Upper School Academics
The Upper School curriculum includes a core of courses in each department that develop into a number of elective options for older students. By senior year the typical student might be enrolled in a seminar course examining a topic in great depth, such as the Vietnam War, African-American Literature, Astronomy, Shakespeare, or Don Quixote in the original Spanish. This produces graduates with sound basic skills, broad-ranging interests, and sharp intellectual acuity. The Upper School also graduates students with solid and polished academic skills. Upper School students are excellent communicators, orally and in writing, and highly proficient in projects and labs. They can research and write, analyze literature, work with math equations, and solve scientific problems. They can read, write and converse in another language. They are artists and performers, and possess great aesthetic awareness and appreciation.
In keeping with the School’s mission for students to develop a coherent body of knowledge in the humanities, the sciences, and the arts, graduation credits are required in English (4), History (3), Math (4), Science (3), Foreign Language (3), and Visual or Performing Arts (2). A two-year physical activity requirement promotes lifelong fitness.
Upper School teachers know the students very well. Because of the hands-on approach with students and the teachers’ educational background and intellectual curiosity, the students know that teachers are truly interested in them, and, therefore, the level of student participation and engagement is high. Meeting one-on-one with students is at the heart of the student-teacher dynamic, allowing teachers to help younger students get on track with note-taking, annotation, time management, and studying. These one-on-one meetings also allow teachers to work more closely with older students to polish and take writing and research to a higher level, and to present more challenging problems.
With watchfulness, ongoing communication, and support, the Upper School assesses a student’s growth and progress through its program. Teachers utilize traditional tools for assessing work – quizzes, tests, papers, presentations, labs, and projects. The cumulative marks are reported in quarterly grades and then semester grades that also include exam grades (with the exception of AP classes and second-semester seniors with grades of C- and above). Most exams are traditional two hour sittings, although some teachers (usually of upperclassmen) choose to assign papers or end-of-semester projects with letter or percentage grades accompanied by written comments. Quarter grades are accompanied by comments that address the student’s performance and suggestions for finishing the semester. Semester grades are sent with an advisor letter. These letters present a full picture of the student both in the classroom and the community. TRFs (Teacher Report Forms) are mailed home at any time during the semester when a student’s work is declining or to praise improvement.
All efforts are made to move students smoothly and sequentially through each discipline level with the goal of obtaining a coherent body of knowledge in the humanities, the sciences, and the arts. Prerequisites and numerous discussions among faculty about placements help teachers evaluate and determine a student’s academic course of study. The academic advising system is especially mindful of carefully choosing a schedule for each student, always seeking a balance between challenge and success.
Because the Upper School program demands the most and the best from students, there are provisions for students with learning difficulties. Often the one-on-one meetings between teachers and students lead to recommendations that a student be tested for learning difficulties. Extended time is granted to students with documentation from certified educational consultants. The School also makes provisions for students of exceptional ability. Creativity and flexibility allow students who are qualified to begin more difficult classes earlier (some Middle School students take Upper School classes).
The Upper School Counseling program assures ongoing dialogues about balance, healthy decisions, and formal instruction. The Real World class for all freshmen and the junior year Junior Leadership Program provide programs for students to explore typical teen concerns and leadership training. College counseling begins formally second semester junior year, although prior to this time, the college counselor sends home mailings to all grade levels and is present at grade-level meetings.