Upper School Curriculum

Intellectually Powerful

Our rich academic program builds a rock-solid core of knowledge and skills that our graduates repeatedly report prepares them exceptionally well for college.
Ellis students graduate knowing how to study, research, craft creative solutions to challenging problems, write and present their ideas, seek help when they need it, and how to work collaboratively with diverse colleagues. They discover how they learn best as individuals and are steeped in an intellectually exciting learning environment where it’s cool to like big ideas. Our teachers work the magic of balancing just the right level of challenge and support. They believe that Ellis students learn best when they are right on the edge of their comfort zone.

Program of Study

Grade 9
Grade 10
Grade 11
Grade 12
Computer Science
Computer Science Seminar Computer Science Electives: 
Computer Science I & II; AP Computer Science A; Advanced Topics in Computer Science
World Literature I
World Literature II
American Literature
Poetics of Social Justice OR Access & Authorship: Examining Privilege in Literature OR AP English: Origin Story
World History I
World History II
American History or AP United States History
History Elective
Co-Labs and Integrated Studies
Voice & Vision, Digital Studio, and Public Speaking
Arts in Society and Culture in Context
Introduction to Engineering Design
Senior Projects
Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II
Geometry, Algebra II, or Pre-calculus /Trigonometry
Algebra II, Pre-calculus/ Trigonometry, Calculus, or AP Calculus AB
Pre-calculus/ Trigonometry, AP Calculus AB or BC, Calculus, or Statistics
Physical Education
Students are required to take a health seminar every year and to fulfill an athletic requirement every trimester.
Concepts of Physics
Science Elective
Visual and/or Performing Arts
Students in grades 9–12 take at least one elective in either visual or performing arts per year.
World Language
Students must complete through Level III in Spanish, French, or Latin. Level IV and AP courses are offered for continued study.
Mini-courses are required of students in grades 9–11. 

Highlights in Upper School

List of 7 items.

  • Foundations of Integrated Studies: Digital Studio | Grade 9

    In this course, students build habits of good digital citizenship, develop understandings of visual literacy, and become proficient in using digital imaging software programs. Regular practice and skill-building in Adobe Creative Cloud programs broaden digital skill sets—including the creation of digital portfolios—and enable students to use design principles and elements to create powerful visual and audio projects. Students are expected to demonstrate their knowledge of a variety of digital tools and programs and to be reflective and innovative in their choices for appropriate ways to communicate a message.
  • Voice & Vision | Grade 9

    In Voice & Vision, students ask the questions "Who am I?" and "What do I care about?" as they develop habits of advocacy and citizenship for the 21st century. Making use of a diverse range of digital media and creative tools, students are encouraged to construct project-based initiatives addressing local and regional issues, investigate real-world questions and problems, and pose solutions to them. Partnerships with ALCOSAN, Powdermill Nature Reserve, and Saturday Light Brigade, as well as presentations by local and regional experts, provide students with opportunities to investigate local issues as they develop tools of research, self-expression, design, collaboration, and persistence to become changemakers in their community.
  • Arts in Society | Grade 10

    This course explores the role of visual culture in our world. With a strong grounding in the history of Western art, students explore interdisciplinary relationships between a variety of art forms and the ideas that shape them across history and place. Working in a collaborative setting, students interact with faculty from throughout the school and wider community to understand the connections between expression, power, religion, philosophy, and technology. Varied forms of assessment allow students to discover commonalities with other disciplines and explore aesthetics in a broad context.
  • Culture in Context | Grade 10

    Culture in Context builds inquiry and response skills in a collaborative setting. Through a long-term, client-based project, students learn the specifics of the design thinking process as well as connect their experience to Ellis culture and history. Working in incremental steps, the course develops important collaborative skills, the use of prototyping solutions, and frequent structured reiteration. Technologies, including video, vinyl cutting, and more, promote visual problem-solving.
  • Introduction to Engineering Design | Grade 11

