The Riverdale Learning Experience (2020)

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The Riverdale Learning Experience Riverdale’s students are challenged not to learn about science, math, or history but rather to be scientists, mathematicians, and historians. In every discipline they learn by doing—through gathering evidence, constructing arguments, solving problems, and supporting their various positions through persuasive writing and debate.

Riverdale Country School 5250 Fieldston Road Bronx, New York 10471

This publication is designed to give you an overview of the Riverdale academic journey and some of the signature programs that distinguish and differentiate a Riverdale education. While we encourage you to review the full course catalogue found on our school website, our goal here is to give you insight into the philosophy that guides our program from the earliest days of Pre-K through 12th grade graduation.

gathering evidence, constructing arguments, solving problems, and supporting their positions with persuasive writing and debate. This approach is also deeply rooted in the work of educational pioneer John Dewey, who believed that we must “Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.”


Experiential Learning at Riverdale


The Riverdale learning experience is influenced by many factors including the science of how children learn, our belief in developing character strengths, the value of learning through dialogue and conversation, and our faculty’s deep disciplinary expertise and commitment to modeling active life-long learning. AS EDUCATORS WE ARE STUDENTS OF EFFECTIVE LEARNING PRACTICES

In the Lower School we might ask students to solve math or science problems that are a bit above their skill level. Working to meet this challenge not only builds disciplinary expertise, it helps students develop perseverance, an essential skill for long-term success.

Cognitive scientists are rapidly expanding our understanding of how the human mind works and how we learn to solve problems, think creatively, and collaborate with others. At Riverdale, we are in the forefront of translating this research into effective teaching practice.

As students move to Middle School, we challenge them to take more control over their own learning process and their development as problem solvers. In history class, for example, we employ simulations that require our 7th graders not simply to read about how laws are created, but rather to function as legislators.

We know, for instance, that learning is an emotional as well as rational experience, and that the longer and more deeply students think about concepts the more these concepts are imbedded into long-term memory. This drives our focus on active rather than passive learning.

By the time they reach the Upper School, Riverdale students excel at challenging themselves through independent study, MiniCourse curriculum design, and interdisciplinary projects that tackle real-world problems.

Our students are challenged not simply to read about science, math, or history but rather to be scientists, mathematicians, and historians. In every discipline they learn by doing—through At Riverdale, students learn by doing, often collaborating with classmates.


Learning Experience

At every grade level, we encourage students to continually build on what they have learned and to push beyond their comfort zones. This is key to helping students develop confidence in their own capacity to learn, or what psychologist Carol Dweck has termed a “growth mindset.”


Experiential Learning at Riverdale WE BELIEVE IN TEACHING THE WHOLE PERSON


Riverdale attracts faculty members who think deeply about their own teaching. We have become a magnet for educators who believe that delivering strong subject content is just the beginning of their mission. Our teachers take the time to nurture character strengths, encourage a growth mindset in their students, and incorporate active learning experiences into their classrooms and the community.

In the pages that follow, you will see how the Riverdale academic journey unfolds, from a student’s earliest explorations through to the cusp of adulthood. In each grade, we have chosen to feature selected courses and programs that are emblematic of the Riverdale learning experience.

Learning Experience

We encourage all our faculty members to embrace a growth mindset in their own lives through conference attendance, continuing education and projects they design to explore innovative teaching strategies.

Dominic A.A. Randolph Head of School

To support their work, we have established Learning Research Teams on both campuses. The LRTs offer student support as well as faculty ongoing professional development opportunities to explore and hone their teaching craft. The teams and faculty members are experts on learning who help all our students “learn how to learn.”



Through their study of literature, language, and history Riverdale students gain insight into the lives and worlds of diverse people—near and far, present and past. A rigorous reading and writing curriculum is further brought to life through group projects and involvement in the culture and history of New York and beyond.

From nature study on the Lower School campus, to independent studies of the Hudson, and app development Riverdale students are challenged to follow the evidence, solve problems, harness technology, and gain confidence as scientists and engineers.

ARTS AND MUSIC Riverdale students have the opportunity to be hands-on performers and fine artists from the first day of Pre-K through 12th Grade. From the Lower School play projects, to Middle and Upper School music groups, and electives in every medium, self-expression is an integral part of every student’s education.


SPECIAL PROJECT Special class and individual projects are part of every school year. Writing and producing original plays, mapping and studying the entire city of New York, simulating great debates in U.S. history, researching the Hudson River, realizing original designs in our maker space—these are just a few of the opportunities that every Riverdale student experiences.

In Workshop, students receive stretches of time for practice and repetition in order to apply new skills and become more proficient independently. The workshop methodology supports our commitment to giving students time and space to move across their individual progression of learning. Throughout the Lower School, our campus drives active learning, allowing students the freedom to play outside and explore the world. Our science classes have an ever-changing laboratory for the study of plants, animals, birds, and the Hudson River. Students become scientists by immersing themselves in activity. In this publication you will see how learning progresses grade to grade in Math and Science, Humanities, Arts, and Special Projects. In addition, all Lower School students study Spanish and participate in our signature drama program, which gives each grade the opportunity to produce an original play directly related to academic and character themes. Although it’s impossible to fully capture daily life at Riverdale, the following pages will give you a rich picture of our learning environment. We look forward to welcoming you to campus where you can see firsthand how exciting it is to be part of the Lower School community.

Lower School

A fourth grade teacher posted a quote from Socrates in her classroom: “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” She then asked her students to discuss how this concept might apply to their own experience at Riverdale. This exercise reveals something central to our teaching principles and practice. We believe it is important to help even our youngest students think about their own learning process and relate what they are learning at Riverdale to their lives outside the classroom. With two teachers in each classroom we can closely focus on each individual student’s interests and needs. In Pre-K and Kindergarten intentional play introduces students to teamwork, problem solving, character skills, and emergent literacy. As students move to more formal academics, each lesson is an opportunity to orchestrate an active learning experience. In every classroom, teachers encourage students to develop character strengths in parallel with disciplinary knowledge. For example, we choose literature that helps children learn empathy. In math classes we consciously encourage students to reach beyond their problem-solving level to help them develop resilience and grit as well as basic skills. In reading, writing, and math, we use a workshop model of instruction.

