Senior School Curriculum
The Senior School's extensive academic curriculum is designed to help students collect, analyze and synthesize data; state and support arguments; and work effectively with groups of people. Knowing that every person learns differently, Shady Side Academy works to provide a unique learning environment for each student. Small classes enable teachers to know students as individual learners and help each one develop in a way that is personally beneficial and fitting.
From our rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum, each student gains the ability to think critically, creatively and individually. Students are encouraged to pursue their interests at the most challenging levels. Advanced courses are offered in all subject areas, and many electives and independent studies are open as additional alternatives for pursuing individual interests. A number of global and off-campus programs are available to extend a student's educational experience beyond the campus gates.
For complete curriculum information, including course descriptions and diploma requirements, download the 2024-2025 Senior School Course Catalog (PDF).
- Computer Science
- World Languages
- Independent Study
- Senior Projects
The Senior School Performing Arts Department prepares young artists to be informed and engaged members of their communities; to recognize and respect diversity of culture, identity and opinion; and to live and create sustainably. It offers all students the opportunity to explore and develop their individual talents in a supportive yet challenging community-based environment. The performing arts reinforce the tenets of the Academy, endorsing the balanced development of students analytical, artistic and physical abilities. Through production, rehearsal, performance, critical and analytical thinking, and historical and cultural context, all SSA students are welcome to create and learn in a supportive and intellectually rigorous community. A comprehensive foundational program encourages students to explore the creative process with emphasis on proper protocols, terminology, and safe practice.
Performing Arts – Music Ensembles
- Concert Choir
- Chamber Choir
- Concert Band
- Symphonic Band
- Jazz Ensemble
- String Orchestra
- Electronic Sound Studio
- Music Theory
- Music Workshop: Voice
- Guitar Workshop
- Piano Workshop
Performing Arts – Theatre
- Theatre Arts Foundation
- Fall Play
- Winter Musical
Shady Side Academy offers a rich and varied arts program that celebrates an enduring commitment to all students. The Senior School Visual Arts Department prepares its students to be informed and engaged members of their communities; to recognize and respect diversity of culture, identity and opinion; and to live and create sustainably. The visual arts reinforce the tenets of the Academy Statement of Philosophy endorsing the balanced development of the student’s analytical, artistic and physical abilities. Through a rigorous, broad, sequential curriculum in the arts, all students have the opportunity to explore and develop their unique and individual talents. Through production, experimentation, exhibition, critical and analytical response, students can develop an appreciation and understanding of visual expression. They will be exposed to the historical and cultural context of art while exploring their creativity in an intellectual and nurturing environment. All of this is provided in a comprehensive foundational program that encourages students to experience both the process and product of artistic endeavor.
- Studio Art 2D Foundation
- Studio Art 3D Foundation
- Hands-On Art History
- Advanced Portfolio Studio Art
- Wheel Thrown Pottery
- Digital Photography
- Darkroom Lab Film Photography
- Projets for Tech & Design
In an effort to increase flexibility in student schedules, Ceramics PM, an after-school art course, is also offered.
Athletics play an integral role in the educational experience at the Senior School. The positive character traits developed through athletic participation have a direct correlation to greater individual success after high school. It is the Athletic Department‘s goal to make the student‘s experience with the SSA athletic program educational and enjoyable.
All Senior School students must complete two terms of athletic activity each academic year. Athletic activity offerings are broken into two categories: interscholastic athletics and intramural activities.
Interscholastic athletics emphasize the progressive development of individual and team skills, enabling our teams to compete at a high level within their respective leagues. Many of our interscholastic programs offer multiple levels of team participation, including freshman, junior varsity, varsity and prep.
The primary goals at the freshman and junior varsity levels are skill development, physical conditioning, knowledge of strategy, discipline, fun, and participation. Success is encouraged and is balanced with student participation and individual preparation for upper-level teams.
At the varsity and prep levels of competition, teams are selected according to ability, and students with the requisite skills and experience to play at a high level are chosen. The primary goal is to field highly competitive teams. Shady Side Academy athletes are expected to exhibit excellence in all aspects of sport, including athletic skill, discipline, teamwork, and sportsmanship. In addition, athletes must display pride in self and in Shady Side Academy. With varsity and prep level selection, athletes must make a commitment to practice and compete throughout the entire season, including preseason and postseason playoff appearances.
Visit the Athletics section of the website for team schedules and more.
