Upper School Academics
The Upper School academic program shapes students in their growth as collaborative scholars, compassionate servant-leaders, and passionate global citizens.
Coursework encourages students to consider different points of view, cultures and backgrounds in an environment committed to valuing all community members. The robust curriculum is tailored to capitalize on students’ natural curiosity about the world and their place within it. Individualized academic programs allow students to find purpose and balance in their learning. Experienced faculty promote students’ responsible academic inquiry and cultivate scholars who are invested in the ceaseless pursuit of knowledge.
Opportunities to increase knowledge and practice skills seamlessly combine tradition with modernization to ensure that students are well-prepared for our 21st Century world.
- Art and Design
- World Language
- Independent Study
- AP Classes
The History/Social Studies Department focuses on the changes and continuities in human history while likewise preparing students to shape their world as active, informed citizens.
The freshman history courses hone in on critical thinking skills that will empower students to interpret documents, sequence events, analyze cause and effect, and develop an argument grounded in sources. These skills serve as the foundation for students’ continued coursework in the discipline. Students are able to select 20th Century European History or 20th Century World History as the topical content by which these skills are taught and honed. The European History course focuses primarily on the World Wars and post-War Europe whereas the World History course takes a more global approach in exploring how colonial territories in South America, Africa, and Asia navigated the transition from the Age of Empire to the modern day.
Austin Prep prides itself of providing students with academic experiences that approximate the offerings and structure students will encounter in college. To this end, the sophomore history offerings provide students with choice and flexibility in their curriculum in pursuing courses that celebrate our American heritage. Topical semester courses provide a deep dive into pivotal periods and themes in our nation’s pursuit of the democratic dream. Year-long survey options provide additional opportunities for students. The Advanced Placement American History course allows students to experience a college-level course. The American Experience course is an interdisciplinary program offering dual credit in English and History as students read seminal texts in American Literature within the context of history.
Third year history students are encouraged to think broadly and globally about the world and how different cultures, people, and traditions have interacted with each other in the past. Such dialogue will help students envision how they’ll navigate these conversations as they take their place on the world stage in the future. Topical semester courses introduce students to the history and heritage of diverse civilizations in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America and invite students to consider the role of these regions in our world. Year-long survey offerings, including Advanced Placement courses, in World and European History invite students to think more thematically about political systems and cultural movements.
The Social Studies discipline encompasses studies in economics, psychology, sociology, and government. Year-long courses provide students with a foundation in these areas and an opportunity to apply that knowledge to current events. This interplay between our Willow Street campus and the world reminds students that knowledge is not acquired in isolation but rather for the purpose of making informed decisions and to impact their local, national, and global communities.
Upper School Mathematics courses are tailored for student success at each level. Fluency with mathematical topics and processes informs each student’s placement in the Upper School Math sequence. Coursework examines mathematical theorems and concepts through regular practice. Projects to apply processes to daily life and the real world serve to make mathematics come alive for students. For students pursuing a curriculum and professional plan rooted in advanced topics, Advanced Placement, project-based courses, and an engineering track provide students with a strong foundation and ample practice.
The fourth floor of McLaughlin Hall is a hub of scientific exploration, experimentation, and collaboration at Austin Prep. Laboratory space for life and physical sciences provide the setting for students to observe processes and analyze results that reinforce material learned in the classroom setting. Partnerships with area research labs, aquariums, zoos, and conversation space bring students out into the real world and assume the role of citizen scientists, applying lessons learned at Austin Prep in contributing to on-going scientific discovery.
Students begin their Upper School program with coursework in Biology. This lab-based course introduces students to topics like biochemistry, cellular biology, genetics, evolution, viruses, and organismal biology. Students develop a strong core knowledge base and become familiar with the scientific framework for critical and analytical thinking, problem-solving, collaborative learning, and effective experimental design.
Building off students’ work in advanced mathematical concepts and their freshman coursework on scientific inquiry, sophomore students study chemistry. Students explore the properties and interactivity of matter through demonstration and experimentation in a laboratory setting promoting students’ growth as systematic thinkers.
Junior and senior students pursue an individualized program of study with a number of year-long, semester, and Advanced Placement electives in biological, physical, and integrated sciences.
Inquiry-based lab experiments and problem-solving are at the root of the Physics class in in which students explore the fundamental laws that determine the workings of the universe. For students interested in pursuing engineering or physical sciences in college, advanced coursework covers topics like kinematics, forces, momentum, mechanical waves and sound with an emphasis on in-depth mathematical relationships.
