In past articles, we’ve talked about the St. Francis schedule and the faculty; now, we turn to the curriculum itself to share information with you about what we teach and the goals we have for our students in each area. While we are a Progressive school, our curriculum itself is fairly traditional in that we teach all the usual core subjects (including 15 AP courses), plus fine arts and health/fitness. What makes our curriculum Progressive is our teaching methodology (active and engaged learning) and our inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives throughout.
One of the greatest strengths of the St. Francis curriculum is its flexibility. Being small and Progressive, St. Francis allows students to customize their course of study over their four years. There are courses required in every department because we believe a liberal arts approach to high school curriculum — sampling courses in all departments broadly — is in an adolescent’s best interest in terms of preparing them for any course of study in college. However, students can also opt to focus on a couple of areas they like best by choosing AP offerings, electives, and/or independent study options in those areas in their junior or senior years. No matter what courses they choose, students are being intellectually challenged in every course.
Here is a breakdown by department of what our curriculum includes:
Math offerings are an area in which St. Francis stands out from other schools. Students’ trajectories in their four years of mathematics study are customized based on ability and previous course history. Students normally start anywhere from Algebra I to Geometry, Algebra II, or even Precalculus. Higher-level offerings include a post-Algebra II math class called Functions, Statistics, and Trigonometry; three AP offerings (Calculus AB or AB/BC, Statistics, and Computer Science), and a post-Calculus offering, which most recently has been Set Theory and Logic, a proof-based course that provides a good introduction to the kind of math more prevalent in college math courses, particularly for those who intend to be math majors/minors in college. St. Francis is one of the few high schools in Louisville that offers a combined AB/BC Calculus in a one-year course and also teaches math beyond Calculus, and we have even had students do an Independent Study two years beyond Calculus. From Algebra I through Precalculus and AP Statistics, the CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) model/textbook is used. This Progressive pedagogical approach promotes student-focused group interaction and spiraling practice with concepts and procedures that lead to mastery over time. Students are able to make connections between concepts and deal with new problems based on existing knowledge, making math education much richer and more thorough.
Three years of Science are required. The Science Department follows the Physics First curriculum, which provides for a sequence of Physics (a conceptual, algebra-based course), Chemistry, and Biology. Physics is an excellent introduction to the scientific process and the means of using scientific inquiry to answer the world’s “big questions.” In addition, Conceptual Physics exposes students to many of the concepts they will encounter in Chemistry and Biology. Our Biology course, because it is the final one in the sequence, is biochemistry-based, like Biology classes in college. Following the introductory course sequence, students can choose from five AP courses: Biology, Chemistry, Physics C: Mechanics, Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, and Environmental Science. Each year, students may also choose from a variety of electives that include courses like Anatomy, Astronomy, Vertebrate Zoology, Food Science, Local Flora, Light and Optics, and courses based in our Workshop (MakerSpace) such as Design and Engineering. The Workshop features a 3-D printer, laser cutter, woodworking tools, and more to stimulate science and creativity together. The goal of science education at St. Francis is to develop the capacity to think critically; solve problems; form, test, and reflect on hypotheses; and process information using an objective, scientific approach.
Students take English all four years and must take English I – IV (or AP English Literature their senior year). In each class, students read poetry, short stories, plays, memoir/personal essays, and novels, with contemporary work representing diverse voices mixed in with a few more traditional works from the literary canon. Grammar is part of every course via the department’s self-created opus, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Throughout, the emphasis is on close reading of texts and on both creative and analytical writing, with the focus being to provide students with the tools needed to be successful readers and writers in college and beyond. All classes visit the English Department Reading Room regularly in order to expose students to a wider range of literature and authors tailored to their interests, as well as to encourage them to read (not on a screen) for pleasure. Electives available to juniors and seniors in the English Department include courses in film studies (such as Classic Hollywood Cinema, Horror Cinema, Global Cinema, and The Auteurs), creative writing (like Experimental Forms and Poetry), and more (such as True Crime and Female Detective Characters). In addition, juniors wishing to take the AP English Language exam are encouraged to do so; our students who take this exam each year have strong results, despite not taking the official course.
Four years of History are required, beginning with two years of Culture and Civilization: 9th graders take the Ancient World and 10th graders the Medieval World. These courses are unique in that students read the original texts of the major world religions, studying them in the context of the cultures in which they were founded, and therefore gaining a broad understanding of the major faith traditions. Students wishing to take the AP World History exam can do so in their sophomore year by doing some extra preparation with a teacher. In 11th and 12th grades, students take U.S. History, and/or AP U.S or AP European History. In addition, students can choose from a variety of history seminar electives, based on a college seminar model, on topics like Constitutional Law, The History of Racist Ideas in America, Food: A History, Visible Language: Writing and Literacy in the World Today, the History of Strategy, Criminal Law, Philosophy, a History of Climate Change, and various gender studies courses such as Gender and Popular Music, Black Women in America, and History of Feminism (we have offered gender studies courses for two decades now). Throughout all courses, primary sources are used and connections are emphasized over memorization of facts and timelines. Students write multiple research papers over their four years, which are carefully scaffolded to help them understand thoroughly the process of research and writing about a historic topic. The department’s goal is to graduate students who are grounded in the past, possess a sense of the present, and are prepared for the future.
In the World Language Department, we offer Mandarin Chinese and Spanish with a two-year requirement. Both languages are offered through the highest AP levels. When students come in, they can use prior language study to place into a higher level of the language or can start a language anew at the introductory level. All students are required to complete at least two consecutive years of a world language in high school. For those who excel in a language and complete the AP curriculum before their senior year, it is possible to continue via independent study classes; students strongly interested in languages also might choose to start a second world language in their junior or senior years. Our Chinese program is supported through a Confucius Classroom grant that provides students with various opportunities, including trips to China (open to all students, not just those taking Chinese). Other recent international trips led by world language and other teachers have included Ecuador/the Galapagos, Argentina, France, and Spain.
One year of Fine Arts is also required for all St. Francis students, most of whom take it in their sophomore year. Class options include 2-D/3-D Studio Art, Photography, Filmmaking, and Music Performance (with an optional Music Theory add-on), and all classes are taught by artists-in-residence who are practicing professional artists in their fields. Students can continue to take art/music on an advanced or independent-study level throughout their junior and senior years, as well. Students are encouraged to create art/play music, to appreciate art and art history, and to see and understand the cultural connections inherent in art and music.
Regardless of which course of study a student chooses at St. Francis, there is one thing we know for sure: all of our students will go off to college ready and well prepared for the work they will experience. We currently have both in-person and virtual options for prospective students to visit, so if you’re interested in a tour or sitting in on a class or two, please don’t hesitate to contact us! The constant refrain from those who take us up on this offer is, “Wow! I wish I could have gone to high school here!”