Intramural activities stress both fitness and lifetime participation in sport. These offerings provide opportunities for students who are not involved in the interscholastic athletic program at the varsity/JV level. All intramural activities meet after school and students may choose the one that best suits their interests.
The Senior School Computer Science Department strives to provide the fundamental preparation in computer science that will stimulate students’ growth in both academic and ethical areas and serve them well throughout their lives. In addition to preparing students for future studies in computer science, our goals include promoting ethical collaborative thinking, developing problem solving skills that include comprehending written challenges, designing solutions for these challenges, building solutions, and testing and iteratively improving these solutions.
Extracurricular opportunities include robotics, computational linguistics and programming competitions. Students enjoy a fully networked campus with up-to-date technology.
- Problem Solving: Karel & Elementary Graphics
Software Engineering Courses
- Game Design
- Artificial Intelligence
- Application Development for Mobile Devices
- Interactive Web Page Design
Hardware Engineering Courses
- Computer Architecture
- 3D Modeling
- Advanced Placement Computer Science
- Discrete Structures
- Advanced Topics in Computer Science: Advanced Data Structures and Algorithms
- Advanced Topics in Computer Science: Introduction to Virtual Reality
The Senior School English Department fosters in students a love and respect for the English language. Through language fluency, students are better able to make sense of their world, communicate more effectively, and grow to appreciate the finest literature of their own cultures and the cultures of others, both past and present.
Courses in English center on a variety of activities that seek to expand not only students’ knowledge and understanding, but also their skills in interpreting and composing texts. The program encourages close analysis of texts from a variety of genres, active and thoughtful class discussions, creative expression and personal reflection. We hold that learning is a communal enterprise with communication at its heart, so we expect students to develop their reading, writing, speaking and critical thinking capacities within a framework of constructive conversation and feedback arising from our study of common texts. Fundamental skills and concepts are thus taught as part of the study of these texts.
Central to our overall approach is the belief that literacy is a recursive act. Students are urged to question, examine and reassess their ideas and values through the development of important habits such as annotating, journaling, drafting and pre-writing, revising, and conducting research. Through this comprehensive program, the English Department seeks to foster the lifelong enjoyment of learning for its own sake. The department directs its efforts toward the development of young men and women to become thoughtful, responsive members of a literate community.
Foundation Courses (Grades 9-10):
- Foundations of Literature and Writing I
- Foundations of Literature and Writing II
Upper-Form Courses (Grades 11-12):
- Art of Persuasion
- Theory & Process of Writing
- Poetry 1550-1800
- Individual in Med/Ren Soc
- Mythology & Lit.
- On the Road
- Through the Eyes of the Other
- Saints & Sinners
- Eastern European Lit.
- French Lit. 1850-Present
- Indian Lit.
- Lit. of Africa/Diaspora
- Lit. of Oppress/Resist
- Lit. of South America
- Mod. Japanese Lit.
- Nobel Laureates
- Russian Lit.
- American Poetry
- Black Women Writers
- The American Renaissance
- The New Journalism
- English Romanticism
- Gothic Literature
- Irish Literature
- August Wilson
- Austen & Dickens
- The Bloomsbury Group
- Disability and Deformity in British Lit
- The Bildungsroman
- Futures of the Past: Speculative Fiction
- Forgotten Societies
- Hero's Journey
- British Lit.: Imperialism
- Detective Fiction
- The Henriad
- Graphic Lit.
- Lit. of Harlem Renaissance
- Fiction Workshop
- Tales of Love & War
- Victorian Age
- Mod. & Contemp. Amer. Drama
- Mod. British Drama
- Modern Narratives
- Lit. & Sport
- Individual in America
- Voices from Amer. South
As a foundational component of SSA’s overall student life curriculum, health courses collectively aim to provide accurate health and wellness information and resources to students while simultaneously helping them to build the social and emotional skills to successfully negotiate adolescence and establish habits of wellness that will serve them over the course of their lifetime. Health classes promote and offer a safe space for open discourse and provide our youngest students the opportunity to build community, express themselves and share any concerns they may have.
- Form III Health
- Form IV Health
The Senior School History Department offers a curriculum guided by two complimentary educational aims: to introduce students to the breadth and depth of the human experience by a comparative study of past and contemporary societies and cultures; and to develop in students the skills of research, analytical writing and critical thinking that are central to historical inquiry, broadly transferable to other disciplines, and central to a rich and fulfilling intellectual life. Students are trained to explore the past through the use of a variety of primary and secondary sources and are challenged to interpret past events to arrive at original conclusions to complicated problems. Further, they are taught to think critically about the discipline of history and how historical arguments are shaped by the eras that produced them. Our three core courses build on each other in both content and skills, while a range of elective courses offer students with a keen interest in history the opportunity to explore subjects that engage them on a deeper level.
