Academic Program

The Senior School's extensive academic curriculum is designed to help students collect, analyze and synthesize data; state and support arguments; and work effectively with groups of people. Knowing that every person learns differently, Shady Side Academy works to provide a unique learning environment for each student. Small classes enable teachers to know students as individual learners and help each one develop in a way that is personally beneficial and fitting.

From our rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum, each student gains the ability to think critically, creatively and individually. Students are encouraged to pursue their interests at the most challenging levels. Advanced courses are offered in all subject areas, and many electives and independent studies are open as additional alternatives for pursuing individual interests. A number of global and off-campus programs are available to extend a student's educational experience beyond the campus gates.

For complete curriculum information, including course descriptions and diploma requirements, download the Senior School Course Catalog (19-20 PDF).


Shady Side Academy offers a rich and varied arts program that celebrates an enduring commitment to all students. The arts program encourages all students to enrich their course of study through both required and elective courses in the visual and performing arts. The arts reinforce the tenets of the Academy Statement of Philosophy endorsing the balanced development of the students‘ analytical, artistic and physical abilities. Through a rigorous, broad, sequential curriculum in the arts, every student has the opportunity to explore and develop his or her unique and individual talents. Through production, performance, exhibition, critical and analytical response, as well as historical and cultural context, all SSA students are able to embrace the visual and performing arts in an intellectual and nurturing environment. A valuable foundational program encourages students to experience both the process and product of artistic endeavor, while safely experimenting with emotional awareness, analytical skills and abundant performance opportunities.

Performing Arts – Music


  • Concert Choir
  • Chamber Choir
  • Concert Band
  • Symphonic Band
  • Jazz Ensemble
  • String Orchestra


  • Electronic Sound Studio
  • Music Theory
  • Music Workshop: Guitar
  • Music Workshop: Piano

Performing Arts – Theatre


  • Acting

Non-Credit Offerings:

  • Fall Play
  • Winter Musical*
  • Spring Original Works Theater Festival

* counts as a PE credit

Visual Arts

Introductory Courses:

  • Studio Art 2D Foundation
  • Studio Art 3D Foundation

Advanced Courses:

  • Architecture
  • Ceramics
  • Digital Photography
  • Drawing
  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Painting
  • Photography

In an effort to increase flexibility in student schedules, after-school art courses in art are also offered. A student may earn one art credit in a given term through simultaneous participation in an after-school art class and a PE class. After-school art classes include:

  • Studio Art 2D PM
  • Glass PM
  • Painting PM

Athletics, Physical Education and Health

Athletics play an integral role in the educational experience at the Senior School. Students are required to participate in the athletic program. The positive character traits developed through athletic participation have a direct correlation to greater individual success after high school. It is the Athletics Department‘s goal to make the student‘s experience with the SSA athletic program educational and enjoyable.

Shady Side’s athletic program is divided into three distinct areas: athletics, physical education and health. Athletics and PE run from 3:50-5:35 p.m. every school day.

Athletic Team Participation

The primary goals at the junior varsity and freshman team levels are skill development, physical conditioning, knowledge of strategy, discipline, fun and game participation. Success in competition is encouraged but not at the expense of student participation or individual preparation for an upper-level team. At the highest level of competition, teams are selected according to ability, and students with the requisite skills and experience are chosen.

At the varsity level, one of the primary goals is to field highly competitive teams. Student-athletes are expected to exhibit excellence in skill, discipline, teamwork and sportsmanship as well as pride in self and in Shady Side Academy. The best combination of players will participate. Equal playing time and/or playing every game are not guaranteed. Emphasis is placed on the value of respect for self, others and the game. Positive encouragement is expected from all participants, as well as acting with graciousness in victory as well as in defeat.

Physical Education

Physical education stresses fitness and lifetime carryover sports, and is required of all Form V and VI students who are not involved in the athletic program. All physical education programs, except PE Option, meet after school and require the student to choose the one that best suit his/her interests. PE programs include fitness, crew, ice hockey, swimming, adventure sports and yoga.

