Upper School Curriculum

Our robust and vibrant educational program promotes open and honest communication between all of our community members, exposes and educates students about diverse cultures, and encourages students to take academic risks in an atmosphere of support and safety. Recognizing that experience shapes character, students are provided opportunities for leadership, artistic expression, athletic competition, meaningful community service, and extended field trips. The program is not just a preparation for the years to follow, but is itself a whole and purposeful experience.

Our Curriculum

NEW! View the 2019-2020 Curriculum Guide PDF  and
our 2019-2020 Master Schedule PDF (updated 5.30.19)

View the online Curriculum Guide or download the Curriculum Guide PDF





Our Upper School English program focuses on writing, literature, and class discussions as a way to encourage and enable students to think critically as they reflect upon their own lives and the lives of others.

Our comprehensive curriculum, designed to promote graduates who can produce both expository and creative prose, is sequential and exposes students to a wide variety of literature from different cultures, eras, and circumstances.

Curriculum Guide: English
Literary Magazine: The Wildezine
English Core Standards



Focusing on global competence, our students analyze past and current events by investigating the political, economic, religious, social, intellectual, and artistic developments of each era and region studied.

Reading comprehension, quality writing, critical analysis, and the ability to articulate their ideas are the academic goals of the department.

Outside of class, students have the opportunity to take advantage of internships, political advocacy projects, field trips, and the wealth of historical locations in the immediate area.

Curriculum Guide: History
Core Standards Grades 9-10
Core Standards Grades 11-12



Recognizing the importance and value of problem solving and abstract thinking, our math courses are designed not only to teach fundamental concepts but also to challenge the advanced learner.

Students are required to take three years of mathematics while in the Upper School. However, college-bound students are strongly encouraged to take a fourth year of mathematics.

Curriculum Guide: Mathematics
Mathematics Core Standards


Our Upper School Science Department provides a rigorous curriculum in a wide range of scientific disciplines, with a focus on hands-on, inquiry-based learning.

We take advantage of our 140-acre campus featuring unique structures (a climbing wall, Adventure Park, observatory, and Natural Playground) and diverse ecosystems (streams, fields, ponds, forest and gardens).

Classes emphasize problem solving, lab and fieldwork, and authentic research, while integrating effective use of technology, critical thinking, and collaboration.

View our Curriculum Guide: Science
Science Core Standards

Global Languages

From active participation in cultural immersion programs, enriching field trips and international service intersession excursions, to authentic theatrical reproductions, oral presentations and meaningful exchanges in the target language, our Upper School Global Languages curriculum embraces the School's motto, "Let Your Lives Speak."

Curriculum Guide: Global Languages
Global Languages Core Standards

Other Links:



The arts program is an integral part of the Upper School educational experience and community life. Our program offers rich opportunities for both general exploration and advanced learning in a wide variety of arts disciplines. Course curricula are designed to stimulate creativity, facilitate mastery of skills and techniques, expand communication and collaborative skills, and build confidence.

Our US arts program is designed to give our students a solid foundation for advanced studies, a joy for the creative process, and an appreciation for the role the arts play in life.

View our Curriculum Guide: Arts
Arts Core Standards

Physical Activities & Sports

Athletics and Physical Education are integral parts of the Upper School curriculum. Both experienced competitors and new athletes alike are challenged while filling our sport and Physical Education requirement.

At SSFS, we believe sports are educational and create balance for an individual. With the athletic experience, student-athletes develop skills that complement the classroom experience. The habits established through athletic competition; resilience, stamina, and perseverance, can last a lifetime.

Curriculum Guide: Physical Activities & Sports


Other Upper School Curriculum Highlights

  • A rich transitional experience for ninth grade students, linking the middle school years with the more intensive demands of the upper school program.
  • Our College Counseling department is committed to ensuring that every student and family receives the necessary support required to design and implement a successful plan for college.
  • Community service opportunities, which help our students learn to be contributing members of both their community and the world.
  • Participation in our Intersession and our Signature Trips, which provide meaningful, longer, and memorable experiences that are correlated to various aspects of the curriculum and build community.
  • To help our International Students and non-native English speakers integrate into the SSFS community, we provide English Language Support through ESOL courses.
  • The Upper School provides support services to students, faculty, and families to assist students in acquiring the academic, social, and emotional skills needed for success.


