Beyond the Classroom

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At Catlin Gabel we aim for a balance that allows both a genuinely challenging, world-class curriculum, and a healthy, manageable student experience with room for athletics, volunteer activities, class trips, and a wide range of student organizations.

Class Trips

Experiential learning complements the curriculum. Students learn independence through overnight adventures with their class beginning in first grade and continuing through Upper School. First graders spend a night camping in the Lower School soccer field. Sixth graders spend a week at Cape Arago studying marine biology, and seniors work in the Mt. Hood National Forest on a hands-on environmental restoration project. Students go on field trips to enhance classroom learning. Nothing can replace the community-building power of seeing each other outside our normal settings.

Experiential Education

Learning by doing is integral to a Catlin Gabel education. This type of learning takes place through activities that include multidisciplinary projects, robotics, mock trial, model UN, outdoor expeditions, and trips. Additionally, for a few days each year, regular classes are set aside and students embark on a variety of educational adventures. In the spring, Lower School student participate in Experiential Days, while Middle School students participate in a similar program called Breakaway. Led by Catlin Gabel faculty and parent volunteers, students work in small, mixed-age groups to explore in depth an area of interest, such as photography, fly-fishing, astronomy, or drama. Meanwhile, Upper School students participate in student led Winterim projects, where they spend four days exploring an activity such as working for Habitat for Humanity or learning about local businesses.

Senior Projects

In keeping with the school’s philosophy, senior projects offer students in their final year of high school the opportunity to plan their own education in an area of their interest, connecting high school experiences to further scholarly work or externships that fall outside the Catlin Gabel curriculum. Senior projects immerse the students in an adult world of their own choosing. Projects may be internships, research positions, or service jobs. All seniors engage in a senior project in May. They report regularly to a member of the faculty and to an outside mentor.

Travel Abroad

For more than 40 years, Catlin Gabel has valued taking students out of the classroom and into the extended world community. Catlin Gabel students have visited many parts of the globe including Canada, Mexico, and parts of Asia, South America, Europe, and North Africa. Trips are led by experienced faculty members and frequently incorporate a home stay component. While these school experiences are optional, students in both Middle School and Upper School are encouraged to travel and learn in person about the world around us.  Recent trips have visited such varied locations as China, Turkey, Costa Rica, Cuba, Japan, Martinique, and India.

Exchange Programs

Students may apply to School Year Abroad (SYA), which typically allows juniors to study in Spain, France, China, or Italy. SYA is the only secondary-level school program in which American students live for a full year with a European or Chinese family while earning U.S. graduation credits and receiving rigorous preparation for top U.S. colleges and universities. The school also offers two- to six-week exchanges to many schools in the U.S.

Service Learning

Sharing their time and talents helps students develop awareness of needs outside themselves and the value of community involvement and service. Service is integrated into our yearly calendar as students in grades 1 through 12 work collectively on school-sponsored projects. Campus Day is one example, when Upper School students and faculty work in small groups to enhance the campus with painting, planting, and building projects. Students in the Middle and Upper Schools also perform service requirements off campus, in projects such as the Elana Gold ’93 Memorial Environmental Restoration Project on Mt. Hood, which over many years has made real and positive changes in disturbed terrain on the mountain. Service learning helps students gain a deep understanding of the community and provides a way for them to discover new talents and passions.

Outdoor Education

The outdoor education program educates the whole child by providing opportunities for students to face and overcome challenges, learn group living skills, and understand the way the natural world works. The program broadens the education of both Middle and Upper School students by fostering their self-awareness, exposing them to new environments and challenges while providing important leadership opportunities. Key components include adventure education through trips ranging from day hikes to lengthy backpack, skiing, or river trips; leadership and skill development through a weekly afternoon program, environmental education using field resources both on and off campus; and experiential education that applies classroom education to real world settings.

Learning Centers

The school’s three learning specialists use the latest in recent brain research. They help all students and families become their own best advocates, whether or not a specific difficulty appears. The learning specialists help students identify strengths and weaknesses, analyze their learning styles, and work on strategies to get the most out of school. Learning style testing, study skills, homework clubs, study buddies, and tutoring advice and referral are all part of what the learning centers offer.

