Upper Grades Curriculum

The upper grades program curriculum offers the culmination of the many unique features of an Avenues education. The World Course, the Avenues Mastery program, service-learning and the utilization of the incredible resources of New York City and our neighborhood come to full fruition. It is in the upper grades that the ambitious goals defined in our mission statement are most fully realized.

The curriculum in the upper grades continues and extends a focus on interdisciplinary, project-based learning that enables students to learn essential content through the exploration of a theme or problem as viewed through a multidisciplinary lens. In grades nine and 10, teachers in science, English, history, World and the arts work together to design exciting projects. In grades 11 and 12, students engage in deeper disciplinary study through a rich elective program. Health and wellness are an important additional component, as all students participate in regular physical education, whether on competitive sports teams or in health and wellness programs, both in the Avenues gym and at Chelsea Piers—only three blocks away.


Students in the science program at Avenues are asked to investigate curiosities, understand natural laws and communicate ideas through the lens of scientific practice. Science classes in the upper grades focus on helping students develop the ability to think and behave like scientists and engineers through a deliberate approach to these practices. By engaging in authentic investigations and design projects, students develop a deep understanding of big ideas, including the properties, structure and behavior of matter, energy transfer and resources, biodiversity of ecosystems, and system dynamics that are applied throughout all fields of scientific and engineering work.

A three-year sequence of integrated science is designed to foster students through a rich series of projects and experiments that emphasize core ideas in physics, biology, chemistry, earth and space science and engineering design. The primary means of investigation in the classroom is through laboratory exploration, group discussion and readings. The courses focus on learning the practices and core ideas of science through meaningful connections to the real world in thematic, project-based units that explore the myriad phenomena of the world around us.

In addition to the core sequence, students in grades 11 and 12 have the option of taking advanced courses in biology, chemistry and physics in addition to a variety of topical electives and scientific research.


The math sequence is based on the integrated problem-based mathematics curriculum developed by Phillips Exeter Academy and made available for use by other schools. The curriculum advances numeracy skills through sustained, deep engagement with mathematical concepts and operations. All Avenues students enroll in Integrated Math 1,2 and 3, which employ the Exeter curriculum. At the conclusion of Integrated Math 3, students have developed high levels of fluency in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, advanced algebra and pre-calculus; those capable of advanced work have solved problems covering foundational principles in calculus. Based on the sophistication of their problem solving and the depth at which they demonstrate mastery of mathematical topics, students are recommended by faculty at completion of Integrated Math 3 to enter Calculus AB or Calculus BC. Students may also choose statistics as an elective in 11th or 12th grade.


The arts curriculum in the upper grades follows a sequence of introductory workshops in grades nine and ten that introduce students to the fundamentals of visual and digital arts; design and fabrication; interactive media; music theory and practice; musical theater; and drama. Following the foundation workshops, students in grades 11–12 have a variety of elective courses from which to choose, building skills while pursuing particular interests in a more focused way. In addition, Avenues benefits from its location in the Chelsea arts district to hold classes in local galleries. Students work closely with gallery directors and artists to take advantage of experiential-learning opportunities in art curation and installation. Additionally, artists, musicians and performers regularly visit our studios and classroom through our Artist in Residence program.

The iLab is a collaborative workspace where students learn the formal design process used by professional design studios around the world. Using traditional and emerging tools, such as 3D printers and laser cutters, students are tasked with discovering a real problem, then designing, executing and evaluating solutions.

Avenues also hosts an annual Design Challenge event during which students work alongside professionals to solve design challenges for local social impact companies and NGOs. A majority of upper grades program students have participated in design challenges, either as team members or as student “leads” who work closely with professionals at partner companies to organize the challenge activity, which culminates with public-facing presentations of the prototypes developed for each company. These real-world scenarios allow students to apply design thinking principles and generate collaborative solutions.


In the upper grades program, particularly in the WORLD area, much of the instruction occurs through discussion-based learning, where there are few lectures. Instead, students learn to listen to their peers and to the teacher, to be respectful of different ideas, to question old ideas and accept new ones. In addition, upper grades program students continue to work in small groups, as they have in earlier grades, but undertake more independent study.

All courses are taught through integrated frameworks that encourage students to draw connections across the curriculum and identify common global themes. Students complete a three-year global humanities sequence through which they explore with increasing complexity the history, literature and cultures of the world. Students develop skills in close reading, narrative writing, scholarly discussion and, most importantly, generating questions that allow them to reflect with empathy on the lives of others. In all humanities courses, students produce an extensive portfolio of narrative and analytical essays. Seniors conclude their humanities study by enrolling in senior-level English electives. Similarly, all seniors enroll in senior seminars—yearlong, interdisciplinary capstone courses taught by instructors from multiple disciplines.

Intensive study in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese continues throughout all four years. Through the Global Journeys program, students also have the opportunity to spend time during the summer in China or a Spanish-speaking country.

The standard curriculum includes:

  1. English
  2. Chinese or Spanish, continuing the language begun earlier
  3. Integrated science/biology/advanced courses in physics, chemistry and biology/science electives
  4. Math
  5. World Course
  6. History
  7. Art electives, including both visual and performing arts
  8. Physical education/health and wellness

Competitive athletics occur at the Avenues gymnasium and at Chelsea Piers.

Some students take classes that prepare them for the Advanced Placement (AP) exams given in the spring each year. All students are prepared to take SAT Subject Tests to submit with their college applications.

A chart of the upper grades program curriculum is available here.

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