Upper School (6-8)
In middle school, our students are learning who they are, what they want, and how to find the number of valence electrons in a noble gas.
Developing intellects and bodies, new desires for independence, complex social relationships—these all make the years between 11 and 14 a time of exploration and growth. At Glen Urquhart, we believe that middle school students thrive most when they receive intellectual challenge and emotional support in a caring environment. They need to spread their wings safely, remain children in ways that are appropriate, and become teenagers at their own pace. The intellectual strength of our academic program readies our middle school students for success in a variety of independent and public high schools. Whether they are tackling mathematics abstractly or experientially, expanding their understanding of literature with abstract thinking, studying a foreign language as a lens into the breadth of world cultures, or applying scientific principles to constructing solutions to global problems, our middle school students benefit from a curriculum that challenges them to discover the best within themselves. We marvel at the interests and talents they develop in these years.
As students enter the upper school (grades six through eight), our teachers challenge them intellectually, support them emotionally, and treat them individually as they undertake more complex academic and personal pursuits. Our schedule incorporates longer class periods to allow for in-depth study and project-based learning. Year-long themes continue through eighth grade, coinciding with the developmental growth that happens in these important years. Our interdisciplinary curriculum ensures students go beyond learning a single subject, fostering an understanding of how all subjects are related. Students also advance their critical thinking, problem solving, essay writing, and public speaking skills so they are fully prepared to thrive in the most challenging secondary schools. Our upper school students build confidence as they develop their voices. They learn to share their ideas and support their arguments. They take risks in the classroom, on the field, and on the stage.
Students in the upper school experience an integrated curriculum that includes courses in English, mathematics, science, social studies, Spanish, and Latin. In addition, they are encouraged to become fully engaged in the school community as artists, performers, and athletes. Their close connections to the adults in the GUS community develop in them the confidence to be comfortable with adults so that they routinely join the teachers and coaches in a partnership to find success in secondary school and beyond.
Sixth graders explore their theme, “The People,” in English by reading novels, such as The Misfits by James Howe and Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, that present rich studies of the various personalities who form a community. Students read both fiction and nonfiction examples of people from many walks of life, and through their writing and conversation, they make connections to those characters. Sixth graders also select independent reads from a wide variety of genres and apply active reading skills to comprehend these texts. Using graphic organizers to collect their thoughts and Google Docs to draft and revise their work, students respond to literature, create original narratives, and strengthen their writing skills. Sixth graders focus on developing a mature syntax and vocabulary for their written expression, and they gain confidence and hone their public speaking skills through many opportunities to share their work. They use Academic Approach tutorials to expand vocabulary and the IXL web site to practice grammar and mechanics.
In social studies, sixth grade students launch into their yearlong theme, “The People,” by studying how humans interact with their environments through work, art, recreation, and thought. They study and compare various ancient civilizations—Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Maya—developing a frame of reference to understand and appreciate cultural differences. As one example of our interdisciplinary approach, students expand their understanding of Egyptian burial practices by mummifying fruit in social studies class and then constructing clay canopic jars for their mummies in art class. They augment their studies with a trip to the ancient civilizations exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, to examine artifacts. Closer to home, we visit Beverly Commons, conservation land adjacent to the school, to view ancient Native American stone structures.
In science, sixth graders formulate questions about their world by learning to see it as scientists do. We begin by learning about scientific classification, dichotomous flow charts, and diagrams. We explore the universe through the vantage points of various disciplines: astronomy, physics, ecology, and oceanography. Students learn about weather, how weather affects the way people live today and in ancient times, in industrialized and in third world countries, how advances in weather technology have improved lives. They learn about pioneers in air and space science and, working in small groups, they design, build, and program Lego Mars Rovers. They build circuit boards using recycled electronics. In preparation for a three-day trip to Heifer International Farm, they learn about sustainability and how people can learn to make sustainable choices that can help to alleviate food scarcity around the world.
