In high school, we offer a liberal arts education, consciously aimed to nurture and encourage adolescent ideals. The high school experience aims to balance the students’ academic needs with their longing to find meaning in the world.
The school day begins with movement for most students. Movement helps to spark the students’ circulation and to bring them together into the school day. Following the morning period, students join their class for a long, uninterrupted main lesson that engages the students intellectually. Every four weeks, or block, each class focuses on a single subject (chemistry, math, language arts, history, biology, physics). This long main lesson is akin to what the students experienced in elementary and middle school in that it allows the teacher to develop a wide variety of activities around the subject at hand, yet evolved for the academic rigor and critical thinking capacities of a high school student.
At the end of each four-week block, students create their own main lesson books, which are a compilation of all they learned during the block. Main lesson books combine art, writing, diagramming, and other forms of communication to collectively demonstrate the subject in a bound portfolio.
After the day’s main lesson, students have a period that focuses on emotional engagement. Music classes lend themselves well to this time, as do elective courses. All high school students participate in music, but as they enter high school the essence of choice begins to be infused into their education. Students may choose among chorus, music ensemble or orchestra for their musical commitment for the year. Students new to DWS and who have not played their instrument before are strongly encouraged to take private lessons. Through electives, students are able to delve more deeply into subjects that inspire them or to explore new topics that pique their curiosity. These are both essential capacities to develop during this time of life. Electives are offered in the areas of fine arts, practical arts, industrial arts, music, movement, history, social sciences, computer sciences, literature and poetry, world languages, theater, and more.
Following lunch, students rejoin their classes for two afternoon courses that also follow the four-week block system, meeting for an hour daily. These afternoon classes often complement the main lesson taught in the morning, focusing on engaging the students’ will through hands-on learning. For example, students may study Acids and Bases as a chemistry main lesson, looking at soil composition from a scientific perspective. The afternoon may then be paired with a close reading of Grapes of Wrath, where the students study soil from a historical perspective. Ending the day, may be a course in black and white photography, where students again can take what they learn intellectually in their main lesson and apply it with their own hands by working with the development of film.
The whole day for the high school follows a rhythm of thinking, feeling and willing – united with common threads that follow through the pairing of courses. The high school curriculum often revisits themes and subjects first introduced in the lower grades. The aim is to engage the students more deeply and to further cultivate their ability to think critically, organize ideas and information, and present their thoughts clearly. The curriculum is academically challenging with a rich mix of math, English, humanities, physics, life sciences, chemistry, world language, practical, industrial and fine arts, chorus, orchestra, drama and physical education.
From grade nine through grade twelve, a new image of the adult stands in the young person’s mind as an ideal. Truthfulness, thoughtfulness, self-possession, consideration, strong-mindedness, warm-heartedness — these are the qualities many adolescents hold as ideals.
As students move from middle school into high school, they say farewell to their class teacher who has been with them for the past eight years, and begin a new chapter with a full faculty of teachers. In high school, students need teachers who have devoted themselves to and mastered particular subjects or skills. This ensures that subjects are brought with more depth than previously in elementary and middle school. Also, around age fourteen, students begin to stray from their previous acceptance of authority, and instead look to a mentor who inspires them. Because students are developing their own individuality throughout this time in life, different individuals will gravitate toward different high school teachers, often based on their field of study or interests and talents. This is balanced by the expectation that students continue to accept the discipline each subject demands and appreciate the insights and broader perspectives that an interdisciplinary approach makes possible.
As in elementary and middle school, students do not use textbooks in their courses. Instead, the teachers bring to life lessons through lecture, discussion, music, literature, poetry and art. At the end of each four-week block, students create their own main lesson books, which are a compilation of all they learned during the block. Main lesson books combine art, writing, diagramming, and other forms of communication to collectively demonstrate the subject in a bound portfolio.
The high school curriculum aims to support a wide range of learning styles. For those students who require additional written material to support their learning, teachers may provide lecture notes and/or additional reading and resources.
All high school students engage in fine, practical and industrial art classes that meet one hour every afternoon in four-week blocks and follow the developmental needs of students at each grade level. Additionally students may elect to delve deeper into art through elective courses offered throughout the year.
