Upper School

Upper School Program

At Athenian, academic mastery and hands-on learning are just the beginning.
Our Upper School curriculum and approach set the stage for learning to think big and push beyond perceived limits. In a collaborative and supportive environment, student are called upon to be inquisitive, self-aware and courageous. The skills and knowledge gained in and outside of the classroom is deep, integrated and lasting.
Here, students cultivate character as well as the foundation for academic success and contribution in college and beyond.

Upper School Curriculum

List of 12 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 and our Academic Program for Athenian's full scope and course offerings.
    Literature/English: Requirement is four years
    History/Social Sciences:  Requirement is three years
    Math: Requirement is three years through Algebra II (placement by skill level)
    Science: Requirement is three years
    World Languages: Requirement is level three in one language or level two in two languages (placement by skill level)
    Arts: Requirement is two years
    Physical Education: Requirement is three and a half years (with athletic team and independent PE options)
    Community Service: Requirement is thirty hours per year
    Athenian Wilderness Experience: Required during junior year
  • Literature/English

    Athenian’s literature program begins with World Literature in ninth grade, followed by  US Literature in 10th grade. These foundational courses focus on developing writing and literary interpretation skills and students' voice. In 11th and 12 grade students take seminars on a particular topic that resemble college classes. These are generally semester long courses and are all Honors classes due to their rigor and often intensive writing requirements.  Some examples include poetry, women’s literature, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. See the sample course offerings for recent offerings and course descriptions.

    These are generally semester long courses and are all Honors classes due to their rigor and often intensive writing requirements.  
  • History/Social Science

    Athenian’s history curriculum begins with required and foundational year-long courses in World History (ninth grade) and US History  (10th grade). As students progress into 11th and 12th they have a wide-range of history and social science seminars to select from. These are generally semester long courses and are all Honors classes due to their rigor and often intensive writing requirements.  
    Course offerings vary from year to year (see course offerings for a recent sampling) and explore major historical movements. 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, students are also encouraged to examine their own perspectives, biases and beliefs.
  • 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 & Engineering

    The Athenian programming journey begins with Computational Thinking (required in ninth grade). This course is a semester-long required class and serves as an introduction to programming, opening the door for students to try something they may not otherwise consider pursuing in upper level classes. Upper level computer science classes include Advanced Computer Science (Honors), Data Structures and Algorithms (H) and Software Engineering (H). 

    We offer Engineering and Advanced Engineering (Honors). Most students who elect to take engineering do so in the 11th and 12th grade.
  • 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. 

    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. 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/Engagement

    Service is a key component of the Athenian ethic. Students are required to to participate all four years, beginning with structured group projects in ninth grade including weekend service at food banks and community gardens.

    In 10th grade, Athenian students continue to work on group projects while taking on increased responsibility. In the spring, students prepare for their 11th grade intensive individual service projects through a series of interactive workshops.

    Eleventh and 12th graders 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 participates.  March Term courses are pass/fail 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, debate, robotics and yearbook.

Distinctive Programs

"Athenian encourages students to take the lead on their own learning and provides a platform for student voice through community outreach such as Town Hall and the faculty’s exceptional approach to teaching."

 Emily v. Z '22