Upper School

Upper School Program

Learning happens organically when students are actively solving real problems and collaboratively creating original work.
Through rigorous hands-on learning across the disciplines, students gain a deeper understanding of themselves, nature and society while strengthening their bodies, minds and spirits. This broad approach to education ensures that our students are not only well prepared for college but are kind, active citizens who will engage in the world as learners and helpers throughout their lives.

Upper School Curriculum

List of 13 items.

  • Graduation Requirements

    Our graduation requirements exceed those of the University of California. Most students take four years of a rigorous academic program that extends beyond these requirements and is tailored to their interests and passions. Explore the Course Catalog for and our Academic Program for Athenian's full scope and course offerings.
    English: Minimum requirement is four years
    History/Social Sciences: Minimum requirement is three years
    Math: Minimum requirement is three years through Algebra II (placement by skill level)
    Science: Minimum requirement is three years
    World Languages: Minimum requirement is level three in one language or level two in two languages (placement by skill level)
    Arts: Minimum requirement is two years
    Physical Education: Minimum requirement is three and a half years (with athletic team and independent PE options)
    Community Service: Minimum requirement is thirty hours per year
    Athenian Wilderness Experience: Required during junior year
  • Advanced Placement (AP)

    On January 25, 2022, we announced that Athenian is moving away from its Advanced Placement (AP) program. The last Upper School AP designated course offerings will run in the 2022-23 school year. To read about the decision in it's entirety please click here.
  • English

    Athenian’s strong and comprehensive English program begins with engaging World Literature in ninth grade, followed by immersive U.S. Literature in 10th grade and numerous advanced and specialized seminars in 11th and 12th grades.
    Through close reading of novels and short stories from around the world, World Literature addresses the following key questions: What is the power of words and stories? How are humans interconnected? How do I live a meaningful life according to my values? The curriculum emphasizes argumentation and close textual analysis to train students to read actively and to think critically. Students will hone their writing skills through analytical writing and the development of a unique voice through personal narrative.
    An enduring sense of possibility about what America might mean has long informed, and troubled, the American experiment. In U.S. Literature, through readings of poetry, novels, films, stories, and essays, we examine the variety of ways in which Americans have sought to remake themselves and others. The course pairs literary analysis with intensive writing instruction, as students write in a variety of modes, crafting reflective, creative, and persuasive pieces.
    Juniors and seniors take seminars on a particular topic that resemble college classes. Some examples include environmental literature, Shakespeare, poetry, women’s literature, and Dante’s Divine Comedy.
  • History/Social Science

    Athenian’s engaging and diverse history program begins with World History in the ninth grade, followed by US History in 10th grade and intensive seminars on discrete topics in the fields of history and the social sciences in 11th and 12th grades.
    World History lays the foundation for subsequent study of history and humanities in high school and beyond. The class explores major historical movements from prehistory to the present. Areas of focus include Africa, East & South Asia, The Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Along the way, students master skills essential to the craft of history: interpreting primary and secondary sources, finding salient information through skilled research, forming an argument from multiple sources, and expressing ideas clearly in writing and class discussions and presentations. By exploring many perspectives from the past, this course inspires students to look closely at their own perspectives, biases, and beliefs so that they enter the world with a well-developed sense of cultural empathy.
    In addition to this World History, ninth graders take a semester-long sociology course focused on examining their identity, their place in society, and their capacity as agents for change. This course focuses on the human experience and cultural competence, a skillset that gives students a foundation in how to participate effectively as globally engaged citizens.
    The United States has many names: the land of opportunity, the home of the brave, the “new world,” to name a few. But what is the story behind these names? What events, figures and ideas have shaped this country into what it is today? In 10th grade US History, students refine their historical analysis skills to answer these questions. Students explore the tension between liberty and security; consider whether a powerful nation should intervene in a foreign country’s affairs; and evaluate how to best enact lasting social change. Through debating US policy, evaluating primary sources, writing an argumentative research paper, and collaborating through experiential learning projects, students learn to think critically about the themes dominating US history from the post-Reconstruction Era to the present day.
    Upper-level courses provide a variety of small, intensive seminars in history and the social sciences. These seminars are advanced courses that take students on a deep dive through a topic or area of interest. In addition to standards like international relations and economics, we offer courses on social justice and cultural studies, the Holocaust, psychology, constitutional law and philosophy. 
  • Mathematics

    Athenian’s outstanding math program places students according to their level and readiness when they enter the school. Students continue their math arc from ninth grade, following a progression of courses that best supports their mathematical foundation and understanding. Our program builds on the foundations of geometry and algebra and offers advanced level topics through multivariable calculus. Additionally, we offer relevant and experiential Upper Level math courses in topics like statistics and financial math.