Requirements for Graduation

To be eligible for graduation from Sandy Spring Friends School, a student must meet the following requirements in the Upper School:

  • Successful completion of four (4) years of English, with English taken each semester.
  • Successful completion of three (3) years of History, including one year of U.S. History.
  • Successful completion of three (3) years of Mathematics in the Upper School, completing Algebra II at a minimum.
  • Successful completion of three (3) years of Science of which one year must be a biological science and one year a physical science.
  • Successful completion of three (3) years in any one Global Language during high school.
    Student placement is made by the Global Languages Department. Permission to advance to the next level of a foreign language is not normally granted to students achieving less than a C- (70%) average, unless proof of additional satisfactory work (e.g. summer school) is submitted for validation.
  • Successful completion of three (3) years of Arts, including the Arts and Ideas class, are required for graduation. Arts and Ideas to be taken in 11th or 12th grade.
  • Successful completion of at least one (1) year of other courses from the above areas or other electives, in addition to the requirements described above.
  • Successful completion of one (1) semester of Quakerism or its equivalent (usually fulfilled through 9th Grade Advisory, World History I, World History II, AP World History, or AP US History).
  • For 9th and 10th grades: Successful completion of at least two (2) physical activities - Physical Education or Athletics - each year, in the Upper School. For 11th and 12th grades: Successful completion of one (1) physical activity - Physical Education or Athletics - each year, in the Upper School.
  • Participation in Intersession (a week-long experiential education program) each year in the Upper School, including one service Intersession.
  • Community Service is also required for graduation, as described below.

Courses taken during Middle School can satisfy prerequisites but are not recognized for graduation credit.

Online Courses

In addition to SSFS’s on-campus courses, SSFS works in partnership with various educational organizations and institutions, currently Hybrid Learning Consortium (HLC) and Montgomery College, to expand the course offerings available to Upper School students. Students who enroll in these courses sanctioned by SSFS receive SSFS credit, their grades will be factored into their SSFS GPA, each course will count as one of the student’s six academic scheduling commitments, and these courses are not a part of the two credit limit of non SSFS courses. All SSFS academic policies apply to sanctioned online courses.

Course Load

The Upper School faculty seeks to guide students towards adopting course loads that allow them to successfully meet the multiple demands of academics, co-curricular involvement, family, involvement in non-school activities and organizations, healthy social/emotional development, and general well-being. Students should carefully weigh all of their commitments when choosing courses in order to seek the best balance between sufficient academic challenge and the stresses and conflicts arising from over-commitment. In general, experience has shown that five academic courses, plus arts and physical education commitments, are an appropriate and demanding college preparatory courseload, and students are not encouraged to take more. With regard to academic course loads:

  1. Each student is to carry a minimum load of six scheduling commitments (including academic classes, arts classes, and physical education requirements) each semester.
  2. A student must have approval from the appropriate Department Head in order to take more than one course in the same department during the same semester.
  3. A student must carefully consider the potential challenges and solicit the advice and approval from their advisor and the appropriate Department Heads before taking six or more courses in the same semester from among the following departments: English, History, Mathematics, French and Spanish, Science.

Academic Records

For students entering Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) after 9th grade, course titles and credit earned, but not grades, from their previous school (s) are recorded on their SSFS transcript. An original transcript(s) from their previous school(s) is attached to their SSFS transcript. Copies of all high school transcripts are forwarded to transfer schools, colleges, and universities.

Students may earn a maximum of two (2) credits at an accredited educational institution outside SSFS after matriculating at SSFS. (Students participating in a semester abroad are exempted from this limitation.) An original transcript(s) of courses taken outside SSFS is attached to the student’s SSFS transcript.

The cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) is calculated based on grades earned in courses taken at SSFS. Grades earned outside SSFS are not calculated into the cumulative GPA.

Community Service & Intersession Requirement

Community Service
The purpose of the community service program at Sandy Spring Friends School is to respond to the needs of others, and to thereby enrich the School community and the lives of its members. Every Upper School student at Sandy Spring Friends School is expected to perform a combination of community service to those outside the school community and stewardship to the Sandy Spring Friends School community.

The graduation requirement is 100 hours including 80 hours of service to the school and organizations locally, nationally, and globally, as well as the completion of 20 hours on a designated service intersession.

Intersession is a one- to two-week period in the spring when the School’s normal routine is interrupted so that all students and faculty can participate in on- or off-campus educational projects or experiences. All Upper School students are required to participate each year. 9th Grade students participate in a single, collective Intersession experience. 10th Grade students participate in one of a variety of service-intensive Intersession experiences. In the fall, students are given the opportunity to indicate various Intersessions in which they would prefer not to participate given their personal interests and circumstances. Cost for Intersession is not included in tuition and ranges depending on the type and destination of the trip. Trip costs are controlled based on a percentage of annual tuition. Families eligible for financial aid for tuition may be eligible for financial aid for Intersession.

A Closer Look.

We invite you learn about our Middle School and the larger community by meeting our Middle School faculty and staff, taking a look at our Viewbook, or coming for a visit to see our classrooms in action!