Living the Questions
“Live and love the questions” lies at the heart of the English department’s philosophy of active discourse. We emphasize inquiry over answers and investigation over conclusions. Students participate in and lead discussions on literature, examining concepts and craft in classic and contemporary works. In each grade level, we offer students a wide range of opportunities to explore cultural perspectives, styles, and visions, as well as issues of personal and social identity. The English program is writing-intensive: students are asked to express their ideas through analytical essays, personal narratives, journal writing, in-class reflections, short fiction, and poetry. Each year, we offer an Honors English elective to those juniors and seniors seeking additional challenge and a deep dive into an area of literature. Recent honors electives have included Post-Colonial African Literature; Shakespeare; Witty Fools and Foolish Wit; and The Lost Generation: Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. Ultimately, our goal is to graduate students who are skilled in reading critically, writing articulately, and thinking independently—and who understand the profound connection between literature and their lives.
Exploring the Past, Envisioning the Future
In their study of history, our students come to understand their own place in time and appreciate their role as informed citizens of their communities and the world. Our discussion-based curriculum emphasizes critical reading, writing, and analysis. By examining and interpreting events and trends of the past, students learn to think independently and to articulate ideas clearly and consistently with support from different forms of evidence.
Frequent written exercises—including extended research papers of more than 10 pages beginning in grade 10—give students practice in designing independent research, gathering and interpreting information, analyzing concepts, and synthesizing learning across different disciplines. An honors history class is offered to interested juniors and seniors each year, on topics ranging from The History of the Supreme Court to Honors Anthropology.
Language and Foreign Language
Creating Cultural Literacy
We introduce our seventh graders to the study of language and culture with Latin, the basic building block of English and Romance languages. Eighth graders then begin a three-year course of study in Spanish–including an accelerated track beginning in Spanish II–with a goal of achieving functional literacy. Most juniors and seniors continue on in Spanish; advanced classes include AP Spanish and Honors Spanish V. For students whose learning profile precludes learning a spoken foreign language, Prep offers American Sign Language.
The language classrooms have state-of-the-art interactive white boards, and all students utilize our language lab. To deepen cultural understanding and enhance their verbal skills, our Spanish teachers periodically sponsor immersion trips to Spanish-speaking countries, including, most recently, Guatemala and Spain.
Investigations into Problem Solving
Prep students learn to appreciate math as an investigative and problem-solving enterprise that stimulates their imagination and engages their creativity. We approach the learning of mathematics as the study of a universal language that deepens our understanding of the world in which we live. Our goal is to meet the needs of a variety of learners and thinkers; accordingly, we offer honors-level classes beginning in Geometry and continuing through Algebra II, PreCalculus, AP Calculus, and Advanced Math Topics.
Through explorations, technology, hands-on activities, and multiple representations, we invite students to explore the relationships and patterns of mathematics. At Prep, we value problem-solving and discovery over rote learning and nurture a growth mindset in students, valuing struggle as part of the learning process. The learning environment is structured to encourage collaboration, as well as individual work.
Active Expression, On and Off the Stage
The performing arts are a vital part of our students’ educational program, both in the Middle and Upper Schools. A variety of electives allow students to explore theatre, music, singing, theory, and technique. Non-performance classes include Techno Music and Music and Popular Culture. All students have the opportunity to perform in annual drama and musical productions as well as informally during forums and assemblies. Many Prep students also participate in All-State band and chorus. Each spring, roughly 30 juniors and seniors join over 2,000 other arts-enthusiastic students for three days at the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest Arts Festival.
Run, Jump and Play!
In promoting our students’ physical education, we acknowledge the powerful connection between mind and body that is fundamental to healthy growth. Our seventh and eighth graders learn the basics in more than twelve sports in PE classes, most offered at the middle school, junior varsity, and varsity levels at Prep. In addition to acquiring athletic skills in team sports, our students are exposed to several other physical activities—and potential lifelong interests—such as hiking, martial arts, and archery. Our middle school students also participate in a swim program during PE class, the goal being to have every student “water safe.” The eighth-grade swim classes also include some life-saving skills and water polo!
Upper school students have three options to complete six semesters/seasons of PE credit over four years. First, they may join one of Prep’s 25+ athletic teams for two seasons a year. They may qualify for an Independent Physical Education contract while exploring a previous, long-standing commitment beyond school offerings (e.g., dance, equestrian, martial arts, mountain bike team). And starting the second semester of the 2022-23 school year, upper school students will be offered a zero-hour personal fitness course. It will be one hour a day, four days a week for a semester. Adding this class to our offerings will assist students who have difficulty accessing other options for their graduation requirements.
Our goal for all Prep students is to develop an appreciation for physical recreation, learn the skills necessary for being a balanced and active person, and commit to health and fitness that will carry into their adult lives.
Experiments in Critical Thinking
We share our enthusiasm for science with our students by actively engaging them in scientific inquiry through hands-on experiments and dynamic lab demonstrations. Beginning with Middle School Science and progressing through Biology, Chemistry and Physics, our students become familiar with science’s experimental and collaborative nature. They are encouraged to develop their abilities as critically thinking, scientifically literate, and compassionate members of society. Honors classes are available in Chemistry (10th grade), Physics (11th grade), and several senior courses.
Electives available to juniors and seniors include AP Environmental Sciences, AP Physics 2, Astronomy, Anatomy and Physiology, Science of Cars, and Virology. In all of these courses, students develop their observational abilities, quantitative skills, and a deeper understanding of the role of science in society through rigorous research projects.
Technology and Engineering
Learning with Technology
Prep students receive an introduction to technology and engineering in a range of courses within and beyond the department. Course offerings within the department include Digital Citizen and Robotics electives in the Middle School and Web Code and Makerspace classes in the upper school. Equipment available to students as they code and create includes 3-D printers, laser cutters/engravers, Arduino mini-computers, hand tools, soldering, and much more. The department also makes resources available to all other departments in the school and facilitates cross-disciplinary work in technology and engineering across the campus.
Educating the Eye
Our art curriculum takes our students’ natural desire for self-expression and personal exploration as its starting point. While we stress high artistic standards, our primary goal is to encourage students to experiment with the many media available to artists and to explore their curiosity. We believe all students will be enriched by a well-developed visual awareness and focused development on improving craftsmanship. Our art faculty are all practicing artists with a passion for teaching. Our facility, housed in a beautiful, historic building (National Register, 2019) and once the home and studio of the renowned architect John Gaw Meem, offers a state-of-the-art photography darkroom, shooting rooms, and digital photo facilities. In our ceramics wing, students practice the techniques of hand-building and wheel throwing and experiment with high and low-fired glazes and raku. A large, light-filled room is dedicated to drawing and painting, and a smaller, adjacent room houses our full-sized etching press.