- Problems in World History
- Patterns of Western Identity
- United States History
- History of African American Modern Social Justice Movements in America
- Pittsburgh at the Edge of the World
- Revolution in Ancient Rome
- History of Modern Social Justice Movements in America, Gender and Sexuality
- Pittsburgh: Steel, Blood and Money
- Revolution in Modern Latin America
- Economics of Gentrification
- Pittsburgh: From Soot and Beyond
- Revolution in Modern China
- Recording Our History
- Introduction to Microeconomics
- Introduction to Macroeconomics
- Economics with Graphical Analysis
- Philosophy of Happiness and the Good Life
- Philosophy of Religion
The Senior School Mathematics Department promotes problem-solving grounded in creativity, logical thinking, collaboration algorithmic computation, and risk-taking. Through a variety of teaching methods and activities, we strive to illuminate the interdisciplinary threads that connect mathematics to other disciplines, while also underscoring the beauty of the subject in its own right. We emphasize the importance of student participation in classroom discussion, and mathematical discourse is modeled verbally and in writing. In all that we do, we hope to promote a lifelong appreciation for mathematics.
In an attempt to better meet the needs of our students, the Mathematics Department groups students by demonstrated ability, as scheduling permits. This grouping is based on performance in previous math classes, teacher recommendation and performance on placement tests, where applicable. We believe that grouping by ability better addresses the needs of our students by allowing teachers to differentiate the curriculum with appropriate remediation and enrichment, and enables more productive and efficient conversations in the classroom.
- Math I
- Math II
- Math IIA
- Algebra and Geometry Intensive
- Math III
- Trigonometry and Function Analysis
- Trigonometry and Introductory Calculus
- CHS Statistics
- CHS Calculus
- AP Calculus AB
- AP Calculus BC
- Topics in Linear Algebra
- Discrete Structures
- Topics in Multivariable Calculus
- Topics in Differential Equations
- Problem Solving Seminar
- Set Theory
- Fractal Geometry and Chaos Theory
- Multivariable Calculus
The mission of the Senior School Science Department is to provide students with the skills and knowledge to become informed participants in our changing world. Students develop their critical and analytical thinking skills through student-centered laboratory investigation and analysis that leads to the formation of predictive, testable models.
To become a well-rounded scientific thinker, students typically take Physics I, Chemistry and Biology I. Students who have finished with this sequence (or enrolled in Biology I) are encouraged to explore the advanced-level science courses that they find most interesting.
- Physics I
- Physics IA
- Biology I
Advanced Courses and Electives:
- Science Research Seminar
- Physics II: Algebra
- Physics II: Calculus
- Principles of Engineering
- Advanced Biology
- Environmental Science
- Advanced Chemistry: Organic Chemistry
Advanced Inorganic Chemistry Electives
- Advanced Chemistry: Chemical Bonding
- Advanced Chemistry: Inorganic Chemistry
- Advanced Chemistry: Quantitative Analysis
- Advanced Chemistry: Chemical Equilibrium I
- Advanced Chemistry: Acid Base/Redox Chemistry
- Advanced Chemistry: Quantitative Analysis
The following courses will be in the Glimcher Tech & Design Hub. They will not meet departmental graduation requirements but will earn non-departmental credits. Glimcher courses will be Pass/Fail.
- Entrepreneurship for Tech & Design
- Community Connections Through Tech & Design
- Projects for Tech & Design
The mission of the Senior School World Languages Department is to graduate culturally aware and linguistically competent global citizens who explore, engage and excel in intercultural communications.
Offerings include Chinese, French, German, Latin and Spanish. The modern languages are taught in the target language using methodologies that foster the student‘s development of communicative competence in the five proficiency areas: listening, speaking, reading, writing and cultural knowledge. The study of Latin emphasizes communication skills of reading, writing and listening while developing knowledge of cultural and historical contexts.
