] know that everyone is capable and trying their best.”

However, there is a drawback: less perspectives.

“When you have 36 kids, you have a higher variety of responses because kids are going to be able to approach it with different life experiences or different angles, or with an entirely different lens,” Takesue said. “At the same time, there’s something to be said for the depth and the quality and the time that we’re able to give each kid in our class, especially because my class has such a heavy discussion base.”

AP Chemistry, taught by Wilkin Lee, also has college-level material and a smaller class size. However, Lee believes that the quality of learning in a small class setting comes down to the students. 

“The truth is that it’s not about class size. It is about participation, mindset and engagement. I can have an effective class of 25 people or 30 people, if everyone has the same mindset and engagement in the discussion. AP Chem has a community because the people are more focused in that sense,” Lee said. 

Lee says that at Ambassador High School, a private school, the classes are designed to be small and use discovery-based learning rather than straight instruction.

“A smaller class allows the changes to be made so that we could make the ideal discussionry-and-discovery classes. It doesn’t mean that you cannot do it in a larger class, it is just a little more difficult to do so,” Lee said. “It [requires] a change in the mindset of teaching. It’s hard to change what works.“

At the end of the day, Salazar said, smaller class sizes let students feel less like classmates and more like friends.

“The smaller class leads to better discussions, which leads to us getting to know each other better,” Salazar said. “We get more opportunities for small group work, and everyone gets to have their voice heard. They not only learn about their classmate’s perspectives on stuff like Hamlet, but on the world at large. They develop inside jokes with each other to develop friendships that last outside of the classroom setting, and they stop being people you have to hang out with to people who you want to hang out with–it feels like a family.”