Upper School students are encouraged to discover and develop their own interests as they expand and deepen their studies in the traditional disciplines. As students progress from freshman to senior year, they enjoy greater flexibility in personalizing their studies by choosing from a broad range of electives and independent study opportunities. Students can also take advantage of an Advanced Placement program of college-level courses through which they may earn credit toward a college degree.
The administrative structure of the Upper School is designed to best serve the academic, social, emotional, and developmental needs of its students, and to maintain open communication with parents. The Upper School Director oversees the daily school experience of Upper Schoolers by arranging schedules, working to resolve conflicts and problems, maintaining a visible presence in all areas of the School, arranging grade-based activities and special projects, handling minor disciplinary issues, and supporting the Advisory program to "keep a finger on the pulse” of student life.
Students and faculty constantly initiate innovative ways like the ones listed below to bring learning alive at Tandem Friends.
The following sections provide a brief description of Upper School curriculum philosophy and offerings. A detailed curriculum guide is available upon request.
Arts Education here promotes creative exploration and observation of the world, self-expression and discipline, community building and the essential skills needed by an artist, whether one is a visual artist, theatre artist, filmmaker, or musician. In all arts courses, emphasis is placed on developing and furthering each individual artist, even within the context of group endeavors.
Arts programs encourage students to ask questions and think outside of the box, create visions and follow them, discover and commit to their passions (while challenging themselves to go beyond their comfort zone), and use their imaginations and senses to make connections to the world.
Tandem Friends is grounded in the belief that this approach fosters confidence and deep self-expression and encourages students to use their art to make a difference in their community and beyond.
Recent Upper School arts electives include: Guitar, Rock and Jazz Ensemble, String Ensemble, Mixed Media, Painting, Ceramics, AP Art, Digital Film, Photography, Art History, Filmmaking, Publications, Improvisational Theater, and Playwriting. Upper School drama productions take place after school as an extracurricular activity and include a musical, a one-act play festival, and a comedy or drama.
In his or her high school career, each Upper School student composes a variety of narrative, persuasive, descriptive, analytical and expository essays; several extensive research papers; and an array of outlines, oral presentation notes, poems, short stories, and reader responses. We strive to help students develop a distinctive writing voice, as well as the ability to revise for clarity, accuracy, and precision. Regular peer editing, sharing student work aloud in class, publication opportunities, participation in local contests and readings, and individual teacher-student conferences illustrate the school's commitment to writing.
Just as important, the round table format of our English classrooms reflects our dedication to the art of discussing literature. Teachers serve as guides and facilitators, while study questions, reading journals, and other preparatory writing assignments provide focus and accountability. For example, a teacher might ask her students to write on the following questions before discussing the previous evening’s reading assignment: “What does the event in chapter ten reveal about the protagonist’s most deeply held beliefs? How might the antagonist describe the same event?” Effectively inviting silence into the classroom, setting a tone of curiosity and imagination, and modeling genuine listening are skills the English teacher continually strives to master.
Coordination of Upper School English and History courses helps enrich our students’ exposure to other times and cultures, and deepens their understanding of their own place in the world. Ninth graders, for instance, read African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern texts while studying world cultures in their freshman social studies course. Field trips to the Smithsonian museums, the Vietnam War Memorial, or a Japanese garden enhance and expand the classroom triad of reading, writing and discourse, as do guest speakers, after-school film seminars, and even an occasional Indian feast or African dance performance.
Our English classrooms are rigorous, dynamic, nurturing, expansive environments where students and teachers alike explore the world within and without through language – the language of expression, of reflection and of discovery.
Modern language instruction focuses on teaching students to understand the spoken language and to speak it sufficiently well in order to communicate in everyday situations, to be able to gain information from articles or stories written in the target language, and to communicate adequately in writing. Foreign language students also explore different ways of thinking and living by discovering the cultural wealth of the target language in a variety of different countries.