Learning Experience

Learning Experience

Lower School

Active Learning in the Lower School

Kindergarten students investigate their environment during a nature walk with our environmental educators.



Children enter Kindergarten in dramatically different places in their social, physical, and cognitive development and grow into a community of learners. The concept of change is woven throughout the curriculum—those that we find in ourselves and in the world around us.




Working with an artist

Little Red Lighthouse

Exploring and observing

After studying arctic animals, children work with an artist-inresidence to imagine and make papier-mâché animals. The artist works with the children over six sessions, teaching them to use newspaper, tape, tinfoil, strips of paper, glue, and paint to bring their creations to life.

In preparation, we read The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge and stories about the Hudson River. During the trip, students take a tour inside the Little Red Lighthouse. This experience becomes a springboard for research into bridges, lighthouses and rivers, leading to each class designing, creating, and interacting with a 3D representation of the Hudson River, George Washington Bridge, and the Little Red Lighthouse.

Our math curriculum encompasses counting, ordering, finding patterns, composing and decomposing numbers, collecting and recording data, and investigating geometrical concepts. The curriculum is differentiated to challenge children wherever they may be in their mathematical development. Nature walks, experiments, year-long observations of the seasons and weather are all vehicles through which our students learn to develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of a good scientist.


The language of math and science Children develop a number sense and a basic understanding of mathematical language, including how to count and identify patterns. In science class, we learn about different animal classifications and habitats. Nature walks on campus teach children to observe the world around them.



Learning to create as a group

Exploring our community

We encourage the skills necessary to make music in a group setting. These include active listening, following directions, cooperating with others, singing with tunefulness, and maintaining a steady beat.

Children learn skills, including how to recognize and form upper case letters, how to identify and create rhymes, how to tell stories using pictures, and how to use our Early Learning Library. In social studies, students are introduced to the concept of community. We focus on the importance of the Riverdale community and what various members do to help our school.

In art class, we spend the year exploring clay and collage and discovering the endless creative possibilities of working with these media. Children learn to recognize and find elements of color, line, shape, form, and structure.

ABOVE: The outdoor campus makes a great backdrop for our PreK students’ play. TOP LEFT: Students make papier-mâché animals with a visiting artist. TOP RIGHT: Children learn self-control while having fun in their movement class.



Learning about language We explore the alphabet, providing our students with multi-sensorial experiences that harness their whole bodies for learning. Children learn the building blocks of language and practice being writers and readers. They engage in phonological awareness activities, vocabulary development, journaling, literature discussions, and other literacy-rich experiences.


Playing and creating

ABOVE: Kindergarteners provide tours of the Hudson River model they have built in their classroom. TOP LEFT: Kindergarten students learn literacy skills and develop a love of reading.


Through singing, playing instruments, listening, moving, improvising, creating, expressing, and performing together, we develop an appreciation of music. In art class, children spend the year exploring clay and collage and discovering the creative possibilities of working with these materials. They learn to recognize and find elements of color, line, shape, form and structure.

Lower School: Kindergraden

Lower School: Pre-Kindergarden Learning Experience

In Pre-K, children learn creativity and problem solving skills through games, imaginative play, and exploration. Teachers employ different kinds of play, and encourage students to try activities, whether it’s building with blocks, painting with watercolors, or reading a book.

Learning Experience



First graders are ready to focus their openness and curiosity— to read, write, solve problems, build skills, formulate questions and work with others to reach goals. This is an age marked with tremendous growth and change.

Second graders continue to develop their skills as readers as they explore more complex texts in a variety of genres. They have opportunities to build comprehension skills and the ability to express their understandings both orally and in writing.




Building literacy skills

Mastering the building blocks of creativity

Practicing new skills

The development of reading and writing in the first grade is a balance of direct skill-building work with experience-based activities designed for the lessons. Small reading groups allow us to target the needs of individual students. In writing we build foundational skills while exploring genres such as persuasive essays, stories, and biographies. In social studies we explore the concept of community and learn about people who have made a difference, stressing how character strengths are woven into accomplishments. Embedded in this work are communitybuilding activities and field trips.

Students learn about instruments, notes and the musical staff and how to create their own rhythmic combinations. Improvisation is emphasized through the use of the xylophone and percussion instruments.



Forms of expression

Exploring and problem solving

Learning Experience

Our skill-building arts programs are aligned with our themes of study. Art projects connect to our work on changemakers, and drama highlights character work. Our P.E and movement teachers stress teamwork and direction following.


“One Small Square” Wave Hill Gardens has set aside plots of land for the first grade. Classes hike to their squares to document and learn about the changes and relationships that exist in all levels of nature.

ABOVE: Students gather with a teacher

in a small reading circle. TOP RIGHT: First graders perform in a drama production that is written based on classroom themes.


In math, our program is a combination of direct skills acquisition activities and larger problem-based challenges. Students study quantity, volume, and measurement and learn how to add, subtract, and group numbers in tens. The first grade actively uses the campus and the woods next to the school as outdoor classrooms for science lessons. Many of our units start with ‘cycles’ such as weather, water, and insects and serve as grounding points for experiments, observations, and documentation.

Art projects offer opportunities to explore line, shape, color, and composition in a variety of media.

Students strengthen their number sense and computational skills. They also participate in projects that require collaborative work. We use our campus as a laboratory for science activities, including an in-depth study of birds—their appearance in different seasons, their songs, and habits.



Our diverse New York home

Aquarium math project

Second graders read more complex texts in a variety of genres and develop their comprehension skills by discussing what they read and engaging in design thinking around solutions for problems faced by characters in the stories.

This project brings together everything we’ve studied this year. Each student designs a fish tank, choosing a specific type of fish, accounting for their particular measurements, space needs, price, etc. Each student must draw fish to scale and write a letter explaining the details of the project.

In social studies, we extend children’s understanding of multiple groups: family, school, neighborhood, and the larger community.

Lower School: Second Grade


ABOVE: Second graders learn about their local community by studying NYC neighborhoods. TOP RIGHT: Students and teachers work together to understand increasingly complex texts.


Learning Experience

Lower School: First Grade





Maker Space inventions

Exploring the pivotal role of the Hudson River

Investigating how the universe works


Introducing different forms of self-expression Tying into our study of the Hudson, children play the recorder, the closest wind instrument to the Native American flute. They also learn to read music and interpret simple compositions.

