Medical University of South Carolina
An MUSC pediatric cardiologist demonstrates the catheter umbrella patch used to repair a hole in the heart
High-achieving students need a specialized learning environment.
High-achieving students (with their own distinct combination of curiosity, ability and work ethic) are eager to move quickly to advanced levels of understanding and to apply what they learn to real problems and situations. To be effective, educational programs should engage students in a flexible combination of acceleration, enrichment, and the application of higher level thinking skills.
Intermediate School (grades 3-5) should tap a child's joy for learning.
The Intermediate School is is the entry point to the University School experience. Students learn their responsibilities and begin developing the roles that will serve them in both USL and the greater community. Personal accountability and working as a team are integral parts of our learning. Students in the Intermediate School begin their day an all-school Morning Meeting, a Leadership and Life Skills class, and PE. Throughout the day, our students have Math, Reading/Writing, Science, Humanities, Latin and Greek roots, Mandarin, and Spanish. They also have a weekly art class and a field trip (LOTC, or Learning Outside the Classroom) on most Wednesdays. They are mentored by the Middle and Upper School students, who also provide inspiring and varied role models for them. Our small class sizes and unique LOTC opportunities encourage our Intermediate School students to delve deeper into their own learning, explore new and intriguing topics, all while developing a greater sense of their place in our school family and the world around us.
Middle School (grades 6-8) should be designed especially for young adolescents' needs.
Programs and activities at the intermediate/middle school level must be active, interesting, and challenging in order to keep students engaged. Intermediate/middle school students need to be actively involved in their community and develop responsibility for their own education. Although adolescence can be a turbulent time of life, it should also be a time for exposure to many new pursuits, active learning, experimentation in a safe environment, and personal growth. Curiosity, reflection, inquiry, and problem solving are crucial to fostering interest in education at this time in a student's life when so many other things are happening physically, socially, and emotionally.
Upper School (grades 9-12) should be a safe and challenging space that prepares students emotionally, socially, and academically for life in college and beyond.
Keeping young adults constrained on a high school campus, even one with many electives and opportunities to explore their interests and keep them engaged, for 35+ hours a week does them a disservice. This is insufficient preparation for a self-directed and successful path through college and beyond. High school is not preparation for life, but it is life. University School Upper School students aren't like your typical high school students. Academically, they are comparable to high-achieving students across America. What distinguishes them is their civility and direct experience with life beyond a school. In contrast to their peers at traditional high schools, USL seniors apply to colleges and universities having experienced 100+ field trips. They have talked to religious leaders at 15 or more houses of worship, met representatives of the 4 major political parties, traveled all over America, heard from a wide range of speakers of all ages and occupations, and had multiple job shadow experiences to learn more about potential career interests. They have visited 10+ college campuses across America and both sat in on classes and completed classes at a college with all of the different ages, regions, and viewpoints that one could expect. They have seen and experienced the world and all of its diversity and possibilities in a way that is not possible at a traditional high school. When half of South Carolina students are losing their S.C. Lottery scholarships in their first year of college because of inadequate academic and/or social and emotional preparation, we have forged a better way. On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, The Post and Courier shared senior Anne Adragna's thoughts about her University School experience ("Proud Student") in the Letters to the Editor.
A small school and a personal setting work best.
Small class sizes and personal attention are vital to learning. Students need guidance from adults who know them well, in an environment where they are recognized individually. This individual attention and sense of belonging is more feasible in a small school with a low student-teacher ratio. In this setting, faculty and mentors can realistically give our students guidance in the social, emotional, and intellectual aspects of their lives.
Creating and maintaining a positive overarching culture is a cornerstone belief of USL. Students will see and regularly interact with people who believe in and exhibit the values and characteristics expected from each student. These individuals (high school students, college students, young adults, and adults) will serve as real-life models for USL students as they look to what the future can hold and what type of person they would like to be. In turn, our students serve as mentors for their younger classmates and for kindergarteners from Hibben Preschool.
Collaboration among teachers, students, and parents is imperative. Parents who are aware of what their children are learning at school can model learning and reinforce these ideas at home. Close and continuous communication among home, school, and student is essential at University School
Our students are expected to read and write continuously, complete assignments conscientiously, work independently and collaboratively, exhibit respectful behavior, be responsible for obligations, and contribute positively to the school community.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Fort Johnson Facility
Biologist Billy McCord (“The Butterfly Man”) discusses S.C. butterfly and moth species, and then he demonstrates logging & tagging Monarch butterflies.