The sixth grade math curriculum prepares students to study algebra through the study of integer operations. Students use checkers to model positive and negative integers. Once they understand the procedures, they create word problems that require addition and subtraction of negative and positive integers. Rather than merely apply a known strategy to solve a problem, we ask students to devise their own plan, apply it, and, if it works, explain to others how and why it works. As part of their interdisciplinary study, sixth graders consider the number systems of the Mayans, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks, not only as windows into those ancient cultures but to deepen their understanding of our own decimal place-value number system.
Because sixth grade is a common entry point to Glen Urquhart, the upper school Spanish curriculum does not require mastery of the vocabulary and themes introduced in lower school. All sixth graders begin upper school Spanish with the same material. They focus on the skills of listening, reading, writing, and communicating. Classes are primarily conducted in Spanish, and students are asked to converse and write in Spanish using correct grammar and spelling, different verb tenses, and vocabulary pertaining to a particular theme. Students review or are introduced to vocabulary previously taught and then learn the geography of the Spanish speaking world, words for classroom objects, definite and indefinite articles, how to express likes and dislikes with infinitive verbs, the calendar, how to tell time, food and restaurant vocabulary, clothing, agreement in gender and number of adjectives, and the verbs ser and estar. The upper school curriculum continues to encourage students to “respect all people and value their differences.” Sixth graders learn a lot about how others live in Spanish speaking countries, their customs and culture, and they continue to explore the holidays of El Día de los Muertos, La Navidad, Carnaval, Las Fallas, and El Cinco de Mayo.
Latin instruction spans sixth through eighth grade. Latin is an important core subject in the upper school that develops logical thinking, reinforces grammar and syntax, deepens vocabulary, and provides a bridge to the history studied in other classes. Using the reading-based curriculum Ecce Romani, students complete the first volume of a two-volume Latin I text. Sixth graders focus on parts of speech, vocabulary memorization, noun-adjective agreement, subject-verb agreement in Latin and English, and simple composition in Latin. The reading aspect of the curriculum is divided between comprehension and translation skills. Projects focus on people who still speak Latin or its derivatives and on the Romans themselves. Sixth graders learn which people speak derivatives by completing a chart that links Latin words French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, and Portuguese words. In addition, they explore how the words changed from Latin into the modern equivalents, while also tracing the history of the development of English. Class discussions intersect with the grade theme, “The People,” as students consider family, class, and cultural identity in Roman society and compare them to their own.
Art classes are designed so that sixth graders can experience success in a multidisciplinary studio environment. Students are introduced to 2-D concepts and processes. They assemble mixed-media collages, integrating drawing and magazine images of popular culture. They create sculptures from found materials—a project that fosters discussions about recycling and the environment. They explore the techniques of 20th Century artists who approached their materials with free association and enthusiasm.
In a drawing unit, students become very conscious of line and its infinite possibilities in both representational and abstract genres, and they learn that there are many “right ways” to draw. They make still-life drawings of inanimate objects. With “discovery being the goal,” they consider such questions as: How does a line represent the edge of a form? How is volume created with shading? How is perspective shaped with depth on a 2-D plane?
In a project that integrates social studies and art, students create delicate clay Egyptian canopic jars (vessels with stoppers fashioned into animal heads) to hold mummified fruit remains. They also create delicate black and gold ink scratch drawings of Egyptian vessels, goddesses, symbolic animals, and hieroglyphics. When they study Ancient China, students explore Chinese brush and ink painting techniques, including calligraphy and landscape works on paper.
In sixth grade music, students learn to sing in solfege—a music education method that teaches children pitch, harmony, and sight singing—and to sign each solfege syllable (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do). In the fall, we prepare a repertoire of songs for Grand Friends’ Day, their first official performance. They learn about classical music, jazz, pop, and musical theatre and how each genre has evolved over time. Continuing to work on solfege, students learn to sight read and identify key signatures and time signatures. In preparation for their Winter Solstice performance, the class is broken into voice parts (soprano, alto, etc.) and works on harmonizing as a group. Finally, each student researches a major piece of music and gives a presentation about the composer and the place of the piece in music history. By year’s end, sixth graders can sight read independently and as a group and they have begun to develop a rich musical vocabulary.