Lower School: Fourth Grade

Fourth graders learn how humans are connected through time, space, and belief systems. This overarching theme guides our study of cultures, literature, and science. Students gain fluency in study and note-taking skills, moving from writing a paragraph to producing a research paper.

Fourth graders are ready to look beyond the mechanics of multiplication and division to fractions and geometry. Our approach combines both a traditional exposure to established algorithms with ongoing student-driven investigations.

Third graders explore the relationship between people and the environment. We look at how people lived in the Hudson River Valley, from Native Americans, to explorers, to industrialists, to modern-day residents. We study related social issues, including child labor, pollution, and the fight to protect the river.

We begin with the big bang and origins of the universe. Students then focus on the earth, looking at the layers of the atmosphere, oceans and great rivers, continents, and plate tectonics. We conclude the year with archaeology, studying fossils, discoveries about early humans, and artifacts of lost civilizations.

Students analyze literature and write stories and essays based on what we are learning. In one assignment, they contrast their lives with those of children who worked in factories during the Industrial Revolution.




Tackling real-world questions

Working models

We introduce real-world story problems that require addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Students learn mental math strategies and evaluate their effectiveness and efficiency. The class also collaborates as a community of mathematicians.

Students use the Maker Space to build working models inspired by various areas of study. These might include the constellations constructed with circuits and lights as they study astronomy.

History inspires creativity

We study the plants and animals that live in and around the Hudson and explore how people influence the environment, focusing on water, pollution, and conservation.


ABOVE: Students enthusiastically participate in a hands-on math lesson. LEFT: Third graders engage in a sewing project, a part of their study of the Industrial Revolution.

We explore various media and subjects, including a unit on the face in art. Students sketch self-portraits, create profiles using colorful paper, and sculpt expressive clay masks.

Where we began We read creation stories, myths, and folk tales and analyze those texts. In social studies we begin with the earliest cave dwellers and move through ancient Greece, the Silk Road, and West African kingdoms, discussing how humans traded and shared ideas with one another.

ABOVE: Fourth graders use protractors as they begin to understand angles and geometric principles. TOP RIGHT: Students work on various maker projects connected to their classroom studies in social studies and science.



Students prepare a concert continuing the study of human connection as expressed through music. The performance features music inspired by the Silk Road, ancient Greece, China, and West African kingdoms. All students visit the Rubin Museum to view art related to their study of the Silk Road. They then create original sculptures that incorporate characteristics of animals— both real and imagined—that they might encounter on their own Silk Road adventure.

Learning Experience

Lower School: Third Grade

Third graders study the changing relationship between people and the environment and assume more responsibility as independent learners. This is the first year that students are one on one with Chromebooks, using GoogleDocs and other programs as tools for research and writing.

Students develop individual projects in the Maker Space that build on their study of the ever-changing role and environment of the Hudson River. Inspired by past inventions that fueled the Industrial Revolution, individual students can create models of new solutions that address problems in people’s lives.

Learning Experience



Lower School: Fifth Grade

5 Fifth graders prepare for middle school by focusing on academic stamina, self-management skills, and self-advocacy. Because students are moving to more specialized subject matter, our co-teacher team includes a math/science specialist and a humanities specialist in each classroom. SPECIAL PROJECT


Solving a real-world design challenge

Moving to more advanced explorations We move to more sophisticated math problems involving decimals, fractions and geometry, concluding the year with an introduction to algebra. Students are encouraged to focus on concepts rather than on right answers and to articulate why they chose a specific problem-solving strategy.

Learning Experience

Fifth graders work on an adaptive design project in connection with their study of the human body. This process involves conducting a needs assessment, interviewing “clients,” concept development, careful construction planning, execution, and delivery of a finished product.

Our science curriculum focuses on three essential questions: How do all our systems work together to make us the amazing human beings we are? How does the brain learn? What scientific and engineering practices are essential for analysis, inquiry, and argumentation?



Becoming artists and performers

Interpreting and dramatizing the American journey

Whether they choose band, strings or chorus, music students learn ensemble skills, including blending with others, maintaining independent parts, and following a conductor—all culminating in live performances. In conjunction with the American Journey, students learn map-making skills in art class. They also complete a series of observational studies of the human figure.

Fifth graders explore the American journey in their English and social studies classes. Our focus is on the arc of history from the revolution to the struggle for civil rights. In a year-long project students conceive and produce a play that requires them to understand the impact that events have on the lives of real people. This develops writing ability, teamwork, speaking skills, confidence, as well as empathy, understanding, and respect.

Throughout the Lower School, our campus drives active learning, allowing students the freedom to play outside and explore the world. ABOVE: Student “immunologist” teaches her

classmates how the human body fights disease. TOP LEFT: Fifth graders consult with first grade “clients” on design of ergonomic easels.

Students converse over lunch in our spacious and bright Lower School dining room.


During the next three quarters of the year, students rotate through learning experiences based around coding, outdoor education, and MakerLab. These structured experiences give students the opportunity to learn by doing, a hallmark of Riverdale’s educational philosophy since our founding. When students become scientists, artists, or engineers, lessons are more meaningful and effective. Our signature Seventh Grade History curriculum, for instance, is built around simulations that require students to act as legislators. They write bills, caucus with colleagues, and debate the opposition— with success depending on their ability to construct persuasive arguments, ask good questions, write well, and think on their feet. By the time students reach Eighth Grade many are taking classes that involve interdisciplinary study. One annual highlight for all Middle School students is Project Week in March. Projects have included as diverse experiences as an anatomy workshop at Lenox Hill Hospital; cooking with a renowned chef; theater production with the staff of a Broadway musical, and other projects focused on art, design, business, music, science, sports, and the outdoors.

Middle School

Students enter Middle School ready to become more independent both socially and intellectually. They change classes for the first time, experience more freedom on campus, and take more ownership of their lives as students, including meeting deadlines or scheduling conferences with teachers. And along with these responsibilities, Middle School students are also adjusting to an increasingly demanding curriculum, one that will challenge them to think independently and debate preconceived notions. As educators, one of our most important goals is to help students explore new interests and understand who they are as autonomous learners, but we have to make sure that all students have the skills necessary in order to delve deeply into those interests. In Sixth Grade all students take a year-long course called Middle School Design. The course’s first quarter is dedicated to study skills to create the habits that will make students successful long into the future, not just in school. Learning Specialists teach students skills and strategies that are typically challenging including independent problem solving, test preparation, test taking, time management, active listening, and organization.

