Our Academic Program

Lower School

Grades Prekindergarten through Four

Lower School welcomes children into an enriching, warm, and supportive environment. Here they come to feel at home in the world of school and in the role of student. The faculty works to instill a feeling of self-worth and self-confidence in each child while also requiring that he or she recognize the needs of others. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal with a balance between freedom and discipline.

The program is geared to the mastery of basic language arts and mathematical skills and encourages individual creative expression. Teachers use a thematic approach to learning, which gives students an understanding of the relationship between disciplines. Scientific and artistic exploration as well as physical activity are important parts of the curriculum. Technology  is used to enhance the teaching of many subjects, including an extensive iPad program used throughout the Lower School. Students often visit the wider community on field trips and for service projects.

Class Groupings

All classes have team teachers. Individual class sizes range from one teacher for every 10-12 students.

Academic Support

A full-time Learning Specialist provides support for students who experience learning difficulties. If necessary, students may be referred to a consulting diagnostician for further evaluation.

Homework and Student Reports

Third and fourth graders have from one-half to one hour of homework each school day. Progress evaluations for all Lower School students are in the form of parent-teacher conferences and checklists and narrative reports, which are sent to parents in November, February, and June.


Language Arts

The language arts program emphasizes reading, writing, and speaking skills and the use of these skills to understand and appreciate many forms of literary expression. Students explore the origins and meanings of words, experiment with different kinds of creative writing, and undertake simple research projects.


The math curriculum focuses on the structure of the number system, problem solving, spatial relationships, and the applicability of math to students' daily lives. Both computation skills and conceptual understanding are stressed. Students use manipulative and concrete materials to gather information, make comparisons, and draw conclusions as appropriate for their ages.

Social Studies

The social studies program provides opportunities for students to learn about both historical and contemporary times. Students focus on individuals, families, and communities; the environment and ecology; cities, states, and countries; cultural heritages; historical periods; and ancient civilizations. Both the uniqueness of individuals and the richness and diversity of cultures are emphasized.


The science program is experiential and small group based. Students from prekindergarten through fourth grade meet once a week in the lab to conduct experiments, explore, and investigate concepts in the environmental and physical sciences. Children build models, play games and gain understanding through "hands on" work. Specific topics covered vary by grade level and are often tied to classroom work and themes in Social Studies and Math. Sidwell students dabble in chemistry, electronics, astronomy, biology, geology, human anatomy, simple machines and much more.


Students in the Lower School are taught Spanish beginning at the prekindergarten level. The goal of the program is to make Spanish pertinent and alive for the students and to maximize the advantage that children have in the acquisition of a second language at an early age.


Technology is used to support all parts of the curriculum as a vehicle to promote both productivity and understanding.  The extensive iPad program is integrated into all subjects starting in Kindergarten and going through Fourth grade. Teachers use technology to hone skills including keyboarding, publishing, graphic composition, communication, and research. Students also use a range of educational software and applications.


All teachers use art materials in their classrooms to integrate visual arts into the daily curriculum. Beginning in first grade, students also have weekly classes in the art room where they work with tempura and acrylic paints, water colors, clay, fabrics, fiber, Styrofoam, plaster of Paris, and other materials to learn basic age-appropriate concepts and skills. Originality of expression and careful planning of work are stressed.


In bi-weekly music classes, students are introduced to rhythm and melody, speech and movement, instruments, drama, and singing. The Orff-Schulwerk method is used to teach techniques in movement, drama, and improvisation. The Kodaly choral method is used to teach sight reading of rhythm and melody notes and patterns. All fourth graders meet for a weekly chorus class, in which they hone their sight-reading skills and sing in two- and three-part harmony. Individual classes also present plays, operettas, and festivals.

Physical Education

Prekindergarten and kindergarten students have classes in physical education two to three times a week, and students in grades one through four, four times a week. The program for the youngest children develops positive self-esteem, promotes fun and safety, and improves personal fitness levels. Older children learn organized games, teamwork, and the importance of group cooperation. The program focuses on the way the body moves and functions and the importance of physical fitness.