For sixth graders, dance is a Limon/Cunningham/Release technique–based modern class. In addition to learning basic modern techniques, students engage in contemporary partnering, inversions, and floorwork, and they choreography outdoor, site-specific student dances. As the culmination of year, the sixth graders perform these dances for the school community, moving around the campus to perform in the historic and aesthetic spaces that inspired their work.
In sixth grade physical education, or sports (which physical education becomes in upper school), two teachers work together to teach a specific sport to the whole group each season (except in the case of lacrosse, where students are divided by gender). We assess the abilities of each student and the entire class. Then we develop practice plans and specific drill plans to help students master the rules and fundamentals, improve skills, and prepare for game play on seventh and eighth grade soccer, basketball, and lacrosse teams. We schedule just a couple of games against other schools for sixth graders. As always at GUS, all students participate in all activities. There are no tryouts and no cuts.
Social Emotional Curriculum and Life Skills
Rounding out the sixth grade program is a once-a-week life skills class in which students learn skills for healthy decision-making, communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
For their community service work, sixth graders volunteer with The Food Project, an organization that delivers more than 60,000 pounds of locally grown produce to community-supported agriculture (CSA) share members, hunger relief organizations, and area farmers’ markets. Specifically, the students help Food Project staff propagate seedlings in the Glen Urquhart’s 7,000-square-foot greenhouse. Students also volunteer for on-site farm workdays and educational workshops that explore issues related to local and global food systems.
The seventh grade theme is “The Individual: Who Am I?” As an example of the spiraling flow of Glen Urquhart’s curriculum, seventh graders revisit in much greater depth many of the topics they first explored in first grade, when the theme is also “Who Am I?” Developmentally, students are ready to be more reflective and to consider abstract concepts as they tackle readings, writings, class discussions, and projects in the integrated curriculum. They learn to take notes, use multiple resources, and wrestle with conflicting questions and answers.
In English class, our greatest goal continues to be to foster a love of reading, while developing ever-stronger writing skills. Seventh grade readings relate directly to the year’s theme and to studies in other classes. For example, when they study human rights in social studies, seventh graders read Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which focuses on themes of freedom, individuality, and choice. In their month-long study of The Giver, students create a portfolio of essays, artwork, and poetry. Their class time is devoted to essay outlines, drafts, conferences, and revisions. They learn to cite relevant passages from the novel as important evidence for their ideas. Critical thinking skills, editing for clarity and proper mechanics, and time management and planning are all goals of this long-term project. The themes of The Giver are timeless and integrate well with the seventh grade theme, “Who Am I?” Another novel, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, motivates thoughtful work around the themes of identity, conformity, and how individuals can seek positive influences to bolster their lives.
Students engage in several independent reading projects. They instruct their classmates about an important event, theme, or character from their reading selections, using creative 2-D and 3-D artwork. Our poetry project provides an opportunity for seventh graders to develop their public presentation skills. Students select a poem, prepare a formal reading, and lead a class discussion on background information, poem analysis, and points of interest.
We emphasize the writing process in seventh grade. Students use Academic Approach tutorials to continue to expand their vocabulary and the IXL website to practice mechanics. As middle schoolers start to think more deeply about their world, they struggle to capture complex ideas on paper. Writing exercises include vignettes, poems, essays, book reviews, letters, and short stories, all tied to class readings and to the year’s theme. Each project and exercise requires planning, organization of ideas, careful consideration of grammar and syntax, and revisions. By the end of the year, students have a portfolio of work that reflects their thoughts, growth, and abilities. They choose one polished piece for their Black Books from each trimester.
In social studies, students consider what makes them human. They ask: “How am I unique?” “What events in the world have helped to shape me as an individual?” “Which is more important, nature or nurture?” “What do people everywhere have in common?” Their readings in anthropology, psychology, and sociology inform these considerations. They also study fundamental human rights. As an example, each student chooses a champion of human rights and prepares a research paper in which they must defend their thesis about what allowed their subject to become a champion. Was it persistence? Support of family? A chance meeting with Malcolm X? In addition to the paper, students create a found object sculpture that represents, in a literal or abstract way, the three influences they included in their thesis. For inspiration, we take a trip to the Boulevard in Gloucester to study the sculptures and memorials there and think about what qualities they represent. This project coincides with the students’ reading of The Giver, a classic work of literature that celebrates freedom of thought, expression, and individuality by depicting a world where it does not exist.