Learning Experience

Learning Experience

Middle School

Growth and Transition in the Middle School

At Riverdale, we believe that learning can take place through experiences, both on and off campus.



New York City is the common thread that links all academic study, and our focus is on helping each sixth grader develop the study skills necessary for more advanced, independent work. Classes are taught by a quintet of teachers from different disciplines.

This is a year of added academic responsibilities, including the introduction of exams, as well as new opportunities for joining athletic teams and co-curricular activities. All of this requires seventh graders to take more initiative and to manage their time effectively.




How do you get to an answer?

New York in depth

Learning to write and speak powerfully

As a class, we read books that spark discussion of social justice, diversity, and community. Students are encouraged to develop their own voices by writing poetry, memoir, and essays.

In English class, we continue to focus on writing skills and introduce students to the thematic study of literature. We read works that explore themes of ambition, hope, adversity, and injustice.

Sixth graders improve their ability to understand mathematical processes, solve word problems, and perform calculations with whole numbers, integers, fractions, and decimals.

Learning Experience

This same approach to problem solving guides our study of Earth and Environmental Science. Students learn to form a hypothesis, conduct lab experiments, and then reflect on what worked—and what didn’t.

American Politics and Government is an experiential class taught through role-playing and simulations of civic processes. Students learn first hand what’s involved in running for office, passing a bill, and changing society.

As a final project, students research every aspect of a New York City neighborhood. The entire class collaborates on a giant 3D map of all five boroughs, complete with QR codes that link to information-rich wiki pages.




Asking the right questions

Role-playing and debates

We work to strengthen skills in arithmetic and to introduce students to the concepts that they will need for Algebra I and more advanced mathematics.

As part of our signature American Politics and Government curriculum students take on the role of historical and contemporary political players: senators, diplomats, judges, and protest leaders. They give public speeches and learn to write formal arguments and informal reflections on their experiences.

Creative exploration Sixth graders can choose to express their creativity in a variety of ways. They can begin or continue a musical instrument, learn the basics of composition and drawing, and explore the elements of drama through theater games and improvisation.


Eggmobile competition and Maker Space design LEFT: Students work independently

TOP RIGHT: Sixth graders work on

on word problems while their teacher stands by ready to provide guidance.

assembling the 3D map of New York City, a culminating project in their history class.

Middle School: Seventh Grade


Sixth graders learn about force and momentum through this annual contest. Teams of students build vehicles designed to protect eggs while propelling them down a wooden track.


We take a hands-on approach to life science with an emphasis on developing scientific inquiry skills. Rather than memorize facts about biology and ecology, students engage in experimental design, investigation, data analysis, and the presentation of concepts.

Learning Experience

Middle School: Sixth Grade


New materials and concepts Seventh graders continue to explore their own creative interests. They can join a musical group, experiment with media, learn more about acting or take a dance class.


TOP LEFT: Students collaborate as they work on their mock political campaigns. ABOVE: Middle School students come together to perform in the dance concert.

Middle School: Eighth Grade


In this transition year, eighth graders take classes with Upper School faculty, and have greater independence to pursue their passions. There are also more opportunities for interdisciplinary study and leadership, including the option to mentor sixth grade students. HUMANITIES

Personal voice, global perspective From Shakespeare to Salinger, we discuss imagery and symbolism, character development, plot, style, and narrative points of view. Students develop their own voice and style, writing an autobiography as the final project of the year. Using historical texts, maps, literature, myth, and art, we study ancient and traditional cultures around the world. Students are challenged to look at how the issues facing these societies compare to our own.



Tackling problems— both interesting and complex

Bobsled Design Challenge

Learning Experience

We cover the basic structure and techniques of algebra, and students learn to apply these algebraic concepts and skills to ever more complex real-world problems. Each topic in chemistry and physical science is introduced through a case study, followed by in-depth discussion, labs, and group projects. Areas of investigation include properties of matter, states of matter, atomic structure, the periodic table, chemical bonds, acids and bases, and nuclear chemistry.

ABOVE: Students eagerly

participate in class discussions on literature. TOP RIGHT: Middle schoolers love engaging in hands-on science lab experiments.


Deeper involvement Working on longer musical compositions, experimenting with mixed media, printmaking and sculpture, and the rehearsal of plays and scripts are just some of the options open to eighth graders.


Using their knowledge of physical science, students build bobsleds approximately three meters in length that will accelerate down a track. Students must submit a formal write-up explaining their reasoning for each design feature they choose to include. Building materials are limited to straws, popsicle sticks, paper clips, recycled paper, twist ties and other simple materials.

Middle School students are adjusting to an increasingly demanding curriculum, one that will challenge them to think independently and debate preconceived notions. Middle School students work both collaboratively and as individuals to tackle a variety of learning experiences.

connections through both required and optional interdisciplinary courses. At Riverdale, we eliminated Advanced Placement courses and their emphasis on rote subject knowledge in favor of offering students a wide range of electives that allow them to develop a depth and breadth of knowledge, and relate that knowledge to real world experiences. For example, a budding scientist may take advanced, college-level courses in physics, chemistry or biology, and electives like Marine Biology or Bioethics. A student interested in the law or politics could take Constitutional Law and explore themes of gender or race in courses like Gender, Sexuality, and the Novel, and Black American Literature. At Riverdale, our academic program begins with a more structured format but soon gives way to more individualized programs. We challenge students to take their learning in new directions in the classroom and beyond. Learning outside of the classroom is a critical part of a student’s development. To that end, we encourage students to balance our challenging college preparatory curriculum with co-curricular activities, athletics, and opportunities for global and domestic travel, science research, outdoor experiences, and independent study.

