Upper School Academics


No matter what your interests, Highland's Upper School offers the opportunities you need to find and explore your passions. And while these opportunities are there for you to seize, our experienced and dedicated faculty and staff are here to help, encourage, and guide you through – and into – the next steps of your life-long educational journey.

To help you achieve this, we've created a welcoming, friendly place for students with different interests and backgrounds to get to know and support each other. You have the freedom and flexibility to choose from an extensive listing of courses including a variety of levels of our core subjects of english, math, science, and history – many with a writing-intensive focus that will help prepare you for the demands of college and beyond.

A high-quality curriculum to prepare you for the rigors of college
Highland's Upper School students, who come from all across the region and from countries around the world, experience challenging college preparatory academics. Of the 247 students enrolled in our Upper School, 78% take at least one Honors and/or Advanced Placement (AP) course per year. 

Not finding the class that's perfect for you? We offer a range of independent studies as well as online and dual enrollment courses with area colleges and community colleges. We truly believe that every student needs and deserves the opportunity to discover their own interests, abilities, and passions.

A culture of honor and integrity

The Honor Code provides the foundation for a vibrant and visible school culture of trust and openness. The community commits itself to the highest principles of academic integrity and respect for people and property through a ceremony at the start of each school year in which students sign the Honor Code. Students strive to be their best selves in an atmosphere where character development is an essential element of achievement. 

Need extra help? Our faculty and staff are here for you
We understand that challenge and support go hand in hand. A low student-teacher ratio ensures that students receive the individual attention and mentoring needed to develop their potential.

The educational experts in our Learning Center work with students who need additional help to strengthen their learning strategies and self-advocacy skills. Taking support a step further, we build integrated advisories into the schedule every day to allow students to learn from and mentor each other across grade levels.

Academics go hand-in-hand with extracurricular opportunities
Our students develop self-confidence through all facets of school life. You gain leadership skills through highly collaborative extracurricular activities, school plays and musicals, and athletics, and by holding positions including Prefect Board members, team captains, and club and class officers.

Some of the extracurricular highlights of the year include Spirit Week, which pits classes against each other in a week-long series of fun and creative competitions. International Week, which introduces a relevant country that is featured as part of the curriculum in classes throughout the semester is another student favorite. Academic highlights include the Poetry Slam and Flash Fiction contests sponsored by the English department, and 'This I Believe Speeches' presented by our Leadership classes.

Experience is the best teacher
Whether you're hauling a blue crab straight out of the Chesapeake Bay while on Freshmen Field Studies, pulling an all-nighter with your Robotics team members, or learning how to build your own sub-sonic wind tunnel, getting out of the classroom is an essential part of a Highland education. Annual field studies trips, Junior internships, and a month-long Senior project are woven into the fabric of Upper School life. Not only do they give you a chance to earn valuable real-world experience, they help to bring a year's worth of studies to life in a palpable and meaningful way. 

We understand that your high school years will be some of the most memorable of your life. Whether you're a Highland 'Lifer' who's been here since Kindergarten or joining us for the first time, Highland's Upper School is a place where you can truly build the foundation – academic, social, and emotional – for your life in college and beyond. You can read more about experiential learning at Highland here.

Learn more about Upper School departments
Click on any of the expanding boxes below to learn more about Highland's Upper School departments:


At Highland, we “English.” We reject the fact that the discipline should be confined to life as a noun. Instead, the students and faculty have freed it to move through all that we do here at school. 

Working in concert with other disciplines
In “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman tells the reader to “look for me under your boot-soles,” and that is certainly one way we “English” here at Highland: we work in concert with the other disciplines.

Whether we’re aligning our curriculum with history so that our 10th graders are reading "Things Fall Apart" while they’re studying Nigeria; participating in an interdisciplinary January term with biology exploring the Scientific Revolution; or writing “This I Believe” essays with the leadership class, English props up, supports, and enriches the other disciplines.