The study of gender, race, and class is an integral part of the seventh grade curriculum. In a family life simulation project, we assign students unique marital, socioeconomic, racial, and housing scenarios. As various life events occur, they realize that consequences can vary significantly depending on one’s status. They record and consider the relevant statistics, using their math skills to uncover a new perspective on social and civic issues.
We employ several technology tools in seventh grade social studies. We use Google Classroom to assign and collect work; with PlayPosit, we “flip” the classroom, creating videos for students to view outside of class; students play vocabulary enrichment games with Zondle; they create research notecards and bibliographies with EasyBib; they use BrainPop for interactive learning; and they create Google docs, sheets, slides, and forms for various classroom activities.
Seventh graders revisit the plant, animal, and human body systems they first learned about in first grade, but this time students are ready for a much deeper exploration of biology. For example, they learn again about the structure and function of the digestive system, and they also learn about where the nutrients in food travel after digestion, how they are transported through the body’s circulatory system, metabolized by cells, and used as building blocks for the body’s growth and repair.
Seventh graders begin with the question “Who Am I In Our Ecosystem?” and learn, with the aid of a microscope, about the structure and function of plant and animal cells. They learn about the brain and the nervous system and perform experiments to answer their hypotheses about brain function. They learn about how the respiratory and circulatory systems deliver oxygen to the cells. They create their own working models of the respiratory system and, as red blood cells, travel through a simulated circulatory system. They learn about pathogens, viruses, and bacteria and why the body gets sick. They explore the human skeleton and plant and animal reproduction.
The mathematics curriculum for seventh grade is pre-algebra. Students prepare for eighth grade Algebra I by applying the concepts of algebra, probability, statistics, transformational geometry, solid geometry, coordinate geometry, and plane geometry. Students use Lab Gear, which is a comprehensive manipulative environment that helps them develop a concrete model for variables. They connect the concrete, visual model of algebra concepts to their abstract representation as they learn to solve linear equations. Then, they record their work with numbers and operation signs independently of the Lab Gear. We ensure that students remain mindful of the properties of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division because solid understanding of these properties is crucial to success in algebra and other advanced mathematics studies.
Seventh graders advance their oral and writing skills in Spanish and also explore issues of social and environmental justice in Latin America as they gain confidence as citizens of the world. In keeping with the year’s theme, they consider who they are in relation to their own family and community, and thus discover links between their lives and the lives of people in Spanish-speaking cultures. Our teaching methods continue to focus on developing the skills of listening, reading, writing, and communicating. We conduct classes in Spanish and ask students to initiate conversation in Spanish. Students write paragraphs in Spanish using correct spelling and grammar, different verb tenses, and vocabulary pertaining to a particular theme. They sharpen their listening skills and expand their vocabulary by continuing to watch the video series Destinos, which allows them to hear native Spanish speakers.
Latin is an important core subject in the upper school because it develops logical thinking, reinforces grammar and syntax, deepens vocabulary, and provides a bridge to the history studied in other classes. Seventh graders continue to use the reading-based curriculum Ecce Romani, with an emphasis on parts of speech, vocabulary memorization, noun-adjective agreement, subject-verb agreement in Latin and English, and simple composition in Latin. Reading is divided between comprehension and translation skills. We anticipate that seventh grade Latin students pursue their projects with higher expectations for creativity and self-expression than in sixth grade to bring the year’s theme of “Who am I?” into their work. As their first major project, students build their own version of an ancient Roman villa, choosing between a highly opulent villa urbana, a rustic and self-sufficient villa rustica, and a relaxing seaside villa maritima. The villas must include all the rooms required in any Roman house, as well as a store, or taberna, that sells the goods that keep their villas financially afloat. The next project requires that students create a more complex derivative timeline than the one they completed in sixth grade, this time including all Romance and Proto Indo-European languages. Students end the year by creating their own ideal ancient city, using features of actual Roman cities for inspiration.