College Counseling

Catlin Gabel's college counseling program, with its emphasis on personalized guidance, helps each student explore the many college opportunities available. Through individual counseling sessions throughout the junior and senior years, Catlin Gabel's two college counselors help students identify those colleges that best suit their interests, abilities, and goals. Counselors guide students through all aspects of the college admission process, from developing appropriate college lists to completing applications, writing essays, and applying for financial aid.


Students are encouraged to pursue interests that extend learning beyond the classroom. Some extracurricular activities and clubs are offered on campus. For example, the Lower School chess club, theater arts group, and strings ensemble meet after school. Middle School Science Olympiad teammates work in the lab to sharpen their skills for tournaments while emerging authors get together for the weekly Writers' Workshop. Upper School students participate in myriad student organizations including social activist committees, newspaper, and Model U.N. Our students routinely participate in local and national math, science, mock trial, and literary competitions. Teachers and classmates support students who follow their passions through off-campus activities such as youth symphony, ballet, lacrosse, and fencing.


Robotics is an extracurricular program designed to get students involved with real-world engineering, computer science, design, math, and applied physics. The team and project-management skills learned here last a lifetime. Robotics starts in Middle School and continues through Upper School. Participants in both the Middle School and Upper School programs design robots for entry in their respective FIRST Robotics competitions. Middle School participation is not required before becoming involved with the Upper School program.

Esther Dayman Strong Lectureship

The Esther Dayman Strong Lectureship in the Humanities was created in 1987 as a living memorial to the values that Esther Strong nurtured throughout her life, and especially as principal of the Catlin-Hillside School from 1944 to 1958. Current and retired Catlin Gabel teachers are invited to submit proposals for an independent intellectual pursuit, which they present to the community at an evening lecture and at an Upper School assembly. Occasionally, alumni are invited to speak.

Jean Vollum Distinguished Writers Series

The late Jean Vollum believed that exposure to writers with diverse backgrounds, experiences and motivation provides young writers with the knowledge that no matter where they come from, they have something important to say. Authors visiting the school through the Jean Vollum Distinguished Writers Series are arranged by the Upper School English department. The authors work with students in English classes and talk about writing and publishing at assemblies, which are open to the Catlin Gabel community. Participants in the program have included Maya Angelou, Robert Bly, Andrei Codrescu, David James Duncan, David Guterson, Charles Johnson, Anne Lamott, Craig Lesley, Mark Mathabane, N. Scott Momaday, Tim O’Brien, William Stafford, Mark Strand, Joseph Coulson, Eamon Grennon, Azar Nafisi, and Tracy Chevalier.

Karl Jonske '99 Memorial Lecture Series

The Karl Jonske '99 Memorial Lecture Series honors a devoted student of English and lover of the written word. At Catlin Gabel Karl was a National Merit semi-finalist, a member of the varsity tennis team, and a captain of the varsity basketball team. He went on to attend the University of Chicago, where he was active in community service, sports, and the Model United Nations. In addition to the lecture itself, the memorial fund has provided for the acquistion of 686 titles to date by the Upper School library. Past lecturers have included poet and essayist Ted Kooser, journalists David Lamb and Sandy Northrop, photographer Anne B. Keiser, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder.

Art Exhibitions and Gallery Talks

The art exhibition committee presents exhibitions in the Cabell Center and gallery talks by artists for students and interested visitors throughout the year. Past visiting artists include Ray Atkeson, Richard Brown, Judith Poxson Fawkes, Sally Haley, Cynthia Hampton, Marian Kolisch, Joan Livingstone, Lucinda Parker, and Julia Stoll.

Gambol Auction

The Gambol Auction is an annual fundraising event that supports professional development for our teachers and a special appeal provides financial aid scholarships for our students. Organizing a successful auction takes thoughtful preperation and dedication. We rely on the generous volunteer support of our community to pull off this big fundraising party.

Summer Programs

Summer programs are open to all students, even to those who are not enrolled at Catlin Gabel. The program offers a variety of classes and workshops including arts and music, academics, outdoor education, cooking, and basketball, to name a few. Most offerings are one-week courses, allowing students and parents to select what works best for them during June and July. Our summer school teachers strive to help each child succeed. The beautiful campus offers a relaxed atmosphere for summer learning and fun.