High School Curriculum

Two science intensive path students discuss a project

Kirby faculty work tirelessly to ensure students are constantly engaged with lesson plans connecting content to world events, project-based learning, and assessments that challenge students not merely to recall information, but to apply it and practice what they learn.

Balanced and innovative curricula fuse traditional academics, the arts, and technology. An extensive range of electives across all disciplines affords opportunities for comprehensive study and prepares students for the social, political, and economic realities of the twenty-first century. All courses share common goals: reading analytically, writing clearly, questioning actively, and thinking critically. 

Science, Technology and Mathematics

Science

In the 21st century, science plays a powerful role in guiding the world’s decision-making and its progress toward sustainability. Under this paradigm, high school science courses incorporate a focus on the health of the planet and on the individual.

The high school general path is comprised of a three-year lab sequence. The program is both skills and content based, ensuring that all students completing the program understand the methodology of and have a strong foundation in science. Curricula incorporate traditional content enhanced by contemporary research with each course emphasizing unifying concepts, inquiry-based approaches, and use of technology. All are based on National Science Education Standards and California State Education Standards.

Students also master the skills necessary to obtain scientific literacy in the modern world and are encouraged to use their skills and knowledge to make contributions to the local, national, and global community. Upon completion of the science program, students are able to explain natural processes using scientific evidence and knowledge, are proficient in writing both technical papers and those for a lay audience, and are adept at discussing scientific concepts relevant to current social and environmental issues.

Instruction combines lectures with guided problem solving and hands-on lab work. Students spend approximately 25% of class time working on laboratory exercises while upper-level science courses provide additional opportunities for original research. Many courses require longer-term research projects culminating in a usable process or product, community service, research paper, or oral presentation.

Computers and Information Technology

Students must acquire computer proficiency in order to succeed in the 21st century. A dedicated computer classroom is used for computer science courses and by faculty who wish to incorporate technology into their curriculum on a daily or long-term basis. Teachers also have access to Chromebook carts, which students can use for in-class research, paper writing, or online assessments. For independent student use, our Study Hall has computer stations equipped with the latest software, which students have free access to during school hours. In addition, a comprehensive audio-engineering lab provides state-of-the-art technology for Audio Engineering, Multimedia Journalism, Yearbook, Video, and Digital Media courses. 

Mathematics

Students enter the mathematics program based on level of mastery, as determined by an assessment test. Student grade level does not determine course level. Hence, math classes generally contain students from a range of grades.

The program is designed so that most students entering in middle school can complete AP Calculus BC before graduation, with many going on to courses such as Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations. The mathematics program takes full advantage of our small class sizes, and instructors spend one-on-one time with students during regular problem-solving sessions.

The sequence of classes is fast-paced and taught primarily through problem solving by the students. The courses include a rich mix of word problems oriented toward solving real-life problems through mathematics.

The Algebra 1-Geometry-Algebra 2 sequence follows a traditional math sequence with examples from SAT examinations incorporated into the standard curriculum. Fundamentals are supplemented by work in exponential and logarithmic functions, matrices, sequences, series, and probability. Students may enroll in AP Statistics at any point after completing Algebra 2.

If your student is interested in coursework beyond the general path, Kirby offers a Science and Technology Intensive Path

Humanities

English

The development of writing skills is a primary objective in every English course. High school students practice and master a range of writing types, including literary analysis, timed writing, fiction, poetry, personal essays, and research projects. Here's a close up look at one of English 9's assignments. By graduation all students produce meaningful, well-written, and well-developed papers. Teachers use multiple drafts, one-on-one conferencing, peer revision, and detailed feedback to develop each student’s writing and critical-thinking skills.

Language skills are cultivated through the teaching of vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, and oral expression. All English courses teach vocabulary and grammar instruction is integrated with writing assignments in all grades. In addition to stressing writing and language skills, courses engage students in the study of literature. The variety of literary genres—novels, short stories, plays, poetry, nonfiction, and essays—are explored in both traditional and modern works. Eleventh and twelfth grade students choose from a number of rotating semester-long and yearlong courses, enabling them to study topics of interest.

While the foundation of the upper level English courses is consistent, the course themes vary from year to year based on student interest so that the students can take courses in line with their own curiosity.

