Upper School

Upper School is where students prepare for more rigorous academic work while stepping into greater responsibility in the community. We nurture each child’s authentic strengths while equipping students with the skills needed to thrive in secondary school.

In Upper School, students experience traditional academic offerings and daily physical education, along with weekly Visual Arts, music, and library classes. Twice-daily recess on the dedicated upper school playground provides fresh air and physical activity, while a 25-minute activity period gives teachers and students time for class meetings, study halls, club meetings and individual support.

Fifth and sixth grade classes are primarily self-contained, with split math classes providing developmentally-appropriate challenge. Seventh and eighth graders move between classrooms for each subject, and academic classes are split into two sections to allow for smaller class sizes and individual attention.

Technology is integral to the curriculum beginning in sixth grade with school-issued iPads and graduating to Chromebooks in the seventh and eighth grades. Student class work, homework and assignments are all completed and saved to the cloud, and managing online assignments, using digital textbooks and learning digital citizenship becomes a developmental focus as students prepare for high school and beyond.


In Upper School, students gradually take on greater ownership of their unique learning journeys. The curriculum balances depth and breadth to allow students to engage with the content on their own terms while reinforcing the core skills, habits, and knowledge needed to excel and rise to ever higher challenges.

Foundational Knowledge


Foundational Knowledge

The Upper School curriculum focuses on developing competency in the core subjects of English, history, science, math, and Spanish as students lay the foundation for more advanced academic work in high school and college.
Critical Thinking


Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

Throughout their educations, Grymes students learn to ask meaningful questions, pose hypotheses, develop tests, and collect evidence as they hone their analytical and problem-solving abilities.
Creativity Across


Creativity Across the Curriculum

Incorporating creativity into all classes allows students to bring all five senses to their learning as they build new knowledge, explore alternative ways of thinking, and reinforce the joy that is inherent in learning something new.


Broad & Diverse Learning

Students learn to think and work broadly by integrating learning across subjects and applications. Teachers cooperate to create interdisciplinary assignments that help students explore the connections between different disciplines.


Digital Literacy

Technology is integrated into the curriculum thanks to our one-to-one device program. Students learn to care for devices, manage online assignments, use cloud-based documents, and practice internet safety and digital citizenship.
Promoting Independence


Promoting Independence

Early adolescence is when students learn who they are as independent learners while gradually increasing their responsibilities. We meet students where they are and support them to develop the self-direction needed for success in high school.

Fifth Grade

With a classroom in Gardner Hall, fifth graders have entered the Upper School. They hone their reading, writing, and math skills, learn about the history of the world from prehistory to Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and continue their study of science and Spanish. Regular art and P.E. classes and library visits also continue, and students begin learning to play an instrument as members of the fifth-grade band.

Fifth grade literature class includes selections from the Junior Great Books series along with novels such as Dar and the Spear-Thrower, The Egypt Game, The Eyes of Pharaoh, and Crispin. Exercises in English provides the backbone for grammar and usage instruction; Vocabulary from Classical Roots further develops students’ vocabulary. Spelling lists are differentiated by student needs. Our writing workshop allows students to practice different styles, including personal narratives, character sketches, and expository writing, with a special focus on detail, clarity, and proofreading for accuracy. Students are guided through the selection of sources, note taking, outlining, writing, editing and documenting their work as they complete two research papers that coincide with the history curriculum.

Math class uses think! Mathematics as the primary text, a book based on the Singapore Math approach. Lessons are organized around exploration, practice, and reflection, as students continue to build fluency and mastery using the concrete-pictorial-conceptual sequence, number bonds, bar modeling, mental math, journaling, and other strategies. Key math concepts covered include place value; adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing decimals and fractions; and basic geometry.

Science classes work in the lab to explore concepts, test hypotheses, and solve problems. Students apply science and engineering skills as they learn about lab safety and use science tools to collect and measure data. Fifth graders study plant and animal cells and body systems in life science, explore variables through chemistry, and investigate models and designs in physics. Science projects combine engineering skills with unit content and vocabulary.

In history class, students trace the beginnings of early civilizations in the Fertile Crescent, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Fifth grade highlights include integrated, experiential learning, as students dress up and build primitive instruments for Caveman Day and create a special meal as part of their Ancient Greek unit. Off-campus excursions enhance our curriculum as students travel to places such as Montpelier, the Science Museum of Virginia, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the State Capital.

