Not “sitting-down”

As one of our students put it, we don’t do “sitting-down, raise-your-hand” learning. 

Rather than simply diffusing information, our teachers give students the tools to form and express their own ideas, turning them into voracious learners. And that’s not the only way we’re unconventional.

A common thread of playfulness and joy runs through each and every classroom. English classes don’t just read Macbeth, they hold a spirited grade-wide contest for best enactment of a scene. Teachers test grammar knowledge game show-style. And physics students covet the Einstein Awards, where they’re given the chance to use their knowledge of theory to explain how the universe works.

A look inside
a science classroom


Testing to see if temperature affects neuron transmission is just one of many projects underway in Deb Tavares’ classroom. Beside the class goldfish (affectionately named “Dorito Jaws”) is a set-up that converts algae to biofuel. Students come during their free time to help pot plant cuttings to beautify the school. One corner holds the makings of a bioreactor run by oil-eating bacteria, while in another sits the MakerBot3D printer, used to make everything from game pieces to cell models.

NA students may take individual classes in the International Baccalaureate program or choose to pursue an IB diploma. Both paths can lead to college credit. While NA also offers AP classes, which are focused on content mastery, IB classes challenge students to think for themselves and dig deep for the implications of knowledge. In IB Economics, for example, students have investigated the issue of “food deserts” in New Jersey, developed solutions, and presented their work to the entire school community.

“If we show that we believe in them, that we think they can handle Plato’s Republic, they never stop to think they can’t. They assume that they can.” 

–Dr. Rich DiBianca, Upper School principal

Common Classes

“What do we have for Co?” is a frequent question from excited Middle School students. Each grade meets for a one-hour Common Class, planned by different teachers each week. It could be a roller coaster-building competition, a debate on a current issue, or a murder mystery involving Tom Ashburn, Middle School principal.

The magic of Middle School

Middle School faculty look for intellectual growth in their students rather than academic achievement—meaning they’re more interested in building essential skills than in letter grades. Because they know each student personally, teachers can adjust the level of challenge so that students are neither bored nor anxious, but confident and engaged.

About two-thirds of our students are taking high school math by the eighth grade and several are in Trigonometry or Calculus. Most eighth graders are ready for honors foreign language study thanks to an intensive program that begins in sixth grade.

Upper School students take charge

Classes at the Upper School are seminar-style and flexible. You might find students gathered at the board working on an equation or writing in Mandarin. You’ll see them collaborating on an essay with Google Docs. In a history class you might hear a vibrant discussion of ancient Middle Eastern history, ISIS, and last night’s episode of “The Daily Show.”

Browse our Middle and Upper School curricula.

June Term in the Upper School

June Term, created to keep students exited about learning after IB and AP testing dates, takes place during the last two and a half weeks of the school year, when students immerse themselves in interdisciplinary classes involving field trips, guest speakers, and collaborative projects. A course called Food and American Identity, for example, includes a day of baking bread from three different cultures, a trip to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and a visit to an organic farm. Other options: Mathematics of Baseball, Ceramic Raku Firing, STEMtastic, The American Family in Sitcoms, and many more.

Capstone in the Middle School

Instead of final exams, Middle School students end the year with a Capstone experience, which includes three nights away in Massachusetts (6), Boston (7) or Washington, D.C. (8). Eighth graders also complete a Capstone Conference in which they present their portfolios to their parents and advisors and reflect on their progress in different skill areas.