Old Orchard Upper School's students are growing and changing fast. Upper School students become young adults who are independent, confident, and prepared to transition to high school. Students are able to take risks, try new things, and make mistakes because of the support that they receive from teachers and staff. They learn to self-advocate and become leaders on our campus. Building on what they have learned at the Lower School, students learn how to be good students: how to stay organized, ask thoughtful questions, and be prepared for the challenges and excitement that each day brings. Due to our small class sizes, students develop personal connections with their teachers and other middle school staff. They are able to take on social and academic challenges because they are in a supportive, encouraging environment.
Middle School students have two periods of Language Arts daily, encompassing literature, composition, vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, and presentation. Students learn how to read with insight, drawing inferences from the text and looking for clues that indicate where a story is heading. In reading, they examine narrative structure, different writing styles, character and plot development, as well as how the author’s voice influences the reader’s reaction to the text. As they progress, students work with different forms of writing — creative, narrative, persuasive, and expository — and explore the expressive possibilities of each. They also work to develop their own writing voice and style, and to learn to self-edit their work and constructively critique the work of peers. Students engage in a variety of “hands on” projects to reinforce their understanding of literature and publish their writing.
Students begin in sixth grade with a comprehensive review of basic math concepts, build their skills in pre-algebra in seventh grade, and finish eighth grade with algebra and introductory geometry. Students with exceptional mathematical talent may follow a course of independent study, working one-on-one with an instructor. The core mathematics curriculum for Grades 6-8 is the McDougal Littell series. Teachers enhance instruction with supplemental materials, including lessons on the history of mathematics, activities involving pie to celebrate π (Pi) Day, and applying trigonometry outside the classroom-- finding the height of a building, for example!
Science at the Upper School is hands on: labs are a regular part of class in all grades. Students explore and discover elements of earth, life, and physical sciences. In their first year at the Upper School, students study earth and environmental sciences, beginning with an introduction to scientific methods and moving on to study the earth, its atmosphere, oceans, weather and the solar system. Seventh graders study life science, beginning with cells, photosynthesis, and respiration and moving on to the different kingdoms of life and human biology and anatomy. Finally, eighth grade students study physical sciences, including matter, the periodic table, energy, force and motion, electricity and light. All grades participate in the annual school science fair. The great majority of students opt to work on more demanding projects eligible for entry in the Santa Clara County-Synopsis Science Fair and state-level science fairs and competitions. Old Orchard students have won numerous prizes at the county and state levels.
All grades attend science camp during the year. Grades 6 and 7 attend NatureBridge in the Marin Headlands, while Eighth Grade travels to Crow Canyon Archeological Center in Colorado, where they spend a week learning about and working on live archaeological digs and experience the connections between science and history.
In all grades, students are trained to think critically as historians. They consider the source of historical “facts,” from artifacts to primary documents, and the methods historians use to reconstruct, document and interpret the past. Sixth Grade begins with human evolution and moves forward in time to Ancient Rome. The program is reinforced by students’ study of mythology in Language Arts in Sixth Grade. Seventh Grade continues the progression with World History, including the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Eighth Grade concentrates on American History, beginning with the study of pre-Columbian Indigenous peoples. In every grade, students write a research paper progressing from a personal inquiry on a subject of interest, to a formal foot-noted paper of high school caliber. Teachers routinely look for and make connections to current events allowing students to see history as a “living” discipline.
Old Orchard embraces foreign language instruction and teaches Spanish daily. Spanish is taught almost exclusively in the Spanish language by native speakers and others with proven fluency in the language. The program stresses language acquisition through conversation, study of the language’s structure and grammar, and study of Spanish-speaking cultures. Every opportunity is made to bring the language to life for students, with cultural activities, class feasts and field trips. Upper School students use a core text, but teachers routinely introduce a wide variety of hands-on activities, projects and outside reading materials to reinforce the students’ more formal study of the language. Graduating Eighth Graders routinely test into Spanish 2 or 3 honors when entering high school programs. For more information about our Spanish program, please click here.
At the Upper School, students are offered a number of enrichment classes covering Visual, Performing, and Digital Arts, as well as Technology, Creative Writing, and Yearbook. Students are able to choose the classes they would like to take each year based on their own interests, although they are encouraged to try new things each year. Recent class offerings include: Sketching and Plein Air Painting, Children's Book Illustrating, Improv, Playwriting, EV3 Robotics, 3d Modeling and Printing, and Writer's Workshop. Classes are updated frequently based on student interest and developing technology. For more information, see the pages on Arts and Enrichment.
Time to move and exercise is a vital part of students' development, which is why all grades have a daily P.E. class. The program is a mix of core athletic skills and overall fitness and individual and team sports. Emphasis is placed on the student’s attitude and effort, and overall sportsmanship. In addition to P.E., all students have the opportunity to participate in our after school athletic program. The Old Orchard Yellow Jackets compete in an after-school league comprised of other, medium size private schools. Students play volleyball or cross country in the fall, basketball in the winter and track and field in the spring. For more information, see the page on Athletics.
At the end of each school day, students have a study hall. This give students time to get a head start on their homework and meet with teachers as necessary for extra support or enrichment. At the beginning of sixth grade, students use some of their Study Hall time to work on study skills to smooth their transition to the middle school and ensure preparation and success in class.
All grades participate in a Guidance Group program which teaches students goal setting, stress management techniques, self-advocacy, and inter-personal and community building skills. Students are encouraged to think about how they wish to be treated by their peers, how they should behave towards their peers, and what they can do to bring about positive outcomes. The program employs a variety of classroom-based activities and discussions. Students meet weekly in small groups with one teacher over the course of the year.
Students in all Upper School grades may run for Upper School Student Council. Elections are held twice a year, in late September and late January. The Upper School Student Council puts on dances, holds bi-annual Spirit Weeks to foster school spirit, and contributes to national and local charitable causes through a variety of events including penny drives, food and clothing drives, and a Walkathon in the Spring. The Student Council also plans a number of other fun events for the student body.
In addition to opportunities with Student Council, our Upper School students engage in a variety of community service projects during the school year, including food drives, fundraisers for various charities, and beach or trail clean-ups. The school encourages students to select projects and causes that are of special interest to them.
Community Service teaches Old Orchard students to be mindful of the needs of people they may never meet and of their responsibilities as citizens in the wider world. The school also places great emphasis on how its students relate to each other and to their school community. The Upper School staff works in formal and informal ways to help students navigate the sometimes rough waters of middle school in a positive way. Through Guidance Groups and in-class discussions, students explore these issues in thoughtful, fun and creative ways before they find themselves in a challenging situation.
When they finish at the Upper School, the majority of Old Orchard students choose to go on to private college preparatory high schools. As part of their eighth grade year, students participate in a high school advisory program that helps them (and their parents) stay on top of the application process. Old Orchard graduates attend schools around the Bay Area, including Bellarmine College Prep, Archbishop Mitty, Notre Dame, Presentation, St. Francis, Harker, Woodside Priory, Pinewood, Oakwood, Castilleja, Santa Catalina, Kirby School, Mid-Peninsula, and Valley Christian.