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Beatrice SwiftDepartment Head

The English Department aims to encourage a love of language and an appreciation for its powers to enrich lives. We offer a wide-ranging program of classic and contemporary texts from different cultures, genres, and historical periods. English classes foster each student's ability to read actively and critically; to write effectively in analytical, creative, and reflective modes; and to speak articulately in discussions and presentations of individual and collaborative work. Thus, over four years, a broad range of readings in both American and global literatures helps students to understand themselves and enter into the lives of others with insight and empathy.

Department Requirements
Successful completion of English 9, 10, 11, and 12.


English 9 - The Self, the World, and the Word

This course serves as an introduction to the study of literature on the high school level. A large part of finding one's way toward adulthood involves defining oneself in relation to family, peers, and society. Students in English 9 therefore examine how the search for identity is portrayed in novels, plays, stories, poems, essays, and films. Frequent writing assignments--mostly analytical but also reflective and creative--enable the student to develop her own voice and vision. Texts have included Romeo and Juliet; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; and short stories by Amy Tan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tobias Wolff, Lan Samantha Chang, and others.

prerequisite: none

English 10 - Literature and the Human Condition

In this course, students read a series of texts that explore essential and profound human experiences such as love, suffering, loss, hope, heroism, and transformation.  These texts represent a range of literary genres, cultures, and time periods, and encourage the study of common elements and archetypal patterns such as the hero’s journey.  Writing assignments and projects enable students to develop their own ideas and interpretations in analytical, reflective, and creative modes. Past readings have included The House on Mango Street, The Odyssey, Things Fall Apart, The Age of Innocence, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Persepolis, and Frankenstein.           

prerequisite: successful completion of English 9


English 11 - American Literature

What does it mean to be an American? What are our dreams and our realities? How do race, class, and gender shape the way we understand the world? 

In this course, we investigate essential questions like these through the study of a wide variety of American texts including fiction, essays and speeches, poems, plays, and memoir. We make connections to the historical and cultural contexts from which these texts emerge as we explore issues related to American  identity, beliefs, and values. We focus not only on what a text means but also on how a text uses language to create meaning, and we respond to texts in personal, analytical, and creative ways. Writing assignments help students to develop clear and compelling prose, thematic focus, and evidence-based argument.

prerequisite: successful completion of English 10


English 12 : Senior Seminar

In this course, students read a series of texts from various countries, cultures, and time periods, including contemporary voices.  Through close reading of each text, we consider the vision and values it embodies, the historical and social contexts it reflects, and the ways it helps us to understand ourselves and the world. In addition to literary genres, texts include non-fiction, film, and other modern media sources. Projects and writing assignments are personal and creative, as well as analytical.  In the past, the course has been organized around such topics as Global Visions, Women’s Voices, and Rebels and Revolutionaries.

prerequisite: successful completion of English 11

English 12 AP: Literature and Composition

In this course, students read a series of complex and challenging texts from various time periods and cultures. Through close reading of each text, we consider the vision and values it embodies, the historical and cultural contexts it reflects, and the ways it helps us to understand ourselves and the world. Most importantly, we consider literary elements and techniques needed to develop advanced skills for critical analysis and analytical writing. In the past, authors have included Shakespeare, Dante, Bronte, Faulkner, and Elizabeth Bishop.  Students also prepare to take the AP Exam in the spring.

prerequisite: recommendation of the department based on demonstrated skills and motivation

Elective Courses

Creative Writing 

This course enables students to explore their own voices through a variety of genres,  including fiction, playwriting, and poetry. Class time will focus on the writing process (generating ideas, drafting, revising) as well as supportive discussion and response to student work. Those enrolled in Creative Writing will participate in NaNoWriMo, a national novel-writing program, during the month of November.  Students will also read and discuss models from a variety of published authors, and will have the opportunity to speak to local writers and journalists during class visits. Students will be encouraged to contribute to the school literary magazine as well as other publications and writing contests.

This elective course meets four days per week and is open to sophomores, juniors and, seniors.

Introduction to Psychology

This course is an investigation into the foundation of human thought, emotion, and behavior. Such an exploration can yield lifelong results:  an informed and compassionate understanding of self and others, a facility for creating and preserving positive relationships, a way to make crucial decisions, a method for handling tough times.  The topics that we cover include: sensation and perception, sleep and dreams, memory, motivation, personality types, stress, and social dynamics. Because most of what happens in this course is in the form of active investigation and experiment, class participation is particularly important.

This year-long elective course is open to juniors and seniors on a priority basis.

Documenting the World

Whose perspective do we get in a story, and how does perspective shape our experience of a story?

What is a “true” story?
 Are “right” and “wrong” absolute terms, or relative ones?

When is no decision still a decision?

What are the responsibilities of the individual to her or his society? Of the society to the individual?

We face ethical dilemmas every day, in ways large and small.  At the supermarket, we wonder, “Is it more environmentally sound to eat tomatoes flown in from South America or beef raised in upstate New York?” Seeing a homeless person, we ask ourselves, “Should I give a needy person a handout and make an immediate impact, or get involved in an organization that addresses the root causes of homelessness?” The goal of this new course is not to impart answers to these questions, but rather to examine what processes each of us can use to think through such questions and arrive at a principled ethical worldview. The course is built around a demanding reading list of nonfiction books, supplemented by documentary films. Both genres make claims to truth, but what exactly is a “true story” anyway?  Any writer or filmmaker faces countless choices: whose story is told? from what angle? which characters are developed, and which are not?  which facts are presented, and which are not?  These choices reflect both conscious and unconscious biases of the writer or filmmaker.  In this course, we will explore the very nature of truth itself.

This year-long elective course meets twice a week is open to Juniors and Seniors. Preference goes to Seniors if over 16 students sign up for the course. 


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