English takes many forms
However, in the same poem, Whitman also writes, “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world,” and when we “English,” we sound our yawps over the world. Students slam poetry, compete in flash fiction contests, write for the newspaper, build e-portfolios, dissect their favorite songs, learn about existentialism and romanticism and historiographic metafiction: in short, when we “English,” we come alive in the glory of what it means to be “us.” 

Perhaps then, to close, it is useful to turn to Whitman one more time.  He again tells the reader, “Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.).”  At Highland, it isn’t just that English is large, stretching from boot-sole to roof top. Rather, it is that when we “English,” we all make ourselves a little bit larger, a little bit more complex.

Submitted by English Department Chair Ronnie Ross


Math is poetry, math is beauty, math is logic
Many have heard me say that Math is the water boy for the Sciences. While we are more than happy to support the work of the sciences, we also realize the study of math is so much more.

There is beauty, logic, philosophy, and poetry in the study of math. Our Upper School math teachers come from a wide range of backgrounds including oceanography, physics, business, and engineering. These diverse backgrounds help bring to life the classic applications found in our classes from Algebra through Calculus.

Embrace the challenge!
We are excited about the varied aspects of math applied and we are even more excited to see students develop their interests in the variety of fields where math will be key. We invite you to embrace the challenge!

Submitted by Math Department Chair Nancy Scheffel

History Department

History is more than a list of facts
In the History Department we don’t lose the forest for the trees. Yes, names and dates and events are important, but what is beyond important into amazing is how our classes guide students into weaving a tapestry out of those names and dates and events. We interpret, we analyze, we synthesize, we question, we challenge. Highland’s History Department is committed to teaching historical thinking skills to foster independent thinkers and metacognitive learners.

History is interactive
Students get involved with History at Highland. Whether it’s the Freshmen European history students role-playing key philosophes, the Sophomore class putting Rwandan general Bizimungu on trial for crimes against humanity, or the AP United States History class traveling to Morven Park to role play the progressive period, teachers in the History department actively seek ways for the students to experience history beyond the text book. We, in the History Department, also recognize the value of collaboration with other disciplines. During their freshman year, students participate in a J-term project that represents work completed in History class as well as Science and English.

Highland embraces intellectual curiosity
Socrates once said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” The History Department meets the needs of intellectual curiosities within the students by offering a variety of classes and independent studies opportunities. The non-western world history curriculum (starting in the 2016-17 school year) will offer theme-based semester courses which are designed to give students more academic freedom to pursue topics that peak their interests such as “Tribalism v. Nationalism” a course detailing the internal struggles in the Middle East and Africa. Additionally, students who have interest in topics beyond the curriculum are encouraged to pursue them, and through the independent studies program, they have an outlet. Teachers make themselves available as mentors to students who want to pursue independent study topics. Past studies include: the history of criminology, the history of the intersection of Judaism and Broadway shows, collections of 16th century Italian Renaissance art in North America, models of leadership, and many more.

Our staff is committed to lifelong learning
Throughout the years, teachers in the History Department have embraced professional development to enhance their students’ experiences. We’ve had staff members selected for summer courses in the National Endowment for the Humanities program, formal training for the Harkness discussion method, participation in the google summit to learn how to mesh 21st Century technology with proven teaching methods, certifications in effective differentiation methods from The Hill Center in North Carolina, and an AP reader to name a few. Each year this list grows, and it’s our students who benefit!

Submitted by Scott Pragoff, Social Sciences Department Chair


Inquiry-based, collaborative, and hands-on learning
Science at Highland includes lab-based activities that range from structured investigations through guided inquiry activities to student-designed experiments; participation in field studies, presentations by guest speakers; a variety of contests, and enlightening classes. Our highly qualified science teachers connect with students to both teach and learn together as their classes work on projects and experiments.  

In addition to lab investigations, science students have built wind tunnels, rockets, Soap Box Derby cars, and robots. During field studies they have planted riparian zones, visited cancer centers, educational farms, trout release streams, and the Smithsonian. Students from Lower to Upper school have designed, planted, and maintained gardens, composting stations, and participated in nature and physics photography contests.

