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New Upper School Curriculum Guide Champions Rigor, Independent Problem-Solving
Curriculum Guide Design by Victoria Price | Story by Dylan Howlett 

The 2024–2025 Durham Academy Upper School Curriculum Guide features several firsts. There’s a fresh catalog-style design showcasing a plethora of new courses marking the full debut of the Upper School’s Advanced curriculum — comprising 52 intellectually rigorous, internally designed courses. It also represents an emphatic commitment to what DA does best: delivering top-flight, real-world instruction to curious and enthusiastic students.

“It’s more about continuity than abrupt change,” said Dr. Rob Policelli, the Upper School dean of curriculum. “This is all about playing to the strengths we’ve already had in terms of our students and teachers.”

Those strengths are manifest across the more than 140 course offerings for the 2024–2025 academic year. A premium on foundations and explorations in grades 9 and 10 allows students to dive deeper into their interests by the time they reach grades 11 and 12 — all with an eye toward preparedness for moral, happy and productive lives. “What you’ll see when you flip through this curriculum guide,” Policelli said, “are the skills that are going to serve students well in college and in life, not just on a standardized test.”

The full curriculum guide — available below in its entirety — is distinctly DA. Read on for three reasons why.



Moving Beyond APs with Advanced Curriculum

DA’s Advanced (ADV) curriculum fully debuts in the 2024–2025 school year with a host of in-depth and intellectually rigorous courses, several of which were piloted in 2023–2024. The move away from APs — and an embrace of enduring, long-lasting learning — will position ADV courses as the culmination, and continuation, of a curriculum suffused with rigor and depth. The ADV courses also serve as a reservoir for curiosities — ranging from Data Science and Medieval Literatures to Medicine and Malady — that prioritizes student interest over prescribed curricula.  

“We’re more about helping students to figure out what they’re interested in and then giving them the time and space to pursue those interests in deep, meaningful, impressive ways,” Policelli said.

Cultivating Real-World Skills

The Upper School curriculum serves as an incubator of soft skills that will sustain students in college and beyond — all without sacrificing rigor. Take, for instance, Developing Effective Leadership, which debuted this January with seven students who share a desire to occupy leadership roles. Tyrone Gould, an Upper School dean and math teacher, devised the course to provide intentional, deliberate leadership training for Upper Schoolers. “Part of it is identifying what’s important to them,” Gould said. “What are their values? What are their strengths as a leader? And how can they utilize those to make them a part of their leadership toolbox?” The class features a guest speaker series — including athletic directors, doctors and former Navy SEALs — and ultimately tasks students with crafting their preferred model of leadership. 

It is just one of countless Upper School courses that prepare students for success beyond DA. “I think colleges want students who are ready to make an impact in their communities, and students who have genuine intellectual curiosity,” said Jazmin Garcia-Smith, senior dean of college counseling. “Our curriculum is going to help students do exactly that.”

Promoting And Celebrating Independent Learning

Offerings both familiar and new will satiate intellectual curiosity as students pursue their preferred academic path. The Independent Study program, a fixture at the Upper School, provides support for student exploration when a student wishes to explore a topic beyond the scope of the DA curriculum. 

The new Pathway Scholars program empowers students to choose, design and implement a community-based research project through a sequence of two Advanced courses, culminating in a symposium in which scholars demonstrate their learning to the broader community. “This is DA prioritizing outward-facing, community-based work,” said Kelly Teagarden, the Upper School community engagement coordinator. 

And in the new Advanced Thesis course, students will internalize the particulars of producing and defending a scholarly academic paper to prepare for the demands of undergraduate and graduate programs. 

“We now have an expanded definition of academic rigor,” Policelli said. “It’s not just memorization and mastering too much information. It’s also doing this independent problem-solving that’s much closer to the skills someone will hire you for. And we have different ways you can do that.”