Experiential Learning


“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” CONFUCIUS

Holding a blue crab straight from the water while studying bay ecology on Freshmen Field Studies. Palpitating a cow during your junior internship in veterinary medicine. Debating the pros and cons of the foundation of Shenandoah National Park after backcountry camping and ascending Little Devil Stairs on sophomore field studies. Reconstructing a Wright Brothers airplane design during your Senior Project.

Traditional classroom learning partners with real experiences

At Highland School, we embrace the belief that traditional classroom learning must function in partnership with innovative methodologies designed to nurture the entire student. Through our experiential learning programs, which include service-learning, field studies, trips, Junior Internships, Senior Projects, and hands-on learning, Highland strives to enhance learning, promote character and leadership development, and build connections within and beyond the Highland community. The objective of these programs is to provide opportunities for students to:
  1. Develop self-awareness and personal growth.
  2. Create healthy, productive relationships with peers and adults in and outside of Highland.
  3. Participate in meaningful experiences outside of the classroom that challenge and broaden their perspectives of their school, local, national, and global communities.
  4. Study in non-traditional learning environments.
  5. Apply classroom learning to life beyond Highland.

Reach different kinds of learners and challenge students

The emphasis on experiential learning at Highland helps provide opportunities to reach different kinds of learners, to challenge students and faculty to leave their comfort zones and to create unforgettable learning moments. To learn more about experiential learning opportunities in each division, please click on the expanding boxes below:


List of 3 items.

  • Hands-on Learning in the Lower School

    In the Lower School, we focus on learning through the  Five C’s of critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and leadership and character. These are the fundamental skills that are used when students are engaged in a project-based learning endeavor. This past year, Lower School students and teachers used our International Week focus of Brazil to focus a division-wide study of the country. Turkey is next!

    Co-curricular program

    Weekly Assemblies, Class Plays, and Thanksgiving Feasts are always memorable events for the students and have been special Lower School traditions for many years. All Lower School students participate in the Holiday and Grandparents Day programs. Music in our Schools Month in March provides students in every grade level an opportunity to share their musical talents. Lower School students attend two All-School Gatherings each year and a Closing Assembly at the end of the school year.

    Good manners are an expectation
    Teaching character-building skills is an essential component of our program. In the Lower School there is an expectation for good manners. A Morning Meeting takes place in each classroom and sets the tone for a respectful day. In these meetings, students greet each other, listen to and talk with each other, share news and work through a group activity. A "responsive classroom" environment emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. The goal is to enable optimal student learning.

    Beyond the classroom

    Through field studies and trips, students extend their learning to out-of-the-classroom authentic places. Trips are relevant to the curricular studies and enhance the learning opportunities of the students. Two to three trips a year are planned for each grade level.
  • Field Studies in the Middle School

    Field studies in Middle School
    Through the Middle School's Field Studies program, students in Grades 5 through 8 are given the opportunity to step outside their comfort zones and stretch their minds. They experience outdoor and team-building activities such as rafting, canoeing, hiking, ropes courses, and camping. 

    Throughout all these challenges and activities students begin to realize that there is more to themselves than they had previously thought. "I can’t" becomes "I’ll try." And with a little guidance, students often realize "I can." What a great lesson to learn.
  • Field Studies and Real-world Experiences in the Upper School

    In the Upper School, experiential learning takes the form of Field Studies and real-world professional experiences in the form of Junior Internships and Senior Projects.

    Field Studies take Upper School students into the world in meaningful ways

    Field Studies are grade-level based experiential programs that take advantage of the enormous resources of our region while stressing teamwork, service, challenge and leadership. Division directors and faculty members develop and implement field studies experiences organized around developmental and curricular objectives. Curriculum maps have been created and are updated to reflect program changes.

    Throughout a student’s time at Highland, he or she experiences a wide range of purposefully-designed experiences that promote individual and class-based academic and personal development. Examples include discovering the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem in the freshman class tripto the Eastern Shore each Fall, the sophomore retreat to the Shenandoah National Forest, and the senior camping trip on Skyline Drive.

    Junior Internships give an opportunity for real-world experience

    Business. Medicine. Education. Law. Filmmaking. Sports Marketing. Psychology. Marine Biology. These are just a few of the fields Highland students have worked in during their Junior Internship. This program provides students the opportunity to explore and clarify potential career interests, discover what skills and education are essential for success, and develop maturity and responsibility. It helps students as they embark on the college and academic program selection process, and allows them to refine their interests before choosing their three week-long Senior Project.  Students also develop contacts that often lead to a longer internship experience, or summer or part-time employment.

    Three-week Senior Projects offer opportunities to delve into areas of interest 

    The Senior Project, which takes place each May for three weeks, allows students to experience a meaningful closure to their Upper School years. During the last three weeks of school, Seniors are given the opportunity to explore a career, academic, or service interest by developing an internship or pursuing an independent project. Projects culminate in an evaluation by the faculty sponsor and a presentation to Highland students and faculty.

    Past projects have included internships with various professionals, such as doctors and educators, service-learning opportunities with community agencies, and special interest pursuits that include working for political organizations and attending professional development workshops. The Senior Project coordinator oversees this program and facilitates a committee of Senior Project advisors who work with 6-8 students to help them develop their project and final presentation. This committee also ensures the integrity of this program by evaluating and approving all senior project proposals. A database of past and potential placements is managed by the Director of Experiential and Service Learning.
  • To learn more about experiential learning at Highland School, you can reach Director of Experiential and Service Learning Megan Catalfamo at 540-878-2727 or email


Highland School is a co-ed independent Pre-K2 to Grade 12 day school located in Warrenton, Virginia.