ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS

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Design/Build

Miller School of Albemarle has expanded its historic woodworking course into a comprehensive wood and metalworking Design/Build program.

In the Design/Build courses, students learn how to use tools, how to think about structures, and how to build things that last. Their projects include many building and design solutions that benefit the entire Miller School of Albemarle community.

Students who are interested in a more traditional woodworking course may also sign up for Woodworking I, II, III, or IV.

The English Department

The goal of the English Department is to develop thoughtful, confident, well-read, and articulate students who are fully prepared for the rigors of the college classroom and a life of intellectual adventure. The best education is dynamic. This is a truth lived out in our classrooms. Vibrant discussions, daily writing, one-on-one mentoring, out-of-the box thinking, passionate teaching – these are some of the hallmarks of our department.

Our curriculum introduces students to some of the greatest works of literature ever written, including Homer’s The Iliad, Aristotle’s Poetics, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July oration, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Each English class reads a Shakespeare play in January as part of a school-wide Shakespeare festival that includes recitations and performances, field trips to the nearby American Shakespeare Center, and guest lectures by leading scholars.

Clear Writing about Complex Ideas

We believe that all students can develop into capable academic writers. The key is to empower them with a systematic, skill-and-concept-based approach and to give them plenty of opportunities for practice. Our curriculum is based on the Little Red Schoolhouse writing system, which was developed at the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, and which is currently used in the writing programs at those prestigious universities and many others across the country. We teach writing as a process, with practical strategies for planning, drafting, and revision. We emphasize essay focus, organization, argumentation, tone, and mechanics. Students write at least one major essay every quarter, and they write in class or for homework on a daily basis. We especially emphasize timed, in-class essays, which prepare students for the SAT and AP exams.

We teach students that good writing rests on a solid foundation in grammar.  An understanding of grammar empowers students and gives them the skills necessary to write clear, grammatical prose.  Teaching of grammar is integrated into courses at each grade level.  For example, students learn to parse and diagram sentences from famous authors such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.  The experience of seeing how great writers from the past had to observe the rules of grammar gives students a concrete sense of why grammar is important and how grammar can be used rhetorically in writing.  

Careful Thinking about Difficult Questions

An ongoing engagement with the big questions of philosophy and literature animates our discussions of literary works. What is the good life? What is freedom? Equality? Justice? Love? Beauty? How do we find happiness? What is the purpose of art? What is our relationship to nature? What is the individual’s relationship to society? What are the qualities of a good leader?

These are perennial questions, but they are wrestled with in particular times and places, so course texts are always situated within their historical and cultural contexts. The English curriculum at MSA is organized chronologically and spatially, with surveys of ancient literature (9th grade), British literature (10th grade), American literature (11th grade), and contemporary literature (12th grade). We also offer AP English Language and Composition (11th grade) and AP English Literature and Composition (12th grade). Our curriculum is closely aligned with the History Department’s. This robust interdisciplinary approach means that students are studying the Revolutionary War in history class while analyzing the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence in English. They are studying Ancient Greece in history while reading The Odyssey in English.

For more information on the English Department, feel free to contact Jason Nabi, department chair, or any of the other faculty members. We are always happy to host classroom visitors.

The History Department

Building “responsible citizens, insightful thinkers, and compassionate individuals” is at the center of the History Department’s curriculum at the Miller School of Albemarle. The classical questions and problems of human society are presented to our students as theirs to solve. And these issues are presented not only to the mind, but to the heart as well.

At Miller, the history faculty teach students to search for lessons, virtues, and warnings from our past. This search leads to knowledge of the world’s problems and possibilities, and, more significantly, to greater self-knowledge. The focus of the history classroom becomes instruction in the critical tools of self-discovery: research, analysis, and synthesis. This education equips MSA students to be fully engaged and articulate citizens with a deep sense of cultures, traditions, and ideas from around the globe. The questions that arise afterwards from these endeavors are not strictly historical but eternal: “What is the good society?”, “What do human beings owe each other?”, “Where did we come from and where are we going?”

Four core history courses are taken in sequence as a student progresses through MSA. Ancient and Medieval History introduces 9th grade students to the timeless questions bequeathed by the Chinese and Islamic civilizations, the Ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and Medieval Europeans. Modern European History asks 10th grade students what it means to be “modern” in the wake of cultural changes since the Renaissance. United States History presents 11th grade students with rival narratives of the American past and the struggles of the American people to honor the ideals of their revolution. American Government questions 12th grade students about the philosophies that humans use to organize their societies, and interrogates the mechanisms of the American political system. These courses are coordinated with the English Department curricula at each grade level to give students a rich interdisciplinary experience. Advanced Placement (AP) options are also available for each course beyond the 9th grade.

History classes reinforce the school’s cross-curricular model of writing instruction – based on the Little Red Schoolhouse system – that teaches a standard process of essay-writing. Analytical writing is a crucial skill for building insightful thinkers. Research papers are standard parts of each history class, and there is a strong emphasis on using primary sources to craft a historical argument. By teaching students to “go to the source,” MSA history courses teach students to apply their writing and critical thinking skills to pieces of historical evidence so that they might formulate their own interpretation of the past. It has been said history is an argument without end. At MSA, students learn to add their voice to that enduring debate.

Languages

The Foreign Language Department offers instruction in French, Latin, Spanish, and English as a Second Language. All students must complete three credits of foreign language study. While an underlying goal of the Department is to help students develop a greater awareness of the world as a whole, the specific area of concentration is on effective communication skills in the target language, that is, fluency. The traditional skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing encourage students to understand and produce both spoken and written forms of the language, thus permitting them the means to communicate effectively with native speakers.

The Math Department

The Miller School of Albemarle Mathematics Department is committed to providing an effective quality program to prepare students for college mathematics. At all levels in our curriculum, we encourage the students to approach problems algebraically, graphically, numerically, and verbally. Seeing similarities in the ways to represent different situations is a key step toward abstraction. The role of our teachers is to provide rich problems in a climate that supports mathematical thinking and to equip students with the mathematical tools that will allow development of the expertise they need in making mathematical connections across the curriculum. (Read more about The Math Department)

The Science Department

The mission of the Science Department is to develop students’ scientific literacy as well as to provide a sound foundation of knowledge and skills for those students who pursue the study of science in college. Course designs and instructional methodologies are aimed at increasing the students’ awareness of science as a process of discovery as well as a body of knowledge about the natural world. Emphases are placed on developing students’ understanding of the presence of natural processes in daily occurrences and the importance of basic science knowledge and problem-solving abilities as essential parts of the skills and mindsets of educated people.

The Science Department is housed on the first floor of Caton Hall in beautiful, state-of-the-art laboratory classrooms that were renovated in 2009.

Visual and Performing Arts

Art in its various forms plays a vital role in educating the minds, hands, and hearts of Miller School of Albemarle students. Whether on stage, in front of an easel, in the darkroom, behind a table saw, or in a specially designed instrument rehearsal space, MSA students are encouraged to explore the wonders of art and to discover the richness that artistic activity can add to their lives. The Arts curriculum at the Miller School of Albemarle consists of several course offerings available as electives.  Photography, Vocal Performance, and Instrumental Performance are all taught on the newly renovated top floor of Caton Hall, one of Miller’s most historic buildings.  Visual Art courses are held on the upper level of the Canteen Building in a spacious and window-filled studio, fully equipped with a yearbook design studio, a kiln room, and panorama views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Read more about Visual and Performing Arts)