Humanities is an integrated History/Language Arts course. It focuses on skills: writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Students are asked to read for both enjoyment and content. Novels, short stories, plays, essays, poetry, and other primary sources are encountered regularly. A heavy emphasis is placed on improving writing, specifically drafting, rewriting, revising, editing, and polishing the final product. Our students are taught to write for a wide variety of purposes. Individual projects, classroom discussions, and oral presentations are common requirements. As students mature within the program, our expectations for in-depth thinking and high quality work increase. There is also a strong arts component, and this includes creating works that are found in the period of study. In the Upper School, students explore World History, European History, and American History. Students also learn about civics and market and behavior concepts through AP US Government and Economics. In the Middle School, historical topics are taught in a three-year-cycle (I. pre-Civil War U.S. History, II. post-Civil War U.S. History, and III. Modern European History, Ancient Greece & Rome and civilizations of the Mediterranean). MS Humanities includes the yearly study of a play by William Shakespeare (Cycle I - Romeo and Juliet, Cycle II - MacBeth, Cycle III - Julius Caesar). In the Intermediate School, topics are taught in a three-year cycle (Our Lowcountry, Our World, and Government and Geography). All students study history, world geography and cultures, and contemporary world issues. Humanities classes are presented in an interactive environment with a special focus on debate, simulations, oral history, research, and projects.
Mathematics includes the latest understanding of best practices as advanced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and we follow the standards for grades 4-8. University School uses the Singapore Math program through grade 5, and it is lauded for its clarity and effectiveness. The program encourages our students to think mathematically and solve significant problems in addition to learning and practicing the basic processes of arithmetic. For grade 6 math and beyond, University School uses several approaches to help each student fulfill their potential. The Math program is individualized for each student, allowing proficient students to thrive and advance and master material at an accelerated pace. Students have the opportunity to gain high school credit by taking Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II. This means that Intermediate School students (grades 3-5) can begin Middle School work upon completing the grade 5 standards, and Middle School students can advance through higher level courses. In the Upper School, students learn through courses that best fit their needs, and there are many opportunities to advance, work on more than one discipline at the same time, etc. Courses range from Algebra to AP Calculus.
On January 12, 2016, we won Second Place Team at the South Carolina Independent School Association High School Math Meet! As our current highest grade was 11th in 2015-2016, this is an amazing accomplishment -- including a top 3 individual high scorer! This is our second year of participating in this competition, and we’ve now placed Second and Fourth.
On January 19, 2016, we won First Place Team at the South Carolina Independent School Association Middle School Math Meet, and this included having two of the top three high scorers for the whole competition! Congratulations to all of the participating students and our Middle School Math teachers: Mrs. Brockman, Mrs. Lawrie, and Ms. Elmore. The following were our participating students: Thomas Boyle (Third overall individual), Ron Kalus, Sabrina Lawrence, Allison Li (First overall individual), Isabel Prioleau, Julian Hill, Daniel Kalus, Mary Lee, Cayleigh Nicholson, Alex Pawlik, Jack Woodward. This is our third year of participating in this competition, and we’ve now placed First, Second, and First. Coupled with our Second Place finish in last week's High School Meet, we are on quite a roll in Mathematics! This is quite a testament to our Math program at University School, and kudos go to our Math teachers in all three divisions: Mrs. Brockman, Ms. Donoghue, Ms. Elmore, and Mrs. Lawrie. Our students also benefit from our individualized approach to the subject. In the Middle School, for example, students take classes at the level where they need to be. This includes 8th graders taking Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II. No other school in the state does this.
Science courses use the scientific method to provide for in-depth study of core concepts in biological, physical, chemical and environmental sciences. USL science classes help students understand scientific processes, record and communicate findings, and appreciate the role of science in the modern world. Instructional methods are inquiry based, and students engage in frequent lab work and research and analyze topics at a high-school level. In the Upper School, students take Biology, Chemistry, and another Science in their first three years. These classes are on-line, overseen by an on-campus Science teacher, and are complemented by our LOTC program of experiential learning through field trips with hands-on activities and in-person learning. In a student's junior and/or senior years, they will take their Science classes at Trident Tech or the College of Charleston. For example, a group of juniors and seniors is taking Physics at the College of Charleston's downtown campus in the Fall of 2016. In the Middle School, USL follows a three-year cycle of themes (water, air, earth) that blends all four sciences and asks each student to think and operate like a scientist. In the Intermediate School, scientific exploration and inquiry is integrated into the curriculum.