Middle School

Upper School students are ready to take charge of their educations. To help make a successful transition into high school, all 9th grade students take a required Delta course, which is taught by the 9th grade advisors. Goals include developing self-awareness, understanding how to function effectively in a diverse and inclusive environment, and finding ways to make meaning of one’s high school experience. We focus on developing good habits of well-being and reflection. In 9th and 10th grade, students engage in foundational work in all of the academic disciplines. Some courses are shared by all students, including History, and English, where our Upper Schoolers challenge themselves to take their thinking, reading, and writing skills to the next level and make personal meaning out of the texts and ideas they study. Students learn a language or two at different levels, not only to develop their communication skills, but also to build cultural competency. In math and science, students develop an understanding of essential concepts by using their curiosity and observational skills and through building arguments. In 11th and 12th grade, students build on their academic foundation and begin to create an experience that is unique to their talents and interests while making

Learning Experience

Learning Experience

Upper School

Independence and Agency in the Upper School

Upper School students participate in Riverdale’s summer science research program.





Problem solving and inquiry

Analyzing power structures

Throughout the Upper School, we place increased emphasis on problem-solving skills and mathematical communication. In Geometry, we focus on proof writing as the lens to teach deductive reasoning, and we stress the importance of mathematical vocabulary and notation.

In this segment of our two-year English sequence, we read works that explore the relationship of the individual and society. How is power achieved, exerted, and institutionalized? How does power or its lack shape individuals? Students produce full-length essays that require them to formulate a thesis and support it with wellreasoned arguments and specific evidence.

Learning Experience

In Biology we focus on inquiry as a way to help students discover and solidify their understanding of science content and the processes. We examine biological organization from the molecular and cellular levels to the ecosystems of the biosphere. HUMANITIES


The self and society

Endangered species

In English we explore cultural ideas of self, reading works from different historical periods and cultural traditions. What does it take to become oneself? Who is the self in relation to others? How do authors express a sense of self? Students focus on becoming critical readers and proficient writers of personal, creative, and analytical pieces.

Each student chooses a species that is a candidate for the official U.S. Endangered Species list. Students must gather real-world evidence and then develop a compelling presentation— arguing either for or against inclusion on the list.

In history, the first half of our two-year history sequence covers the 15th to the 19th century, and is organized thematically, rather than by geography or a strict chronology. We answer the question “how did our world’s political and economic system develop, and become truly global over time?

Tenth grade students continue to have a core experience in English, History, Math, and Science, with increasing emphasis on abstract ideas and more sophisticated analytical skills. We expect students to write longer term papers and work with both primary and secondary sources as they develop a personal writing style.

In the continuation of our thematic study of modern History, we examine the ideologies of 19th-century Europe: liberalism, social Darwinism, and nationalism, the dynamics of imperialism, the world wars of the 20th century, and complex issues facing the contemporary world. One important assignment is a term paper that requires students to make sense of secondary sources that have contradictory interpretations of the same historical question.


Exploring abstract concepts


In Algebra II students deepen their ability not just to solve equations but to also explain their reasoning, construct mathematical arguments, and use language to explain concepts such as the difference between polynomial and linear equations.

Creative choices Theater, music, and visual arts electives allow students to both expand and refine their interests. In tenth grade, most students choose to focus on either the visual or performing arts.


Students explore principles of Chemistry through practical and creative projects that might include soap making, cheese production, or writing an essay on the role of a specific element throughout history. We emphasize conceptual understanding, inquiry-driven learning, and communication skills.

Foundations in art This immersion into studio life is an opportunity for students to discover which areas of the visual arts are most in sync with their creative visions. We focus on three core foundation ideas: drawing, design, and spatial dynamics.

ABOVE: Ninth graders work together on service projects at our garden in our local community. TOP LEFT: At Riverdale, we believe in a blended approach to technology, using both digital and analog resources.



Upper School: Tenth Grade

Ninth grade students develop the foundational thinking and writing skills that will help them succeed in the Upper School and beyond. In all their classes, students learn to make observations, analyze texts, ask good questions, present ideas and hypotheses, and use evidence to support their arguments.

10 ABOVE: Learning at Riverdale involves presentations and discussions led by both students and faculty members. LEFT: Students take advantage of having a wide variety of arts courses and a whole arts building available to them.


Jolli Humanitarian Award The award honors an outstanding citizen of the world. Each year, students enter a contest to name the next recipient. The nomination process includes writing an essay and making an oral presentation to the class.

Learning Experience

Upper School: Ninth Grade


Twelfth grade combines the requirement of our signature ILS course with much greater freedom to choose electives and design independent study projects. In every discipline students are challenged to ask and answer complex questions that speak to the issues that define us as individuals and communities.



The freedom to explore

Real-world applications

In Precalculus with Trigonometry we focus on advanced problemsolving skills. Students explore both circle and triangle trigonometry, using trigonometric graphs and equations to model real-world phenomena. They study probability, which requires both logical and creative thinking, and then apply all their learning to practical scenarios such as modeling inflation. This year in Science, students are encouraged to explore their particular interests and expand their investigative skills through electives that include psychology, marine biology, bioethics, astronomy, anatomy of movement, design engineering, etc.

Most students choose a Calculus course in senior year. In addition to our various Calculus classes, we also offer courses such as Statistics, Mathematical Approaches to Economics, and Stats in Sports. Students can focus on data, mathematical analysis, and other practical applications. In those electives, as well as in calculus, the emphasis is increasingly on how mathematics applies in the real world, as well as to seeing math not as a series of formulae to be applied but as an opportunity for analytical and creative thinking.




Constructing America

Becoming artists

Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS)

Students continue to develop as performers and visual artists through a wide range of electives and special projects. As a community, they also explore the power of the arts to influence issues of social justice and cultural change.

This signature course develops critical thinking through close reading of primary sources, discussion-based learning, and analytical writing. Students read works in a variety of disciplines to explore two essential questions that continue to engage contemporary thinkers. One is an ontological question, “who or what are we as human beings?” and the other a moral and political question, “how ought we to live and conduct our lives?” These questions— in addition to those formulated by the students themselves— are examined through the lenses of different disciplines, such as Art, Literature, Philosophy, and Psychology.

In this signature course, History and English faculty focus on the ways in which Americans have—from the founding of colonial America to the Gulf War and beyond— asserted the special nature of American society. Students examine political documents from a literary and historical perspective. Likewise, they examine literary texts that illuminate the nation’s political and intellectual transformation.

ABOVE: Upper School students enjoy the flexibility of our classroom furniture, spreading out to work on a research assignment.


