Upper School Curriculum

Our students are encouraged to think logically and creatively, to speak confidently and articulately, to listen carefully, to read perceptively and critically, and to write effectively. Faculty members offer students a variety of assignments to help them develop strong writing skills. Our graduates tell us that their ability to write translates well in their college courses.
Students learn how to explore and develop mathematical ideas and problem-solving skills. They acquire speed and precision in mathematical computation, as well as the ability to organize, analyze, and draw logical conclusions. They develop an appreciation of and a curiosity about mathematics, mastering a strong foundation for life.

We teach students the process of executing science and offer all the AP science classes. USM’s Science Fair is open to all Upper School students who wish to participate. Some students take their studies further, exploring the unknown by engaging in the Independent Science Research experience. To facilitate student work, six rooms in our science facility are designated as student project labs, and there is a science research component to our science honors curriculum.

World Languages
We teach French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Latin in the Upper School. At every level, teachers emphasize active participation combined with instruction. Our goal is to ensure students acquire speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in their target language(s), as well as learn about the cultures, history, and traditions of the countries where these languages are spoken.

Courses are designed to promote cultural literacy, critical thinking, and active citizenship. USM has a strong commitment to promote global awareness and understanding. Freshmen study World Civilizations, sophomores study Western Civilization, and juniors study either regular or Advanced Placement U.S. History. Seniors may choose from a variety of semester-long electives.

Global Studies Program
The Global Studies Program offers juniors and seniors the opportunity to develop and extend their interest in international issues. Global Scholars take courses from a prescribed curriculum focused on world languages, history, culture, and economics through coursework, service, readings, travel, and lectures.

Fine Arts
The performance arts (music, drama, and theatre) and the visual arts (drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and digital art) comprise the Fine Arts Department. Students develop their individuality and self-confidence and refine their artistic skills through plays, concerts, and art displays. Teachers emphasize both the craft and the content of the arts through history, analysis, criticism, and aesthetics.

Computer Science
For those students whose interest in technology moves into exploring software, design, and the inner workings of the computer, the Computer Science Department offers electives at differing levels of challenge.

Compass 9 and Sophomore Humanities
A critical skill for the 21st century is the ability to synthesize information across disciplines. Compass 9 and Sophomore Humanities provide a series of interdisciplinary links among the freshman and sophomore History, English, Biology, World Language, and Foundations of Art courses. Teachers plan lessons enhanced by educational technology, which present the opportunity for students to explore major themes and practice core skills. Teaching teams work closely with the students’ advisers and deans to train students in these academic skills and daily habits necessary for growth and success.

Assembly Program and Senior Speeches
About three times a week, Upper School students and faculty gather in the theater for our Assembly Program. Students, faculty members, and guest speakers — including well-known authors and experts in their fields — offer students a variety of perspectives.

Senior speeches are a highly anticipated part of the Assembly Program. Every senior delivers a five- to seven-minute speech to the entire Upper School. Our seniors invite a friend, relative, or teacher to introduce them to the audience before they deliver a speech on a topic of personal importance. As an opportunity to develop public-speaking skills and to build community among students and faculty by sharing a significant experience, these speeches have become a hallmark of the Upper School.

Each freshman is assigned to an adviser and an advising group. During the four years of Upper School, groups of 10 to 12 students work together and share a wide range of experiences designed to help students in their academic and social development. Advisers may conduct small group sessions, one-on-one talks, class meetings, or assist with college guidance sessions. Our advising program has three goals: to connect students with a faculty member who knows them and their families well, to provide personalized academic counseling, and to create a community among peers.

House Program
Our House Program assigns every member of the Upper School to one of four houses, based on advising groups. The House Program builds strong relationships across grade levels through friendly and varied competitions and community service projects. Our Houses are named Academy, Arrow, Crest, and Ledger, with their names and mottos based on school traditions.

Dining Room
Our students and faculty sit down together each day to enjoy a family-style lunch. Teachers and students are assigned to tables on a rotating basis, providing an opportunity to share conversation and build new friendships.

Community Service
Community service is a core, foundational piece of a USM education, teaching students self-worth, while helping others. USM provides students with many opportunities to perform service in the school community, in the greater Milwaukee area, and beyond, most notably in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, amongst others. Students are required to complete 20 hours of service at three non-profits by the end of their sophomore year (10 hours per year). As upperclassmen, students do not have mandatory hours of service to complete; however, they are strongly encouraged to volunteer in ways that are more meaningful to them, which will make a bigger impact in our community, the region, and the world.

Athletics play an important role in many students' lives, and participation is encouraged by our no-cut policy. For more information, please visit the Athletics section.

College Guidance
Our four-year College Guidance Program starts in September of the freshman year, when counselors begin working with students both individually and in groups, as well as working closely with their families.

USM has two college counselors who are committed to getting to know their students both in and out of the classroom. With personal attention for each student and family, coupled with ongoing professional development to remain current on college admissions practices, our college counselors are devoted to helping students find the right “fit” schools. We are proud of our record: over the past five years, 89% of USM graduates have reported they will attend a first or second-choice school.

Our counselors meet one-on-one with students during their sophomore through senior year to help them through all aspects of the college search, preparation, and application process. In addition, during the junior year, counselors also meet with families to talk about preliminary college lists, researching suggestions, and planning college visits.

Our college counselors work effectively to develop and maintain strong relationships with college admissions offices across the country. They visit numerous colleges each year and attend national, regional, and local conferences to stay abreast of current developments and trends. In addition, each fall USM hosts 75 to 100 college representatives on campus. These visits allow our students to learn more about specific college programs and provide an opportunity for the college representatives to meet our students in person, experience our engaging academic environment, and see our outstanding educational facilities.

Additionally, each fall all juniors participate in our College Trips to three or four different colleges in the Midwest. We show them a variety of different schools (small liberal arts vs. large public, urban vs. rural, religious vs. secular, very selective vs. selective).

We also provide information to help families learn more about the college financial aid process and invite a college financial aid administrator to talk with our families about applying for federal and institutional financial aid.

Advanced Placement

University School of Milwaukee leads Wisconsin in Advanced Placement (AP) success. In the past five years, USM has consistently produced some of the highest numbers of students in the state recognized in the top categories of AP scholarship: the National Scholars and Scholars with Distinction. In May 2020,  206 students – including 93% of our twelfth grades – took at least one AP exam. Overall, our students took a total of 435 exams in 20 subjects in 2020. 88% of the AP exams taken by USM students earned a grade of 3 or better.

*Students may sit for AP examinations in the courses with no AP designation with the permission of the teacher.
Prekindergarten (age 3) - Grade 12 • Independent • Coeducational
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