Sixth graders learn to juggle assignments from their various teachers as they develop their study skills, organization, and discipline. Students travel from Gardner Hall to the main building for science and take math and history in different classrooms, carrying their materials with them like true Upper Schoolers. In sixth grade, students begin using a Chromebook at school and continue learning to play an instrument in their class band.

An appreciation of the written word lies at the heart of sixth-grade language arts. This course integrates literature and composition to give each student opportunities to review and reflect on good writing. Students read poetry and several novels, including Tuck Everlasting, A Long Walk to Water, Red Scarf Girl, and Stowaway. An inquiry-based approach allows for rich expression, and class discussions highlight literary elements of a wide variety of genres. Personal expression is cultivated through weekly journal entries. Writing workshop fosters a supportive environment to compose and revise narratives, poems, and essays. Using the Vocabulary from Classical Roots curriculum, students expand their vocabularies by building their knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. Exercises in English provides the backbone for a continued study of grammar.

Sixth-grade mathematics follows the Math in Focus curriculum, a Singapore Math program emphasizing conceptual understanding, mastery, the how and why of problem-solving, and the concrete-pictorial-abstract progression. Topics include whole numbers, negative integers, fractions, decimals, ratios, and percents, geometry, statistics, and probability in addition to introducing students to algebra. The curriculum is enhanced through projects, such as creating ratio cookbooks and sculptures made with geometric solids. Students complete their mastery of math facts using Reflex, and enrichment challenges are provided throughout the year.

The sixth grade history curriculum takes students on a journey through the Fall of Rome and the Byzantine Empire, Islam, West Africa, China, Japan, the European Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, Mesoamerica, the Scientific Revolution, and the Age of Exploration. Students learn the important skills of note-taking and test-taking. Content and skills are sequenced to maximize essential understandings and develop reasoning skills and clarity of thought in the writing process.

Earth and environmental science are the focus in sixth grade. Students delve into rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, Earth history, climate, weather, and the solar system. Investigative labs and real-life engineering projects, such as creating a weather station, building a bridge to cross a canyon, and designing a plan for a manned mission to Mars, provide hands-on learning opportunities. Students literally get their feet wet as they conduct an investigation of a neighboring creek’s water quality and enjoy the culminating trip to Lake Orange with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Spanish takes a more prominent role in the sixth grade curriculum. Students meet two full class periods each week and deepen their understanding of both the language and the culture of Spanish-speaking countries. Grammar and vocabulary study is supplemented with innovative projects. Essential skills are reinforced each year, and students develop their writing, translating, grammar, reading, and conversational ability. Cooperative learning is practiced with culture and conversational activities, role-play, games, and projects.

In sixth grade, art and music classes continue to meet twice weekly, and P.E. class meets every day.

The seventh grade is a journey of self-discovery, a turning point in which students take greater responsibility for themselves. Small classes allow all students to get the support needed to develop the confidence to have an opinion, speak up, take risks, and think independently. Students work hard and play hard in the classroom, on the playing field, and on the stage. Technology is fully integrated into the program as all seventh graders are equipped with a Chromebook at school.

The language arts curriculum engages learners by offering a choice of topics and authentic assignments. In this workshop-style class, students enjoy daily time to read and write as well as opportunities to confer with both peers and teacher. Students are initiated into the craft of writing through poetry composition, and as they advance, they pen memoirs, editorials, and reviews. They enjoy novels in a wide variety of genres and write analytical essays on their reading. Seminar-style classes allow students to develop confidence in their ability to communicate, and the small class size ensures their voices are heard. Their collective voice is further amplified when they take their place on stage. Seventh graders perform a full-length class play in the fall and recite their favorite poems at Declamation Day in the spring during schoolwide assemblies.

The Pre-Algebra curriculum provides a transition from concrete-based mathematics to the abstraction of Algebra. Building upon the concepts covered in Math 6, topics increase in difficulty, and connections to Algebra are constantly reinforced. Major subject areas include decimals, fractions, percents, proportionality, geometry, integer operations, linear equations and graphs, polynomials, and mathematical modeling. Students are placed in either standard or accelerated sections depending on their individual mathematical background.

The seventh grade U.S. history course covers the Age of Exploration through the Civil War. Students consider the development of the thirteen colonies, the events that triggered a war with England, and the Revolutionary War. After examining the “critical period,” including the development of the Constitution and the formation of political parties, the course focuses on the presidents from Washington to Madison, the “Era of Good Feelings,” and the “Age of the Common Man.” Students witness the country expand and then come apart in the “Manifest Destiny,” “Gathering Storm,” and Civil War units. Content and skills are sequenced to maximize essential understandings and develop reasoning skills and clarity of thought in the writing process.