American experiences In connection with Constructing America, students have two very different experiences—a trip to Washington D.C. to meet government and advocacy group leaders and a hike to Kaaterskill Falls to approximate the journey that inspired Hudson River School painters.

TOP RIGHT: Students work in a small group to solve precalculus problems with the encouragement of their teacher.




Night court

Independent projects

As part of a unit on the U.S. justice system, ILS students observe the work of public defenders in Manhattan night court.

Senior year is often a time for students to synthesize their learning and produce an independent or group exhibit, multi-media project, or performance.

Upper School: Twelves Grade

Eleventh graders have the skills and the maturity to appreciate and analyze the deep, complex, and often surprising connections between disciplines. Our increased focus on interdisciplinary study and electives help students achieve a greater level of sophistication as independent thinkers, researchers, and writers.


Students tend to save Physics for this year, choosing from a traditional Physics class, an honors Physics elective, or Applied Physics. All these courses incorporate inquiry-based learning projects that offer an opportunity to explore the physical principles that explain the world around us. Past projects have included designing a roller coaster with at least three “thrills” that demonstrate the laws of physics. Some students choose to combine Calculus and Physics into one class. Learning Experience

Upper School: Eleventh Grade Learning Experience


ABOVE: Two seniors offer a class presentation on a concept they studied in their calculus class. TOP LEFT: Students in ILS, a course that challenges them to examine “who or what are we as human beings?”


Electives offer students the opportunity to expand on their foundational knowledge of English and history by delving deeper into specific literary genres and particular historical periods and themes.

Thinking about Thinking

Learning Experience

Riverdale’s humanities program encourages students to make sense of the dynamics that have shaped the contemporary global system and prepares them to become knowledgeable citizens and social actors. Our courses promote the habits of thought that are necessary for effective reading and writing.

This interdisciplinary seminar examines the nature of thinking, especially reasoning. We explore such topics as animal and human intelligence, language, logic, inductive and deductive reasoning, belief, and knowledge. In particular, the course looks at the ways in which human cultures have classified the world in a variety of contexts and disciplines, including philosophy, the biological and physical sciences, the human sciences, history, literature, and art.

Black American Literature

The Global 1960’s

Even when the country and the world weren’t listening, African American literature was an essential component of the American psyche. We read watershed African American works, including “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy,” August Wilson’s “Fences” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

In this course we examine the vivid and tumultuous social, political, and cultural movements of the 1960s across the globe. We begin with liberation movements of the 1950s (decolonization in Africa and Asia, nationalist revolution in Cuba, and the black freedom movement in the U.S.) in the context of the deepening Cold War. These movements not only changed the political contours of the globe but also sparked social movements in other countries, first in support of decolonization and then directed against the structures of authority in their own societies. Topics we explore in depth include the Vietnam Wars; student movements of Japan, the U.S., Western Europe, and Mexico; the development of feminism and other social movements; the rise of counter-cultures; Czech challenges to Soviet authority; and the cataclysmic events of 1968 across the world. Our sources include scholarly articles, memoirs, speeches and essays, films, music, photos, stories, and other primary sources. Students write regularly in various formats (informal impromptu writing, online journal entries, brief analytical essays) and are expected to participate actively in each class session. Students have an opportunity to do brief research forays into areas of personal interest.

Shakespeare: Text and Performance Students read, discuss, and write about several plays—looking at them from the viewpoint of actors. They then have the opportunity to both teach scenes from “Romeo and Juliet,” to Riverdale 8th graders and to perform interconnected scenes from the plays they have studied.

Colonizers and Colonized

Science Fiction: Utopias and Dystopias

We explore the complicated artistic legacy of European Colonialism, focusing on literary and cinematic works from Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Australia. Students deepen their understanding of the economics, history, and culture of imperialism and the way Colonial power altered native peoples’ experience of themselves and their place in the world.

We explore how writers and producers of science fiction imagine a better (or in most cases worse) version of humanity. We begin by reading perhaps the earliest work of science fiction, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Other texts will include Orwell’s “1984,” Huxley’s “Brave New World,” and works by Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Philip K. Dick.

Gender, Sexuality, and the Novel

Constitutional Law and the American Political System

Using feminist and literary theory from thinkers like Gayatri Spivak and Judith Butler, we track novelists who shaped our understanding of both the modern novel and of femininity and masculinity from the early nineteenth century to well into the twentieth, including Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Rhys.

This course will focus on modern constitutional issues and the political processes through which they are addressed. Who sets the agenda for the Supreme Court? What social and political circumstances affect a case’s likelihood of review? Every member of the class researches and leads a discussion on a major Court decision.


Urban Studies: Comparative Cities This interdisciplinary course uses New York City as our frame. Students are asked to think critically about how the natural environment, policy decisions, immigration, and corporate interests have shaped various neighborhoods and then compare New York’s unique history and experiences with those of other urban landscapes.

Languages Language study at Riverdale is a dynamic, interdisciplinary experience focused on intercultural communicative competency. Students gain a rich understanding of grammar and vocabulary, cultural histories and products, the relationship between language and identity, and the value of engaging with perspectives and traditions that are different from one’s own. All Middle and Upper School students study a world language, and can select from Spanish, French, Latin and Mandarin. Japanese and Ancient Greek are offered additionally in the Upper School. Students are required to complete at least three years of Upper School study in one of these language areas, but most continue beyond that requirement and take advantage of the advanced elective courses offered in Language. A selection of those offerings is described below.

Immigration, Education, and Race This advanced French course focuses on the polemic of diversity in the key areas of education, immigration and race. We will approach these topics through the careful analysis of diverse texts, including news articles and broadcasts, films, art and literature. Students will not only refine their language proficiency in all four skills areas (reading, writing, speaking, listening) but also engage deeply with current events and critical dialogues from across the Francophone world.


Innovation & Design for Global Issues in Latin America Co-taught entirely in Spanish by teachers in the language and art departments, this interdisciplinary class studies design engineering problems faced by Latin American countries. Students work in the Maker Lab, developing their linguistic, creative, and entrepreneurial skills through hands-on art, design, and engineering projects.

Upper School: Electives

History & English

Novelas Ejemplares This course investigates the implicit dialogues on gender and art between two of Spain’s most masterful and influential Golden Age writers: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and his proto-feminist contemporary María de Zayas y Sotomayor, the most popular woman writer of the period.