The Arts Director selects fine art classes each year for each grade level. These could include Black and White Drawing, Pastel Drawing and Printmaking in ninth grade; Casting Light and Shadow, Black and White Design, Drawing and Portraiture with Oil Pastels, and Black and White Photography in tenth grade; Expressive Portraiture and Collage in eleventh grade; and Oil Painting in twelfth grade. Practical Arts include Clay Modeling, Basketry, Calligraphy, Stained Glass, Bookbinding, Copperwork, Woodwork, Stone Carving and Blacksmithing.
Industrial arts are infused into the science and math curriculum. Each physics main lesson is paired with an industrial arts lab in the afternoon where students learn scientific concepts by engaging in hands-on projects. Students learn fabrication skills in working safely with hand tools, welders, power tools, and bench-mounted tools. They engage with materials from metals and plastics to wood and electronics.
Drama, painting, music, drawing, modeling, etc., are integrated into the entire academic curriculum, including mathematics and the sciences. The Waldorf method of education through the arts awakens imagination and creative powers, bringing vitality and wholeness to learning. No other educational movement gives such a central role to the arts as does Waldorf education.
In high school, as students develop their individualities, theater introduces them to the investigation of individuals within the context of a complex theme. Each high school class rehearses a play for two four-week blocks and performs for the full school community. Additionally, students may elect to explore theater again during the year through elective courses. In ninth grade, students take on short, one-act plays. The character development is short, but students begin to understand individual characteristics of the human being. In tenth through twelfth grade, students take on plays that offer characters that give them the chance to wrestle with their opposite, highlight themselves, or in a perfect situation, offer them the chance to gaze into their own souls.
Students participate in drama in grades one through twelve, and in each year of high school, they see a Shakespeare play at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. And so with this wealth of theater, the students are able to develop a well-rounded theatrical life that can take in the human and technical parts of the world they live in and begin to see how they fit together.
Additionally, students participate in a group music class of their choosing three times a week for the full school year. Students may choose among chorus, orchestra or music ensemble to commit to for a school year. The chorus performs a wide selection of vocal pieces that span time periods and cultures. The orchestra performs classical and modern pieces, and the music ensemble brings to life folk music from around the world. Students are encouraged to stick with one music group throughout their four years of high school in order to develop their skills together in working with a group. All of the music teachers bring lessons in rhythm, note reading and timing to the students. Students who have not previously played their instrument are strongly encouraged to take private lessons. Each music class performs throughout the year.
The world language curriculum in high school builds off of the elementary and middle school curriculum. The primary world language taught in high school is Spanish, Levels 1-5. Students who have been at DWS throughout their early years come into high school at Level 2 Spanish. Students who have a strong interest to study an alternate world language may request an independent study option. Students are required to take two years of a world language. Beyond that, they may elect to take levels 4 and 5 Spanish, which offer an academically rigorous option for students eager to study language and advance their skills.
Ideally, the world language curriculum aims to inspire students to meet others from different cultures with genuine interest and to spark new neural networks through the study of language. Advanced levels of Spanish go beyond this to prepare students for immersion experiences or college studies. Fluency can come in varying degrees for each individual, but most often is only achieved through immersion.
In contrast to the survey science courses of the grades, high school courses are designed to provide a fundamental literacy in each subject. The courses are divided by content topic area, and more concepts are drawn from fewer experiences. Students are encouraged to come to their own conclusions through carefully facilitated discussions by the teacher. In high school, there is also a conscious effort made to provide a combination of kinesthetic and visual experiences (laboratories, field trips, experiments) to complement discussions and lectures. The physics curriculum is paired with hands-on labs in industrial arts. Nothing deepens science learning as much as building projects that involve problem solving and working with tools while utilizing scientific concepts.
The high school math program has two major components. One is the main lesson, in which math teachers introduce key concepts in a developmentally appropriate and colorful way, and where the students explore topics in depth quantitatively, geometrically and with use of algebra. High school math main lessons include: conic sections, combinatorics and probability in ninth grade; sequences, series and trigonometry in tenth grade; projective geometry, functions and analytic geometry in eleventh grade; and calculus I and calculus II as electives in twelfth grade.
The other component of mathematics in high school is the afternoon class, in which new topics are also introduced, but improving students’ skills is the major focus. This includes constant review as familiar skills and concepts are applied in ever new contexts. These classes include: linear equations and quadratic equations in ninth grade; exponents, logarithms and periodic functions in tenth grade; linear systems and complex numbers in eleventh grade; and polynomials, rational functions, calculus, chaos, personal finance and statistics in twelfth grade.
