PolyAcademics

Curriculum

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Intellectual development is the focus of Poly Prep’s Upper School curriculum. In every discipline, we set standards of academic excellence aimed at fostering habits of mind that will serve our students throughout their lives. Our expectation is that students learn to read, write, analyze, and quantify with purpose, focus, and clarity.

Our curriculum sequence is expressly designed to enable our students to be agents of positive change. To this end, anti-racism is an essential component of our curriculum; in addition to empowering our students to promote social and racial justice, anti-racism fosters their abilities to discern systems and structures from varied perspectives and with a critical lens, equipping them to imagine their world as it might be.

From the beginning of their high school career until its conclusion, students meet with Upper School deans to craft courses of study uniquely suited to their individual academic goals and interests.

For more information about Poly’s Upper School curriculum including, core requirements, course descriptions, elective offerings, and more, please see our detailed curriculum guide.

Upper School Curriculum Guide for the 2022-23 Academic Year

Our students are encouraged to make the most of the opportunities we offer them to expand their minds and hearts by embracing the challenges that learning entails.

Upper School Curriculum Overview
  • Computer Science

    In our Computer Science classes and state-of-the-art Maker Space, students apply their creativity, problem-solving skills, and communication tools to explore new languages; engineer and design 3-D solutions; develop multi-level understanding of the internet and social media; work with hands-on technologies such as robotics and microcontrollers; and discover the expanding universe of artificial intelligence. The language of computers is one of Poly’s fastest growing and most exciting fields of inquiry — and our digital-savvy students are its natural interlocutors.

    Among the elective courses students can choose are Cybersecurity; Data Science; Disinformation and Democracy; App Development; Advanced Computational Astrophysics; Advanced Rocket Engineering in Simulation.

  • English

    English classes engage students in discovering their own voices as writers while they wrestle with literature’s diverse representations of the human experience. Core classes and electives introduce students to prose fiction, poetry, drama, and literary non-fiction from around the world and help them develop both analytical and writing skills. At the core of our writing instruction is the understanding that writing requires flexibility and a wide range of skills beyond the traditional essay. Poly’s English program therefore actively prepares students to write effectively across disciplines and genres. Just as important, our approach to literature is grounded in the understanding that literary texts help students develop empathy for characters whose experiences are at once unfamiliar and strikingly recognizable. Our classes therefore join classic texts with new and emerging narrative voices, and faculty delight in seeing our students draw inspiration from both.

    Among the compelling English electives offered are Author Study: Toni Morrison; The Bible as Literature; British Literature; Creative Writing Workshop; Critical Theory; Fiction Writing; Futures: Science Fiction; Gender Studies through Literature; Japanese Literature; Law and Literature; Linguistics; Literature of New York; Literature of Prep Schools; Memoir and Autofiction; Mexican Literature; Modern Literature; Nuclear Texts; Performing New York; Poetry and Poetics; Postcolonial Literature; The Postmodern and Literature; Pulp Fiction and Noir; Shakespeare; and The Writer’s Craft.

  • History

    At the core of the History Department’s mission is the belief that the study of history has the potential to, in the words of historian Carl Degler, “expand our conception and understanding of what it means to be human.” The study of history is integral to Poly’s mission of preparing students to be global citizens, and our history curriculum is designed to help students become comfortable navigating, both in the past and in the present, the tension between the familiar and the strange. To this end, students develop a deep knowledge of their own country’s history, global history, and area-specific histories. We also empower students to seek an understanding of their world that goes beyond their present moment, and to develop the empathy and humility that are integral to the thoughtful exercise of global citizenship.

    Among the electives we offer our History students are Constitutional Conflict: American Government; China, Vietnam, and Communism; Gotham’s Challenges; European History; Feminisms of the Modern Middle East; Latin American History; Left, Right, and Center; New York City History; Postcolonial Southeast Asia; Revolutions; The World’s Wisdom Traditions: Abrahamic Religions; The World’s Wisdom Traditions: Asian Religions; US History Seminars in: African American Women’s History; Black Power, Black Arts; Settlement-1865; 1865-Present; Immigration and Migration; News, Networks, and American Democracy; Our Republic in Nature; Queer Histories; and Slavery and Resistance.

  • Mathematics

    Our mathematics curriculum encourages students to become logical and imaginative thinkers. We help students recognize patterns and structures, explore multiple routes to solving problems, develop and apply critical thinking and abstract reasoning skills, and organize and explain their reasoning. As we model real world situations and promote both deductive and inductive reasoning, our students develop the intellectual tools to become independent problem solvers, develop the confidence to persevere through complex and challenging non-routine problems, and enjoy the challenge of attempting to find the unknown and delight in its discovery. In the Upper School, students study Geometry, Algebra, Pre-calculus, and Calculus, and in their junior and senior years may choose from compelling electives such as Economics; Financial Literacy; History of Mathematics; Linear Algebra; Advanced Statistics; and Introduction to Algebraic Structures.

  • Science

    Our Science department recognizes that, now more than ever before, the natural world demands innovative solutions to the most vexing environmental, medical, and resource dilemmas humankind has confronted. Our students therefore engage in experiments and analysis of observable data that challenge them to understand how science shapes all phenomena, from the manufacture of sunblock to understanding of epidemic disease. Required courses are offered in biology, chemistry, and physics.

    Electives include courses in those disciplines along with classes such as Earth Systems and Structures; Forensic Science; Modern Physics; Environmental Chemistry; Advanced electives in: Applied Mechanics; Electronics; Climate Change; Conservation Biology; and Organic Chemistry. All courses require students to apply science and engineering practices as they make sense of phenomena and design solutions to problems, preparing them to become tomorrow’s engineers, physicians, researchers, space explorers, and scientifically literate citizens.