Latin Letters An advanced Latin prose course, with emphasis on fluency, an understanding of style, literary analysis, and cultural context. We will read, at a minimum, letters by Cicero, Seneca, and Pliny (including the only first-hand account we have of the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in 70 CE written by someone who experienced it). If time and interest permit, we may add Latin letters from later eras (by Erasmus, for example).

Latin Love Elegy This advanced Latin poetry course continues to refine the study of literary style, intertextuality, and cultural context from the ancient world. We will explore love poetry in elegiac form by Catullus (a pioneer or precursor) and then Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, the three acknowledged masters of love elegy whose work survives today.

Learning Experience

Upper School: Electives

Upper School Electives Humanities

Our STEM classes allow students togo beyond the required curriculum to further investigate specific areas of interest in math and science. We encourage students to take these courses to better understand real-life applications of mathematics and science.

Learning Experience

Through our inquiry-based approach in science, we help students understand basic science and the scientific method so they will be informed followers of scientific developments and discriminating citizens who can evaluate the validity of scientific claims. In our math courses, we emphasize problem-solving skills, reasoning and communication, establishing connections between the various disciplines, and using technology as a tool.

Anatomy of Movement


Intended for students in grades 10–12 who have completed a research internship either at Riverdale in the Summer Research Program or as an intern/volunteer in a research laboratory and/or field setting outside the school. Students who are preparing to carry out summer research will be guided in locating a lab.

This course focuses on understanding the design of the human body and how it is intended to move. We will learn how bones, fascia, joints, muscles, and other structures work together to move our bodies. We explore how our muscle systems work by utilizing examples from daily life activities, athletics, yoga, pilates, and dance. We will discuss major injuries seen in a variety of sports and daily life and learn how to help and prevent them. Throughout the course, students maintain a journal to chronicle their experiences throughout the course.

What types of medical procedures should be carried out on a critically ill elderly person? Should we try to save children who are born extremely prematurely? Should embryonic stem cell research be legal? Should we be able to end the life of a sixmonth fetus that carries a lethal genetic disease? Would the situation be different if we were making the decision about an eight-celled pre-embryo? Should we be able to carry out research on new treatments for HIV/AIDS in a developing nation if the standard of care in the United States would prohibit such research? Who decides? Who pays?

Molecular Biology

Psychology A college level introduction to the study of human behavior. Topics explored include: the different theories and perspectives of psychology, critical thinking skills and research methods, including statistical analysis, personality theories, the biological basis of behavior, development, theories of learning, memory, cognition and intelligence, sensation and perception, states of consciousness, motivation and emotion, psychological disorders and treatment, and social psychology.

Science, Economics, and Politics of Water An in-depth look at what is surely becoming one of the most important substances on earth, if not the most important. We look at the chemical, biological, historical, political and economic aspects of water, and the current politics and economics of water use in this country and in developing countries.

Astronomy This course is designed to help students better understand how the earth is impacted by the solar system, the galaxy, and the cosmos. Topics include the celestial sphere, historical and modern astronomy techniques, the solar system, the birth and death of stars, light, gravity, and cosmology.


Computer Science

Science Research

We focuse on the basic technology of DNA manipulation and genetic engineering principles. Students conduct experiments that involve the transformation of E. coli; DNA fingerprinting; plasmid mapping; isolation of chromosomal DNA from E. coli; Southern Blotting; and extraction of mitochondrial DNA from plant cells.

Marine Biology (Biological Oceanography) A one-semester introduction to marine biology with an emphasis on the relationships between marine organisms and their environments. Specific marine environments, adaptations of organisms, interrelationships between organisms and the behavior of animals will be explored.

Mathematical Approaches to Economics This course introduces students to the fundamental definitions and theories of Micro- and Macro-economics, including supply & demand, cost vs. benefit, profit & loss, efficient markets, market regulation (e.g. taxes, subsidies, price ceilings, minimum wages), capitalist competition & monopoly. While the course requires reading and discussions of economic theories, our goal is to employ graphical and computational skills from Algebra and Precalculus to accurately and objectively quantify the costs and benefits of various financial scenarios and policies.

Statistics Statistics is a semester course that covers descriptive and inferential statistics with special attention given to real world applications. We begin with graphical and numerical descriptions of a sample including histograms and measures of central tendency and spread (mean, standard deviation, etc.). The normal distribution is then studied, followed by two-variable statistics including scatterplots and regression analysis. Sampling and experimental design are delved into. Additional topics may include probability theory, sampling distributions, binomial distributions, confidence, and hypothesis testing.

Design Engineering Design Engineering is an interdisciplinary project-based course that tackles fascinating design challenges and allows students to apply them to the real world. Along the way, students gain a number of useful skills including but not limited to design thinking, sewing, 3D modeling, woodworking, electronics, programming, and interactive design. Students will be asked to document and present their projects to the public as well as complete homework and assessments to assess their understanding.

By understanding the science behind these topics and by using ethical decisionmaking frameworks, we learn to develop positions about some of the most pressing ethical issues that we personally and socially confront in the 21st century.

Physics and Calculus Physics/Calculus is a combined teamtaught math/science course. Calculus and Physics share a common origin and given that so much of what is covered in each class is mirrored in the other, teaching the courses in an integrated manner is an effective strategy to promote deep student understanding. Coordinating the courses allows students to use the concepts of physics to reinforce and provide context for the calculus that they study concurrently.

All Riverdale students are exposed to Computer Science, coding in particular. Those who are interested can go well beyond that minimum, creating Capstone projects and studying new coding languages.Â

Ethics in Computer Science Technology enables us to do things we never could do before, but are they things that we should do? Students investigate the ways in which computer science and technology challenge ethical, social, and governmental boundaries.

Computer Science An introduction to Computer Science terms, skills, and understandings, and is a foundation for future work. Students learn programming methodology, algorithm analysis, data structures, and abstraction to make amazing projects.

Artificial Intelligence What does it mean for a machine to think? From IBM’s Jeopardy-winning computer Watson to their amazing chess-playing program Deep Blue, it often seems like machines can be more intelligent than humans. Students learn how to write programs that use Big Data to predict, strategize, reason, plan, and evolve.