    Honors and advanced courses begin at Algebra II and extend through multivariable calculus. Classes focus on critical thinking, problem solving, logic and mathematical habits of mind to ensure success as students progress through the curriculum. There are opportunities at various points in the course progression for students to take more than one math class at a time and further their understanding and exposure to mathematical concepts.
  • Science

    Athenian’s science department strives to cultivate curiosity about the earth’s physical, chemical, and biological processes to inspire students to continue to find joy in taking responsible care of our planet, now and in the future. Students delve deeply into scientific concepts through hands-on activities, experimental analysis, visual learning, and interactive problem solving. Students work in groups, use our expansive campus as a classroom, and discover practical applications for scientific ideas
    We begin the laboratory and project-based science arc in our Upper School with Physics. All students are required to take Introductory Physics in ninth grade, Introductory Chemistry in 10th grade, and Introductory Biology in 11th grade. Advanced classes in these three disciplines are offered–typically in 11th and 12th grade–after students have had a chance to complete prerequisite coursework. Other science offerings for 11th and 12th grade include: Anatomy and Physiology, Astronomy, Environmental Science, and Applied Science. 

    Athenian’s science faculty are familiar with the rigors of college science courses and Athenian alumni find that they are well prepared for the demands of college labs. Many alumni pursue careers in the sciences, engineering, health care, and related fields.
  • World Languages

    Learning languages is an essential way to develop a global understanding of cultures and people, to increase perceptiveness, and to strengthen communication skills in English. Students are placed in language classes by ability for rich, mixed-grade level classes. We offer Spanish, French, and Mandarin.

    The Upper School uses a communicative approach in foreign language classes, which are conducted exclusively in the target language. Grammar is presented as a tool to be applied to real-life situations and fluency is encouraged as much as accuracy. 

    International exchanges through Round Square and March term travel allow students to use their target language and directly experience the culture of the community.
  • Computer Science

    The Athenian programming journey begins with Computational Thinking (required in ninth grade), followed by additional options including data structures, algorithms and other upper-level computer science courses. 

    Computational Thinking encourages students to decompose large problems into smaller problems, abstract those problems looking for generalized patterns, develop ordered sequences of steps to address each problem, analyze the effectiveness of the algorithms developed, and then iterate the entire process to ensure efficiency and elegance. 

    Data structures describe the different formats programmers and computer scientists use to store information on a computer. Up to this point, students may have only learned one type of data structure: the array. Why can’t we use arrays to store all of our data? Students will answer this question while exploring other data types including stacks, queues, linked lists, graphs, trees, heaps, and hash tables. 

    An algorithm is the set of procedures we apply to our data structures to solve a problem efficiently. This course covers some of the classic algorithms and topics in the field of computer science.
  • Arts

    The Athenian Art Department provides a place where you can learn the language of sound, movement, shape, and form to express yourself creatively and emotionally. In every class you will learn to communicate in your medium while also exploring and developing your own unique voice. Art is a place where you can safely create new ideas and workshop them, responding to the world around you to create meaning. The Arts at Athenian supports the future doctor, engineer, and artist with a strong background in creative thinking, experimentation, and critique.

    We offer an array of visual and performing arts classes. The performing arts disciplines include band, choir, dance, drama, film and theater tech. Visual arts disciplines include: ceramics, digital art, drawing, film, painting, photography and sculpture. We have both breadth and depth with numerous arts disciplines and advanced courses in each area. You will be introduced to all that a medium has to offer in the introductory class before moving on to in-depth personal work in the advanced courses. To graduate, students must take two years of art, including one yearlong UC-approved art course. Students can also take additional arts classes depending on their interest, schedules and course availability.

  • Community Service

    Service is a key component of the Athenian ethic. Students are required to complete 30 hours of community service every year, beginning with structured group projects in ninth grade. 

    Ninth grade students participate in weekly on-campus projects in service of the Athenian community. Students also participate in two off-campus service projects on weekend days serving our wider community. Examples include serving food at Glide Dining Room, doing trail work on Mount Diablo, and working at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco. 

    In 10th grade, Athenian students continue to work on group projects while taking on increased responsibility. Sophomores organize and lead off-campus service projects during the weekly community service period and participate in two weekend projects. In the spring, students prepare for their junior year intensive individual service projects through a series of interactive workshops.

    Juniors and seniors create their own service projects, demonstrating citizenship and leadership skills. In addition to a robust community service program, students are also engaged in our Athenian community in other ways. 
  • March Term

    All Upper School students engage in one immersive mini-term class of their choosing, diving deeply into a subject area they otherwise would not get to explore in high school. While half of the junior class is in Death Valley, the rest of the school encounters experiential, hands-on learning opportunities that can only exist outside of the standard block schedule. March Term courses are elective credits with different course offerings every year based on faculty and student interests. Click here to learn more about the March Term program.
  • Physical Education

    Athletics and physical fitness are important not just for health but for learning. Rather than traditional PE classes, which rotate through different sports and activities, students can take any of Athenian's focused physical education courses, including hiking, yoga, ultimate frisbee, and strength conditioning. Classes meet twice a week, and students can fulfill their PE requirement by participating in a team sport. Students who participate in athletics or physical fitness outside of Athenian can also qualify for Independent PE credit.
  • Electives

    In addition to core academic classes at Athenian, we also offer a broad range of electives that students can choose from. These include but are not limited to: Bay Area BlendEd Consortium classes, entrepreneurship, independent studies, internships, journalism, robotics, the Teacher’s Assistant Program, and yearbook.