Athletic & PE Options by Term


Cheerleading Cross Country Badminton
Cross Country Golf Crew
Field HockeyFootballPE Farm
GolfSoccerPE Fitness
TennisPE Ice Hockey
PE Swimming
Ultimate Frisbee
BasketballBasketballPE Fitness
Ice HockeyIce HockeyPE Winter Musical
SquashSquashPE Crew
SwimmingSwimmingPE Yoga
PE Track
SoftballLacrossePE Farm
Track & FieldTennisPE Fitness
Track & FieldPE Adventure Sports
Ultimate Frisbee


The Contemporary Issues in Teen Health course is designed to help students recognize and prepare for the challenges of becoming healthy autonomous young adults. The course, grounded in SSA's Guiding Principles of Honesty, Respect, Kindness, Responsibility and Safety, provides students with the information and skills necessary to make thoughtful and responsible decisions that promote their well being and the well being of those around them. Students explore a wide range of relevant issues which include mental and physical wellness, human relationships/sexuality, drug/alcohol use and abuse, social media/communications and social awareness. All students are encouraged to engage in a highly interactive classroom environment.

Computer Science

The Senior School Computer Science Department strives to provide the fundamental preparation in computer science that will stimulate students’ growth in both academic and ethical areas and serve them well throughout their lives. In addition to preparing students for future studies in computer science, our goals include promoting ethical collaborative thinking, developing problem solving skills that include comprehending written challenges, designing solutions for these challenges, building solutions, and testing and iteratively improving these solutions.

Extracurricular opportunities include robotics, computational linguistics and programming competitions. Students enjoy a fully networked campus with up-to-date technology.


  • Problem Solving: Karel & Elementary Graphics


  • Game Design
  • Interactive Web Page Design
  • Robotics
  • Application Development for Mobile Devices
  • Advanced Placement Computer Science
  • Discrete Structures
  • Advanced Topics in Computer Science


The Senior School English Department fosters in students a love and respect for the English language. Through language fluency, students are better able to make sense of their world, communicate more effectively, and grow to appreciate the finest literature of their own cultures and the cultures of others, both past and present.

Courses in English center on a variety of activities that seek to expand not only students’ knowledge and understanding, but also their skills in interpreting and composing texts. The program encourages close analysis of texts from a variety of genres, active and thoughtful class discussions, creative expression and personal reflection. We hold that learning is a communal enterprise with communication at its heart, so we expect students to develop their reading, writing, speaking and critical thinking capacities within a framework of constructive conversation and feedback arising from our study of common texts. Fundamental skills and concepts are thus taught as part of the study of these texts.

Central to our overall approach is the belief that literacy is a recursive act. Students are urged to question, examine and reassess their ideas and values through the development of important habits such as annotating, journaling, drafting and pre-writing, revising, and conducting research. Through this comprehensive program, the English Department seeks to foster the lifelong enjoyment of learning for its own sake. The department directs its efforts toward the development of young men and women to become thoughtful, responsive members of a literate community.

Foundation Courses (Grades 9-10):

  • Foundations of Literature and Writing I
  • Foundations of Literature and Writing II

Upper-Form Courses (Grades 11-12):

  • The Art of Persuasion
  • Fiction Workshop
  • Graphic Literature
  • The Hero's Journey
  • Modern Narratives
  • Playwriting
  • Public Speaking
  • Screenwriting
  • Theory and Process of Writing
  • Ancient Greek playwrights
  • English Poetry from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (1550-1800)
  • The Henriad
  • The Individual in Medieval and Renaissance Society
  • Mythology and Literature
  • On the Road: Travel Tales from the British Isles
  • Through the Eyes of the Other: Alienation Across Literary Genres
  • Shakespeare: Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight
  • Saints and Sinners
  • Satire
  • Eastern European Literature
  • Forgotten Societies in the Modern World
  • French Literature from 1850 to the Present
  • Indian Literature
  • Literature of Africa and Diaspora
  • Literature of Oppression and Resistance
  • Literature of South America
  • Modern Japanese Literature
  • Nobel Laureates from Around the Globe
  • Russian Literature
  • Spanish Drama


The Senior School History Department offers a curriculum guided by two complimentary educational aims: to introduce students to the breadth and depth of the human experience by a comparative study of past and contemporary societies and cultures; and to develop in students the skills of research, analytical writing and critical thinking that are central to historical inquiry, broadly transferable to other disciplines, and central to a rich and fulfilling intellectual life. Students are trained to explore the past through the use of a variety of primary and secondary sources and are challenged to interpret past events to arrive at original conclusions to complicated problems. Further, they are taught to think critically about the discipline of history and how historical arguments are shaped by the eras that produced them. Our three core courses build on each other in both content and skills, while a range of elective courses offer students with a keen interest in history the opportunity to explore subjects that engage them on a deeper level.

