Group of students
Upper Division

As a teacher and an advisor, I am an ally, not an adversary. It’s a very hard role: balancing advocacy with discipline. We’re teaching accountability here. Grade 7 teacher / advisor

These are the years of emerging adolescent identity. And at Park, it’s a time when students get ample opportunity to excel academically and socially, to hone their skills and discover their passions. Park’s Upper Division strikes a balance between academic rigor and creative exploration; high expectations and emotional support; preparing for the future and preserving the simplicity and sincerity of childhood. After Park, students enter the world with a developed sense of confidence, a joy of learning, and a hunger for the next intellectual endeavor.

The Four Needs and How We Meet Them

Children ages 11–15 are governed by four dominant needs: competence, relationship, autonomy, and fun. When these needs are met, adolescents can thrive and achieve their potential.

Meeting the Need for Competence

Adolescents long to explore and demonstrate their own emerging mastery of skills and subject matter. And at Park, they can. In the Upper Division, students develop a strong academic foundation through an engaging and rigorous curriculum. Their confidence grows, and they become capable of applying their ability to meaningful real-world problems.

Meeting the Need for Relationships

Strong and positive connections, including those with peers, are essential for adolescents to thrive. At Park, we curate opportunities for students to practice the essential social-emotional skills needed to build trust and effectively navigate conflict. Upper Division students also benefit from being the oldest students in the school, allowing them to be the “big kids” while avoiding pressures and distractions that can come in a high school setting.

Our Upper Division structure and programming, including Advisory and Growth Education, promote the skills of self-awareness, organization, digital citizenship, collaboration, and conflict resolution. With Park’s teachers and advisors, adolescents learn the essential skills of reflection and self-advocacy, so they graduate from the Upper Division feeling known by others and knowing themselves as individuals, students, and community members.

Upper Division Advisory – Each child is part of a small advisory group made up of 5–7 students and one teacher that meets daily. Advisory time is spent on activities ranging from team-building games to problem solving to reflection and goal setting. In Advisory, students experience a one-on-one relationship with an adult who knows them well and serves as their trusted consultant for academic, personal, and social development.

Meeting the Need for Autonomy

As adolescents move towards adulthood, they want more control and participation in decision-making. Upper Division students have many opportunities to explore and experiment with their own independence and leadership style in a safe and nurturing environment that encourages them to step out of their comfort zone.

At Park, students can act in a play or join a sports team without worrying about being cut from the roster, or they can explore and showcase their passion for artistic expression with audiences throughout the year. They can participate in and lead more than a dozen clubs, including: Model United Nations, Gender Sexuality Alliance, Math Club, Science Club, Green Club, Student Council, Service Council, Events Council and our multicultural club, Pangea. They can submit proposals of their own, such as the recently formed Dungeons & Dragons, Stock Market, Genetics, and Debate Clubs.

Athletics for Grades 6–8 – More than 90 percent of Upper Division students choose to play on our varsity, junior varsity, or sixth-grade teams in a variety of 16 individual and team sports. These interscholastic teams play one or two games per week and travel to other independent schools nearby to compete. Some eighth graders guide their peers as captains, which builds their capacity to lead others on and off the field.

Meeting the Need for Fun

Park is celebrated and known for preserving the joy of learning and community. We ensure that students’ need for fun is fulfilled in academic and social contexts. We recognize students’ need for light moments and movement. In class, low student-to-teacher ratios means that each child is known well, and the teacher-student rapport is rooted in trust and joy. Teachers make learning fun through conversation, humor, and classroom activity. Whether it’s games in Advisory, partnerships between Lower Division and Upper Division classes, dances, Advisory parties, or our cherished field day, Total Day, we believe in giving students times throughout the year to exhale and enjoy school.

The concept of the adolescent needs of relationships, competence, autonomy, and fun are drawn from the book, Classroom Discipline: Guiding Adolescents to Responsible Independence, by Linda Crawford and Christopher Hagedorn. (The Origins Program, 2009.)

Grade 5

The Grade 5 year provides a comfortable transition between the Lower and Upper Divisions. Teachers pay close attention to students’ individual learning styles, strengths, and challenges and nurture their self-reliance, perseverance, self-discipline, and true love of learning. Students are held to high standards of positive citizenship; and they’re responsible for reading, writing, and math homework assignments, using technology when appropriate. They get ample opportunity to develop their research and presentation skills.

Immigration Journey – In Grade 5 social studies, students spend the year learning about immigration to America, from Ellis Island and Angel Island in the early 20th century to modern-day immigration. For the Immigrant Journey Project, students interview first-generation immigrants in the Park community to learn about their unique immigration experiences. Working together in small groups, they complete a multimedia project honoring each immigrant's story.

First page of the PDF file: Grade5

Grade 6

Students take five academic classes: math, science, English, and social studies; and they begin a foreign language (French, Spanish, Latin, or Mandarin). English and social studies are taught together and have the feel of a homeroom. Each of the remaining subjects is taught by a different teacher. Academic work is a balance between assignments that demand new levels of abstract thinking and those that teach specific skills and strategies. In the fall, Grade 6 travels together for a camping trip in New Hampshire, which focuses on individual and group challenges, community living, and risk-taking in a structured environment.

House Project – In this interdisciplinary collaboration between math and science which combines skills in mathematical scale and measurement with studies in weather and climate, students design and build a scale model house that includes solar LED lighting.

First page of the PDF file: Grade6

Grade 7

To foster abstract-thinking skills, seventh-grade assignments encourage students to formulate opinions, articulate ideas, and make connections in their learning. The school year includes increased homework expectations, the introduction of letter grades, and final exams. Students read Macbeth and research and write papers about Constitutional Amendments for social studies. Group work and long-term projects provide an arena for practicing social interactions, which is important for cognitive development. In addition to their educational trip to Washington, DC, in March (described below), students can participate in an optional trip to the Grand Canyon to experience first-hand the geologic features they’ve studied in science during the year.

Trip to Washington, DC – Designed to bring students’ American history curriculum to life, this four-day trip lets them learn from local historians, primary sources, and historical landmarks. The seventh graders thrive in their earned autonomy while practicing the skills of being Park ambassadors in the world.

First page of the PDF file: Grade7

Grade 8

The Park School’s culminating year offers students opportunities: to strengthen and broaden their minds through rigorous coursework, to participate in competitive athletics, and to specialize in artistic, dramatic, and elective musical endeavors.

In the spring, every eighth grader participates in three memorable capstone experiences. They travel to China, France, Italy, or Spain to further their target language fluency and deepen their cross-cultural skill set; they demonstrate their literary skills by curating a poetry anthology; and they become agents of change through Advoc8!. This year-long social studies project has students consider human rights and their obligations as citizens. Their capstone project is to choose an issue they care about (such as the environment, children’s rights, health care, or poverty) and create a way to advocate for people who have been affected by that issue.

Leadership – Throughout the year, eighth graders focus on leadership and service—both to the School and the broader community. They serve as leaders of Park’s student government, service organizations, yearbook staff, Model UN, Morning Meetings, and all varsity athletic teams. They also serve as informal leaders of all younger children on campus. In this way, leadership is both encouraged and expected of each member of the class. Grade 8 students can also practice public speaking through preparing and delivering special interest talks at Morning Meeting.

First page of the PDF file: Grade8

FURTHER READING & RESEARCH ABOUT PREK-8 SCHOOLS