Academics at Harley: The Continuum
by Lars Kuelling, Academic Dean
Students Are at the Center of What We Do.
Many schools talk about being student-centered, but at Harley, we live it! Our focus is on engaging students in their learning process, so they become active learning agents and develop the autonomy they need to succeed at the next level. In an era focused on high stakes testing, we emphasize depth of learning over the broad general knowledge at the heart of most curricula. And, we keep human interaction at the heart of all we do.
Our program offers students the opportunity to develop passions, to go beyond the basic skills and knowledge that are the foundations of learning (and that we insist all students learn) to a level of complexity not found in most classrooms.
Students in Nursery learn naturally through play, the way in which human beings have socialized and educated children for centuries. Our classrooms are language-rich environments, and students develop language and reading skills through song, group read-alouds, and the daily one-on-one interactions with teachers who guide and direct their play to be meaningful learning opportunities. Mathematics and science are infused throughout all we do (such as counting the number of caterpillars students encounter on our natural playground). A sense of discovery grounds the experiences of our Nursery students.
Just as children learn to ride a bike at different ages, students master fundamental skills and knowledge when they are developmentally ready. The reading and writing approach in our Lower School recognizes the importance of meeting students at the level where they are, using materials that allow our teachers to both engage students in common themes and meet their individual learning needs. Our themed approach allows students to interact on equal footing and encourages the development of communication and collaboration skills that are hallmarks of the later years.
Students are exposed to a variety of experiences that stretch them and foster their total development: regular physical education, daily recess on our natural playground, exposure to French and Spanish, music and creative movement, visual arts, and project-based learning. This extends the student experience beyond the traditional subject areas of an elementary education, ultimately fostering a joy in learning that serves as the foundation of student engagement in future years.
In the Middle School years, our program captures student excitement and energy and helps them focus it productively on academic and social learning. Students are given more opportunities to demonstrate their learning capacities, whether through their individual work or group projects. They are invited to wrestle with difficult problems in math and science, to consider central questions of humanity in English and history classes, and to propose novel solutions in cross-disciplinary experiences when teachers work together across subjects. An overarching question asked at this level is, “What does it mean for me to be a contributing member of the group?”
Teacher interactions with students and our advisory program focus on promoting positive social interactions and a sense of belonging. Our students receive curriculum aimed specifically at their developmental needs.
Middle School is also a time for exploration and discovery, as students in Grades 6-8 participate in Flex Time—an elective experience for students at the end of the school day—and begin to participate more fully in school activities such as drama productions and interscholastic sports.
Our Upper School academics are challenging by nature, and within the various subject areas, students can typically find advanced courses to provide additional opportunities to nurture their academic passions. Special interests are supported in the 40+ elective courses and 18 Advanced Placement offerings available to students, and in addition, students often develop and pursue independent studies with a faculty mentor when they have a specific topic they would like to investigate.
This culture of inquiry is perhaps best represented by the capstone projects many seniors undertake, when they choose a half or full-year research topic and then present on it at the end of the year in a series of presentations that many have observed is akin to a senior thesis or graduate defense at the collegiate levels.
Our students don’t only excel academically: at this level, there is a shared community expectation (reinforced by our graduation requirements) that students should participate in the arts, athletics, and community service.
During the high school years, our Upper School students are ready to exhibit a level of autonomy and personal agency that is not seen at most schools. Watch them carefully, and you will notice that they are completing school work, reading for pleasure, or engaged in conversation with their peers; in reality, they are practicing their own autonomy with a level of responsibility and adult oversight that will prepare them for the bigger freedoms of college life. Perhaps most impressively, the Upper School experience is centered around the egalitarian relationships between faculty and students.
Students at the Center.
From the earliest ages to our senior classes, you should expect to see engaged learners, responsive faculty, and challenging academics in a learning environment based on curiosity, drive, collaboration, autonomy, and excellence.
©2020 The Harley School