Upper School curriculum is responsive to the young adults in our community and the demanding environment in which they live. Through their coursework, they build the knowledge and skills necessary to be informed, participatory, and engaged citizens.
Upper School Curriculum by Grade Level
Around one-third of the Upper School ninth grade class are newly-enrolled students, and the diversity of students’ backgrounds and life experiences contribute to an active learning environment where they broaden their perspective by learning from and with each other.
As part of their transition to high school, each student becomes part of an Upper School “C&C” cross-graded advisory group, a cadre that will meet almost every school day for the next four years. The group provides each student with support and encouragement as they navigate the challenges and joys of their teenage years. The advisor provides guidance and mentorship through the academic path; advisors also track the development of the whole-person through challenges and accomplishments.
In ninth grade English, students focus on the writing process and explore the concept of journey as a defining experience. The interdisciplinary ninth grade-level Social Studies course Human Crossroads incorporates geography, history, anthropology, and sociology with a focus on themes and concepts that are applicable to any nation or culture. Ninth graders have the option of taking Lifetime Fitness or they can get Physical Education credit if they are athletes through our school’s programs or outside of Catlin Gabel. All incoming students take a Health course that includes a science-based understanding of nutrition, sexuality, and the nervous system, along with guidelines and laws regarding alcohol, nicotine, drugs, and sexual consent.
Other ninth grade foundational courses include Science I, the first part of a two-year course, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to biology, chemistry, and physics, investigating relevant concepts that integrate these disciplines while building scientific skills. Ninth graders take the mathematics course that best suits their abilities and interests; most often, students take algebra or geometry while a few elect to enroll in precalculus, calculus, or statistics.
Students choose to learn Mandarin, Spanish, or French through our Modern Language program. There are a variety of elective courses in computer science and the arts that take into account prior knowledge and student interest. In Visual and Performing Arts, almost all Upper School courses are open to ninth graders, including Media Arts, Photography, Acting, Chamber Music, Choir, and Music Theory and Composition. Students learn experientially through Immersives courses, which encompass a variety of interdisciplinary offerings and vary from one year to the next.
All Upper School students have opportunities to enroll in formal cocurricular programs such as Engineering (including robotics and InvenTeam), Model United Nations, and Mock Trial. They participate in a wide variety of affinity groups and clubs that celebrate shared identities and interests. Students collaborate on community-engagement projects such as CommuniCare or Thrive, and travel together through the school’s Global Education and Outdoor Education programs.
Sophomores build on the academic skills and practices they’ve developed, and further their critical thinking, reading, writing, and presentational skills. The four-year relationship of the C&C advisory group continues, with faculty advisors working closely with individual students and their parents to help them to plan their long-range course and manage more immediate needs.
The Sophomore English course emphasizes writing to effect change, with students focusing on social issues of personal interest. In the Social Studies course The Modern World, students consider how issues of today connect them to historical events of the past. Students engage in next-level Mathematics, Modern Language, and Science courses, and have opportunities to engage in a broad range of electives. Sophomores are required to take a second Health course that centers on mental and physical health issues, including stress management, emotional stability, and interpersonal relationships.
Twenty-two Visual and Performing Arts courses are open to all Upper School classes. including Playwriting, Directing, Sewing, and Jewelry, and students may audition to join the Rock Band, Jazz Band, and CG Players acting troupe.
Students throughout the Upper School effect change in school culture and policy by taking on leadership positions in student government, the Environmental Action Committee, and the community-focused InvenTeam and CommuniCare Club. All students also take part in off-campus community engagement, participating in a variety of short-term projects and experiencing a range of organizations. Many broaden their world view by engaging in the school’s Global Education and Outdoor Education programs.
In their junior year at Catlin Gabel, students continue to be closely connected with their C&C cohort and faculty advisors, and they also begin to work with the College Counseling team, who engage students and families in a process of personal exploration that will help them choose their best-fit college.
Juniors choose between taking American Studies (an interdisciplinary course that explores the history, culture, and literature of the United States) or United States History and English 11, which take a chronological approach to our nation’s narrative. Science curriculum also expands for juniors, with courses in Evolutionary Biology, Experimental and Organic Chemistry, Kinesiology, Meteorology, Physics of Flight, and Scientific Writing, in addition to advanced level courses in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.
The vast majority of juniors enter their third year of Modern Language study in French, Spanish, or Mandarin Chinese, or the next level of mathematics, including advanced topics offered through the Global Online Academy. As in previous years, students may apply to be a Teaching Assistant in Computer Science, English, Mathematics, and Science courses. Juniors may take any course in visual art, theater, and music.
Throughout their years of Upper School, many students capitalize on their increasing independence to pursue solo projects, and organize small group projects that can create opportunities for younger peers. They develop as empathetic and collaborative young adults through their engagement in student government, affinity groups, clubs, theater productions, and music ensembles, and by participating on no-cut and competitive varsity athletics teams.
The senior year begins with a focus on the college selection process, and eventually becomes a time of reflection and connection, with peers and the school celebrating seniors and all that they bring to the community as individuals and a class.
All seniors are required to take two semesters of senior English and they can continue to pursue advanced courses in Social Studies, Computer Science, Science, Languages, Mathematics and the Arts.
Seniors’ academic work often dovetails with their personal pursuits, as they embrace the many opportunities to put into practice the ideas and inspiration sparked in the classroom.
With the WINGS Peer Mentoring Program, interested seniors provide mentorship to incoming ninth graders. During the month-long Senior Projects in May, students pursue a personal interest by working with an on-site mentor at a chosen organization.
The Catlin Gabel community recognizes the unique nature of every senior class, and traditional events are built into the yearly calendar to recognize the seniors and their lasting connection to the school. Seniors are paired with a first grade “buddy,” and act as a friend and role model throughout the year. Athletic events include “Senior Day,” in which athletes are recognized for their commitment to Catlin Gabel teams. At the year-end Senior Panel students share candid thoughts and feelings about the Catlin Gabel experience for the benefit of parents and teachers.