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Upper School

Grades 9, 10, 11, 12

Reflections on the Harley Upper School Experience  

Letter from the Head of Upper School

At our core, we are a college preparatory school. While a few of our alumni opt for a gap year, 100 percent of Harley graduates ultimately go on to college—and beyond that, many go on to graduate school. As of December, 2019, the class of 2020 (46 students) has been offered $1.3 million dollars in Merit Aid by the colleges and universities where they have applied.

Our young alumni frequently return to campus (they like it here), and  consistently report that compared with their classmates who graduated from other high schools around the country, they arrive on university campuses well armed for success. Harley grads become college freshmen who ask questions in seminars, who tutor their first-year classmates, who visit professors during office hours, and who land positions as research assistants—sometimes in their first year of college.  

What makes the Harley experience different? We invite students not only to discover their intellectual passions, but to pursue them. Yes, we have graduation requirements: Calculus, French, Physics, AP European History, American Literature—these are the very sorts of challenging courses admissions officers from selective colleges expect to see on high school transcripts; but rooted in the progressive educational tradition, Harley also values non-traditional intellectual inquiry. In any given academic year, we offer as many as fifty electives in Upper School. 

Here’s a sampling:


A Cappella Arranging


Design & Innovation

Digital Bookmaking

Discrete Mathematics


Food & Farm

Intro to Greek



Improv Theater

Jazz Band

Jewelry & Metals

Kiln Glass


Music Theory

Multimedia Journalism

Net Zero Energy

Philosophy & Ethics


Sustainability & Community


If selections in our annual line-up of electives fall short of students’ needs, they may create independent studies with supervising teachers. Or, during senior year, students can design Capstone projects—intensive collaborations with Harley faculty and off-campus mentors, involving rigorous academic study and culminating in public presentations. 

Independent Studies run the gamut from The Psychology of Sports to Furniture Design and The Neuroimaging of Alzheimer’s Disease. Capstones, meanwhile, are as diverse as the students who pursue them: Fictional Rochester, Autobiographical Art, Biomimicry Education, Organic Fuel, and Rochester Refugees

Indicative of Upper School curiosity and creativity, pursuits such as these distinguish our graduates from those who come from other college prep programs—both public and private.  Through deep dives of this sort, Harley students master more than speaking, writing, and computing: our kids learn to communicate, advocate, collaborate, organize, prioritize, listen, and empathize. 

Our balanced approach to learning—collaborative and independent intellectual inquiry—prepares Upper School students to lead engaged lives in college and beyond.  

You can view our curriculum guide and school profile for an even deeper dive.

In Upper School, students learn how to advocate. For themselves and for others. 

Our small class size (7:1 student-to-faculty ratio) builds the foundation for advocacy. Students routinely participate in round-table discussions, debates, and workshops. They grow comfortable asking questions, sharing their views, and listening to perspectives different from their own. During Upper School, they have opportunities to work with inner-city Rochester children in our Horizons at Harley program, present sustainable business plans, and care for actively-dying Hospice patients.  

When they leave Harley, our students go into the world as confident thinkers, speakers, and writers—young adults able to articulate positions and defend them.

Our students enjoy a distinctive blend of arts and sciences, and a playful spirit characterizes community life. At Harley, student-teacher relationships are deep and happy.

Our Students

Students are comfortable expressing themselves in speech, in art, in dress, and in music.  Student murals grace classroom walls. Cello strains waft through hallways during Advisory Periods. Clubs—Mandarin, Garden, Feminist, French—celebrate diversity. Upper School students feel free to be themselves—to, as our motto suggests, “Become who they are.”

Upper School students are known.

To teachers. To administrators. To staff. Students hang out in offices and classrooms. They drink tea with our Registrar. With teachers, they travel to New York, New Mexico, Costa Rica, and Switzerland. They mulch together in the microfarm, roll up their sleeves—next to adults—for Key Club blood drives, practice mindfulness, and sing alongside teachers in choir. Upper School teachers and students enjoy a relaxed, but respectful rapport.   

Grade-by-Grade Highlights

Sample Schedule

  • English 9:  Literary Genres
  • French, Latin, or Spanish
  • Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II
  • Biology or Biology Honors
  • World Religions/World Economic & Political Systems/World Wars
  • Art 9/Rights & Responsibilities/Writing 9
  • Choir, String Orchestra, or Wind Ensemble
  • Team Sport


Other Events

  • Freshman Lock-In 
  • Cape Cod Trip
Sample Schedule

  • English 10:  World Literature
  • French, Latin, or Spanish
  • Geometry, Algebra II, or Functions, Statistics, and Trigonometry (FST)
  • Chemistry, Chemistry Honors, or AP Chemistry
  • Industrial America/Human Rights/Cold War to Terrorism/AP U.S. History
  • Health
  • Visual Arts Elective
  • Team Sport


Other Events

  • Wilderness Education Trip
  • College Campus Visit

Sample Schedule

  • English 11:  American Literature
  • French, Latin, or Spanish
  • Algebra II, FST, or Precalculus
  • Physics, Physics Honors, or AP Physics
  • Modern Global Studies/Middle East/Dissent in the U.S./AP Government
  • Electives (e.g., Multimedia Journalism, Acting, Psychology, AP Statistics)


Other Events

  • NYC Trip
  • One-on-one college planning

Sample Schedule

  • English 12:  Advanced Literary Genres/AP English Literature
  • French Latin, or Spanish (AP)
  • FST, Precalculus, AP Calculus AB or BC, or Discrete Mathematics
  • Environmental Science (AP), or AP Biology
  • AP European History, Women’s Studies, Philosophy & Ethics, Economics (AP)
  • Electives (e.g. AP Photography, AP Studio Art:  Drawing, Chamber Ensemble, Intro to Anthropology, Culinary Arts, Sustainability & Community, Net Zero Energy, Hospice)


Other Events

  • Capstone Project
  • Senior Internship
  • Oak Tree Ceremony
  • Senior Dinner

Acorn Grants Are Now Available!

Interested in learning how to make a Harley education possible for your child? Acorn Grants are smaller grants awarded to families who may not be eligible for need-based financial aid.  It is a grant of up to $5,000 intended to put the Harley education within reach for your family. The Acorn Grant stays with your child until graduation. 

Come for a Visit

Learn more about what makes The Harley School experience unique.

The Harley School

1981 Clover Street
Rochester, NY 14618
(585) 442-1770

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