Leadership & Life Skills is a class for all students that integrates the lessons in the other disciplines together for the students (you can view the curriculum map for L&L here). We regularly watch and discuss CNN Student News, and lessons in geography and history emanate from the "issues of the day" that emerge with each passing day. Guest speakers, student job shadow days, and field experiences (Learning Outside the Classroom) originate in L&L Skills in collaboration with the teachers in the other disciplines, and students regularly create and share reflections about what they have learned. Students also take ownership for their Leadership Skill Wheel that USL uses to evaluate students each quarter (in addition to grades and narrative comments), and this includes averaging and sorting their numbers in each discipline and planning a strategy to improve them.
Global Language classes are designed to expose students to the discipline of studying a global language and they also emphasize an appreciation of different cultures. To capably function in an increasingly interconnected world, America's future citizens will need proficiency in non-English languages. In the Upper School, students explore languages of their choice through at least the third year of mastery. These can include languages offered in-person by instructors on campus (Spanish, Mandarin, and Latin) or through other learning mediums. Each University School student in grades 3-8 studies Spanish, Mandarin and Latin, and USL will strive to accommodate additional language interests of each student. In the Middle School, the Spanish program is structured so that each student will complete, as a minimum, high school-level Spanish I upon graduating from University School. Students are grouped by ability, and the standard grade progression is as follows: 6th Grade (Spanish I-A), 7th Grade (Spanish I-B), 8th Grade (Spanish II or Introductory Topics in Spanish II). The same pattern is followed in Latin. Therefore, an eighth grader will graduate from USL with one or two high school credits in Spanish and Latin -- for 2 to 4 total credits. In the Intermediate School, the Spanish program is designed to increase comfort and aptitude for Spanish in an immersion-style environment. For both the Intermediate and Middle Schools, Latin is studied for its lasting benefits for one's education: improvements in English grammar, vocabulary roots, and increased precision with words. USL students explore Mandarin to gain an understanding of Chinese culture and language, including both the unique characters and the pinyin (phonetics).
Physical Education / Health classes promote individual fitness, sportsmanship, and good health (diet, etc.) while encouraging lifelong recreational interests. Exercise is also built into our daily routine as classes regularly walk to educational resources and opportunities in the areas around USL's campus. USL follows the principles set forth in Dr. John Ratey's work, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Ratey offers research that students learn best by beginning the day with vigorous exercise. All USL students have PE as the first or second period of every day.
English / Reading, Writing, and Public Speaking is designed to increase each student's proficiency in crafting and revising responses to a variety of prompts in a variety of writing styles and direct grammar instruction. Students also encounter and become comfortable with an array of reading selections, and regular activities to develop and grow as public speakers is integrated. One culminating cornerstone is the Middle School graduation speech, and each graduate will deliver a 6-10 minute speech to the faculty, students, and families (you can find examples on our YouTube and Facebook pages). This USL-developed course for Intermediate and Middle School students is one of our hallmark features. Assignments are diverse and frequent, and feedback and revisions are individualized and include attention to grammar. For the Upper School, English (Reading, Writing, Speaking) emulates a college-level English class. Students meet in a seminar 3x per week, and a high percentage of the reading and writing is completed outside of class times. Students communicate regularly with the teacher, and learning to handle assignments on their own time is a key skill for success in college and beyond.
In early-March, 2016, four USL students were named Scholastic Art and Writing national award winners, and University School won 4 of the 50 national awards for writing that students in South Carolina received! We had 17 regional Gold Key winners, and they proceeded to the national competition. National medalists represent the top 1% of submissions to the 2016 Scholastic Awards. This competition is for 7-12th graders, and this year our 7th-11th graders entered 120 works of fiction, nonfiction, personal memoir, and poetry and received an amazing 94 awards at the regional level! 84% of our students were honored, and over 90% of our 8th graders garnered an award for writing in 7th or 8th grade. Typically the number of submissions in the region numbers in the tens of thousands and for the country is 300,000+. University School has four national medalists (attached picture with MS/US Writing Teacher Sara Peck):
Anne Adragna (11th) - National Silver Key for her poem "The Grass 524 Miles Away"
Hannah Godsill (7th) - National Gold Key for her poem "Bullet Stains"
Daniel Kalus (8th) - National Gold Key for his short story "Three Views on the Same Matter"
Allison Li (8th) - National Gold Key for her poem "As the Months Drag On"
Arts classes are designed for immersion in the multiple media and forms of expression, and they allow for each student to develop and gain confidence in his/her artistic ability. Classes are year-round on Friday afternoons. Students also learn and create art projects related to their studies in their classes, especially Global Languages and Humanities. USL also engages in collaborative opportunities in the arts with community partners like Redux Contemporary Art Studio, ArtBuzz Kids, The Artists' Loft, and other arts organizations. University School also regularly (4-5x per year) hosts cultural performance groups and shares these events with the greater community. For 2015-2016 we are hosting classical pianists Vladimir Pleshakov and Elena Winther for a concert, YALLFest author Brendan Reichs for a joint presentation with Meeting Street Academy, the Fabulous Chinese Acrobats for a show, and the Russian dance troupe Baryna for a performance. Several of our Learning Outside the Classroom experiences (field trips) are also arts-focused. For 2015-2016, this includes trips to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania and Auldbrass Plantation in Yemassee, South Carolina. Students will also attend a production of Hamlet at the Gaillard Center, "A Seat for Justice" about civil rights efforts in South Carolina in the 1950s at the Dock Street Theatre, and a retrospective of African American music ("Songs from the Soul") at the Gaillard Center.
