K-8, Co-educational Independent School


Middle School

Teacher Richardson with Students

Small classes, highly qualified teachers, excellent resources, and forward-thinking leadership.  These assets support a program that is academically challenging, personalized, joyful, and focused on preparing each student for a diverse and complex world.  Our caring teachers build relationships with their students and understand their strengths, challenges, and interests. Students become excellent communicators, critical thinkers, and effective problem solvers because of their engagement with meaningful curriculum, skilled and passionate teachers, and our robust and integrated approach to social-emotional learning.  A spirit of discovery enlivens our classrooms, where learning is both rigorous and joyful. Our unique emphasis on speaking, writing, and multimedia expression ensures that our students distinguish themselves as effective communicators. Technology is integrated thoughtfully into instruction, balancing tech-enhanced experiences with hands-on, tactile work. Extensive opportunities in the arts, physical education, and service bring balance to their studies and provide expansive opportunities for students to develop and explore their myriad talents and passions.  Our program develops independent learners, well-prepared for the challenges of the most rigorous high schools that fit them best.

Explore our curricular offerings below and discover the extraordinary experiences that await the ACDS student.

Language Arts

The Middle School Language Arts program builds on the foundation and understanding developed in the Lower School program. The overarching goal of the curriculum is supporting students as they work to become critical thinkers and effective communicators. The Middle School Language Arts curriculum is anchored in developing the thinking and communication skills that students will need in order to tackle any text or genre they encounter as they move forward in high school. In middle school, the focus lies in the 6+1 Traits of Writing and analytical reading strategies. These traits and strategies are applied to a variety of genres, thereby empowering our students to think critically and communicate powerfully in multiple modalities.

Reading Workshop

The Middle School Reading Workshop begins by immersing students in high quality examples of published work in the genre of study. Analyzing these professional texts through scaffolded instruction develops students’ ability to make inferences and connections, ask high level questions, monitor their own understanding of vocabulary and determine the ideas that are important to the larger themes in a wide variety of genres. Through an inquiry-based approach, students uncover the attributes of the genre being explored. Each reading workshop unit offers students the opportunity to work with texts at a variety of reading levels to ensure that individual student needs are not only met, but appropriately challenged as they continue to become engaged and insightful readers. Our independent reading program, rooted in student choice, allows students to develop the habits of lifelong readers. This program is paired with teacher guidance for finding page-turners for every reader.

Writing Workshop

The Writing Workshop in the Middle School provides an opportunity for students to develop their craft in the genre of narrative, expository, and argument/opinion writing. Middle School students build upon prior knowledge to write increasingly sophisticated pieces in each of these major genres. In continuation with the individualized approach, students identify topics that are important to them and apply strategies learned in minilessons and one-on-one writing conferences, in order to create a piece that has a larger significance. Through minilessons teachers model the writing process and provide direct instruction in writing mechanics, grammar, word choice, and other aspects of writing craft.

Public Speaking

We believe that a person’s ability to communicate powerfully through speech is equally as important as his or her written communication skills. To that end, ACDS has developed a robust oral communication curriculum that strengthens students’ public speaking skills. In the Middle School, students explore techniques that speakers use to communicate so that others will listen and understand the message. Middle School students understand how to utilize visual supports to direct audience attention and aid memory, as well as consider the adjustments needed in response to cues from the audience. Direct instruction on the attributes of strong oral communication leads to an understanding that is applied in a variety of public speaking opportunities ranging from class discussion, informal presentations, and debates. In addition, students in grades 5-8 participate in the Speeches & Sweets annual performance of original speeches in front of an audience of parents, teachers, and peers.

ACDS Middle School four boys studying at table


ACDS teachers regularly teach the History curriculum through interactive simulations, inquiry-based units designed to match the C3 Framework, field trips, and current events. The writing process is emphasized as a means to develop critical thinking skills, while technology is used as a tool to develop 21st century skills. Fundamental to the Social Studies curriculum at ACDS is the development of critical thinking, tolerance and respect for the self, community, and world, as well as cross-cultural understanding.  

Units of inquiry often begin with a compelling question for students to keep in mind as they acquire knowledge about an event or topic through reading, research, discussions, and simulations.  At the conclusion of the unit, the students answer the compelling question using the knowledge they’ve gained to support their argument. The Inquiry Design Model’s premise is that kids need to wrestle with real problems and find their way out for real thinking to occur.

