FAQs

What is the best reason to choose Shady Side?

We believe it’s the people you find here, the SSA family: committed, experienced faculty and staff, who put in long hours as teachers, coaches and advisors; a motivated student body dedicated to learning and discovery; and families who are genuinely interested in learning and ideas. Our students receive the highest quality education in an environment that values individuals and families.

Why three campuses?

Each SSA campus offers an age-appropriate environment designed to meet the specific needs of children in each life stage. We believe the geographical transition that our students make from one campus to the next broadens their learning experience. It also enables students to take on meaningful leadership roles in each division, in grades 5, 8 and 12.

A bit of history: SSA was founded in 1883 in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. As the school grew, SSA purchased farmland in Fox Chapel to build a boarding and day school campus for grades 7–12, which opened in 1922. That campus is our present-day Senior School. In 1958, SSA opened a Middle School in Fox Chapel for grades 6–8, the first of its kind in Western Pennsylvania. Grades K–5 stayed in the East End, eventually moving in 1940 to the current Junior School campus in Point Breeze, where a PK building and program were added in 2007.

What is the Academy’s enrollment?

In 2015-2016, Shady Side Academy enrolled a total of 945 students PK-12: 239 at the Junior School (PK-5); 197 at the Middle School (6-8); and 509 at the Senior School (9-12), including 62 five- or seven-day boarders.

What is your attrition rate?

Attrition (the number of students who leave SSA each year) is very low at Shady Side Academy – about 5% for grades PK-12, which is below the national average. A majority of our students move up to the next grade and the next school. We're dedicated to providing a continuous program where students can build on a foundation, develop a wide range of skills, increasingly make choices, and discover their own areas of strength. From pre-kindergarten through high school, we strive to create excitement and enthusiasm for learning in students and teachers alike. The result is a true community of learners.

How many teachers hold advanced degrees?

The Academy has 121 full- and part-time faculty members, 63 percent of whom hold advanced degrees.

What colleges do SSA graduates attend?

Our extensive college counseling program helps students find the "best fit" school for them. Four college counselors begin working with families in the freshman year and students choose a college counselor in their junior year. In ninth and tenth grades, the counselors hold information sessions for parents and students to learn about the college process. Numerous workshops occur during the junior and senior years to facilitate and aid in the college application process. More than 120 college admissions officers visit Shady Side's campus each fall. 100 percent of SSA graduates attend college. View the list of schools attended by our students.

Is there a dress code?

While there is no uniform required at any level in SSA, there are dress codes at each division that offer a fairly wide variety of options. In general, the higher the grade, the more dress options a student has.

What do you expect of parents?

To the extent that they are able, we hope parents will become involved in their child’s life at school. It is important to attend meetings with your child's advisors and teachers, such as Parents’ Night each fall and parent conferences. Parents are also asked to contribute to the Blue & Gold Fund, as tuition and fees cover only 75% of the cost of sending a child to SSA. Additionally, the school has an active Parents' Association; all parents are welcome and encouraged to participate!

What is the average class size?

In grades PK-8, class sizes range from 15 to 20 students. In grades 9-12, the average class size is 15 students. Overall, the ratio of students to teachers is 8:1.

How much homework do students receive?

Daily homework expectations are different for each school. At the Senior School each class assigns about 40 minutes of homework a day, although study halls help ninth and tenth grade students manage their time. Homework expectations for eleventh and twelfth grade students increase. In the Middle School, homework ranges from one to two hours a night, although the actual time depends on the student’s ability to plan and organize. Homework in the Junior School ranges from 10 minutes in grade 1 to 90 minutes in grade 5.

Do you offer advanced placement or “honors” courses?

The Middle School offers accelerated sections in math. At the Senior School, all courses are honors level or higher, following a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. Advanced Placement courses, where the AP examination is required, are offered in Calculus AB/BC, French 5, Spanish 5, German 5 and Computer Science. Students may elect to take AP exams in all areas, which are offered at the school in May. Overall, in 2014, 81 percent of those students who wrote advanced placement exams earned a score of 3 or higher; 64 percent earned a score of 4 or higher. Learn more about our academic program.