By the time students reach ninth grade, they have journeyed from Greece and Rome to medieval history, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration, up to the present day. In high school, many of these time periods are re-examined in more depth and often from new lenses. In ninth grade, the students grapple with polarities. During this first year of high school, the students examine history through various forms of revolution. Tenth grade brings a deepening ability for analysis. Building on what they studied in fifth grade, for example, sophomores look at ancient history from a more critical and analytical perspective. The students have the chance to compare and contrast what is happening globally throughout time and what occurred in their own country, including the American Constitution and the Civil War. Civil rights history compares the situation of black Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries. The biographies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., help the students study the similarities and differences more deeply. In eleventh grade, students return to the studies of seventh grade, looking at the rise of Christianity and Islam, philosophers and theologians, political history, and knighthood and chivalry. In twelfth grade, the students are prepared to synthesize the earlier topics of study and see their relation to the magnificent sweep of the 20th and 21st centuries’ history. Students learn about modern art, the eras before, during and after World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and the period of their own lifetimes. Topics include the areas of science, philosophy, politics, economic systems, cultural upheaval, race relations, military weapons and tactics, world peace efforts and more.
The language arts curriculum aims to develop students’ ability to communicate clearly through different styles and for different audiences. Ultimately, the curriculum aims for students to be flexible with language, with a nuanced understanding of how to correctly utilize grammatical and structural rules, and then again how to break those rules with intention. Students are exposed to many styles of writing throughout high school, including research, opinion, journalism, poetry, short story, plays, analysis, etc., with the aim to develop an appreciation for language. Upon graduation, students have developed the capacities to be able to wrestle with complex concepts and articulate them clearly on paper.
Students participate in movement classes weekly, often involving team sports at the neighborhood park. The number of classes in the week varies for each student, but range from two to four times. DWS is a member of the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), and participates in inter-scholastic competition on a 1-A level. After-school sports are open to all students, without try-outs. A serious commitment to practices and games is expected. After-school sports include co-ed cross country, girls volleyball, girls basketball, boys basketball, and co-ed Ultimate Frisbee. Students may also participate on local area high school teams for sports that are not offered at DWS. Each year, our high school students participate on soccer, baseball, field hockey, lacrosse, football, and swimming teams.
As twelfth graders stand on the edge of adulthood, they long for independence and yet are still unsure of their place in the world. The Senior Project is designed to help students begin to bridge this gap, preparing them for college studies and professional work in the world. Students must design a project that forces them to pursue a new area of interest or something that will stretch their abilities, mentally, physically, and/or emotionally. The individual projects are approved by the high school faculty and supported by an adult mentor who is an expert in the chosen field. The project scope is equivalent to one main lesson block, or about eighty hours of work, and typically extends over many months of the school year. The project culminates in a formal presentation of learning to the full school community.
Denver Waldorf High School students have the opportunity to participate in a global exchange program with other Waldorf schools internationally. By introducing a world language and culture to students in kindergarten, we provide students with an understanding of different beliefs and ways of being in the world. Through the opportunity provided to high school students to study abroad at other Waldorf schools, and through the experience of welcoming visiting students from such countries as Israel, Switzerland, Brazil, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Germany, Argentina, Peru, Spain, France the Netherlands and Russia, we provide a comprehensive view of humankind.
Our curriculum also emphasizes multicultural stories. We expose students to a variety of spiritual traditions and have confidence that in our essential nature, human beings are alike, part of a global humanity. Compassion and respect develop for what might first appear as “other.”
For more information on The Denver Waldorf High School Cultural Exchange Program, please contact Lydia Fiser, High School Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Service-learning is an integral part of the high school experience. Teenagers have a desire to be respected as valuable members of their community. Curriculum-based service-learning opportunities provide this in a very real-world way for students. Additionally, these opportunities work to empower students, helping them come into themselves a little bit more each year, until ultimately in their senior year, students feel capable and eager to step out into the world on their own.
Each school year begins with a service-learning trip for the entire high school. Most often this trip focuses on environmental stewardship and community building. Each school year ends with a service-learning trip specific to the needs of each grade.
