Academics

Teaching Philosophy

Beacon Academy is dedicated to providing its students with a rigorous academic program. To this end, our faculty has designed a demanding core curriculum taught in flexible and innovative ways. Our academic program aims to give our students the ability to write clear, forceful English, a wide experience with literature, a thorough grounding in mathematics and quantitative analysis, and a historical perspective on human affairs. We emphasize problem solving, collaborative education, culturally inclusive learning and sensitivity to students’ cognitive styles. Our small classes foster a high degree of student-teacher interaction, and our teachers are committed to addressing the individual needs of each student.

Beacon Academy’s curriculum challenges the students to meet rigorous academic standards while at the same time offering essential cultural and social enrichment to prepare them to enter independent secondary school environments with confidence.

By the end of their extended year at Beacon, our students have read with insight eight novels, learned to write a convincing essay, mastered pre-algebra and algebra, discussed the Facing History curriculum, religion, and current events, studied the art of observation at the MFA, the ICA, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and exercised their bodies running, swimming, and rowing. They are prepared to compete—and succeed—in challenging secondary school environments. They have transformed themselves into eager, active, and responsible learners.

Beacon Academy surrounds its students with nurturing adults, supporting them in a variety of ways, including an academic advisory program, SSAT preparation, help navigating the secondary school application process, and secondary school placement guidance. We track and continue to support our graduates after they move on to their new schools.

English

Most Beacon students have had limited opportunities to read, analyze, and discuss challenging literature. At Beacon, small classes create an environment similar to what Beacons will experience at competitive independent high schools and provide the opportunity to hone the skills they will need to be successful in that setting as well as in college and beyond. Beacon students read a number of novels, master the fundamentals of grammar, and dramatically increase their functional vocabulary.

Students learn to:

  • Read for theme rather than plot and gain an understanding of narrative tools
  • Interpret and analyze poetry and understand the use of poetic devices
  • Present opinions in an articulate and convincing manner
  • Develop an understanding of grammar and an appreciation for precise expression
  • Master close to 800 vocabulary words

Novels include: The Old Man and the Sea, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, The Hate U Give, The Chosen, The Lightning Thief, and The Bluest Eye.

Mathematics

Beacon’s Math Program is designed to provide students with the mathematical skills and academic habits necessary for success in a rigorous independent high school. On average, students enroll in Beacon with a 6th-grade level of math proficiency. The curriculum begins in the summer with a thorough review of foundational arithmetic topics, such as operations with fractions and decimals. In the fall, students review Pre-algebra with a focus on the topics that are the most conceptually difficult, such as ratios and proportions. Beginning in winter and continuing through the spring, students complete a thorough and comprehensive Algebra I course, including but not limited to linear, exponential, and quadratic functions. Students learn to construct, compare, and analyze these functions through multiple representations. After the successful completion of Beacon’s Math Program, students are prepared to enroll in a proof-based Geometry class at the high school to which they matriculate.

Pedagogically, the class is designed to align with teaching methods used at top independent schools. Math class is heavily discussion-based. Students are expected to be active contributors and develop the ability to articulate and defend their solutions through frequent practice and feedback from peers and the teacher. Students also learn to construct their own understanding of the concepts through problem-based and exploratory activities. Additionally, students use a variety of technologies to develop and demonstrate their understanding of the concepts, such as graphing calculators, Desmos and GeoGebra applets, and Google Classroom. Students will achieve the excellent improvement on the SSAT seen in previous years.

Writing

This course provides students with a comprehensive introduction to the writing process through a focus on personal and analytical writing. In order to prepare Beacon students to write compelling personal essays for their high school applications, the first unit of the writing course focuses on developing important skills for powerful personal writing. Students will be pushed to capture their own stories and communicate them powerfully through drafting and revising. Students will also read, analyze, and learn from other essays—some published by professional writers, others written by Beacon alumni. Students will also workshop their own personal essays in class to learn from one another and to develop their ability to offer feedback constructively. Students gain confidence in their own voices, and each year multiple students win prestigious Scholastic Awards for their writing.

To prepare Beacon students for rigorous high school English classes, this course next focuses on teaching students to write strong analytical essays about novels from English class. The class covers the fundamental elements of a five-paragraph essay and teaches students to view the analytical essay as a vehicle for expressing their insights and interpretations of literature. For To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Bluest Eye, students go through the entire writing process: brainstorming, outlining, writing a rough draft, and revising with extensive teacher feedback to produce a polished final draft. During the analytical writing process, students develop the ability to think originally and critically as they transform their annotations and ideas into essays. Students apply their new knowledge of grammar and vocabulary from English class to their own writing. When Beacon students enter high school, they already possess the essential skill of using precise language and a variety of sentence structures to express their ideas clearly and powerfully.

Social Studies and Current Affairs: Facing History and Ourselves

Facing History and Ourselves (www.facinghistory.org) helps students to find meaning in the past and to recognize the need for participation and responsible decision making.

