Signature Programs

Esse quam videri. To be, rather than to seemEllis’ School motto fully embodies the philosophy of our engaging and deliberate curriculum. Ellis girls don’t just absorb the material they learn in school, they synthesize, competently apply it to sophisticated issues, and exhibit it throughout their entire lives.

By developing character and academic stamina through hands-on, cross-disciplinary learning, students garner a meaningful understanding of educational material via relevant, real-world applications. The Ellis School’s signature programs—Embracing the Whole Girl, House Games, and Integrated Studiesapply this interdisciplinary approach to address the mind, body, and spirit of all students as they transform from young girls into young women throughout the arc of their Ellis education.  

This intentional, interwoven enrichment across disciplines—and throughout all three divisions—inspires girls to connect with subject matter and recognize its usefulness in their world. Simply put, an Ellis education is durable, applicable, and transferable.

List of 3 items.

  • Embracing the Whole Girl in the Ellis Lower School

    The social, emotional, and physical development of a young girl has a direct effect on their overall development.
    Therefore, character education—the process through which children acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring, establish positive relationships, make decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively—is used to develop gratitude, empathy, and resilience in students beginning at a young age.

    At Ellis, embracing not just the student—but the whole girl—is integral to our approach, and faculty are committed to each girl’s overall academic, social, and emotional growth. Subsequently, our interdisciplinary approach to learning begins with our youngest students.

    For example, in grade 2, all students work in cooperative learning groups as city planners on a Metropolitan Community project. Girls design and construct all aspects of a fictitious city. As neighborhoods and services spring up, students position homes and make decisions about services in a Central Business District, weighing issues such as aesthetics, usage, space, noise, and environmental considerations. As girls design and build, they discover the power of teamwork and individual contributions.

    Innovative and intentional teaching methods and curriculum, like the Metropolitan Community project, take subject matter—such as mathematics, science, art, and history—off the page and into the real world to prepare girls to think in complex ways. Because of the focused makeup in each classroom—a group of students that only includes girls—our expert educators are able to celebrate the whole girl each and every day. There is no such thing as “boy subjects” and “girl subjects.” At Ellis, students learn without fear of failure or judgement. There are no stereotypes about what girls should do, but there are unlimited expectations about what girls can do.

    Whether it’s the Metropolitan Community project, introducing history to budding learners with an archaeological dig, or teaching addition and subtraction through a fundraiser in partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank––the Lower School integrates life lessons into every aspect of a student’s day. This developmentally tailored, interdisciplinary approach enhances comprehension of core concepts through fun, hands-on experiences that have real relevance to girls’ lives. An Ellis girl is told she can do anything she sets out to accomplish, and the Lower School program builds the foundation for this success.
  • House Games in the Ellis Middle School

    A girl’s middle school years are marked by imagination, exploration, and developing independence.
    A cornerstone of the Middle School experience, House Games promote teamwork, critical thinking, and fun.

    Inspired by the Harry Potter series and the houses of Hogwarts, students are split into four houses named after noteworthy Pittsburgh women—Rachel Carson, Mary Cassatt, Daisy Lampkin, and Nellie Bly. Students compete in a variety of challenges—from engineering a gingerbread house, coordinating a dance and lip-sync competition, participating in athletic challenges, or building and modeling a paper dress in a judged fashion show. While Quidditch isn’t on the agenda, House competitions vary year after year.

    Upon entering Middle School, students are “sorted” and welcomed with enthusiasm to their House. Mixed-grade mingling gives younger girls the opportunity to get to know their older peers and socialize outside of their comfort zone. Older students act as leaders for House activities which give students, regardless of their age, the chance to share their strengths, skills, and ideas. Houses serve as a consistent homebase and support network. These connections are long lasting and form the basis for a strong alumnae network that persists long after graduation.

    During these transformative years, girls develop a clearer sense of self and their place in the world, and friendly competition builds confidence and leadership. House Games reward success, teach lessons about loss, and allow girls to try new things without fear. Our faculty support and fully believe in the power of girls helping other girls and by fostering fearlessness, students are empowered to grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. House Games encourage girls to work together, lift each other up, and be proud of their strengths and achievements. These challenges promote communication, cooperation, and sports(wo)manship so girls believe in themselves and their peers.

    Under the guide of fun and games, students uncover burgeoning skills, develop new ones, and are engaged in House Games from day one. Ellis’ expert faculty develop interdisciplinary activities and challenges that invite girls to apply the critical thinking and problem solving skills they learn in class to real-world endeavours. Time in class is designated to interdisciplinary learning so that students are intentional about the application of critical thinking skills and reflect upon their experiences. In the Middle School, cross-curricular topics range from programming, to math competitions, to the intersection of engineering and history that can be found in the building of Roman arches.

    House Games offer a venue in which all Middle School students grow in a carefully curated all-girls learning environment. By providing space for collaborative, project-based learning, Ellis girls develop a joy for learning while refining their critical thinking  and applied problem solving skills.
  • Integrated Studies in the Ellis Upper School

    Upper School is a time for girls to spread their wings and fly.
    Integrated Studies courses combine typically siloed subjects so that students arrive at a more meaningful and authentic understanding of the material. When students can explain a phenomenon, solve a problem, create a product, or raise a new question in ways that would have been unlikely through exploration of a single discipline, the Integrated Studies approach is on full display.

    Integrated Studies courses promote rewarding and challenging experiences working and learning alongside experts and industry professionals. In grade 9, students kick-off their interdisciplinary experience with the Voice & Vision course. This course, which is co-taught by visual art and history faculty, empowers students to develop and refine habits of advocacy and citizenship. Making use of a diverse range of digital media and creative tools, students construct project-based initiatives addressing water-related issues on both local and global scales. Partnerships with organizations such as Powdermill Nature Reserve and The Bajaj Foundation provide opportunities for students to work and learn alongside professionals, to investigate real-world problems, and to pose real-world solutions.

    In our dynamic and fast-paced world, women who are fluent across multiple disciplines and competencies prosper and thrive. There is such a thing as “the girl effect.” Girls can be one of the most powerful forces for positive change on the planet if we invest in them, and the empowerment of girls as leaders is an increasingly recognized imperative. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity—the four Cs—are highly valued 21st-century skills that are the core of the Integrated Studies approach. When these skills are fostered outside of the classroom, students develop multifaceted expertise and grasp the important role interrelationships can play in real-world problem solving.

    Throughout Lower and Middle School, service projects, field trips, and interdisciplinary learning all provide a wide range of opportunities for exposure to the real world—and the foundation on which Integrated Studies are built. In the Upper School, while students learn under the watchful eye of expert educators, they spend increasing amounts of time out in the community working on projects. Integrated Studies are carefully crafted into the curriculum and prepare girls to feel confident speaking in front of a coed class in a university lecture hall or even in a male dominated boardroom.  

    We know girls learn best when their learning experiences are experiential, interdisciplinary, and community based, and when their course work allows them to pursue interests that are meaningful to them. At Ellis, girls are empowered and supported while dreaming big, taking risks, and being their authentic selves. A happy byproduct of this approach, which is often coupled with project-based learning, is that it makes school more interesting and productive for students.

    In Integrated Studies, girls discover who they are, what they love, and how they can give back to their communities. By giving girls the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, at college, and as global citizens, we inspire them to create a life full of possibility and potential