Upper School

Overview: Though our classes have moved online, Upper School students’ access to a rich curriculum rooted in inquiry and dialogue has not diminished. In Westtown Distance Learning, our Upper School Faculty emphasizes critical thinking, collaboration, and innovation. In the classroom and beyond, students partner with teachers, deans, advisors, and support professionals in order to develop and deepen their individual gifts and talents. Online as in person, teachers and students come together for deep, interactive experiences, exploring challenging assignments, and engaging in in-depth content discussions.

"I believe education should be transformative for all students, and that transformation can happen through diversity of experiences, ideas, backgrounds, and styles of teaching."

- Veda Robinson, Upper School Principal


A blend of synchronous teaching and guided practice in extended class periods: In each course, students engage live with their teachers in five synchronous 70-minute classes over a two-week cycle.This extended teaching period provides a variety of formats to enhance learning. Teachers have time to introduce a lesson; students have time to practice what they have learned with the teacher present to guide and coach them. Synchronous classes are recorded for those unable to attend on account of time zone or other impediments, so that all of our students have the same access to learning. Lessons are designed to make imaginative use of online resources, and often featuring teacher-created videos or whiteboard lessons. Through these various methods, students will broaden their understanding of content and deepen their skills in research, analysis, communication, and collaboration.

Teacher and advisor connections: Students have several opportunities per week to meet with their teachers: in advisory meetings, individually, and by appointment during office hours. Teachers, advisors, class deans, and others are readily available to support students in mastering a concept or working through a personal issue. Special effort has been made to prioritize office hours for students in other time zones who have trouble attending early morning or late afternoon classes.

Library services: Our librarians are ready to help with Westtown Distance Learning. In addition to one-on-one assistance with building research skills, innumerable resources are available through our library, including free access to the New York Times for all Upper School students and faculty.

Support for students: All students continue to have access to the Learning Center and the Integrated Learning, Health, and Wellness Team. In addition to these resources, numerous structural elements are built into our program as described below, and adults are ready to connect by a student’s preferred means of communicating.

Reflection and worship: Even in distance mode, we continue to gather weekly for Meeting for Worship, coming together as a community for reflection, sharing, and centering.

Community time: We have a 40-minute dedicated community time each morning. This time is used for Collection, Meeting for Worship, advisor groups, assemblies, and affinity group meetings.

Clubs and activities: We held a virtual Club Fair where students could sign up for over 30 clubs and activities that are all meeting remotely. Clubs include The Brown and White (school newspaper), Green Coalition, Rightly Political and Westtown Democrats, Model UN, Chess Club, Drama Club, and Classics Club.

Previous Sample Academic Assignments and Exercises

Scientific Research students are working on a long-term assignment to investigate primary scientific literature relating to COVID-19. Teacher Mariska Batavia has asked students to learn about mitigation, virology, epidemiology, and development of therapeutics and vaccines. Students are contributing weekly slides summarizing their research to this collaborative slide deck, so that all may learn from each other.

Holocaust and Genocide students have been reading primary materials and then using discussion boards to unpack material and learn from each other. In a recent discussion prompt, Teacher Joseph Daniels asked students: What aspects of the Hutu / Tutsi historical relationship help to provide insight on this genocide? The lesson tasked students with crafting an “I wonder if…?” question for others to explore, addressing an unknown in the background, period of genocide, or the aftermath (e.g., “I wonder if Rwandans will always create political power-sharing to avoid Hutu-Tutsi tensions?”). To deepen their understanding, students have used the discussion board format to compare the Rwandan genocide with the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide, and have grappled with questions about the international community’s role and responsibility in these events.

Business and the Good Society students recently had a stimulating Zoom conversation with guest speaker Raj Aggarwal, President and Lead Strategist of Provoc. Teacher Kevin Eppler connected with Raj and invited him to speak about his work in creative communications solutions for the betterment of the world, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Religion, Resistance, and Revolutions, students are discussing “Violence in the Context of COVID-19.” In this multi-dimensional assignment, students master Galtung's Typology of Violence as described in Harvard University's Religious Literacy Project. Having watched the video Three Kinds of Violence and read this document detailing Galtung’s analysis, they then research the human response to COVID-19, provide examples of violence in the context of COVID-19, and produce a written analysis of how their examples fulfill Galtung’s criteria. Finally, they provide an annotated bibliography of their resources. Class discussions will center around students’ findings.

Multivariable Calculus students, as in other Math classes, are using Explain Everything as a tool to bring a whiteboard and teacher explanations to life. This tool brings the teacher’s voice to the virtual classroom as she demonstrates a helpful step by step solution to a problem the class is working on. Here’s one of Teacher Susan Waterhouse’s Explain Everything videos, in which she explains a complicated concept.

Teacher Bei’s Mandarin Chinese Class is using PearDeck, Quizlet, and Flippity to practice and hone conversational, reading, and character recognition skills. Here are some samples of T. Bei’s lessons:

Westtown Distance Learning Videos

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