Elective offerings include diverse opportunities for specialized study: Astronomy, Environmental Science, Marine Science, Forensics, Anatomy and Physiology, Bioethics, Medical Microbiology, Biotechnology, Meteorology, and Oceanography. These course offerings draw heavily on concepts learned in chemistry and biology and serve to cultivate and sustain a life-long interest in the sciences and their application to understanding our world and being responsible stewards of it.
Advanced Placement courses capitalize on students’ intense curiosity and well-developed independent study skills to expose students to the rigors of college-level scientific coursework. With an emphasis on learning through laboratory work, courses are predicated on a strong foundation in mathematical ability and the scientific process.
The Department of Art and Design offers students a unique space to discover and display their imagination and innovation. Whether through the symphonic sounds of instrumental music, the harmonious chords of the choir, the sequence of shots in film, the creative choreography in dance, or the realistic, abstract, or digital interpretation of the world through art, coursework provides the opportunity for students to showcase their artistry. These opportunities celebrate students' risk-taking while also contributing to Austin's sense of community.
Each course equips students with key foundational knowledge and skills in the arts, as well as the tools to encourage appreciation while pursuing their talents at Austin and beyond. Semester-long offerings encourage students to sample a variety of disciplines or to follow a course of intensive study in one area.
Selections may include:
Highlighting both performance and production, courses in genres such as jazz, tap, ballet and contemporary prepare novice and seasoned dancers alike for roles in productions like Austin’s Christmas tradition of performing The Nutcracker or dazzling the audience with a number in the Spring Dance Show.
Situated in the Austin Prep Maker-Space, students learn through creation. Students experience the process of designing, creating, and launching their innovative Maker projects with access to resources like a 3D printer, laser printer/engraver, and drone, among others.
The Murphy Art Gallery is the setting for the culmination of students’ semester-long creative process in Visual Arts. Students build skills in visualization and observation as they focus on the elements of drawing and application of medium as artists experiment with principles of design to communicate their visual ideas.
Students learn how to utilize powerful digital design tools and apply principles of digital media to the creation of new content.
Film and Screenwriting
From framing and editing behind the camera or starring on screen, students learn how to communicate stories through photography and film. In cycling through each role in the storytelling process, students learn production and publishing skills and gain an appreciation for collaborating as part of a creative team.
Courses in Python, Java, and Computer Science allow students to investigate data structures, design, and application.
Band and Instrumental Music
Students perform as part of an ensemble with a repertoire that draws from various musical styles and appropriately challenges musicians of all experience levels. In addition to ensemble work, individualized instruction or coursework in Keyboarding and Guitar emphasize technique and fundamental skills.
Choir and Vocal Repertoire
The Austin Choir is an extension of the liturgical experience at Austin Prep following Saint Augustine’s remark that “one who sings prays twice.” Coursework in music theory and performance encourage a genuine love for music and appreciation for diverse traditions. In addition to Masses and assemblies on campus, the choir frequently performs off-campus and sung for His Holiness, Pope Francis, during the December 2019 Christmas season.
Aspiring actors study exercises in concentration, imagination, observation, and movement as they study scenes from the classical and modern stage. Improvisational exercises and scripted monologues and scenes place students at center stage from the outset.
Production assistants, lighting designers, and sound engineers are all vital roles in bringing a theatrical production to life. Students learn to read scripts and scenes with an eye towards how lighting, sound, set, and costume contribute to the story and how to execute those imaginative ideas to enhance performance.
Austin Prep’s patron Saint Augustine of Hippo is a Father of the Church and one of the most prolific writers in the Catholic tradition. Saint Augustine once likened humanity’s ability to grasp the divine as the amount of ocean water that a single seashell could hold. This analogy is illustrated in the Austin Prep crest through the two sea shells depicted on the school shield. The study of Theology invites students to think deeply about God and to explore the great questions of life in the context of faith. With an understanding that faith is not only to be believed but to be lived, experiences within and beyond the Theology coursework animate the principles learned in class and help students apply them to their own spiritual Journey.
First year students immerse themselves in the Scripture of the Catholic faith through a year-long study of Sacred Scriptures. The first semester focuses on the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament highlighting creation and God’s covenantal relationship with his people. Students explore the life of Christ and work of the Apostles in the second semester through an exploration of the Gospels and epistles. Throughout the course, students are invited to reflect on their own relationship with Christ and how they can share their gifts with their school and local community.