List of 8 items.

  • A 24/7 Learning Community

    Because Athenian is a boarding school, the learning doesn't stop at the end of the school day.  With after school sports teams, programs like robotics and theater, a residential community of boarding students and faculty families, and social activities, Athenian's campus is always alive with activity.
  • College Outcomes

    In an ever-changing college admissions environment, our office goals wholeheartedly reflect the Athenian mission of “preparing students for the rigorous expectations of college and for a life of purpose and personal fulfillment.”

    We offer a comprehensive college counseling program devoted to developing in our students the confidence and skills required to meet the complexities of their futures. In conjunction with the advisory program and Maia Learning (our college planning and student engagement software), the Athenian college counseling team offers a curriculum for grades 9-12 that promotes self-exploration through assessments, career exploration, goal-setting, and portfolio building.
  • Academic Calendar & Daily Schedule

    Athenian's academic calendar supports project-based, experiential learning. Two academic semesters allow students to choose different electives and 11thand 12th-grade seminars throughout the school year. The second semester takes a pause for March Term, which offers two-week immersive, mission-driven experiences that allow students to focus deeply on one theme. Athenian's spring break falls after March Term.

    Athenian's upper school schedule is designed to allow students long class periods for deep dives into content, time to collaborate with peers and faculty during the school day, and weekly advisory meetings for students to check in with a caring faculty advisor.

    Students can take up to seven classes which meet three times a week for 70 minutes in addition to electives and physical education, which meet twice a week. 

    With two to four Conference and Collaboration periods each week, students have access to teachers and their peers to prepare for upcoming assessments and to work on group projects. Advisory and Community Meetings take place weekly to foster small group and all-school community. A weekly Community Service or Health period creates time during the schedule for students to focus on their own well being and the well being of others. Protected long lunches every day give ample time for student clubs to meet and play.
  • State-of-the-Art Facilities

    Athenian's 75-acre campus is a home to a residential community, state-of-the-art learning facilities, and the critters that wander over from our neighbor, Mt. Diablo State Park. From a mile-long trail with beautiful scenic vistas to our Carter Innovation Studio loaded with all the equipment you might need to make just about anything, everyone at Athenian has their own favorite spot on campus. 

    Explore Athenian's Library, Carter Innovation Studio, Athletics Facilities, and Campus.
  • Outstanding Faculty

    Three-quarters of Athenian's faculty have advanced degrees in their subject area. But more than being experts in their fields, Athenian prides itself in having teachers who love teaching. Our teachers love working with young people as they discover who they are and find great fulfillment in being a guide, mentor, and advisor for students throughout their development in high school.
  • Small Classes & Mixed Grade Courses

    With an average class size of 14, students are well-known in the classroom by their peers and their teachers. With enough students to maintain diverse and divergent conversations but small enough for students to be comfortable, Athenian's classes foster deep and personal learning.

    While some of Athenian's core courses are grade-specific, many of Athenian's offerings are designed to bring students from different grades together. Math and language courses are organized by level instead of grade and upper-level seminars mix juniors and seniors. This allows for students to progress at the pace that is right for them while fostering a greater sense of community across grades.
  • Individualized Academic Paths

    Choice is an important aspect of an Athenian student’s experience. As students progress through the School, they gain more opportunities to personalize their curriculum. By 11th and 12th grades, students can choose from numerous history and literature seminars, as well as a choice of advanced options in science, mathematics, and art. Seminars include an impressive array of history and literature offerings, as well as social science courses such as psychology, macroeconomics, and entrepreneurship. Students are presented with the option to double up in certain subjects, thus allowing them to tailor their schedules to match their interests and passions. Each year, students also sign up for a March Term with priority given to seniors.

    In addition to academic options, there are endless opportunities for Athenians to personalize their experience, be it leading clubs, community service groups, teaching sexual assault prevention or being a teacher's assistant. In short, the Athenian experience can look very different depending on a student's interests.
  • Student Support

    Athenian students are supported by a Dean of Students, a dedicated Upper School counselor, a Director of Learning Services, and an Equity & Inclusion designated teacher in each division.

Emma R. '16

People often say that high school is the time to find yourself. It is enlightening to know that, what many people talk about as the difficult journey of finding yourself throughout the years of being a young adult is different for me because Athenian supports students to enjoy the journey. Athenian gives us these wonderful opportunities that allow us to enjoy the challenges we overcome while we discover who we are as people of this world.

Upper School Directory