Signature Programs

Shady Side Academy offers an exceptional and balanced educational experience, so it’s often hard to pinpoint just one or two things that we do best. Here are a few of the unique and distinctive programs that we think set us apart from other schools.

Writing & Public Speaking

The ability to communicate effectively is not only an essential life skill, it is fundamental to success in college, career and life. At Shady Side, written and oral communication skills are intentionally woven into our curriculum beginning in the youngest grades, and students build exceptional writing and speaking skills over 14 years.

At the Junior School, every child becomes a published author as they cycle through our Writing Workshop program, learning to collect ideas in a writer’s notebook and to draft, revise and edit stories just like real writers do. Starting in PK, students take turns making announcements at assembly, growing confidence and speaking skills in a safe, supportive environment. In the Middle School, students learn to express their ideas and develop their voices through formal essays, creative writing assignments and presentations, while honing grammar, vocabulary and research skills. Faculty offer extra support in our Writing Laboratory during study halls and conference periods. At the Senior School, students are writing across the curriculum in nearly every discipline. From writing poetry in English to crafting a history research paper to writing lab reports and presenting research in science, students learn to think critically, reason ethically and listen carefully, and to speak, write and read with clarity and precision.

The result? Our graduates distinguish themselves in the college search as critical thinkers who can write analytically and articulate their point of view confidently. In fact, our graduates tell us they feel far more prepared to write at the college level than their peers in college.

Junior School Writing Workshop

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Math & Problem Solving

Shady Side offers a unique PK-12 math curriculum that develops a deep mastery of mathematical concepts and builds strong problem-solving skills. Our students don’t just memorize operations and formulas, they learn how and why math works in the real world.

It begins in kindergarten with our innovative Math in Focus: Singapore Math curriculum, which uses a concrete-to-pictorial-to-abstract learning progression anchored in hands-on experiences. Teachers use manipulatives and bar models to demonstrate the concepts being taught and build problem-solving attitude and understanding. Singapore Math continues through pre-algebra in the Middle School, perfectly preparing students for algebra, geometry and the problem-based math courses at the Senior School.

Based on coursework developed at Phillips Exeter Academy, the Senior School math curriculum replaces the traditional textbook- and teacher-centered approach with a student-centered, discussion-based teaching methodology that encourages students to develop creative problem-solving strategies rather than formulaic answers. This prepares students to succeed in upper-level courses in trigonometry and calculus. Students with exceptional math skills have the opportunity to pursue an accelerated track of coursework, including six advanced electives beyond calculus.

Senior School Math

Senior School Math

Athletics & Physical Activity

Many schools talk about the "three As" of academics, arts and athletics, but often athletics is an after-school option in which only some students take part. At Shady Side, all three As, including athletics, are a required part of our curriculum, because we believe that each brings an important dimension to the educational journey.

Participation in athletics builds important character traits and life skills such as teamwork, self-discipline, perseverance and sportsmanship. It’s not about winning – although we’re proud of the many championships our teams have won – it’s about learning to work as a team toward a common goal. It’s also about living a healthy lifestyle. We know that active kids are healthier kids – and that physical activity improves focus and academic performance.

Our Junior School students have regular PE classes, and daily recess, and keep the blood pumping to their brains through morning Walk & Talk sessions and regular “Brain Boost” dance breaks. Middle School students have both PE and health classes and participate in at least one athletic activity per year, while Senior School students participate in the athletics program and have a variety of PE options, including fitness and working on the school farm.

Visit the Athletics section to learn more.

SSA Athletics

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SSA Farm

Sustainability education and outdoor learning come alive at Shady Side through our unique SSA Farm program. The farm includes garden plots at all three SSA campuses that are planted, tended and harvested in part by students. Together, the gardens yield 500 pounds of fresh produce per year, which is sold at our Farmers Market and used in our dining halls – literally bringing the farm-to-table concept right to our students’ lunch trays.

The farm is integrated into the curriculum at every division across disciplines, from science to math to art. Whether it’s Junior School students practicing addition by counting eggs collected from the chickens, or Middle Schoolers using fresh beets to make borscht for a social studies lesson, or Senior School science students doing soil analysis, the farm brings hands-on learning to life. Senior School students also have the opportunity to gain leadership and management experience by serving as a farm intern or a student manager of the Farmers Market in the summer.

Visit the SSA Farm page to learn more.

SSA Farm

SSA Farm


Science has never been more exciting at Shady Side. Beginning in the youngest grades, our students become research scientists and explore the world around them through a mixture of classroom, laboratory and field experiences.

Junior School science classes engage children’s natural curiosity about the world and encourage experimentation in a safe and nurturing environment. Middle School students explore earth, life and physical science while developing scientific communication and inquiry skills, and eighth graders taking geometry have the option to take high school-level physics. (Beginning in 2017-2018, eighth graders will take an environmental science class while still having the physics option.) Senior School students are challenged to work in collaborative teams to design their own experiments and present their findings in class. Students also have the opportunity to pursue their individual interests further through six advanced electives or independent studies with PhD researchers in university labs.

Middle and Senior School students have the opportunity to get even more hands-on with science as members of our highly successful Science Olympiad teams. Our Middle School team holds five state titles.

Because our high-caliber science programs deserve facilities to match, we’ve committed to creating state of-the-art learning spaces at all three divisions. In the past three years we’ve renovated and expanded all of our science labs at the Junior and Middle Schools, and construction of a new Center for Science and Innovation at the Senior School is planned for 2017.

Middle School Science Olympiad

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Senior School Science

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Service Learning

Instilling the lifelong value of service has long been a hallmark of a Shady Side Academy education. We foster an Academy-wide culture of service by engaging students at all grade levels in meaningful, ongoing service learning projects that reach beyond our campus gates. Students learn the importance of giving back to the community by offering their time, talents and treasure in a variety of ways.

Our SSA MLK Day of Service is an annual tradition in which hundreds of PK-12 students, parents and faculty spend a day off serving others in the Pittsburgh community. Junior School students participate in annual grade-level service projects as well as school-wide efforts, while Middle Schoolers devote an entire day to service learning on Global Action Conference Day, and extend that learning with related service projects throughout the year. Service opportunities abound at the Senior School, from tutoring and mentoring programs, to volunteering at soup kitchens and food banks, to completing summer service projects around the world through our unique Parkin Fellowship program.

Visit the Service page to learn more.

MLK Day of Service 2016

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