Middle School

Grades Five through Eight

Middle School seeks to meet the educational and emotional needs of early adolescent students who are experiencing rapid physical, intellectual, and social growth. The program balances teacher-structured activities and student spontaneity and takes advantage of the natural curiosity, energy, and enthusiasm of fifth through eighth graders.

Teachers and administrators provide a secure base from which students can venture into the greater autonomy of adulthood, a process which involves risk-taking, success, and failure. The rigorous curriculum focuses on basic skills, increasingly sophisticated skills and knowledge, critical thinking, creativity, and good study and research skills. Students are encouraged to share their special gifts and talents.

Special Programs

All Middle School students participate in a four-day spring "minimester" of experiential education. In homeroom and in group sessions with advisors, students explore a values-based curriculum which includes Quaker beliefs, pluralism, honesty, ethics, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, healthful nutrition, stress management and other topics concerned with the overall health of early adolescents. 

Class Groupings

Fifth and sixth graders are grouped in homerooms of approximately 16 students each. Students take English and social studies with their homeroom teacher and may be regrouped for math. They study Spanish, science, the arts, library skills, technology, and physical education outside of the homeroom.

Seventh and eighth graders are grouped in "teams." These are designed to provide a halfway point between the fifth and sixth grade homerooms and individualized schedules of Upper School. English and social studies classes are organized by grade level within teams. Math classes are organized in readiness groupings. Students take language courses and attend science and arts classes with students from other teams but the same grade level. Physical education classes are organized by sport or activity and include students from both grades.

Student Support

A licensed guidance counselor works with students and teachers in individual and group sessions to deal with issues of social and emotional development. The counselor hosts parent discussions about raising adolescents. A full-time learning specialist provides study skills assistance and short-term academic support for students who experience learning difficulties. Each student's primary source of support is the homeroom teacher or advisor.

Homework and Student Reports

Middle School students are assigned approximately one and a half to two hours of homework each night. However, the amount of time devoted to homework can vary considerably depending upon the grade level, the nature of a particular assignment, and the student's study habits. Teachers use narrative reports and/or letter grades to evaluate student progress.



English instruction includes grammar, vocabulary, composition, reading, and literature. At all grades the literature program is coordinated with the social studies curriculum.


In fifth and sixth grade, students work with fractions, decimals, percents, and integers. In the seventh grade, they study topics in number theory such as number patterns, matrices, symbolic logic, probability, and data analysis. In eighth grade they study algebra, either formally or on an introductory level.

Social Studies

Fifth graders study the Middle Ages around the world. Sixth graders study global issues and world geography. Both grades spend considerable time on geography skills. Seventh graders study United States history and government. Eighth graders complete the first half of a two-year course in World History and Western Civilization. All Middle School students write research papers and deliver oral presentations.


The science program is organized around themes drawn from the scientific disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physical science. In class and laboratories, fifth graders take a survey science class covering all the major disciplines; sixth graders study chemistry and physical science; seventh graders study life science; and eighth graders study earth science and space systems.

Modern and Classical Language

Fifth and sixth graders can take either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. Seventh and eighth graders can take either French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese or Latin. Two years of seventh and eighth grade language study is equivalent to one year in high school.


Fifth and sixth graders take one trimester each of art, drama, chorus and instrumental music. Their arts studies include dramatic and choral performances. Seventh and eighth graders study Quakerism and the Arts, studio art, and general music. The Quakerism and the Arts class blends acting with Quaker principles and history. Eighth graders take two one-semester art classes and have the opportunity to choose advanced studio work or instrumental instruction.   All students may participate in instrumental and vocal ensembles. Seventh and eighth graders may also participate in extra-curricular dramatic productions.