In seventh grade, the elevateScience curriculum focuses on life science. Topics range from the biosphere and cell systems to human body systems and natural selection. Immersive experiences on the regional watershed and macroinvertebrate sampling bring science to life and provide students with real world applications. STEAM is interwoven through all aspects of this course, allowing for hands-on creativity and engineering.

Spanish class engages students in both language and culture. Students develop their vocabulary and grammar in addition to strengthening their writing, translating, reading, and conversational skills. There are two levels of Spanish offered in seventh grade. Spanish 7A is an accelerated course with a strong focus on grammar. Spanish 7B emphasizes conversational skills. Spanish life and culture are presented throughout the course. Class activities include making Día de los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo, Spanish cooking classes, Spanish artists, making a class restaurant, and listening to music from the Spanish-speaking world.

In music class, seventh grade students team up with the eighth grade to form the school’s highest level band. They also continue their study of art two class meetings each week, and P.E. class meets every day.

In eighth grade all roads lead to high school, and emphasis is placed on academic, social, and emotional readiness. Eighth graders at Grymes become leaders with a well-deserved sense of pride and confidence. They have earned their spot at the top of the bleachers during assemblies as they are looked up to – and celebrated – by the younger students. Eighth graders are chosen to be officers of the Student Leadership Council, and their leadership is prominent as they organize fundraisers, dances, and other events. Each member of the class is recognized by a faculty member at a memorable eighth grade dinner just before graduation.

The language arts curriculum invites students to continue their journey of self-discovery through reading, writing, and reflection. The topics they choose to write about and the books they choose to read both inform and celebrate their individuality. In this second year of writing workshop, students deepen their study of personal narrative and tackle original reportage when they compose profiles on members of the local community. During class, they explore a play in depth before attending a Shakespeare performance at Staunton’s Blackfriars Playhouse; this exposure paves the way for their original Shakespeare production performed at the end of the year. The keystone of the writing program is the composition of a 1,500 word personal essay/speech that students deliver during a schoolwide assembly. These two projects reflect the growth and maturity of a Grymes student upon graduation.

The Algebra curriculum provides a complete high school level Algebra I course. Detailed study areas include integer operations, inequalities, distributing, equation solving, factoring polynomials, quadratic equations, functions, systems of equations, exponent properties, rational and radical expressions and equations, and algebraic spreadsheet applications. Students are placed in either standard or accelerated sections depending on their individual mathematical background.

The eighth grade U.S. history course considers the period between Reconstruction and the modern era. Students examine the changes associated with the Reconstruction era, industrialization, and the Gilded Age before grappling with imperialism, Progressivism, World War I, the 1920’s and 1930’s, World War II, and the Cold War. Students complete the course with units on the impact of the Civil Rights Movement and attempt to define the most salient features of recent decades. Emphasis is given to building the analytical skills necessary to explore and write about United States history in a coherent and thoughtful way.

In eighth grade, the elevateScience curriculum focuses on physical science. Topics range from an introduction to matter and its phases, electromagnetism, and electricity to the periodic table. Immersive experiences are provided throughout the year, including chemical sampling of our regional watershed, bringing science to life and providing students with real world applications. STEAM is interwoven through all aspects of this course, allowing for hands-on creativity and engineering.

Spanish in eighth grade builds on previous years. Language and culture of Spanish-speaking countries continue to be the focus, as students improve their writing, translating, reading, and conversational skills. Fluency includes vocabulary, conversation, teacher-generated dialogues, readings, and translations based on vocabulary. Opportunities are available for translation, role-play, games, projects, and conversational activities. Spanish 8A offers a more accelerated pace with a strong focus on grammar, and Spanish 8B emphasizes conversational skills. Class highlights include making Día de los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo, Spanish cooking classes, Spanish artists, a class restaurant, and listening to music from the Spanish-speaking world.

Art, music, and P.E. classes continue in eighth grade, and a highlight of the year includes the eighth-grade trip in the spring. The class play and eighth-grade speeches are capstone events for students.

I think Singapore Math has made me see the relationship between numbers instead of just memorizing facts. I have already started to use many different ways to solve problems.
Sammy H.
Fifth Grade