An authentic cultural and linguistic dimension is added to language courses at all levels so as to immerse the student into native situations in the target language and thus illustrate and enhance the student‘s learning experience. These sources include guest speakers, the Language Lab, film, CDs, newspapers and magazines provided through hard copy and Internet subscriptions, and literature written for native speakers. Field trips are also arranged to theaters and museums for relevant plays, exhibitions, poetry readings and films.
Students are encouraged to share their enthusiasm for language learning by participating in extracurricular linguistic and culturally oriented activities within the Asian, French, German, Latin or Spanish clubs.
The department‘s aim is to equip our students with linguistic and cultural sensitivity skills required for effective participation in the 21st century‘s global economy. Classroom participation in the language within a cultural context is vital for development of the student‘s foundation in these skills; however, nothing can replace actual immersion in another culture to practice and perfect those skills and add immeasurably to personal growth. Thus, the World Languages Department urges participation in cross-cultural experiences and coordinates with the International Program to provide a myriad of ways to experience another culture firsthand. Among the possibilities are three-week partner school exchanges in France, Spain, China and Germany. We also support academic year or semester abroad programs, as well as numerous summer abroad programs.
- Chinese 1, 2, 2A, 3, 3A, 4, 4A, 5, 5AP
- French 1, 2, 2A, 3, 3A, 4, 4A, 5AP
- German 1, 2, 3, 4A, 5AP
- Latin 1, 2, 3, 4A, 5A
- Spanish 1, 2, 2A, 3, 3A, 4, 4A, 5, 5AP
Independent Study creates an opportunity for a student to explore and investigate in depth some special area of academic interest that goes beyond our curriculum offerings. The student selects a faculty mentor who is willing to oversee the project on a regular basis. These projects must be taken for credit and carry with them the same responsibilities as regular curriculum offerings. Strong student motivation constitutes a major criterion for acceptance of a project.
Nearly 20% of SSA juniors and seniors complete independent study projects. Some examples of projects include:
- Advanced Directed Research in Chinese Language and Culture
- American Foreign Policy: The Rise of Anti-American Sentiment in the Middle East
- Analyzing Financial Models in Professional Sports
- Architectural History
- Behavior Psychology: The Effect of Mental Illness on the Family System
- Bioethics: Developing Ethical Frameworks of Thought to Health Care
- Criminology: The Science of a Serial Killer
- A Deeper Study into Teaching of Emergency Medical Services
- Effects of Feminism on American Women Post-1960
- Electricity, Magnetism and Electronics
- Evolutionary Marvels: Wonders of Nature
- Examining the History and Functions of the United States Federal Reserve
- French Conversations Through Film, Stories and Grammar
- Functions, Limits and Derivatives
- Gender Stereotypes in Society and Media
- Hands-On Art History
- The History of Women in World Religions
- League of Nations: Noble Failure?
- Literature and Psychology of Persons with Mental Illness
- Mobile Device Application Development
- The New York Poets: Discovering the City Through Poetry
- Nomenclature and Stereochemistry of Organic Molecules
- On the Brink: A Comprehensive Comparison of the Economic Crises of the United States and the European Union
- Organic Synthesis of Pharmaceutical Drugs
- Quantitative Analysis of Hyper Dimensions
- The Science of Gas Drilling and Fracking
- Writing A Cappella Arrangements
- Writing the Novel
The Senior Project is designed to offer students the opportunity to pursue a serious learning experience outside the traditional setting of the classroom during the final three weeks of the senior year. The Senior Project covers a wide range of educational activities. The project, designed by the student, provides an opportunity to pursue special activities, and it may be completed on or away from the campus. Projects may involve the development of a new skill, the pursuit of an academic research project, mastery of a musical piece, creation of a work of art, or service to the community.
Some examples of Senior Projects include:
- Adventures in Publishing
- Amizade Program (Cochabamba Bolivia)
- Career Investigation in Medicine
- The Children’s Village of Israel Study
- Commercial Real Estate and Green Construction
- Community Service in South Africa
- Cultural Immersion in Japan
- The Cupcake Connection and Education
- Discovery through Surgical Medicine
- Exploration of Environmental Actions and Policy Career Opportunities
- From Line Sketch to A-Line Skirt: A Study of the History and Process of Fashion Design
- A Grand Passion: Preparing for the 2014 Summer Show Season
- Modern Composition and Exploration of Music
- Networking and Computer System Management
- News Coverage You Can Count On: An Inside-Out Look at Television News
- Nickers N' Neighs Volunteer Project
- No Outlet: Songs from the Basement
- Rachel Carson Legacy and Environmental Ethics