Upper School

Setting goals, making choices and taking responsibility, collaboration, intellectual challenges, and becoming an active member of a broader community

Grades 5–8
Ages 10–14

Early adolescents are in an exciting time of life, filled with incredible leaps in cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. At Peninsula, our program is designed to take advantage of the adolescent need for voice, for autonomy, for questioning, for rationalizing and for social interactions.


"I appreciate being given space to develop in your own way and discover how to be yourself."
—8th grader (age 14)

In the Upper School, children take significantly more responsibility for their own intellectual development. Children learn to set goals, meet deadlines, and evaluate results. Further involvement in meaningful academic experiences, materials, and concepts are focused on building life skills crucial to engaging with and participating in areas of study both in school and beyond. Through a non-graded and noncompetitive program, students focus on self-evaluation and self-improvement, assuming more authorship of their own learning, and gaining the confidence to take academic risks and have an impact on the larger world.

Students exercise more responsibility over community decisions. Overnight camping is an important component of the curriculum. Physical education continues in the upper school where students create their own games and rules. Through the Activities Program, students choose to attend art, science activity, clay, library activity, woodshop, weaving, art, and rock band. “Choice”, general interest classes created and offered by staff, are a highlight of the year.

As in the Primary program, academic pursuits are seen as vehicles for furthering intellectual curiosity and independence, cognitive flexibility, social and cultural fluency, collaborative inquiry, precision of thought and persistence.


A major focus is the writing program⁠⁠, which emphasizes creative expression, creativity, personal voice, and revision, integrates writing mechanics such as sentence structure, grammar and spelling into revisions. Students learn to appreciate and use a variety of writing styles. Formal essays and reports, assigned in each class, provide opportunities to incorporate all the elements of expression, mechanics, and style into a work of individual significance.

At Peninsula, we facilitate a love of reading by encouraging individual passions. Children’s curiosity for knowledge and exploration fuels the subsequent cognitive skills of character and literary analysis as well as personal reflection. Skills such as inquiry based research, assessing bias, evaluating sources, and media-literacy are also taught.

Geography, world history, cultural awareness, current events, social justice and their connections to other areas of the humanities allow students to integrate their knowledge and make tactile connections to the complex history and issues of our world.  Every class focuses on one or more areas of the world or specific time periods during the year. Students learn essential skills — research, analysis of sources, comparing, critical reading — necessary for success after Peninsula. But more than that, they learn how to engage with history and understand it, that questioning is essential in the quest of truth and is the foundation of the democratic process.

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Peninsula’s Upper School math program is based on research that has shown that collaborative learning, critical thinking, analysis, and communicating about thinking processes result in excellence in student performance in high-level math.

Skills developed throughout the earlier grades are combined with more advanced creative analysis and sequential thinking in the Upper School math courses, fostering the reasoning skills necessary for success in higher level mathematics. Students are brought from a concrete level of understanding to more abstract forms in math at a pace that works for them. Studies of algebraic concepts become increasingly sophisticated, taking advantage of the growing abstract thinking skills of early adolescents.

While the importance of precise calculations in order to obtain an accurate answer remains a goal, students are engaged in a real-world process of divining solutions to mathematical problems, emphasizing the value of process over product. Hands-on activities and work done individually and collaboratively deepen and enrich student understanding and application.

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The science curriculum engages the students in the fundamentals of biology, geology, ecology and chemistry through experiments, in-depth research, project-based learning, and field trips. These interdisciplinary lessons are taught at each level either in weekly classes or in two-week units. Students may further their love and understanding of science by accessing the science lab during the afternoon activity period.

Beginning in the fifth grade, a Choice Program is offered five times a year. Choice units are 2-3 week sessions during which children spend an hour a day focusing on a special study topic they have chosen. Choice classes are an opportunity for teachers to develop, along with the students, an area of specific interest in an intensive and focused way. Also, because children enroll in Choice classes based on interest rather than on age, the resulting mix enables them to experience learning outside their own classrooms and in a variety of situations and groups. Choice topics are wide ranging and may focus on history, writing, sciences, handcrafts, or any of the arts.

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Technology is integrated into the curriculum to deepen understanding through writing and organizing ideas for presentation to the class. Published hard copy sources supplement internet sources for research. Students are taught to selectively browse online sources, collect key information, and credit their sources.

Students become more invested in the capacity of the democratic process through class meetings.  Class meetings are critical to the functioning of each class and to the development of each child. Meetings are student-centered and guided by the teacher. Meetings may appear simple but are essential for children to engage in and practice social democracy, to find their voice, to learn how to resolve conflicts, and to experience viscerally the balance of individuality, diversity and community. It is here, while sharing, discussing a disagreement on the playing field, choosing and planning a camping trip, producing a play, or sponsoring a carnival, that children learn to be ethical leaders and compassionate citizens.


In the Upper School students learn to plan their time, to set deadlines, and to meet responsibilities and commitments. Work-jobs, which occur at the end of each day, include straightening and keeping clean the students’ own classrooms, as well as help in other parts of the school.

All Upper School students go camping in the fall and in the spring. Starting in the fifth grade, children take responsibility for planning meals, organizing cooking groups, and deciding upon activities for their camping trips.

Graduation marks the end of students' time at Peninsula and the beginning of a new learning experience. Peninsula graduates attend the excellent public and private high schools in the area. Local high school teachers describe Peninsula graduates as creative, independent, and motivated.