Flex Time allows for students to engage in pursuits geared to their individual interests and talents. For the Upper School, this is their chance to take on assignments and manage their own time in an approximation of the college environment in which students only attend classes for 15-16 hours per week (as opposed to remaining on campus in assigned activities for 35+ hours per week at most high schools). Faculty members in various disciplines remain available to Upper School students during these times. For the Middle School, tThis can include additional courses in Math and/or Global Languages, on-line courses, guided independent study or time for homework or other interests. For example, a student may concurrently take two Math courses or two separate Global Languages, and the student can earn high school credit for both. This time is also occasionally used for all-class and all-school theme-based seminars.
Research findings on the use of time at schools drive the daily schedule at University School. While some aspects of the school program will occur at regular times, flexibility in the use of time is a key organizing aspect. While most schools operate in 40-50 minute periods, in-depth teaching is associated with more intense experiences and varied teaching approaches carried out in longer class periods. To promote deep learning, USL is committed to providing academic learning time as it is needed for our students. This means that specific class/instructional periods may vary in length throughout the year. This approach to time honors student achievement and a supportive school culture as the primary goals in organizing time at USL.
University School believes that intermediate/middle/upper school-age students benefit from extensive involvement in the community. This involves service learning (service to others) and first-person learned (as opposed to received) knowledge that one gains from discovering the many opportunities, aspects, complexities, occupations, people, etc. that are present in the world around us. The information that students encounter is incorporated into classroom activities to help students make relevant and direct links to what they learn. Experiences are selected that are consistent with USL's mission. For example, developing leaders who can self-advocate and make a positive difference in the world are key goals. To foster this development in our students, we guide and regularly evaluate our students in six areas of leadership (encompassing over thirty separate skills). Students track their growth in these areas by sorting and analyzing their rankings in these areas.
University School's approach to homework is guided by the following principles:
- USL firmly believes that galvanizing curiosity in each learner will result in extensive activity at home, and this will generally take the form of guided or independent reading and researching. Our approach respects family time and dynamics, and it yields a student who learns self-discipline for life by balancing acting upon personal interests (academic, artistic, etc.) and meeting school expectations.
- USL strives to assign homework that is designed by our teachers with specific objectives. We feel “busy work” should be avoided, and assignments should have strong relevance to a student’s needs and capabilities.
- Students will be asked to make choices in many of their homework assignments. Students relish the challenge of doing assignments worth doing, and they learn how to make good decisions by making decisions.
- The amount of time needed to complete homework will vary nightly. Homework is a carefully considered response to what is going on at school at the time, and this entails different lengths and types of assignments at different times.
University School of the Lowcountry subscribes to the National Association of Independent Schools' Principles of Good Practice for Middle School Educators:
Recognizing that middle school students experience a variety of significant changes, middle school educators respond to and provide for the unique developmental needs and characteristics of their students.
- Middle school educators affirm the dignity of each individual and promote equity and justice.
- Middle school educators and all personnel who interact with middle school students have a thorough understanding of the patterns of physical, intellectual, social, and emotional growth of their students.
- Middle school educators actively engage parents as partners in recognizing the implications of the significant changes affecting middle school children.
- Middle school educators work to ensure a smooth transition experience for students and parents entering and leaving the middle school years.
- Middle school educators provide programs that support each student's need to develop a distinct self-concept and to be recognized as an individual and as a member of a group.
- Middle school educators create an environment that fosters respect, understanding, and acceptance of differences.
- Middle school educators help students learn to make responsible choices and understand the consequences of their actions.
- Middle school educators create opportunities for students to develop a sense of belonging to and responsibility for the multiple communities in which they participate.
The NAIS Principles of Good Practice for member schools, defining high standards and ethical behavior in key areas of school operations, are designed to help guide schools in becoming the best education communities they can be.