We introduce seventh grade art students to 2-D concepts and processes. They explore the pastel medium by working with expressionistic techniques and create luscious landscapes and endearing animal portraits on pastel paper. Using a variety of mixed media drawing tools, such as charcoal, pens, and paint markers, they explore mixed media painting, drawing, and collage and experiment with unusual surfaces, such as birch veneer panel. They cull advertising logos from popular culture that are designed with textural elements and use these to form the basis for a mixed media drawing. They also work with text, inspired by artists Lesley Dill and Jenny Holzer. Other artists we use for springboards are Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Both are associated with the Pop art movement because of their interest in objects of mass culture. Warhol’s work explores the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture, and advertisement that flourished in the 1960s. His work also illustrates how artists use enlargement and selective cropping strategies as compositional tools. Lichtenstein produced hard-edged, precise compositions that documented, often in a tongue-in-cheek manner, everyday life. The class creates bold and graphic, colorful works on paper, with a nod to these two artists.
Seventh graders finish their year with a project centered on a centuries old mosaic folk art technique called “pique assiette” (French for stolen from plates). We consider the examples of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, and Antonio Gaudi’s magical Spanish architecture. Inspired by these unconventional visionaries, students create their own relics, embedding vases and plates with glistening bits of colorful china and treasures. Arranged into patterns full of intrigue, these embellished utensils symbolize connections to our personal history and daily life.
Seventh graders spend their year exploring the American musical and their own dramatic abilities; they study and perform songs and scenes from Broadway and the American dramatic repertoire. As a chorus, they perform at Grand Friends’ Day and the Winter Solstice celebration. In the winter, they work in small groups on one-act plays, and in the spring, we build an ensemble performance of Broadway scenes and songs. Seventh graders learn about the functions of the muscles involved in making sound (the larynx, pharynx, and diaphragm), and how these muscles work together. They learn diaphragmatic breathing techniques. They also learn how to take proper care of their voices and the consequences when the voice is used improperly.
As with music, the seventh grade musical theater class links the elements of music and drama. Students realize the commonality between these two art forms and use what they have learned in dance to develop their dramatic skills, which include characterization, projection, and diction. Developing confidence, keeping the imagination alive, and helping students to take risks in a safe, nonperformance-oriented environment are our goals for the curriculum. Collaborating with the language arts teacher, we select works of poetry and Shakespeare for dramatic reading. The students enhance their comprehension, presentation, and collaborative skills by directing their own performances.
In sports, seventh graders play interscholastic games, choosing the sport they want to play each season. In the fall, they choose between soccer and cross country running; in the winter, they can play basketball or take a fitness class; and in the spring, it’s lacrosse and track. All the teams are made up of both seventh and eighth graders, with the exception of basketball, for which there are grade-level teams, and the teams play a schedule of games each season with other independent schools. After assessing the level of play of each of our teams, our director of athletics works with other schools to schedule games that are good and fair matches. Some years, this means playing other schools’ varsity teams; other years, their junior varsity teams. In upper school sports, everybody plays. There are no tryouts for teams, and no one is cut from a team. We do not give out awards or name team captains; instead, we rotate through game captains.
Social/Emotional Curriculum and Life Skills
In Life Skills class, seventh graders learn strategies that can help them feel more confident and successful in their academic and social lives. They learn about goal setting and strategies to reduce or avoid stress and to improve study habits. They try out some mindfulness practices, including guided meditation, and controlled breathing.
For their community service work, seventh graders volunteer with The Food Project, an organization that delivers more than 60,000 pounds of locally grown produce to community-supported agriculture (CSA) share members, hunger relief organizations, and area farmers’ markets. Specifically, the students help Food Project staff propagate seedlings in the Glen Urquhart’s 7,000-square-foot greenhouse. Students also volunteer for on-site farm workdays and educational workshops that explore issues related to local and global food systems.
Eighth graders turn outward for their final theme and consider “The Individual in Society: Where Do I Live and Where Am I Going?” Just as they did in seventh grade, eighth graders spiral back to revisit these themes, which they first explored in second and third grade, and find opportunities for deeper learning.