Recognizing the transition students experience as they matriculate from Middle School, all freshmen also take a half-year Freshman Seminar course. The Seminar serves to unify the freshman class with a common understanding of Austin Prep’s mission and core values while also equipping them with academic, social, and emotional skills that will contribute to their success and growth in Upper School.
The sophomore Theology course provides a historical survey of the Catholic Church from the commissioning of the Apostles to the modern day. Catholic culture in the form of art, architecture, and music are embedded into the course to color students’ appreciation of the complex social, cultural, and institutional development of Christianity. Students will become familiar with the movements and events that shaped the early Church and be inspired by the model of saints. Theologically, students examine the meaning of sacrament and the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith. This instruction provides students with the background and understanding to enhance their participate in Austin’s liturgical life.
Junior and Senior students select from several advanced topics that mirror their own development as adolescents: young women and men who are prepared to exercise the gift of reason in making conscious moral choices and who are equipped with the wisdom, energy, and maturity to participate more actively as servant leaders within their faith community. The Christian Leadership and Service course empowers students in identifying a major service project and reflecting on their semester-long experience. Interdisciplinary electives such as Literature and Religion and Science and Religion consider multiple perspectives and explore the complex interplay and intrinsic harmony of other disciplines.
In order to engage with the world, students must be able to communicate effectively with its people. Learning another language provides students with a new appreciation of another cultural heritage. Introductory through Advanced Placement courses provide students with a sequence to grow in fluency in the core domains of linguistic studies: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Austin Prep’s menu of four different World Languages to study – French, Latin, Mandarin, and Spanish – creates a dynamic learning environment that emphasizes practicing language in context and learning about others.
At the core of a liberal arts education is the student’s ability to read and interpret information and contribute their own ideas to the scholarly dialogue. The Austin Prep English Department builds student aptitude in writing and encourages their growth through exposing students to a diversity of texts, traditions, and themes.
The first-year curriculum is a full-year class focused on the essential skills of communication required for success in academia. In the first semester, students learn and practice the skills of formal academic writing. In the second half of the year, students further develop their reading skills by practicing text annotation and participating in literature analysis activities. Literature selections are divided into the themes of Disasters and Dystopias and Coming of Age Stories.
The sophomore year runs on a semester model and focuses on discussions and speeches. The Harkness Model of teaching prepares students to eloquently share their point of view and analysis. Student-led discussions are the core instructional method used. Sophomores write and deliver speeches to peers as part of the culminating assessment.
Junior and senior year offerings are semester courses that teach analysis, critical theories, civic engagement, and voice. A move towards project-based learning, an increase in traditional and creative writing, and presentations to authentic audiences help students discover their creative capacity. Course topics range from Novel Writing to Monsters in British Literature, which ensures student engagement and diversity of academic experiences.
Recognizing the importance of making connections and writing across the disciplines, the English faculty has partnered with other departments to offer dual courses, including Literature and Religion, The American Experience, and Science and Religion. Independent study courses in topics like Writing Theory and Music and Storytelling through Music are also run in coordination with the English faculty.
Upper School students are invited to individualize their academic program further through a semester or yearlong Independent Study course. This unique opportunity provides students with time and resources to delve deeper into a subject matter of their choosing. Working with a seasoned faculty member in their respective discipline, students design their own curriculum with readings, resource materials, assignments, and a summative project.
Some recent independent studies include:
- Portfolio Workshop: Storytelling through Music
- Independent Study in Song Writing
- Independent Study in Creative Writing: The Narrative
- Independent Study in Filmmaking
- Independent Study in Latin V
- Independent Study in Education Design
Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings in the various academic departments contribute to the scholarly atmosphere of the academic day. Students are engaged in class with like-minded peers who are similarly curious about advanced topics in the academic disciplines and have demonstrated the requisite academic skills and dispositions to balance the coursework with the rest of their program of study.
The AP curriculum exposes students to college-level coursework in high school and provides them the opportunity to both demonstrate their aptitude and pursue topics that have piqued their curiosity. These rigorous courses are offered in accordance with the guidelines prescribed by the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) of Princeton, NJ for the Advanced Placement Program.
AUSTIN PREP OFFERS 19 AP COURSES
- Calculus AB
- Calculus BC
- Computer Science
- English Language & Composition
- English Literature & Composition
- Environmental Science
- European History
- French Language and Culture
- United States History
- United States Government
- World History
- Spanish Language and Culture