Using parts of History Alive! The Ancient World, the fifth grade focuses on ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia, Sumer, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome. The sixth grade focuses on world religions and cultures. Topics include controlling ideas of culture, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. In seventh grade, the curriculum takes us from the Medieval world to the French Revolution with units on feudalism, the Byzantine Empire, the Crusades, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. Seventh graders also study West Africa and East Asia during the Medieval time period. The eighth grade focuses on American history from the Constitution to modern America. Topics covered include: the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the market and industrial economy from 1800-1860, the Civil War and Reconstruction, westward expansion, immigration from the 17th Century to the present, the Progressive Era, the Twenties and Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, the United States as a world power, and post WWII United States.


The Middle School math curriculum continues to build on the fundamentals introduced in the Lower School and eventually progresses to Algebra 1. Students in fifth through seventh grade continue to learn through the Math in Focus program. Students begin sixth grade with core concepts that strengthen number sense, number theory, and problem solving skills. Students then progress to pre-algebra concepts and Algebra 1. All eighth graders complete Algebra I and the advanced level of this course includes geometry concepts.  Eighth graders with exceptional mathematical abilities have the opportunity to take geometry. 


The Middle School science curriculum is a dynamic, project-based, technologically rich program. Units of study build upon the foundation of scientific curiosity ignited in the Lower School. The curriculum is thoughtfully designed to incorporate communication and collaboration, critical thinking, study skills, research, and note-taking skills. The 1:1 iPad program in the Middle School allows students to gain powerful, hands-on experiences and hone their pertinent technological capabilities while continuing to develop their love of the scientific world. At each grade level, the Middle School student learns through experiments which follow the steps in the Scientific Method and includes written lab reports, observations, modeling, detailed and organized data collection, advanced note-taking, in-depth research papers, lectures, discussions, independent readings, demonstrations, and field trips. Fifth graders begin this more advanced approach to science, albeit with the appropriate support and pace. Sixth grade is designed to be a year of problem-based learning centered around key STEM concepts such as: engineering, electricity, energy, and motion. Seventh and eighth grade students build on the previous year’s foundations, exploring the fields of Life, Earth, Chemical and Physical Sciences. They also have the opportunity to showcase their knowledge through a Science Fair, the winners of which go on to a regional competition.


At ACDS, we believe that the intellectual development of a well-rounded student should include knowledge of a second language, both as a means of self-expression and to better understand other cultures. The foreign language program aligns with the national standards of the American Council on the Teaching of a Foreign Language: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TRPS) and Comprehensible Input (CI) are two instructional methods that play prominent roles in our K-8 program. Each program promotes growth in Spanish through engaging activities that repeatedly expose students to a high volume of authentic and useful language.

Spanish teachers provide a developmentally appropriate academic program that engenders enthusiasm for learning about other languages and cultures. The cultural aspects of the Spanish program provide an excellent opportunity for inspiring in students respect and understanding for all people and cultures. The language skills that students acquire help them build self-confidence and further their communication skills.

Each year students strengthen and broaden their comprehension and expression skills, as well as their knowledge and appreciation of the cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. By eighth grade, students complete the equivalent of high school Spanish I and have the opportunity to put their Spanish skills into practice during a class trip to Puerto Rico.

New students who enter our Middle School without prior exposure to Spanish are invited to participate in a week-long Spanish Summer Prep course to ease their transition.  It offers basics in vocabulary, pronunciation, conversation, and rules for speaking, as well as helping students cover the types of Spanish materials that are seen at ACDS.  By the end of the preparation class, students will be able to read a simple story in Spanish and answer questions in Spanish about the topic. This class and our teacher’s ability to differentiate instruction helps new students be successful in Spanish class.

ACDS Middle School students dancing


The Physical Education Department at ACDS provides a physically and emotionally safe environment for students to pursue physical, mental, and social growth. Our goal is to equip each student with the knowledge and skills needed to lead a physically active life. Students in middle school partake in a skills-based curriculum, providing them experience with invasion games, net games, striking games, outdoor education, and fitness. They learn not only the rules of the games, but the strategic concepts to become successful.



ACDS provides the opportunity for healthy competition through our interscholastic athletic program open to all fourth through eighth grade students. Our no-cut policy promotes physical fitness through participation, and student-athletes gain experience in leadership and sportsmanship. Students in grades five through eight have the opportunity to participate in soccer, basketball, and track & field. Cross country, swimming, and tennis are open to students in grades four to eight.