History

The study of history at Kirby is global in its approach and grounded in the chronological study of human activities from ancient times to the present. History courses cover dates of battles and exploits of kings, but students also study the religious beliefs, philosophical values, aesthetic sensibilities, and the cultural mores of each era and place. Furthermore, the histories of those traditionally “without history”—the women, the children, the poor, and cultures outside of the mainstream—are studied to provide a fuller sense of human endeavor. Analytical and historiographical skills, such as recognizing the importance of historical context and identifying change and continuity over time, are stressed in all grades

History 9 and 10 follow the chronological narrative of world history and carry it through the medieval, early modern, and modern eras, surveying a wide range of civilizations and global perspectives. In tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade, students are given the choice of regular or AP/Honors level courses. The history choices at the twelfth grade level rotate regularly and ask students to use their foundational study of world and U.S. History to understand their rights and obligations as civically-engaged citizens and to understand both national and global economics. Each year’s course comprises a survey of major movements and events combined with in-depth studies of selected areas of interest. At each level, students undertake individual research projects that develop valuable skills and add greater depth to the era. Class format includes lectures, discussions and seminars, group study activities, artifact analysis, student presentations, debates, mock trials, slide shows, and films. 

If your student is interested in coursework beyond the general path, Kirby offers a Humanities Intensive Path

Languages

The ability to use a language other than English to communicate, present, and interpret information is essential to succeed in the 21st century. Additionally, it is important to have the knowledge and experience necessary for the understanding of other cultures and worldviews, in order to fully participate in multilingual and multi-cultural communities locally, regionally, and globally.

The Modern Language Program includes American Sign Language and and Spanish. American Sign Language focuses on developing both receptive and expressive signing abilities, while Spanish uses communicative and integrative methods that develop listening, speaking, writing, and reading skills. All of our modern languages also emphasize cultural understanding as a part of language acquisition. Students acquire skills in employing the grammatical structures necessary to carry out the chosen communicative functions, learn a selected lexical content, and gain a cross-cultural perspective and insights into their own culture.

The Classic Language Program’s goals differ because the study of Latin is strongly associated with its incidental benefits—the knowledge it gives one of English vocabulary and the structure of language in general. Its primary goal is to provide students with the knowledge that will allow them to read Latin literature. Its secondary goal is to move beyond the purely linguistic sphere to comment on questions of culture so that students gain an understanding of Roman history and institutions, which have shaped Western culture.

Students begin world language by taking Latin 1 in seventh grade. After Latin 1, students may choose any language. Students entering with a previous background in world language study may take a placement exam to demonstrate their level of language mastery for placement in upper-level courses.

If your student is interested in coursework beyond the general path, Kirby offers a Languages Intensive Path

Arts

The Arts are considered a core part of the curriculum at Kirby.  They offer a mode for expression of ideas that transcend written language and open up the possibility for a more dynamic range of communication.

Arts courses provide extensive opportunities for student involvement in visual arts, theater arts, dance, and music. We offer a specialized program for those who wish to pursue university and professional careers in the arts while maintaining the school’s commitment to academic excellence.

If your student is interested in coursework beyond the general path, Kirby offers an Arts Intensive Path

Fitness, Wellness and Human Development

The Kirby Fitness, Wellness, and Human Development Department offers a full spectrum approach to physical education which focuses on developing lives of balance and resilience. Through our Fitness, Wellness and Human Development courses students gain knowledge of the human body and mind in a context of inquiring awareness - instilling a lifelong commitment to positive physical, mental and emotional development and engagement. Additionally, all department faculty work collaboratively with the counseling office to encourage social and emotional development of our students and promote programming that positively affects the wellbeing of the whole school community.

Kirby's Mindfulness Program and its benefits have been an integral part of the Fitness, Wellness, and Human Development course offerings across the grade levels for several years. The practice has been proven to provide skills and strategies for students to master the ability to optimally focus their attention and activate the learning centers of the brain. When the emotional processing center of the brain (the amygdala) is on high alert as a result of anxiety, sadness, grief, or overwhelm, the hippocampus (the center for learning and memory) actually slows or even stops functioning just when it might be needed. Mindfulness trains the student through simple techniques of focused awareness to regulate the emotional center of their brain and help to develop a steady mind and body. This practice strengthens readiness for learning and growing healthy relationships with themselves and others, optimally supporting their academic success.

"Because our teachers are highly trained, continuing learners and because we have academic freedom, we bring our wide reading and curiosity to curriculum development. We can respond to changes in the world and in students' interests to develop new units and courses."Dr. Caballero-Robb, Humanities Faculty