    This course will expose students to major concepts encountered in university engineering courses. Students develop problem-solving skills and apply their knowledge of research and design to create solutions to various real-world challenges, as well as document their work and communicate solutions. Students focus on producing ideas, crafting and testing models, and communicating results, all while fulfilling a real client’s objectives and requirements. This course emphasizes group work as engineering is inherently a collaborative process. Students apply concepts and practices from math, lab science, and computer science courses and experience to their projects. This course is project-based, with community-oriented projects planned for the second and third trimesters.
  • Junior Seminar | Grade 11

    Standardized test-taking skills and techniques are reviewed in this course. Students are made familiar with the content areas of the PSAT, the SAT, and the ACT, test-taking strategies are examined, sample essays are written and evaluated, and practice is provided in taking tests under timed conditions. In the second half of the year, the focus of this course turns to the college application process. Students spend several weeks exploring their interests and researching colleges. Students also utilize interdisciplinary skills to create a resume, draft a college essay, and explore the components of a college application.
  • Senior Seminar | Grade 12

    This course is designed to prepare seniors for their post-graduation lives. The first half of the course focuses on the college application process and is taught by the College Counseling Office. Once college applications are complete in the middle of the year, the course shifts into preparation for the transition to college and beyond. This course addresses interdisciplinary, real-world topics and stresses the importance of making informed choices that can have a lasting effect on an individual.

Upper School AP Course Examples

List of 14 items.

  • AP Biology

  • AP Calculus AB

  • AP Calculus BC

  • AP Chemistry

  • AP Comparative Government & Politics

  • AP Computer Science Principles

  • AP European History

  • AP French

  • AP Latin

  • AP Physics

  • AP Spanish

  • AP Studio Art

  • AP Survey of Art

  • AP United States History

Fifteen additional AP courses are offered online through One Schoolhouse.

Upper School Elective Examples

List of 24 items.

  • Art Now

  • Clayworks & Advanced Clayworks

  • Computer Science I & II

  • Digital Video

  • Economics

  • Glee Club

  • History Seminar: Gender and Power

  • Honors String Ensemble

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology

  • Introduction to Anatomy and Organic Chemistry

  • Introduction to Engineering Design

  • Media Journalism

  • Modern Family: Domestic Structure in Short Fiction

  • Musical Theater

  • Musicianship

  • Orchestra

  • Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS)

  • Photography & Advanced Photography

  • Senior Studio Art

  • Short-form and Long-form Improvisation

  • Sketch Comedy Writing

  • Studio Art

  • Visual Art Independent Study

  • Voice: Sing Loud for All to Hear


Mini-courses are a time for Ellis girls to embrace new ideas, unwind, and have fun. A pressure-free experience, mini-courses give the Ellis Upper School community the opportunity to collaborate, reflect, and innovate together in a joyful environment before summer break.
Following final exams in mid-May, the Upper School puts a pause on traditional academic courses and transitions into mini-courses for the final weeks of the school year. This spirited trimester offers a curriculum of non-academic courses across grade levels taught by Ellis teachers, outside experts, alumnae, and the occasional student. In mini-courses, students have time to complete individual projects, travel, and explore potential passions in courses designed to be experiential, interdisciplinary, and community-based. In recent years, students have taken study trips to Russia, England, France, Italy, Crow Canyon, Spain, and New York City.

Lauren Fajobi

Head of Upper School

In the Ellis Upper School, the most significant advantage we provide is the all-girls environment, which fosters confidence in girls ages 14 to 18. The emphasis we place on leadership, voice, and intellectual risk-taking means that Ellis graduates walk out into the world as confident young women who are fully prepared for the challenges of college and careers. As students progress through the Upper School, their intellectual and social growth is fostered through exposure to a diverse curriculum, elective offerings in both the visual and performing arts, a highly successful athletic program, and a thriving activities program. Community engagement is a hallmark of the Ellis Upper School. Through partnerships with nonprofit, for-profit, and research institutions, our girls are engaged in meaningful hands-on, project-based experiences that help them discover what they love. Joyfulness, balance, and wellness are among our core community values. Our beloved mini-course program encourages lifelong curiosity and learning in topics such as yoga, self-defense, the history of women and the law, introduction to philosophy, and financial literacy. Through social activities, dances, talent shows, music events, and plays, we develop deep friendships and celebrate each girl's unique contributions to our community.

Upper School Faculty Directory