How extensive is your fine arts programming?

In the performing arts, students, faculty and visiting artists create and perform more than 50 concerts, 8 to 10 major theatrical works and innumerable smaller presentations every year. At the Junior School, each student has art and music classes with instrumental music beginning in second grade. At the Middle School, students continue to hone their artistic skills in art and music classes, with the option to join several audition-based musical ensembles plus two major all-school theatre productions. The Senior School promotes the arts as an essential part of a well-rounded education and motivates students to further develop their individual creative abilities. The Hillman Center for Performing Arts provides students with a dedicated facility for both music and theatre classes and performances. The Benedum Visual Arts Center houses studios for painting, ceramics, wood and metal work, and architecture. The facility's Gailliot Gallery regularly holds art shows where students, faculty, alumni and visiting artists exhibit. Learn more about our arts program.

Can you describe your athletic program?

The Junior School has an extensive physical education program. Interscholastic sports begin in sixth grade at the Middle School. At the Senior School we compete in the WPIAL and a wide range of team and individual sports is available, some competitive and some not. No matter what the sport, however, a student can discover that exploring your potential, reaching for your best and learning the value of teamwork are just as important as winning. Learn more about athletics.

How are parents involved in SSA?

Many parents are involved as hands-on volunteers in the library and in classrooms, as homeroom or grade parents, and field trip chaperones and event hosts. We have an active Parents Association, which is open to all, and we ensure new parents are offered a variety of ways to get involved.

What library and research resources are available to students?

We have three libraries: the Junior School library has 12,000 volumes, the Middle School 14,000 volumes; and more than 21,000 volumes are shelved at the Senior School, along with more than 100 magazine subscriptions, 10 newspapers and full text databases. All three libraries subscribe to numerous full-text databases with remote access, so students are able to use these resources and the catalog from home or on campus 24 hours a day. Campus-wide WiFi capability allows students access to the catalogs of area public and university libraries as well. Shady Side is a member of the statewide Inter-Library Loan System, enabling students to borrow books from libraries all across Pennsylvania. Learn more.

What types of support do you have for students?

The Senior School has a dean of students, a dean of studies, a school counselor, and a learning specialist, and each grade also has a form dean. Additionally, our College Counseling Office has four counselors. Each student also has a faculty or staff advisor, and the two meet regularly. The Middle School advisory system assigns one faculty/staff member to each student for daily meetings. Also on staff are a licensed clinical psychologist/school counselor and a learning specialist. At the Junior School, a school counselor and two learning specialists are on staff. Throughout the Academy, faculty members actively participate in the lives of our students, in and out of the classroom.

Can you describe the boarding program?

Students at the Senior School have the option of boarding five or seven days a week. Space allowing, students can also board by term. For students who live outside of Pittsburgh, boarding offers time to concentrate on studies and prepare for the independence of college life by living on campus. One of the goals of the boarding program is to create a good balance between academic endeavors and social activities. We work to create a family environment. Two on-campus residence halls house our boarders, with four faculty members living in each dorm. An additional 14 faculty and staff members live on campus with their families, enjoy their meals in the dining hall with students, and are available for informal counsel and support. Many campus facilities are open in the evenings to boarders. Our ratio of students to adults living on campus is 2:1 in the boarding program. There are a range of weekend activities planned for our seven-day boarders using the many resources in the city of Pittsburgh and the surrounding area.

Where do most of your students live?