Viewing films and works of art, hearing music, preparing and tasting food, experiencing plays in the target language, celebrating the holidays of different cultures, and traveling and studying in foreign countries gives students deeper insight and understanding of another culture, making their language study relevant and engaging.
Latin begins in grades 6 and 7 as a required subject, and students may continue their Latin study in grade 8 and into the Upper School through the AP level. Latin provides students with the study of Roman culture and history, the etymology of much English vocabulary, and an understanding of the structure of grammar in both English and the Romance languages.
Students normally take three, but preferably four, years of a modern foreign language beginning in 9th grade, although some start their study of French or Spanish in the 8th grade. AP French and Spanish are also offered for those students who are recommended by their foreign language teachers.
The department progressively works to achieve new standards in an effort to create a series of offerings broad in both scope and content. The development of reading and writing skills is stressed, along with the encouragement of students to become confident in their analytical abilities. History and social studies courses are part of a broader humanities curriculum whose development has been a long-term, continually evolving project. There has been, and continues to be, a concerted effort to coordinate English and history classes at all grade levels.
In the 9th grade, students study the history and geography of East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America within a focus on culture. In the following years, students study modern European history and United States history, with qualified students having the option of taking the Advanced Placement versions of these courses. AP U.S. Government and Politics, as well as electives in personal finance, economics, the Model UN, world philosophical traditions, international relations and politics are also offered.
Our mathematics teachers strive to balance three goals in their teaching: developing fundamental skills through the rigor of daily exercises and practice; studying math applications in the real world; and investigating the creative and intellectually challenging realm of pure mathematics. This varied approach builds confidence and opens doors for all students to test their limits and to discover their potential in mathematics.
Upper School students typically begin their mathematics study with Algebra I or Geometry and then move on to Algebra II in tenth grade. Subsequent courses include Pre-Calculus, Statistics, Trigonometry and Calculus. Algebra II is offered in two forms: students who expect to take Pre-Calculus take the Algebra II/Trigonometry course, while others take Algebra II. Students who discover that they are ready for more rigorous study of math during their Algebra II year are prepared for Pre-calculus by enrollment in Financial Math and Trigonometry. Advanced students take AP Calculus and AP Statistics. The Financial Math and Trigonometry and a non-AP Statistics course are offered in alternate years to ensure that all students can take four years of mathematics.
Students seeking course work beyond the Upper School offerings may take more advanced-level mathematics at either Piedmont Virginia Community College or the University of Virginia. In addition, independent study and electives are offered based on student interest.
Students are encouraged to think critically in order to discuss scientific ideas, conduct scientific experiments and analyze data. Because of our small class size, opportunities abound to assess each student’s understanding and ability and to provide guidance in the self-assessment of learning. Aesthetically pleasing and well-equipped facilities provide students with a stimulating learning environment that provides space and materials to encourage active and extended scientific inquiry.
Our science program takes great advantage of the school’s rural campus setting. Access to a variety of outdoor environments, including a small stream, woods and fields, allows for observation of wildlife, collection of data, performance of experiments, and the recording of information over a period of time. The school also benefits from our proximity to the Charlottesville and Albemarle County scientific community, including the University of Virginia and Piedmont Virginia Community College. We have traditionally enjoyed welcoming a variety of guests and mentors who share their expertise in science-related topics.
We currently require three years of science in the Upper School program for graduation. Most students meet this requirement by taking Biology in 9th grade; Physics, Chemistry or Analytical Chemistry in 10th grade, and one or more upper level science courses. Offerings may include Physics, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Environmental Science, and electives Forensics/Bioethics or Anatomy/Marine Biology. Other science elective courses may be added as needs and interests arise.
The science program promotes curiosity and creativity in a setting of enthusiasm and support. Recognizing the need to encourage the development of scientific literacy in a world that will present our students with many science-related choices in the future, the science department strives to share the excitement and wonder of understanding and investigating our natural world.