In ninth grade, students begin to explore their larger communities beyond their class and school. Throughout the year, main lesson teachers take the ninth grade class out to explore different areas of Denver and Colorado as it relates to the curriculum. For example, during the geology main lesson, students go to Red Rocks in Morrison, CO, and during Multicultural History, students take a trip to the Museo de las Americas. The students often use public transportation in order to better get to know their city and how to move through it. At the end of the year, the ninth grade participates in a service week, often involving work with gardening and building in support of various community initiatives.
In the way that students were introduced to new communities in ninth grade, sophomores are now introduced to how a community can work together. Students spend a week working on a biodynamic farm in Nebraska, learning about the rhythms of nature, and soil and plant biology to complement their Acids and Bases main lesson.
Juniors often question why the world is the way it is. In this vein, their service-learning trip involves looking at Native American history and why these communities struggle with poverty, suicide and disease. Students spend a week working with the Lakota Waldorf School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, making repairs and improvements to the kindergarten and learning about Lakota history, culture and language.
By their senior year, students have now ventured out into communities beyond those close to home. They’ve come to understand how people can work together in community, and grappled with questions of inequality. During this final year of high school, students spend two weeks engaging with the question of how they can fit into the world. Each year, the high school faculty selects a trip specific to the class composition in order to provide the best experience for students to be able to seek out this question. No matter the location, senior trips focus on connecting with the rhythms of nature and engaging together with a world culture. The class community steps out into the world together, empowering each individually for his or her next step out into the world beyond high school. Past senior classes have engaged in service-learning trips in Alaska, Costa Rica, Peru, Kentucky, Australia, and Texas. Last year’s class worked and lived on the Yorkin Indigenous Reserve in Costa Rica with the BriBri tribe to for two weeks, planting spring crops and learning about the postcolonial history of the area.
The high school service-learning class trips help students stand out to colleges and universities as they recognize that service helps to foster the development of a sense of caring for others and a wider world view.
In addition to service-learning class trips, students are strongly encouraged to engage in community service on their own. For each 30 hours of community service per school year, students can earn up to two additional credits on their transcript for the year. This can be an individualized way of earning credit toward graduation while engaging in the community. Students have participated in community service opportunities at places, such as The Denver Zoo, Metro Caring, The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Colfax Community Network, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, and the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
As with service-learning, community service can help a student stand out on college and university applications.
In emphasizing the powers of observation and description, ninth-grade courses seek to answer questions that focus on what: “What is the world like?” As ninth graders begin to experience their own thinking and individuality, and as their former certainties are called into question by the chaotic buffeting of puberty, they need confidence in the physical grounding of their existence. Ninth grade studies include organic chemistry, geometry, and earth science. Students also study history through art, becoming aware of evolutions in architecture, depictions of nature, and portrayals of the human form over the centuries.
Tenth-grade courses emphasize the powers of comparison, discrimination, and judgment. By tenth grade, adolescents attain a more harmonious inner life, and are better suited to ask how: “How do the processes of the world bring contrasts into balance?” Tenth-graders study mechanics, with its laws of balanced forces and motions. They also study Euclidian proofs and the elements of poetry that have evolved in the English language. In history, tenth-graders turn their attention to ancient cultures and an appreciation for the evolution of consciousness that began in ancient times and culminated in the epitome of harmony and form represented by ancient Greece.
An important change occurs between tenth and eleventh grades as adolescents turn to their individual internal worlds. Eleventh grade courses emphasize the powers of analysis and the ability to discern meaning and purpose. The student now embarks on a lifelong quest for knowledge of self and others. The central question that underlies the offerings this year is why? This year introduces the stories of Parzival and Hamlet and examines the philosophy of Descartes. In the sciences, the physics of electromagnetic fields exemplify the possibility of knowing that which cannot be perceived directly.
Twelfth grade nurtures the powers of synthesis and a capacity for comprehending the evolution of the human being and the natural world. The twelfth grade confronts questions of who: “Who am I?” and “Who are you?” Twelfth-graders explore a range of ontological concerns through studies of American transcendentalism, Goethe’s Faust, evolutionary theory, and modern economic history. Independent senior projects reflect the emerging individuality of each student and incorporate personal research and service, culminating in an artistic, oral and written presentation.