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Upper School Academics

Upper School

The curriculum fosters an appreciation for the diversity and interconnectedness of human experience. Small class sizes allow the faculty to respond to individual needs, making it possible to help each student adjust to the school’s pace and demands.

Students are gradually given more independence and more choice and are encouraged to pursue their special talents in a variety of elective and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. It is our goal that upon graduating from St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, students are fully prepared for a demanding college program and that knowledge acquired here will serve the individual, the school, the community, and the world.

Students are encouraged to participate in class discussions, make ethical and aesthetic judgments, think critically, and articulate their ideas by writing and speaking clearly.

Our Nine Areas of Study

Learning extends well beyond classrooms—in clubs, service work, academic competitions, global travel, and more. Our proximity to Washington, D.C., takes students out of the classroom and allows them to learn in such places as The Shakespeare Theatre, The Kennedy Center, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Corcoran Gallery of Art to name but a few.

Advanced Placement (AP)

When you think of AP, chances are you picture rigorous, fast-paced survey courses that cover a lot of information in a subject, assessed in one culminating exam. Enter AP Seminar and its follow-up, AP Research - two classes that also provide great challenge and preparation for college-level work, but are definitely not your father’s AP.

Rather than content, AP Sem and Research are all about skills—specifically, high-level research, writing, communication, and collaboration skills relevant to any discipline. Co-taught by a history teacher and a science teacher, the courses allow you to look at broad topics through multiple lenses and delve into those that speak to you.

Through first-semester group projects and a second-semester AP project linked to a theme, AP Seminar builds a foundation in teamwork, research, report-writing, and presentation across a variety of subject areas. Though there is room to put your own stamp on work, truly individualized, you-driven projects are the purview of AP Research. Working largely independently on a topic of your own creation, you conduct original (not secondary) research, consult with an expert advisor in the field, write an extensive research paper, and deliver a 20-minute defense. It’s the sort of capstone experience usually reserved for seniors in college, not high school.

The AP awards “certificates” to those who achieve success on the varied assessments of both courses, and “diplomas” to those with high scores on four additional APs. But the real reward goes much deeper. Mastering a blend of independent inquiry and collaboration, analysis, and synthesis is the stuff of real college work and of real-world work, too.

Signature Programs

Here, our signature programs provide students with an opportunity for deeper study and exploration in specific academic areas. Students who complete the requirements for a Certificate are recognized through notation on the final academic transcript as well as in the program at Commencement.

The STEM Certificate Program supports students with a deep interest in STEM fields. A STEM Certificate is earned through 1) completion of coursework, 2) application of STEM thinking through participation in a STEM related activity, and 3) through a completion of an independent STEM related experience. 

The purpose of the World Languages Certificate is to:

  • Prepare our students to be engaged, global citizens
  • Create an opportunity for students to be recognized for studying two world languages and engaging deeply with global issues
  • Support and increase student engagement in the study of multiple world languages at the Upper School
  • Promote and support intercultural experiences beyond the World Language classroom.

In order to earn the World Language Certificate students must study two languages at the Upper School (Chinese, Spanish, Latin, French), participate in an off-campus cultural learning experience, and finally must create and present a capstone presentation based on a global, intercultural theme of their choosing.

Students can apply at the end of their ninth grade year.

In one of our new certificate offerings, students may apply to take part in an action research study to plan and shape our Global Citizenship Program. For 2022-2023, students will agree to and be credited with focused, sustained, and goal-oriented engagement with an external organization. They will do this with the ambition to understand how local issues connect to global issues. In order to make this connection, they will engage in independent study guided by a mentor of their choosing. Over the course of the year, students will also come together as a support cohort so they can share progress, help each other overcome obstacles, and contribute ideas to a longer Global Citizenship Certification that focuses on the following essential questions:

  • How do my sets of knowledge and skills connect in order to help me understand the experiences of those in the world around me?
  • What am I uniquely positioned to contribute to my community and world?
  • How do I act as a Global Citizen in a complex and changing world towards justice and peace? 

Beginning in the summer and lasting through the ninth grade year, it is a program designed to foster connection-building between our rising 9th grade students and the cohort of new classmates. 

In addition to orientation programming, team building, educational skill development, new students are carefully partnered by various adults in our community with a current Saint in order to make their transition to SSSAS both smooth and strong. 

Supporting Our Students

At the Upper School, our Academic Center provides support to all students, including students with mild to moderate learning needs, in order to help them become more effective learners and successful self-advocates. In the Academic Center, assistance may be provided with:

  • Organization, planning, and time management
  • Study and research skills
  • Implementing a strategic approach to reading comprehension and writing assignments 
  • Assisting with setting up teacher meetings
  • Monitoring anxiety related to academics
  • Understanding math concepts 

In addition to supporting students, our learning specialists collaborate with teachers/advisors and partner with parents in our community.

Counselors on each campus are available for consultation to all students of the school community, and are also resources for parents with concerns regarding students or school-related issues.The Chaplains are also available to all members of the school community, students and parents, as well as faculty and staff who wish to talk about ethical or spiritual issues or personal relationships. During the year a variety of mental health and wellness programs are offered for students and adults.