ACDS is a member of the ABC League. Other members of the league are: Browne Academy, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Gesher Jewish Day School, Edlin School, Capitol Hill Day School, Green Hedges, and Merritt Academy.

The Music, Art, and Drama Department at ACDS teaches each student to combine creativity with conceptual knowledge; to help each student develop interpretive and problem solving skills through the arts; and to make fine, applied, and performance arts relevant to each student.  In Middle School, students study either music, art, or drama each trimester four days each week.


All students in fifth and sixth grade take part in music class for one trimester of the school year. Students are able to continue playing the band instruments they started on in fourth grade, including trumpet, trombone, clarinet, flute and alto saxophone, and all students will have a chance to try playing percussion instruments.The class rehearses as a wind band, exploring variety of music including modern band literature, jazz and pop while playing together as an ensemble. 

In seventh and eighth grade, music becomes an elective class and students may join playing any instrument on which they are proficient. With a mixed instrument ensemble of intermediate to advanced players, seventh and eighth grade music class studies a wider variety of more advanced music with opportunities for improvisation.

All middle school music classes conclude with a performance.

ACDS music students in band playing brass horn instruments


The Art program at ACDS prepares students to become competent and confident visual thinkers. The scope of the program includes art criticism, aesthetics, art history, and art production. At each consecutive grade level, student artists are challenged to add another level of mastery of materials and intuitive sophistication to their work. Beyond exposing students to traditional and technological art material and inspiring students to challenge their own creativity, the Art department supports the social development of our students by introducing group art critiques and preparing students to give and receive constructive criticism. In an effort to enhance the academic program, whenever possible, art is used as a vehicle to make academic studies more relevant to our students.

ACDS arts student working with clay


The Drama program has a process-focused curriculum designed to encourage students to step outside their comfort zones, build confidence, and learn about the art of theatre. Skills learned in drama class can assist students not just in future theatrical endeavors, but also in public speaking, interpersonal communication, creative project work, and self-confidence.

Fifth and sixth grade students learn introductory skills, including vocal and physical awareness and control, improvisation, teamwork, giving constructive criticism, and solo performance. In the first and third trimesters, students have six weeks of drama classes, in which they begin with the basics and ultimately prepare and perform a monologue or scene for their peers. In the second trimester, fifth and sixth graders put on a full-length performance and go through an eight week rehearsal process, during which they memorize text and blocking; work with properties, sets, and costumes; and become acquainted with the process at large, as rehearsals are quite different from a standard drama class. The rehearsal process at ACDS, though ending with a performance, is also process-based; the focus on learning outweighs the focus on performance value.

Seventh and eighth grade students put on two full-length performances, a musical at the end of the third trimester and a dramatic play at the end of the first trimester. In the second trimester, students who do not opt to perform in the play or musical take a full trimester drama course. This course has a more intense focus than the introductory fifth and sixth grade courses and includes reading plays; putting on short, scripted performances in groups; and analyzing film versions of theatrical performances.

Technology Integration

At ACDS technology is integrated throughout our curriculum to make learning more efficient and effective, to teach students technological skills that they will regularly use in high school and beyond, and to promote good habits of digital citizenship. To meet these objectives, our technology staff works with teachers to craft lessons and projects that are embedded in courses across all disciplines.  Students also regularly make use of apps, 3D printers, and video production equipment to deepen their understanding of a topic and as tools to help them effectively communicate their learning. In addition, standalone technology lessons are taught in advisory (Circle of Power and Respect). Each sixth through eighth grade student is issued an MacBook, a Google account, and subscriptions to various applications that are all closely monitored by the school.  Fifth grade students receive an iPad, a Google account, and subscriptions to various applications that are all closely monitored by the school. 

Grading and Assessment

At ACDS we believe that the disaggregation of learning habits and performance against a standard ensures that students master the skills and concepts that will allow them to thrive in high school, college, and adulthood.  Therefore a student’s grade is only a reflection of how she/he performs against a course’s established standards. Learning habits (organization of time and materials, active and thoughtful participation in class, effort, and perseverance) are recorded and reported through our Learning Traits Rubric and inform how students can more efficiently and effectively meet standards.

To further aid in the pursuit of mastery learning, teachers at ACDS follow the grading and assessment policies and procedures below.

