Upper School Curriculum

A teacher and a student smiling at a table in a classroom

The Upper School college prep curriculum at Sun Valley Community School builds skills and knowledge as students progress through the grades, offering increasing independence and scheduling flexibility, as well as new opportunities for leadership in the classroom.

Upper School Curriculum by Grade

Ninth Grade

The first year of the Upper School is a wonderful transition for students toward more autonomy in choosing subjects, teachers, sports, clubs, and activities.

These experiences define the ninth grade year at Sun Valley Community School:

  • Six college prep classes, six different teachers across three buildings, Writing Lab, and Biology Lab;
  • Floating the Main Salmon River for a week with the entire ninth grade class and many ninth grade teachers;
  • Learning how to build a snow cave and thrive (not just survive) while winter camping;
  • Traveling to Salt Lake City with the entire class for a five-day service-learning focused trip in the spring;
  • Trying new sports or gaining the experience of playing familiar sports with older athletes on the junior varsity and, at times, varsity sports teams. Participating in a new array of clubs and activities.

In addition, students enjoy more autonomy, with one period free period in their schedule each day as well as a half hour of Activity Period four times a week.

In selecting elective courses, ninth graders need to choose their electives wisely. One trimester of Computer Science, one trimester of Writing Across the Curriculum, and three trimesters of Art / Music are required to graduate. These classes will help build academic skills that will be utilized throughout a student's Upper School experience.

Ninth grade students can take two courses for Honors; students with an affinity for and proficiency in a subject are encouraged to do so.

Ninth graders need to focus on creating self-disciplined study habits that will allow their academic performance in the first year of the Upper School to represent their ability and are encouraged to commit to community service.

Ninth graders at the Community School are beloved for the excitement and enthusiasm they bring to the school day.

Tenth Grade

Building on their ninth-grade experiences and growing in self-confidence, sophomores discover the rewards of being integral members of athletic teams, outdoor trips, drama productions, and clubs.

These experiences define the tenth grade year at Sun Valley Community School:

  • The freedom of greater choice in college prep electives and the challenge of more intellectually demanding college prep course material;
  • The beginning of the college search process;
  • Hallmark outdoor trips that include hiking the wilderness and coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, snow-camping and backcountry skiing for three days in the winter, and attending four days of the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in the spring.

A typical course of study for sophomores would include classes in English, world history, math, chemistry, world language (Spanish or French), and electives. Given the greater breadth of elective options available, sophomores (working with their advisors and parents) should plan their academic year with care. One term of computer science, one term of Writing Across the Curriculum, and three terms of art and music are required to graduate. Beyond graduation requirements, the skills developed in these classes serve students well in the upperclass years.

Tenth-grade students can take many courses for Honors credit. The additional challenges of Honors-level courses are rewarded with .33 jump in G.P.A. per term. Pursuing a more rigorous course of study is essential in the tenth grade year and is expected by highly selective colleges.

The sophomore year begins the college application process. Two thirds of a student’s academic record that is presented to colleges is complete by the end of the sophomore year. Strong academic performance, well rounded experiences, and the pursuit of individual passions are all encouraged within the sophomore year. In October, sophomores will take the PSAT, which provides both a baseline for the SAT (taken in the junior year) and offers a basis for planning improvement.

Eleventh Grade

Increased independence, freedom, and exploration are the hallmarks of the junior year. Every day, eleventh graders demonstrate their ability to thrive academically, athletically, in the performing arts and community service.

These experiences define the eleventh grade year at Sun Valley Community School:

  • Opportunities to lead clubs, take on more prominent roles in plays and musicals, run for student government, and start on varsity teams;
  • Leadership roles, alongside faculty, on Outdoor Program trips, guiding their younger peers and learning additional skills;
  • Classroom time defined by inquiry and challenge, where skills built in the ninth and tenth grades provide the foundation for growth and learning.
  • One of the most iconic Sun Valley Community School Outdoor Program trips, the Junior Solo in Canyonlands National Park.

Academically, juniors can choose their English electives each term, and they complete their graduation requirements in math, science, language, and history, paving the way for a truly individually designed senior year. A typical course of study includes college prep classes in three English electives, U.S. history, math, science, world languages, and additional electives.

Juniors also complete an independently created and researched thesis in the Research Methodology and Thesis course. This project emphasizes the skills of researching and writing in multiple subject areas and allows students to deliver a polished piece of scholarship on a topic of their choosing.