Core Courses:

  • Problems in World History
  • Patterns of Western Identity
  • United States History


  • History of Modern Social Justice Movements in America, Part I
  • Pittsburgh at the Edge of the World
  • The Origins of American Foreign Policy
  • Swords Against the Senate: Revolution in the Roman World
  • History of Modern Social Justice Movements in America, Part II
  • Pittsburgh: Steel, Blood and Money
  • The Rise of the United States as a World Power
  • Americanos! Revolutions in Modern Latin America
  • The Economics of Poverty and Discrimination
  • Pittsburgh: From Soot to Rust and Beyond
  • Into the Labyrinth: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945
  • Into the Shadow of the Swastika: Life, Death and Revolution in Modern Germany

Economics Courses:

  • Introduction to Economics
  • Game Theory and Behavioral Economics Applications
  • Economics

Philosophy Courses

  • Introduction to Philosophy
  • Introduction to Ethics
  • The Ascent of Man
  • Philosophy of Religion


The Senior School Mathematics Department encourages creative problem-solving based on logical thinking and computational skills, while striving to promote an appreciation for the beauty and rigor of mathematics. Through a variety of teaching methods and activities designed to enhance understanding, we work to maintain a balance between mathematics as an abstract discipline and as an application for use with other disciplines. In all that we do, we hope to promote a lifelong love of mathematics. We emphasize the importance of student participation in classroom discussion, and our students develop the ability to communicate effectively in mathematical discourse. Students who want to further their study of mathematics may elect to pursue advanced courses.

In an attempt to better meet the needs of our students, the Mathematics Department groups students by ability, as scheduling permits. This grouping is based on performance on the placement test, performance in previous math classes and teacher recommendation. We believe that grouping by ability better addresses the needs of our students by allowing teachers to differentiate the curriculum with appropriate remediation and enrichment, and enables more productive and efficient conversations in the classroom.

Core Courses:

  • Problem-Based Mathematics I
  • Problem-Based Mathematics II
  • Trigonometry and Function Analysis
  • Trigonometry and Introductory Calculus
  • Statistics
  • CHS Calculus
  • AP Calculus AB
  • AP Calculus BC

Advanced Electives:

  • Linear Algebra
  • Discrete Structures
  • Multi-Variable Calculus
  • Differential Equations
  • Problem Solving Seminar
  • Abstract Alegbra
  • Real Analysis

Visit the Mathematics Department page to learn more.


The mission of the Senior School Science Department is to provide students with the skills and knowledge to become informed participants in our changing world. Students develop their critical and analytical thinking skills through student-centered laboratory investigation and analysis that leads to the formation of predictive, testable models.

To become a well-rounded scientific thinker, students typically take Physics I, Chemistry and Biology I. Students who have finished with this sequence (or enrolled in Biology I) are encouraged to explore the advanced-level science courses that they find most interesting.

Core Courses:

  • Physics I
  • Physics I Quantitative
  • Chemistry
  • Biology I
  • Summer Research Seminar

Advanced Courses and Electives:

  • Physics II: Algebra
  • Physics II: Calculus
  • Advanced Topics in Astronomy
  • Advanced Topics in Physics
  • Advanced Biology
  • Environmental Science
  • Psychology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry Seminar: Chemical Equlibrium, Acid Base Chemistry, Ionic Equilibrium and Qualitative Analysis

Physics II Robotic Submarine Project

World Languages

The mission of the Senior School World Languages Department is to graduate culturally aware and linguistically competent global citizens who explore, engage and excel in intercultural communications.

Offerings include Chinese, French, German, Latin and Spanish. The modern languages are taught in the target language using methodologies that foster the student‘s development of communicative competence in the five proficiency areas: listening, speaking, reading, writing and cultural knowledge. The study of Latin emphasizes communication skills of reading, writing and listening while developing knowledge of cultural and historical contexts.

An authentic cultural and linguistic dimension is added to language courses at all levels so as to immerse the student into native situations in the target language and thus illustrate and enhance the student‘s learning experience. These sources include guest speakers, the Language Lab, film, CDs, newspapers and magazines provided through hard copy and Internet subscriptions, and literature written for native speakers. Field trips are also arranged to theaters and museums for relevant plays, exhibitions, poetry readings and films.