Formative and Summative Assessment: Formative and summative assessments are designed to provide meaningful feedback during the learning process and accurately report what students have learned and mastered in relation to the standards/objectives determined by each department.

Formative Assessment – Frequent and ongoing assessment, completed en route to mastery; ongoing assessments could be considered as “checkpoints” on a student’s progress that inform future instruction.

Summative Assessment – Completed after the learning experiences; requires students to demonstrate mastery of all the standards and objectives.

Formative assessments count for no more than 10% of the final grade. Homework, in-class work, daily checks, worksheets, and any other assignments designed to inform learning are all considered formative. Summative assessments are no less than 90% of the final grade. Teachers create a wide variety of summative assessments – oral examinations, projects, presentations, debates, simulations, essays, research papers – that are directly connected to standards.  Tests include a variety of question types and are carefully designed to assess the standards and objectives taught throughout the learning process. Other forms of summative assessments utilize analytic rubrics that clearly outline learning standards and objectives.

Re-teach, Re-do, Re-Take: All summative assessments (or sections of summative assessments) can be re-taught and re-taken within certain time (within two weeks of when the original assessment was graded and returned) and student effort/attitude boundaries as determined by the teacher. Students must follow the posted guidelines of the process to re-take/re-do an assessment. Re-dos and re-takes are always at the discretion of the teacher. The expectation that a student will do sufficiently well on an assessment the first time increases as we move into the eighth grade. However, the goal of this initiative is always to ensure mastery of essential content and skills for all students.

Homework: Homework is part of the overall 10% formative grade. Our goal is to ensure that homework is truly formative. If it is assigned, it is meaningful. Assigned homework is reviewed by the teacher in order to provide formative feedback to both teacher and student. When a homework assignment is missed, students must attend a mandatory homework make-up session during tutorial or lunch/recess. Work not completed, turned in late, or incomplete is reflected in our Learning Traits Rubric and is reported to parents throughout the trimester.

Grading: Analytic rubrics are used for all summative assessments other than tests. Tests are organized by standards to provide immediate feedback to the teacher, student, and parent about unmastered skills and content.

Learning Traits Rubric: To further help our students understand and master the skills associated with being an effective learner, we report each trimester on the Learning Traits Rubric. The Learning Traits Rubric includes specific language about how effectively students are organizing and managing their time, participating in class, collaborating with others, independently learning, putting forth effort, and persevering. Beyond its placement on the report card, we regularly engage students in conversations about these traits throughout the school year. The Learning Traits Rubric is used to guide conversations we have with students.

Timely and Frequent Feedback: Formative assessment are employed on a regular basis. Teacher feedback to students on formative and summative assessments is provided in a timely manner (actual time varies by the nature of the assessment). Although formative scores are not always posted in The Bobcat Den, teachers will share performance and habits of concern with parents. Any below proficiency scores on formative assessments are brought to the attention of parents. All summative scores are posted in The Bobcat Den once students have reflected on the assessment and final grades have been issued.

Learning Support

Recognizing that children learn in many ways, progress at different rates, and sometimes need extra instruction, reinforcement, or enrichment, the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) staff collaborate with teachers to develop classroom strategies and assist students with study skills.  While we are able to support some learning differences, we are unable to provide every type of support or intervention. Because every student and his/her educational needs is different, we encourage you to contact our Admissions Office to discuss how ACDS’s program might work for your child.


All Middle School students begin their day with their Advisory group.  These groups of approximately 10 students meet with a faculty advisor for 20-30 minutes, four times per week.  Once-a-week, the entire Middle School gathers first thing in the morning. The Advisory sessions follow the Developmental Designs model called Circle of Power and Respect (CPR), and focus on diversity and inclusivity, health and wellness, the school’s Core Values, and the habits of effective learners.  Advisory is a time for students to connect with each other and their advisor, and discuss both academic and social-emotional topics relevant to their personal growth as a student and young adult.


During last period on Wednesday, every student in the Middle School has study hall which provides an opportunity for them to participate in clubs.  The meeting times for each club have been carefully scheduled so that our students can participate in as many clubs as they wish. Currently, students may choose to be involved in Debate Club, Allies in Diversity, Social Leadership, Math Counts, and M.U.S.C.L.E (a service learning leadership group).  Additionally, Middle School students may run for a position on Student Council which meets during a lunch or recess period once-a-week.

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