Day and boarding students come from a wide variety of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Western Pennsylvania towns: Allison Park, Aspinwall, Altoona, Bethel Park, Butler, Churchill, Cranberry, East Liberty, Edgewood, Export, Fox Chapel, Freeport, Gibsonia, Glenshaw, Greensburg, Lawrenceville, Mars, McMurray, Monroeville, Mt. Lebanon, Murrysville, Natrona Heights, New Castle, New Kensington, New Wilmington, North Side, Oakland, Penn Hills, Point Breeze, Ross, Sewickley, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Uniontown, Upper St. Clair, Wexford. Additionally, students who board come from nine states outside of PA and four countries.

How diverse and inclusive is the community?

We celebrate both our similarities and uniquenesses as individuals. We share with one another the history and significance of religious and cultural holidays and their relevance to our past and present. We strongly adhere to our five Guiding Principles which act as the lens through which we engage with one another every day. Our admissions policies incorporate a long-standing commitment to enrolling a diverse student body from a variety of cultural, religious, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and reflecting many talents and interests. Our gender balance is 56 percent boys and 44 percent girls and students of color make up 27 percent of the student body. Learn more about our commitment to diversity.

Do you offer child care before and/or after school?

The Junior School provides free before care beginning at 7:30 a.m. and an extensive After School Explorers program where children can enjoy enrichment classes, music lessons, study and play time until 6 p.m. Child care programming is also offered through After School Explorers on in-service and conference days.

What transportation options are available?

Bus and van transportation is available daily to all three campuses from Pittsburgh and many suburban neighborhoods. School districts are required by law to offer the same transportation to all students, including those enrolled in private schools, provided the district where the family lives is within 10 miles of the school. Based on the number of students, Shady Side may offer, under private contract, bus/van services to the school. Learn more.

Do you offer financial assistance to families?

SSA grants financial aid to families on the basis of need, subject to availability of funds. We also offer a number of merit scholarships and alumni legacy awards. In total, we gave approximately $3.1 million in assistance in the 2015-2016 year, supporting 19 percent of students in grades PK-12. We work with the School and Student Service for Financial Aid, an organization that has created guidelines to establish need. All financial aid awards are reassessed annually. Tuition payment plans are also available. Learn more.

Are there expenses beyond tuition?

Additional expenses include books (approximately $300-$700 a year at the Middle School and $500-$800 at the Senior School) and lunches (from $4.10 to $4.60 per meal at the Junior School, $6.45 at the Middle School and $7.50 at the Senior School). For students playing ice hockey, there is an annual fee. There are also expenses associated with certain clubs and activities. While not unlimited, Shady Side Academy does have access to certain annual and endowed funds to help families with these extra costs.

How are admissions decisions made?

Five separate steps make up the admissions process for grades 6-12: completing an interview and touring the school; completing the online application; submitting teacher recommendations; taking the admissions test; and providing us with a school transcript.

For PK and K, we evaluate children for their school readiness; for grades 1-5, we require a test appropriate to developmental levels. Teacher recommendations and transcripts, if applicable, are also required.

Each step in this process is important to the admissions committee in determining if SSA is the right match for each child. The committee is made up of administrators, faculty, and at the Senior School, student representatives. We encourage applicants to visit classes for a day and experience first-hand what it means to be an SSA student. In general, admission is highly competitive. Admissions at SSA are need-blind: that is, students are evaluated on the basis of character and performance without regard for a family’s ability to pay full tuition.

What kinds of students do well at Shady Side Academy?

At every grade level we look for motivated students who are excited about learning and exploration, who are willing to take risks and try new things, and whose potential can blossom in an environment of academic challenge and support.

Do you give preference to relatives of past and present students?

We place the most emphasis on each prospective student’s abilities and potential, although we understand the importance parents place on keeping siblings in the same school. We also greatly value the connection we have with alumni. It is most important, though, that Shady Side Academy is the right match for the student.

How does a family begin the process of selecting the right school?

While independent schools are committed to providing a positive and safe educational experience for all of their students, there is no common mold. Each school has developed a distinct program and culture based on its mission and suited to its own community. Finding the right match is an important process and parents should gather as much information as possible. It helps to begin the process the fall before the year your child would enroll.

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