Upper School Academic Life
The intellectual community of the Upper School is characterized by close student-teacher and student-student relationships that foster advanced inquiry, lively discussion around Harkness seminar tables, and deep engagement with ideas. The Upper School’s 75-minute class periods provide time for broad exploration of ideas within each class and each discipline. The schedule also has built-in time during the school day for co-curriculuar activities, studying, and meeting with teachers, and allows for a balanced approach to homework. Students are energetic and informed participants in discussions, nuanced and accountable in their analysis, and articulate in their critique and defense of ideas. The program culminates in seminars that use college-level texts and require substantial independent work.
The Upper School program prepares students exceptionally well for college; discussion-based learning, often around Harkness tables; and a robust system of academic, social, and emotional support.
- The Upper School curriculum offers a challenging and innovative academic program that thoroughly prepares students to excel and lead at the most demanding colleges and universities. SPA has chosen not to offer the designated AP (Advanced Placement) program; rather, by design our classes go well beyond the prescribed AP curriculum in depth and complexity. When SPA students elect to take AP exams, they are very successful: more than half of students who take an AP exam earn a score of 4 or 5, and more than 80% earn a score of 3 or above.
- Discussion-based learning is at the heart of academic life in the Upper School. Humanities classes take place around large Harkness tables, where students understand that they are accountable to both teachers and peers in their preparation and participation. Mathematics and science courses, although they do not take place around Harkness tables, are similarly structured in their depth, complexity, and expectations for student preparation and participation.
- The Upper School's student support systems are extensive. All students are part of a small advisory group led by a teacher/advisor, who is the student's advocate and guide throughout the year. The support network also includes a Dean of Students, a full-time Upper School counselor, three full-time college counselors, the staff of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the student-staffed Peer Helper group.
Meet the Principal: Chris Hughes
Chris Hughes joined SPA as Principal of the Upper School in 2008. “I decided very early—7th grade, in fact—that I wanted to be a teacher and a coach,” Mr. Hughes says. “How else could I blend my passion for history and my love for athletics? I quickly found that I love the energy of groups striving together toward a common goal, whether in the classroom or the athletic field. As the Upper School principal at SPA, I get to design programs and open doors that allow that creative energy to blossom within a community that is ambitious and is interested in ideas and solutions. It’s an exciting role to play in a stimulating environment!” Before joining SPA, Mr. Hughes was academic dean for Chatham Hall, Chatham, VA, a private, all-girls high school where he also served as a teacher, adviser, and soccer coach. Mr. Hughes is the author of 12 books, all for upper-middle school students, seven on U.S. history, and five that make up a series, “Nations in Conflict.” His undergraduate degree from Lafayette College is in history; his Masters degree from Lehigh University is in social studies education. Email Chris.