Capstone Developer Project We designed this course for students who are ready to progress to higher levels of Computer Science expand their skills and apply them to real problems in authentic programming scenarios. Priority is given to creating meaningful and socially relevant projects that students might wish to continue after graduation from Riverdale.


Upper School: Electives


Learning Experience

Upper School: Electives

Upper School Electives STEM

All Upper School students take at least three years of art. After completing a broad foundational course, students can then choose from the following areas.


In all our classes we encourage students to develop their technical skills as well as explore their personal visions.

Students begin the year working with texture, slabs, coil and pinching to form pieces that function, and pieces that don’t. They then experience the discipline of using the potter’s wheel as a forming tool to make work that is thrown, altered, and added to.

Graphic Design This courses is an exploration of visual communications, with an emphasis on the principles and elements of design. Along with a few analog techniques, students learn the basics of the Adobe Suite including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign in order to create solutions in a series of design challenges.

Learning Experience

Life Drawing Students learn the fundamental elements of life drawing such as line, tone, composition, and anatomy. We explore conventional media such as charcoal, pencil, and pen and ink, but also experiment with inventive approaches to life drawing, including depicting the figure in motion. Then we will analyze the best art we create.

Design Lab After learning the principles of sculpture, students learn to express their personal concepts and feelings using materials of their choice. They then undertake largescale work as a main focus, accompanied by research from varied sources, including museums and special exhibits.


Painting We explore what a painting is made of (physically and formally). We are centered on understanding physical materials, painting techniques, formal elements and intellectual meaning. Students develop both their hand skills of mixing and applying paint, as well as their perceptual and observational skills. They then move on to explore various subject areas, including still-life, landscape, and self-portraits.

Photography What makes a photograph effective? We explore the techniques that are available to photographers to solve visual problems and to develop a personal statement. Students are encouraged to develop their own visions and to gain technical expertise as they learn about lenses, exposure, developing film, printing, dodging and burning, contrast filters, and presentation of their work.

Projects in Contemporary Art (PICA) This advanced art class explores how contemporary art can function within a school and engage others in art, beyond viewership. Emphasis is placed on manifesting concepts more than on developing traditional art skills. A wide range of contemporary modes and strategies may be employed, including sound/video, performance, installation, publications, and web-based, and social practice, such as interactive murals.

Performing Arts


Students learn by doing. We are a live performance-based department. We begin with training to develop individual skills. These skills are then applied to an evolving mastery of the language and expressive capabilities of music, dance, and theater.

Students must have two years’ choral experience to be admitted into Intermezzo. The repertoire is challenging and covers all styles and periods of choral music. Singers who are enrolled in Intermezzo will have the opportunity to be placed in the Vocal Arts Ensemble.

Essential Elements of Music

All players must have previous experience with their instruments—saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass, guitar, or percussion. The ensemble plays arrangements of Big Band and popular music from the 1930s to the present. We emphasize improvisational and jazz small group (combo) performance skills.

This yearlong course teaches students to understand and appreciate what constitutes the wide sphere of music. Demystifying music, which can be akin to a foreign language for many students, is one of the essential elements of this course. Students are introduced to different genres of music within the curriculum, e.g. pop, classical, world and jazz, while learning what elements of music go into ‘making a style’.

Music Theory and Musicianship I We explore the essentials of serious musicianship, including basic piano, intervals, key signatures, transposition, rhythmic notations, and elementary composition of melody. As a final project, students have the opportunity to compose and orchestrate an original piece, and may also collaborate with film students.

Vocal Arts Ensemble This is an advanced vocal ensemble of twenty to thirty-five students with above average vocal ability and an interest in developing ensemble-singing techniques. A wide repertoire is covered (classical, jazz, show, popular etc.) The ensemble performs at school concerts and other on- and off-campus events.

Jazz Ensemble

Introduction to Theater This is an exploration of acting craft and styles through the reading and performance of selected works of important playwrights. Students discover—through script analysis, theater games, improvisation, and rehearsals—the skills needed to perform and critique scenes and monologues.

Musical Theater Workshop We focus on the three elements of Musical Theatre, singing, acting, and dancing, in an advanced, highly focused, studio setting. Students not only develop strong performance skills, they are encouraged to explore their own personal styles within the musical theatre genre.

Acting This is an introduction to acting on the stage and in front of the camera. The course helps each student discover talents and creative strengths. Emphasis is on ensemble as well as individual performance skills. Classes involve theater games,


improvisation, scripted monologues, scene work, and instruction in movement, relaxation, voice, and speech.

Technical Theater

Upper School: Electives

Visual Arts

Students learn stagecraft, lighting, sound, and costumes via a combination of lectures and projects. They are trained on the proper use of the tools of technical theater, and then gain practical experience by working in the shop and on the run crew of RCS productions.

Modern Playwriting This exploration of the art of playwriting focuses on important contemporary playwrights. We read a selection of 21st century plays, see at least two live performances, and interact with a variety of industry guests. As a final project, students write a ten-minute play and take part in a “Short Play Festival” open to the community.

Dance as an Art We focus on introducing several different styles including modern technique, jazz technique, ballet technique, and hip-hop. The course includes proper warm-up, alignment, center work, traveling sequences, and choreography. In addition, there is an introduction to the history of the different dance styles.

Film Workshop We study the historical evolution of filmmaking, film theory, and analysis, beginning with the very first films of Edison and the Lumière Brothers. In the second semester, students learn the fundamentals of writing, directing, and editing their own short films.

Learning Experience

Upper School: Electives

Upper School Electives Arts and Music

Upper School: Electives

Upper School Electives Special Projects Mini Courses Mini-courses meet twice a week for a full semester. They offer faculty and students the opportunity to share their interests and passions with the larger Riverdale community.

As students enter their final two years at Riverdale, they have the freedom to branch out beyond the required curriculum. They may take or teach a mini course and might elect to do a senior project of their own design.




















Learning Experience

Senior Projects In their final semester, students have the opportunity to focus on an original project. Projects are chosen for their intellectual, creative and social value, and represent a diverse array of interests and mediums. At the conclusion of their four or seven week projects, students give a presentation to the entire Upper School. Past projects have included: MEDIA REPRESENTATION OF HOMELESSNESS












Riverdale students travel to Alaska for a summer kayaking adventure.


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