In the Outdoor Program, juniors spend a week in the fall climbing, hiking, working on forest service facilities, and studying local history in Idaho's Sawtooth Range; in the winter, they can elect to lead the ninth and tenth grade trips, or camp in a yurt polishing their backcountry skills. The defining outdoor experience of eleventh grade is the Junior Solo, a backpacking trip in Canyonlands NP that includes a two-day solo experience.

The junior year is the most important academically, as it presents potential colleges the final year-long academic record for students who apply early. It offers a chance to improve and expand on the foundation laid in ninth and tenth grade, and to finish well in the core courses required for graduation.

Juniors have a second chance to take the PSAT in October. Exceptional scores on this test allow students to qualify as National Merit Scholars. The test also provides a benchmark for further improvement before the SAT and ACT in the spring. Test-prep sessions are offered during the winter term. Students who have taken Honors courses can take Advanced Placement tests in Literature & Composition, Language & Composition, World History, U.S. History, Calculus, Statistics, Spanish, and French.

Eleventh grade also begins the college search process in earnest. The College Counseling office hosts a college application overview meeting in September, and students are encouraged to attend as many presentations as possible by college representatives visiting the school. Additionally, students are encouraged to attend informational sessions as colleges and universities visit campus.

Twelfth Grade

Senior year culminates the Upper School experience. In anticipation of students advancing to lives beyond campus, the year focuses on leadership, self-confidence, and public speaking.

These experiences define the twelfth-grade year:

  • Leadership across athletic teams, clubs, outdoor trips, student government, dramatic productions, assemblies, and in the classroom;
  • Opportunities to address to the school community, with the senior speech in the fall, senior project presentation in the spring, and finally, as part of their commencement;
  • Flexible academic programming that provides time for college applications and Senior Project planning;
  • Outdoor Program experiences defined by opportunities to both lead and continue to explore new skills.

Academically, seniors have completed the core college prep courses required for graduation, allowing them to fully explore the richness of course offerings. They may also reduce their schedule to five courses per term (six courses per term are required in grades nine through eleven), with two free periods each day. This increased flexibility provides time for the completion of college applications, planning for possible Senior Projects, and leadership in extracurricular activities.

In the Outdoor Program, leadership is again the theme for twelfth graders. From the annual Fall Campout to winter yurt trips to the two-week Senior Quest, the school looks to the seniors for guidance in the outdoors. They share their knowledge and skills, carry on traditions, help supervise their younger peers, and provide support to faculty and guides. Senior Quest represents the pinnacle of a student's Outdoor Program career.

The first term of the senior year is critical for those students who apply regular or rolling admission to colleges. It affords the opportunity to show colleges improving study habits, continued pursuit of academic interests, and of course, ever expanding leadership abilities.

In the spring, as their Sun Valley Community School career begins to wind down and they look ahead to college, seniors have several opportunities to live what they've learned in school. Those who elect to do Senior Projects depart from school, pursuing their personal passions with a scholarly eye. When they return to campus in early May, they present their experience to classmates, faculty, and parents. Others who remain on campus can take advantage of final leadership opportunities.

Middle and Upper School Technology Note

BYOL Policy

Individual student laptops are a necessity for Sun Valley Community School students. Sun Valley Community School requires that all students in grades six through twelve bring their own laptop to school each day. This allows us to ensure that all students and teachers can benefit from the many technological advancements we’ve made over the past few years. Macbooks, PCs, and Chromebooks are all currently used and supported at school with success. However, we believe that Chromebooks are an appropriate choice for Middle School students. Those who experience the most technical challenges have been trying to use a hand-me-down, older laptop.

For families who must purchase a laptop, we understand this may be a financial commitment. If you are in need of financial assistance in this area, the school is committed to supporting you by providing a Chromebook loaner for the year.

If you have specific questions about the Upper School curriculum, please feel free to contact Upper School Head Kevin Campbell.

A group of students in a circle extending their arms in a classroom

A Tradition of Public Speaking

Wherever you find yourself on Community School's campus on a given day, chances are good that you will see and hear students developing skills to articulate their thoughts, share their passions, and advocate for their needs.

Opportunities for public speaking come early and often here. Beginning with circle time in the Early Childhood Center classroom and continuing through each division before culminating with the capstone Senior Project presentation in the Upper School, Community School students earn the confidence to share their story with an audience.

The poise and power of our students' presentations have become a hallmark of a Community School education.