Opportunities inside and out of the classroom
The science department is proud of our students’ scientific endeavors outside of class as well, including our fabulous robotics teams, science fair contest winners, and summer program scholars.  These accomplishments have been a collaborative effort between wonderful teachers and motivated, hard-working, and highly capable students.

Submitted by Science Department Chair Elizabeth Kennedy


World Languages

Fostering interest and awareness
Recognizing the global push for multilingualism, Highland’s World Languages Department seeks to foster the interest and awareness necessary to compete in today’s world. 

Students are exposed to the culture, history, and current events in French and Spanish-speaking countries as well as the vibrancy of the languages through art, literature, song, and dance. By connecting grammar concepts with real-life situations that resonate and simulate real-life situations, students develop the confidence to explore interactions with native speakers.

The World Languages Department imparts a love of language and a passion for teaching which allows students to appreciate new experiences only language can bring to our lives.

Experiential and Service Learning

Learning beyond the classroom
Highland's Department of Experiential and Service Learning embraces the belief that traditional classroom learning must function in partnership with innovative methodologies designed to nurture the entire student. Through experiential education programs, including field studies, service learning, internships, and senior projects, Highland strives to enhance learning, promote character and leadership development, and build connections within and beyond the school community.

Our goal is to provide students with opportunities to:

  • Develop self-awareness and personal growth.
  • Create healthy, productive relationships with peers and adults in and outside of Highland.
  • Participate in meaningful experiences outside of the classroom that challenge and broaden their perspectives of their school, local, national and global communities.
  • Study in non-traditional learning environments.
  • Apply classroom learning to life beyond Highland.

Computer Sciences

Computer science classes are hands-on and relevant
The Computer Science Department offers students a wide range of computer science classes. Students learn architectural modeling using a powerful industry-strength 3D architectural CAD program; create games while learning about basic concepts including graphics, audio formats, storage, design and development as well as logical programming and object-oriented programming; explore the role of technology in a global society as well as what it takes to be information, media, and computer literate locally and globally in the 21st century; and examine the basic and advanced building blocks of computer programming. Students also have the opportunity to engage in the state-of-the-art blended learning approach in some of the classes.

Classical Languages

An education grounded in the classics
The Classics Department adheres to the philosophy that knowledge and appreciation of ancient Roman and Greek culture, literature, history and language are essential to an individual's education and understanding of the world today.

Fine Arts

The arts are one of the pillars of a Highland education 
At Highland, the Fine Arts are where our students get the opportunity to shine, either in the “Fine” arts or in the “Performing” arts. Sometimes the boundaries blur, and both of the arts blend together, as when one of the Performing Arts requires extensive use of the Fine Arts. Our department makes it easy for our students to participate in both.

Opportunities abound in Ceramics, Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, Acting, and Singing, learning new instruments and perfecting abilities on familiar instruments. There are many levels of learning in the arts, from beginning studies to advanced studies in all facets of the Arts. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are offered in Art and in Music. Highland offers three levels of guitar studies, regular and advanced Jazz Ensembles, String studies, the Hawkappellas (an a cappella chorus), and opportunities for individual performances.

There are many levels of Ceramics and Design, Painting and Drawing, and students are encouraged to explore and perfect their talents, with exhibitions both in the Highland Gallery and in art shows throughout the region.

Two acting opportunities are offered each year with a full-length play in the fall and a full musical in the spring, accompanied by members of the Piedmont Symphony and students in the orchestra. In addition, there is a Winter and a Spring Concert, which includes performances by all of the students involved in the many areas of music studies.

The faculty is not only experienced, but many are active as artists and musicians outside of the classroom.


Highland School is a Pre-K to Grade 12 independent school located in Warrenton, Virginia.

At Highland, we know that every child is unique. Our students get the tools they need to find themselves and the world around them in an academically challenging yet supportive, engaging, and friendly environment. LEARN MORE

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