In eighth grade, we combine social studies and English in a Humanities curriculum that integrates U.S. history, U.S. and world geography, the immigrant experience, American literature, the influence of politics, and the formation of beliefs. Students begin by studying European immigration to the United States. We take a four-day trip to New York City to visit the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island. While in New York, we also visit the Museum of Modern Art, to prepare for an art project that will occupy the students’ year, and we attend a Broadway play, in anticipation of mounting the eighth grade musical.
Students learn about the early colonies, the Founding Fathers, and the Enlightenment and create a timeline of the influences and events that led to the Revolutionary War. They analyze John Steinbeck’s The Pearl in relation to the concept of the American Dream. They read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and consider what it takes to see through the eyes of another.
As a single team, students design and create a 24 by 18 foot scale map of the United States. Each student is assigned a portion of the country and must determine the appropriate scale and lay out each state using a range of tools, including trigonometry, GPS calculation, and triangulation. Cooperation is vital as classmates negotiate border locations, water boundaries, feature alignments, legend notation, and a myriad of details.
As an aspect of their graduation rites, each eighth grade student writes and delivers a “This I Believe” speech. Students craft these speeches during class time, learning how to construct a speech and how to write for oral presentation, revising and polishing their essays, and practicing before the class.
Eighth graders begin their year by considering how scientists collect and measure accurate data to support their findings. They employ various measurement tools: a triple-beam balance, Newton spring scale, digital scale, graduated cylinder, metric ruler, and formulas. They perform a series of experiments to demonstrate the law of conservation of mass, determine the relationship between buoyancy and density, and explore the differences between solutions and mixtures, and they research and create informational brochures detailing the characteristics of the four states of matter. Students learn how scientists identify properties of various substances through chromatography, filtering, evaporation, and fractional distillation. They consider how the periodic table classifies and organizes elements. After studying the structure of the atom, students build a 3-D element model of their own design from objects that represent what that element makes up in the real world. They consider the risks and benefits of radioactivity. In a unit on physics, they review the concepts of force, friction, drag, velocity, speed, acceleration, inertia, and angle of incline and, collaboratively, they design and build large-scale, working Rube Goldberg machines.
The eighth grade math curriculum is Algebra I. Students begin the year by considering why variables are used in math. Then they apply properties of multiplication to algebraic equations, specifically, the multiplicative identity property of 1, the property of reciprocals, the multiplication property of zero, the multiplicative property of inequality, and the rate factor model for multiplication. Students learn about polynomials (expressions that contain more than two algebraic terms), how to classify them by degree and number of terms, multiply them, and factor them. They learn to add and subtract algebraic expressions. They also explore these algebraic concepts: linear sentences, slopes and lines, linear systems, exponents and powers, and quadratic expressions.
Eighth grade Spanish students continue to develop communication competence, mastering complex grammatical structures and expanding their vocabulary. The year provides students with valuable opportunities to use those skills in authentic settings: they interview Spanish-speaking immigrants in surrounding communities, they host young visitors from a Central American orphanage, and many travel to that orphanage for their service week trip. As an aspect of all their lessons, we encourage eighth graders to consider how language and culture shape lives, in the United States and beyond. Our classes are conducted almost entirely in Spanish, and we make many interdisciplinary connections: students create art for the school’s El Día de los Muertos altar, they bring science concepts they learned in seventh grade to units on Spanish food and nutrition habits, they use their math skills in units on the metric system and exchange rates. Successful GUS graduates are well qualified to take Spanish II in ninth grade, typically at an advanced level.
In Latin, eighth graders explore the multiple English derivatives of Latin vocabulary words and begin to realize the centrality of Latin in their own language. For a third year, our emphasis is on parts of speech, vocabulary, noun-adjective agreement, subject-verb agreement, simple composition, and translation. In eighth grade, students complete Ecce Romani IA, the equivalent of first-year Latin. They also engage in several hands-on projects. They learn about Roman slavery and pen a letter home in the character of a slave describing his or her situation. They construct models of Roman roads and land routes. Their study of the Roman political system culminates in a campaign and election. A high point that ends their year is the annual chariot races event. The school band plays trumpet fanfares, teachers don togas to judge the competition, and students race custom-made Roman chariots around our playing fields.