  • World Languages/Classics

    World Languages courses — Spanish, French, Mandarin and Latin — immerse students in their chosen target tongue as a means of nurturing their curiosity about peoples and cultures far beyond our halls. Our modern language classes (including a senior elective in Italian) place a premium on speaking, sharing, and celebrating the world language, not least as a means of nurturing cultural competence and personal courage. In addition to local excursions to restaurants, exhibits, and NYC neighborhoods, curricular trips to Martinique, Spain, Italy, and Argentina encourage students to become intrepid and considerate citizens of the world.

  • Learning Support and Enrichment

    At Poly, we appreciate the wide diversity of learning styles and are dedicated to meeting each child’s learning needs. Our learning specialists help all students meet the demands of our curriculum, and become proficient self-advocates who are resilient, meta-cognitive, and strategic learners. Learning specialists work closely with students, faculty, and deans to address individual learning needs and oversee the Learning Center, a space for students to practice their skills and utilize a range of academic supports. Our learning specialists also support teachers and develop pedagogical tools designed to help enrich the classroom learning experience for all students.

In addition to our rigorous academic course sequence, students may elect to enroll in the following:

Additional Upper School Program Options

Students at the Upper School History Conference

Our ever-changing course options match students’ varied intellectual interests and reflect our faculty’s wide-ranging expertise. In every department, students may choose from a menu of courses that, in promoting critical thinking, close reading of challenging texts, interdisciplinary frameworks for analysis, and advanced quantitative skills, prepare them to be life-long learners and active, productive members of a democratic society. 

Students can choose from a wide spectrum of topics, including: Comparative Anatomy, Art of Design, Futures: A Study of Speculative Fiction, Networks, News, and American Democracy, Queer Histories, Linear Algebra, Discrete Math, and Mythology.

Upper School Math class

Admission to advanced courses is based on a careful process of departmental approval which takes into account a variety of factors, including a student’s academic record, placement test results, and likelihood of appropriate challenge and success in the course. Key to this process is close collaboration between student, dean, and department chairs intended to match a student’s intellectual ambition with a given discipline’s standards for high performance and academic excellence.

Selection for advanced courses is solely at the discretion of the School.

Upper School advanced curriculum

Science Research and Writing is a three-year program for students in Grades 10-12 which engages students in scientific research through self-driven experimentation. Students typically apply for admission to the program in the spring of 9th grade, although some 10th grade students begin the program each year and join members of existing cohorts in shared class meeting time. Students learn to read and use peer-reviewed scientific journal articles–many written at a very advanced level–to inform their research. The course requires each student to write a series of formal papers for submission to local and national competitions, such as the New York City Science and Engineering Fair and the Intel contest, in collaboration with an outside mentor or professional scientist.

Upper School Independent Study

Independent Study options enable students to explore in much greater depth an area of study, discipline, subject, or specific topic not offered in our formal curriculum. Working with a faculty advisor, students undertake research that is completed outside the traditional classroom. Independent Study courses can run the length of a full school year or take place during one semester. In order to enroll in an Independent Study course for credit, the student must collaborate with the selected faculty advisor to construct a syllabus that will gain approval from the School’s academic leadership. At the end of the academic year, Independent Study students will present their learning and research to the wider Poly community in discipline-appropriate formats. Independent study proposals, whether for the fall or spring semester, are due during the first 7-day rotation of the fall semester.

  • Students at the Upper School History Conference

    DEPARTMENTAL ELECTIVES PROGRAM

    Our ever-changing course options match students’ varied intellectual interests and reflect our faculty’s wide-ranging expertise. In every department, students may choose from a menu of courses that, in promoting critical thinking, close reading of challenging texts, interdisciplinary frameworks for analysis, and advanced quantitative skills, prepare them to be life-long learners and active, productive members of a democratic society. 

    Students can choose from a wide spectrum of topics, including: Comparative Anatomy, Art of Design, Futures: A Study of Speculative Fiction, Networks, News, and American Democracy, Queer Histories, Linear Algebra, Discrete Math, and Mythology.

  • Upper School Math class

    ADVANCED COURSEWORK

    Admission to advanced courses is based on a careful process of departmental approval which takes into account a variety of factors, including a student’s academic record, placement test results, and likelihood of appropriate challenge and success in the course. Key to this process is close collaboration between student, dean, and department chairs intended to match a student’s intellectual ambition with a given discipline’s standards for high performance and academic excellence.

    Selection for advanced courses is solely at the discretion of the School.

  • Upper School advanced curriculum

    SCIENCE RESEARCH PROGRAM

    Science Research and Writing is a three-year program for students in Grades 10-12 which engages students in scientific research through self-driven experimentation. Students typically apply for admission to the program in the spring of 9th grade, although some 10th grade students begin the program each year and join members of existing cohorts in shared class meeting time. Students learn to read and use peer-reviewed scientific journal articles–many written at a very advanced level–to inform their research. The course requires each student to write a series of formal papers for submission to local and national competitions, such as the New York City Science and Engineering Fair and the Intel contest, in collaboration with an outside mentor or professional scientist.

  • Upper School Independent Study

    INDEPENDENT STUDY

    Independent Study options enable students to explore in much greater depth an area of study, discipline, subject, or specific topic not offered in our formal curriculum. Working with a faculty advisor, students undertake research that is completed outside the traditional classroom. Independent Study courses can run the length of a full school year or take place during one semester. In order to enroll in an Independent Study course for credit, the student must collaborate with the selected faculty advisor to construct a syllabus that will gain approval from the School’s academic leadership. At the end of the academic year, Independent Study students will present their learning and research to the wider Poly community in discipline-appropriate formats. Independent study proposals, whether for the fall or spring semester, are due during the first 7-day rotation of the fall semester.

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