Computers and technology are integrated into all areas of the curriculum in the Middle School. Instruction includes ethics, research, and applications. Fifth graders have laptops that they use in the classroom and students in grades sixth through eighth are provided with a laptop as part of our one-to-one laptop program.  

Physical Education

Fifth and sixth graders have physical education classes five times a week. In seventh and eighth grade, students may participate on one of our competitive teams or in a dance class during the fall and spring seasons; during the winter, the choices include competitive teams or physical education class. Middle School sports and classes include: baseball, basketball, cross country, dance, field hockey, football, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball, and wrestling.

Upper School

Grades Nine through Twelve

Upper School offers an intellectually challenging college preparatory program that encourages students to strive for academic excellence and to use their education for the betterment of the community at large.

The curriculum provides a broad foundation in the humanities and sciences, develops critical and creative thinking, stresses competence in oral and written communication and quantitative operations, and stimulates intellectual curiosity. Each student's personal and social growth is fostered by promoting self-confidence and self-esteem and by stressing personal integrity and physical fitness.

The faculty offers students opportunities to develop self-reliance and to undertake independent study and strives to promote world citizenship, multicultural understanding, and peaceful conflict resolution.

Class Groupings

Classes, which have an average of 14 to 16 students, are informal and are conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The small class size permits individual attention, group discussion, and close interaction between students and teachers. Ninth and tenth grade students take five major courses per year. Eleventh and twelfth graders take four or five major courses.


The liberal arts curriculum is rich and wide-ranging, accommodating individual student interests and needs. Courses in mathematics, science, and foreign language are offered at different levels of difficulty and are open to qualified students in any grade level. English and history courses are grouped by grade.

The program includes extensive offerings in visual and performing arts; four or more years of study in Mandarin Chinese, French, Latin, and Spanish; computer courses including Visual Basic and Java; and advanced electives in English, history, mathematics, and the sciences. Students may also pursue independent study and internships. A complete list of courses is published on the Upper School page.

Physical Education

The physical education program provides a foundation for a lifetime of sports and physical fitness. It focuses on individual performance and development. Ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders are required to participate in all three seasons each year; twelfth graders, in two seasons.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of diverse offerings. Opportunities include inter-scholastic competition, instructional classes, recreational activities, and School-sponsored club teams in crew (girls) and ultimate Frisbee (co-ed). Approval may be given for independent study in physical education activities not offered at the School.

Boys' teams compete in the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference in baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, track and field, and wrestling. Girls' teams compete in the Independent School League in basketball, cross country, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. The boys and girls swimming and diving teams also compete in the Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swimming and Diving League. Indoor soccer for boys and winter soccer for girls are played on an independent basis.

Physical education experiences are offered in most recreational sports. Also offered are activities such as rock climbing, weight training, aerobics, yoga, and various dance opportunities. The physical education curriculum is available on the Physical Education page.

Co-curricular Activities

Students participate in myriad clubs, which focus on such varied themes as community service, politics, languages, ethnicity, drama, computers, chess, and debate. Students take full responsibility for producing a newspaper, a yearbook, and a literary magazine. There are ample opportunities to participate in dramatic plays, choral recitals, instrumental concerts, and musicals. Through an active student government, students serve in a senate and on an honor committee. The honor committee, which includes students and teachers, deals with violations of the honor code, a statement of principles concerning personal honesty and academic integrity.


The Upper School offers students personal counseling, academic counseling, and college counseling. Each student has a faculty advisor who helps review his or her academic progress, assists with decision-making, and serves as an advocate for the student within the school community. College counseling on an individual basis begins in the junior year. Sidwell Friends School graduates attend a diverse group of colleges including Ivy League institutions, small liberal arts colleges, and large state universities.

Homework and Grades

Most Upper School classes meet four, five, or six times per week and require approximately 45 minutes of homework per class meeting. The Upper School uses a letter grading system, with grades accompanied by narrative comments.

Office of Admissions and Financial Aid

Sidwell Friends School
3825 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
Phone: 202-537-8111
Fax: 202-537-2401