This course encourages students to think outside the constructs that have been created by social norms, stereotypes, and dogma, to think for themselves and widen their perspective. Every day, reports of religious intolerance and incidents of bigotry and hatred across the globe show us how fragile democracy can be. By integrating the study of history, literature, and human behavior with ethical decision-making and innovative teaching strategies, Facing History promotes students’ historical understanding, critical thinking, and social-emotional learning. As students explore the complexities of history and make connections to current events, they reflect on the choices they confront today and consider how they can make a difference.

Science

In Beacon Science, students actively read scientific articles and excerpts from relevant textbooks, discuss the content, and apply their knowledge by doing experiments in the classroom. They learn to plan, execute and analyze experimental data in a group as well as present the results in a concise lab report. Students then get to practice what they have learned at Beacon by doing experiments in real laboratories.

Section 1: Introduction to Biology. In addition to biology lessons in the classroom, Beacon students will be participating in the semester long MEDScience Program at Harvard Medical School, where they will:

  • Interact with a patient mannequin.
  • Perform hands-on medical procedures with state-of-the-art simulation trainers.
  • Experience the real-life excitement of emergency room care in simulation lab.
  • Improve teamwork skills while solving realistic medical problems.
  • Learn basic human biology and how the body maintains health.

Section 2: Introduction to Physical Sciences.” Topics covered:

  • Properties such as density, boiling point, freezing point, viscosity.
  • The Periodic Table and basic models of the most common elements.
  • Measuring with metric units.
  • Discuss current scientific topics relating to physical sciences.
  • Three experiments at Shady Hill led by SHS Science teachers: students will collaborate with peers to plan an experiment, collect and analyze experimental data and present scientific results in a lab report.

Museum of Fine Arts Course

This course is designed to increase students’ abilities to understand, describe, and appreciate art. Students will become familiar with collections in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Exploring galleries and exhibits at the MFA throughout the year, they will practice Visual Thinking Strategies to increase their confidence in analyzing works of art.  Additionally, students will learn about a variety of media – from sculpture to ceramics, painting to photography – and some of the time periods in which works were produced.

Research and Advocacy

This weekly course is designed to help students learn and hone the important skill of writing a research paper. The course includes instruction in: selecting a meaningful topic, identifying sources, organizing information, writing a formal paper with a clear thesis statement and proper citations, and making a final presentation (with a visual aid) to their classmates and guests. Prior to selecting a topic, students are required to read newspapers and magazine articles, browse the web, and watch the news. Students are encouraged to identify issues about which they are passionate and that they want to explore in greater depth. Beacon’s Writing Teacher, Susan Cheever, leads the students through the many steps required to complete their papers, including a trip to the Boston Public Library on a Saturday to learn how to identify sources and check out books. In addition to class instruction, students learn how to use their free periods and weekends to maximize the time they have to write their papers and prepare their visual aids for the final presentations. In late May, students make their formal presentations to an audience.

Last year’s research topics included:

  • The Impact of Concussions in Youth Sports Like Football
  • Media and Its Impact on the Self Image of Women of Color
  • Working Conditions in the Developing World
  • The Importance and Impact of Raising the Minimum Wage
  • Sexual Harassment and the #MeToo Movement
  • Gun Control
  • Immigration Reform
  • The Opioid Epidemic
  • The Use of Drones in Military and Civilian Life
  • Refugee Crises

Study Skills and Getting Stuff Done

In this weekly class, students practice and master skills necessary to navigate life in independent high schools, college, and beyond.

Topics include:

  • General organizational skills, including the use of a planner
  • Technology skills, including typing, Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Drive
  • The art of the thank-you note
  • Resumes, cover letters, job applications, and interviews
  • Personal finance
  • Health and nutrition

Community Service Learning

In the course of the year, Beacon Academy students will participate in several community service projects that are related to their academic curriculum. Civic action is an important component of the overall program, because it helps students develop a commitment to social responsibility and active citizenship. As they participate in community service projects, they discover how individuals can make a difference. They are encouraged to reflect on their experience and to develop skills of advocacy, both oral and written. Community service enhances and reinforces classroom learning and provides a needed service to the community. Relating academics to real-life experiences encourages students to appreciate the commonalities of the human condition, while fostering compassion, responsibility, and a lifelong commitment to service. Since social and environmental change starts at the individual level, service learning empowers students to find ways to connect and grow with a larger world.

Luncheon Speakers Program

Beacon Academy has a broad and diverse community of external champions who have expressed an interest in meeting directly with our students to share experiences and discuss ideas. To this end, Beacon Academy students host guests for engaging and lively conversations. Each month the Luncheon Series explores a general topic. We also recognize national, cultural, and religious holidays in order to deepen our understanding of important historical events, religious ceremonies, and cultural customs.

Nutrition

Daily student learning at Beacon is greatly strengthened when students eat nutritionally sound meals. We have found that we simply cannot achieve the mission of the school without (1) teaching students to eat better than they do when they first arrive at Beacon, and (2) supplying them with nutritionally sound breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.

Technology

We provide our students with their own laptop computers that they take with them to their next schools. Our formal instruction includes:

  • Facility with Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Drive
  • Strict formatting protocols to create word processing documents and basic spreadsheets;
  • The building blocks for creating blogs and websites;
  • Research skills, including appropriate use of the World Wide Web for gathering data.