Enrichment & Support

Knowing that each child learns differently, Shady Side Academy works to provide a challenging and supportive learning environment for every student. Our faculty has an understanding of students’ diverse needs, and the individual attention our teachers provide is a hallmark of the Academy. Our academic enrichment and learning support programs ensure that each student is challenged in areas where they excel and supported in areas where they need assistance.

Academic Enrichment

Our rigorous curriculum offers challenging academics at every level, while small classes enable teachers to know each student as an individual learner and provide personalized attention. A breadth of extracurricular opportunities allows students to stretch their minds and enrich their learning beyond the classroom.

Country Day School

Recognizing that every child’s journey is unique, Country Day School offers many opportunities for academic enrichment. Teachers use numerous formal and informal assessments to identify when a student may need enrichment. This data informs the teacher’s instructional decisions to ensure all students are being challenged.

Individualization and rigor are cornerstones of the reading, writing and math curricula. For example, in reading, students may read a book that is on their individual reading level in addition to being exposed to texts above their current level to further their progress. In math, students may be given enrichment problems that expand upon the current lesson. In writing, teachers use one-on-one conferencing to help each student develop his or her specific skill set.

For students needing enrichment beyond the curricula, the head of school, classroom teacher and learning specialist will craft a plan to address a student’s individual needs. A variety of options may be considered, such as utilizing additional resources, participating in an independent study or working with the learning specialist.

Junior School

The Junior School seeks to challenge all students, mainly by differentiating the curriculum to meet the needs of every learner. Extraordinary teachers work tirelessly to provide the appropriate amount challenge for each and every child.

Teachers assess students in a variety of ways to determine their skill level in various subjects and then, thanks to our small class sizes, tailor instruction accordingly. For example, in language arts, students within the same class are assigned to different reading and spelling groups based on skill level. These groups are assigned different books to read or spelling words to learn, ensuring all children are appropriately challenged. Assessments are ongoing, and children may move from group to group during the year as their skills grow. In math, students needing extra challenge may be given more advanced problems to puzzle over with a partner to take their learning further.

Our philosophy is to ask students to go deeper and deeper into their understanding rather than continually pushing children to go higher and higher. The teachers at the Junior School get to know each child as an individual and find out how we can engage them and allow them to excel.

Middle School

At the Middle School, we are firm believers that skills and content should not be rushed as children are undergoing enormous internal and external growth. Depth of understanding is most important, not mere speed through a curriculum.

Much of the academic enrichment comes from our skilled faculty, who meet children where they are and take them forward. Students read different independent reading books designed to challenge them outside of the core curriculum. An advanced math track is offered, consisting of pre-algebra in grade 6, algebra in grade 7 and geometry in grade 8. We use standardized test scores to determine sixth grade placement, then re-evaluate in seventh grade, moving children to the advanced track when appropriate. Students taking geometry in eighth grade also have the option to take high school physics. At times, a student enters middle school with an academic record that requires us to go beyond our regular course offerings; when possible, we will offer a faculty-guided independent study for that child.

Extracurricular clubs and activities offer additional enrichment. Our Science Olympiad team often goes to nationals, Rocketry and Robotics teams compete locally and regionally, and a student literary magazine attracts budding writers, poets, photographers and artists. We also offer a Math Olympiad team, Philosophy Club and more than 15 student-driven committees.

Senior School

Within our rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum, advanced courses are offered in all subject areas, allowing Senior School students to pursue their interests at the most challenging levels. Small classes enable teachers to know students as individual learners and motivate them to push themselves to reach their full potential.

Students wishing to go beyond course offerings can design an independent study to explore an academic interest in greater depth. The senior project program offers the opportunity to pursue a serious learning experience outside of the classroom during the final three weeks of senior year. A number of global and off-campus programs allow students to broaden their horizons through international exchange programs, specialized semester programs, and summer service and environmental fellowships. A Summer Science Research Seminar course prepares and places advanced science students in university labs for summer research internships.

Students also engage in intellectual pursuits through a variety of academic clubs and teams. Our robust Science Olympiad, Robotics, and Speech and Debate teams compete at the state, national and international level. Each year students complete projects for the PJAS and PRSEF science fairs and participate in Quiz Bowl, Model UN and Academic WorldQuest competitions. Students also have the opportunity to participate in national conferences such as the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, and theater students have the opportunity to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland every other summer.

Learning Support

Learning specialists are located on each of our campuses, reflecting a commitment to supporting our students, especially those with learning differences. This ensures that a developmentally appropriate continuum of support services is provided to students as they advance through the Academy. Our learning support program consists of three main components: collaboration, implementation of educational accommodations, and academic support.