Eighth grade art students focus on the self and symbolism. They create a portfolio of pieces that are personal, introspective, and self-revealing, which they share with the school community, along with dance performances, at the annual Arts Block Evening. Working with clay and learning the techniques of relief, incising, carving, wedging, and texturing with ceramic tools, students create “graduate ceramic tiles” decorated with personal symbols that capture their GUS experience. They experiment with water-based materials, such as watercolor paints, Japanese inks, and carandache crayons and create symbolic self-portraits in the manner of Paul Klee. They learn how 60’s Pop Art and 70’s popular culture have influenced our understanding of the role of art in society and politics, and they construct Andy Warhol-styled multiple panel self-portraits. They experiment with encaustic painting and assemble mixed media collages on wood.
The eighth graders undertake one large, long-term project, the White Shirt Project, that challenges their imaginations and skills on many levels. Inspired by their fall trip to the Museum of Modern Art and a unit on contemporary artists and past masters, each student chooses a contemporary artist for this multifaceted exploration. They research the artist, create a conceptual-based biography, and prepare a gallery talk about both the artist’s work and their own. Chiefly, the students engage in an in-depth process of creating an autobiographical mixed-media work that incorporates the white shirt, reflects the style and philosophy of their chosen artist, and contains their original ideas, symbols, and message.
Music and drama classes provide exciting opportunities for eighth graders. In preparation for the annual full-scale eighth grade musical production in late spring, students learn stage craft; practice mime, blocking and dance; and work on pitch, blend, diction, and projection.
Of course, once roles are cast, they must learn their music, blocking, choreography, and scripts. Concurrently, they learn audition techniques as well. They learn about how to prepare for auditions, develop stage presence, and deal with performance anxiety.
Eighth grade dance is a project-based student choreography lab that culminates with a dance performance on Arts Block Evening. During their artistic journey students gain an understanding of theme selection and development, creative process, and performance elements.
In sports, eighth graders continue to play interscholastic games, choosing the sport they want to play each season. In the fall, they choose between soccer and cross country running; in the winter, they can play basketball or take a fitness class; and in the spring, it’s lacrosse and track. All the teams are made up of both seventh and eighth graders, with the exception of basketball, for which there are grade-level teams, and the teams play a schedule of games each season with other independent schools. After assessing the level of play of each of our teams, our director of athletics works with other schools to schedule games that are good and fair matches. Some years, this means playing other schools’ varsity teams; other years, their junior varsity teams. In upper school sports, everybody plays. There are no tryouts for teams, and no one is cut from a team. We do not give out awards or name team captains; instead, we rotate through game captains.
Our goals are for everyone to have the opportunity to play and for GUS to be competitive with the other schools that we play. And we are! Many of our students go on to play sports in high school and several play at the college level. Students might not play sports after they leave GUS, but they all had the opportunity to participate in sports here.
Social/Emotional Curriculum and Life Skills
In a once-a-week life skills class, students learn skills for healthy decision-making, communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
As part of their community service, eighth graders volunteer for The Food Project, an organization that delivers more than 60,000 pounds of locally grown produce to community-supported agriculture (CSA) share members, hunger relief organizations, and area farmers markets, by propagating seedlings in the school’s 7,000-square-foot greenhouse. They also volunteer for on-site farm workdays and educational workshops that explore issues related to local and global food systems. In April, all eighth graders participate in a service week, working either in an international setting (Central America), a national setting (Navajo Nation), or a local setting (community service agencies in the Boston area). Following a tradition begun some 12 years ago, one group works in an orphanage run by NPH, an organization that operates throughout Latin America. Honduras and Costa Rica were past destinations; the Dominican Republic has been the destination for the past three years. The students live and work in a self-sufficient community, interacting with children and volunteering in a variety of capacities. A second group of eighth graders travels within the US to assist with community-based projects. For the past three years, the domestic service trip has been to two Native American semi-autonomous regions—Navajo Nation, in Arizona, and the Lakota Reservation, in South Dakota. In the past, a third group of students has worked locally with community service organizations in the Boston area.