Signature Programs

Diplomas 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 Shady Side Academy 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 and Country Day School, every child becomes a published author as they cycle through the Writing Workshop curriculum, learning to collect ideas, draft, revise and edit stories just like real writers do. Our youngest students also gain confidence and develop public speaking skills in a safe, supportive environment by making announcements at assemblies and performing in grade-level stage productions.

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.

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 our elementary schools with the innovative Math in Focus: Singapore Math curriculum, which develops deep mathematical understanding. Teachers use a concrete-to-pictorial-to-abstract learning progression anchored in hands-on experiences so children learn how and why math works in real life. This curriculum 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

Science & Technology

Science and technology have never been more exciting at Shady Side.

Beginning in the youngest grades, students become research scientists and explore the world around them through a mix of classroom, lab and field experiences. Country Day and Junior School science classes engage children’s natural curiosity about the world through hands-on outdoor exploration and experimentation. Middle School students take earth, life and environmental science courses and develop scientific communication and inquiry skills; eighth graders have the option to take high school physics. Senior School students are challenged to work in collaborative teams to design their own experiments and present their findings in physics, biology and chemistry classes, and can also take numerous advanced electives, design their own independent study project for credit, or take a seminar that prepares and places them in a university research lab for the summer.

SSA students enjoy a technology-rich academic experience. Country Day and Junior School students are introduced to age-appropriate technology tools and resources to create and share their work in interactive ways, while begin learning about robotics and coding, as well as digital citizenship. The Middle School's 1:1 iPad program integrates technology across the curriculum in meaningful and engaging ways, and all students take computer science each year where they learn more formal programming and design skills. At the Senior School, all students are required to take two Computer Science courses: a foundational problem-solving course and an elective. Electives include everything from mobile app design and game design to robotics and artificial intelligence.

Middle and Senior School students also have the opportunity to join our competitive Robotics, Rocketry and Science Olympiad teams – our Middle School Science Olympiad team has won five state titles!

Because our high-caliber science and technology programs deserve facilities to match, we offer state of-the-art learning spaces at every division. Over the past few years we’ve renovated and expanded the science labs at the Junior and Middle Schools and constructed two stunning new facilities at the Senior School: the McIlroy Center for Science & Innovation, which opened in 2018, and the Glimcher Tech & Design Hub, which opened in 2019.

McIlroy Center for Science & Innovation

Glimcher Tech & Design Hub

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.

Country Day School and Junior School students have regular PE classes and daily recess, spend plenty of time outside exploring nearby woods, parks and trails, and after-school programs offer several athletic options. Students also 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.

Video: SSA Athletics

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 four 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 elementary 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.

Video: SSA Farm

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. Country Day School and Junior School students participate in annual grade-level and school-wide service projects, while Middle School students devote an entire school day to service learning on Global Action Conference Day, then extending that learning to 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.

Video: MLK Day of Service