Learning Support at SSA


Collaboration is a vital part of supporting our students’ development as learners. As our teachers work closely with students, they are integral in identifying when additional support is needed. The learning specialist serves as a liaison among families, students, teachers, administrators and outside professionals. Partnering with families allows for ongoing communication regarding the evaluation process, student progress, and support provided at school and at home. As students advance through the Academy, their partnership with the learning specialist becomes an integral part of their educational experience.

Collaboration among the learning specialist, teachers, administrators and outside professionals encourages a shared expertise to develop strategies that best meet the needs of each student. At the Academy, a culture of learning is strengthened through ongoing professional development that addresses the implementation of best practices in our classrooms. Additionally, the learning specialist is a resource for the faculty and administration to share current research based information on learning differences.

Implementation of Educational Accommodations

Students with diagnosed learning differences are required to meet the expectations of our rigorous curriculum. In order for students to receive academic accommodations, a formal diagnosis as part of a psychological, psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation completed by a licensed psychologist or neuropsychologist is required. This completed report must be submitted to the learning specialist and can be kept confidential. In order to continue receiving accommodations, students must be re-evaluated every three years. While all recommendations from outside evaluators are considered, each division’s administration and learning specialist will determine which accommodations will be provided on that particular campus. Based upon these determinations, the learning specialist will write an accommodation plan. Shady Side Academy, as an independent school, is not required to modify curriculum, provide dedicated 1:1 personnel for in class instruction, or follow all recommendations in 504 service plans or current Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

The following academic accommodations may be provided at Shady Side Academy depending on the division and the needs of the child:

  • Extended time on standardized and classroom exams will be given based upon the recommendation of the qualified evaluator, with 50% as the standard. The learning specialist and administrators at a student’s division will determine the possible implementation of the recommendation of more than 50% extended time.
  • Testing in alternative spaces may be made available.
  • Additional testing methods, such as enlarged print, oral testing or testing with additional breaks, may be provided.
  • In the classroom, students may use pre-approved assistive technology devices with the permission of administration and individual faculty.
  • If the structure of the class permits, advance notes may be given. This will be determined through discussion between the subject teacher and learning specialist.
  • Preferential seating, brief breaks and allowances for appropriate movement in the classroom may be provided when recommended.
  • In specific situations, temporary reduction of classroom assignments may be allowed following approval from the school counselor, learning specialist, school nurse and administration.
  • World language exemptions are rarely granted and are determined on a case-by-case basis as approved by the head of school in consultation with the learning specialist and head of the language department. Language exemptions are reassessed and reapproved at each division.

Academic Support

As students engage with Shady Side’s comprehensive and rigorous curriculum, learning specialists are on each campus for students who need additional support. While the learning specialist can support all students, precedence is given to students with diagnosed learning differences. The support provided to the students aligns with their development as they progress through each division as described below.

The Junior and Country Day Schools
The learning specialists and teachers collaborate to support the development of students with and without identified learning differences. As the students advance through the Junior School and Country Day School, the learning specialists’ primary focus is on the academic areas of reading, writing and math. Students are supported in the classroom, in a small group or in a one-on-one setting. Systematic interventions that incorporate multi-sensory strategies help students progress toward their learning goals. In partnership with the classroom teachers, the learning specialists also provide strategies to improve students’ organization, self-monitoring and self-advocacy skills, which are critical to their development as learners. For a student with a diagnosed learning difference, an accommodation plan is created by the learning specialist to identify the strategies and conditions needed to help foster the student’s success.

At the Junior School and Country Day School, the academic and learning skills cultivated help prepare our youngest students with the foundation necessary for their transition to the Middle School.

The Middle School
During the Middle School years, students focus on actively engaging in their education and better understanding themselves as learners. The learning specialist, in partnership with classroom teachers, supports student development of study skills, organizational skills, test preparation strategies and self-advocacy strategies. All sixth grade students attend a yearlong study skills class that lays the foundation for skills that are reinforced throughout their Middle School experience. Students are guided toward the acquisition of self-advocacy skills by learning to formulate questions and create meaningful dialogue in order to meet with teachers effectively. The learning specialist also mentors students with accommodation plans in terms of understanding their learning differences, developing particular strategies that can enhance their academic performance, and providing guidance on how to best to utilize their accommodations.

At the Middle School, the students’ academic and learning skills continue to develop to ensure a smooth transition to the Senior School.

The Senior School
During the Senior School years, students are provided mentorship for increasing their independence, which aids them in utilizing effective academic and planning strategies on this campus, college and beyond. The learning specialist guides each student to take responsibility for their role as a learner and empowers them to implement strategies to better navigate the demands of the curriculum. As the students mature into young adults, they are supported in their development of appropriate, efficient and effective self-advocacy skills.

The learning specialist is a resource for the faculty, administration and students to share current research-based information on learning differences and to assist in the implementation of accommodation plans. The coordination of accommodations with the College Board and the ACT standardized testing organizations is also provided by the learning specialist.