Students are encouraged to share their enthusiasm for language learning by participating in extracurricular linguistic and culturally oriented activities within the Asian, French, German, Latin or Spanish clubs.

The department‘s aim is to equip our students with linguistic and cultural sensitivity skills required for effective participation in the 21st century‘s global economy. Classroom participation in the language within a cultural context is vital for development of the student‘s foundation in these skills; however, nothing can replace actual immersion in another culture to practice and perfect those skills and add immeasurably to personal growth. Thus, the World Languages Department urges participation in cross-cultural experiences and coordinates with the International Program to provide a myriad of ways to experience another culture firsthand. Among the possibilities are three-week partner school exchanges in France, Spain, China and Germany. We also support academic year or semester abroad programs, as well as numerous summer abroad programs.


  • Chinese 1, 2, 2A, 3, 3A, 4, 4A, 5, 5A
  • Topics of Chinese Language and Culture
  • AP Chinese
  • French 1, 2, 2A, 3, 3A, 4, 4A, 5AP
  • German 1, 2, 3, 4A, 5AP
  • Latin 1, 2, 3, 4A, 5A
  • Spanish 1, 2, 2A, 3, 3A, 4, 4A, 5, 5AP

Independent Study

Independent Study creates an opportunity for a student to explore and investigate in depth some special area of academic interest that goes beyond our curriculum offerings. The student selects a faculty mentor who is willing to oversee the project on a regular basis. These projects must be taken for credit and carry with them the same responsibilities as regular curriculum offerings. Strong student motivation constitutes a major criterion for acceptance of a project.

Nearly 20% of SSA juniors and seniors complete independent study projects. Some examples of projects include:

  • Advanced Directed Research in Chinese Language and Culture
  • American Foreign Policy: The Rise of Anti-American Sentiment in the Middle East
  • Analyzing Financial Models in Professional Sports
  • Architectural History
  • Behavior Psychology: The Effect of Mental Illness on the Family System
  • Bioethics: Developing Ethical Frameworks of Thought to Health Care
  • Criminology: The Science of a Serial Killer
  • A Deeper Study into Teaching of Emergency Medical Services
  • Effects of Feminism on American Women Post-1960
  • Electricity, Magnetism and Electronics
  • Evolutionary Marvels: Wonders of Nature
  • Examining the History and Functions of the United States Federal Reserve
  • French Conversations Through Film, Stories and Grammar
  • Functions, Limits and Derivatives
  • Gender Stereotypes in Society and Media
  • Hands-On Art History
  • The History of Women in World Religions
  • League of Nations: Noble Failure?
  • Literature and Psychology of Persons with Mental Illness
  • Mobile Device Application Development
  • The New York Poets: Discovering the City Through Poetry
  • Nomenclature and Stereochemistry of Organic Molecules
  • On the Brink: A Comprehensive Comparison of the Economic Crises of the United States and the European Union
  • Organic Synthesis of Pharmaceutical Drugs
  • Quantitative Analysis of Hyper Dimensions
  • The Science of Gas Drilling and Fracking
  • Writing A Cappella Arrangements
  • Writing the Novel

Senior Projects

The Senior Project is designed to offer students the opportunity to pursue a serious learning experience outside the traditional setting of the classroom during the final three weeks of the senior year. The Senior Project covers a wide range of educational activities. The project, designed by the student, provides an opportunity to pursue special activities, and it may be completed on or away from the campus. Projects may involve the development of a new skill, the pursuit of an academic research project, mastery of a musical piece, creation of a work of art, or service to the community.

Some examples of Senior Projects include:

  • Adventures in Publishing
  • Amizade Program (Cochabamba Bolivia)
  • Career Investigation in Medicine
  • The Children’s Village of Israel Study
  • Commercial Real Estate and Green Construction
  • Community Service in South Africa
  • Cultural Immersion in Japan
  • The Cupcake Connection and Education
  • Discovery through Surgical Medicine
  • Exploration of Environmental Actions and Policy Career Opportunities
  • From Line Sketch to A-Line Skirt: A Study of the History and Process of Fashion Design
  • A Grand Passion: Preparing for the 2014 Summer Show Season
  • Modern Composition and Exploration of Music
  • Networking and Computer System Management
  • News Coverage You Can Count On: An Inside-Out Look at Television News
  • Nickers N' Neighs Volunteer Project
  • No Outlet: Songs from the Basement
  • Rachel Carson Legacy and Environmental Ethics