Our highly selective Upper School program is an incubator of intense study for unique learners who seek more, want more, and hunger for knowledge with a desire to excel both as a scholar and a human being. With virtually one-on-one faculty instruction, our innovative educators continually refine and tailor curricula to the individual student, maximizing their potential.
Our engaged teachers have focused goals for each student, inspiring them to move ahead, take that next challenge, believe in themselves, and dream large. The result of this one-of-kind education is exceptional, confident students who perform in the top ten percent of the nation with a historic mean SAT score of 1430 and acceptance to highly selective colleges and universities.
All of our upper school classes are taught at the honors level, employing Pre-AP strategies, or Advanced Placement (AP) level. Kirby Hall’s close proximity to the University of Texas also affords our older students the opportunity to visit campus libraries, attend university events, and explore college-level coursework.
Our dedicated Dean of Upper and Middle Schools also works individually with each student to guide them through writing college essays and the entire college admissions process.
About Kirby Hall
The Upper School community is close knit, with students across the grades interacting and socializing. It is a place that is safe to be just who you are and find yourself accepted and appreciated for the gifts that are yours. Our graduates have a strong sense of self, serving them well whether they find themselves at large universities like University of Texas or the University of Chicago or elite small colleges like Middlebury or Pomona.
“This is a uniquely comfortable environment,
and you feel it right away.”
“The school is a mini-United Nations –
a very diverse, global community.”
“We have a very good read on each child –
his or her abilities, challenges, and personality –
and are able to nurture that in an effective way.”
“There are no invisible children here.”
“Mean is not tolerated.”
“Here, it’s okay to raise your hand and answer,
it’s okay not to know, but what’s not okay is not to try.”
“The school is extremely inclusive, celebrates diversity, promotes equity, and builds the capacity for student achievement by committing to a common purpose that reflects pride, respect, and successes.”
– AdvancED Summary of Findings
We select advanced reading level texts that are rich in content and vocabulary. We utilize both a classic canon and contemporary works. Literary studies provide an opportunity to learn about life experiences and cultures different than your own. It builds empathy, understanding and compassion for others, helping us fulfill our mission goal of developing students who will have the desire to service their communities be it at the local, national, or global level throughout their lives. Employing the Socratic method, students voice their interpretations of the text, literary devices used, author’s intent, and more. When learning to write research papers, students take walking field trips to the University of Texas’ main library. They learn how to conduct preliminary research using The Perry-Castañeda Library’s online catalogue.
The writing program at Kirby Hall is exceptional. Writing is taught as a process, with individual guidance each step of the way. Students propose a thesis statement, which receives teacher feedback. Next, they move on to their outline and rough draft, both of which also receive teacher feedback. The teacher provides extensive written comments and review of the rough draft, culminating with an individual writing conference with the students to ensure they understand the edits needed. Students then submit their final drafts. They learn the value of a thoughtful approach to writing and to allocate the time necessary to produce quality work. Given that all of our classes are taught at the “Pre-AP” or AP level, there are also on-demand, timed writing in-class exercises to prepare them for the AP exam. Kirby Hall alumni are regularly asked by professors where they gained their exemplary writing skills.
A rich knowledge of vocabulary supports one’s writing and ability to analyze texts. We continue with Wordly Wise, working ahead one grade level. Several of the accompanying exercises for each weekly list challenge the students’ higher-order thinking skills involving analysis, synthesis and inferential thinking.
At Kirby Hall, we are constantly working to challenge our students. Most long-term Kirby Hall students are consistently working one to two years above grade level. Truly gifted math students advance in 7th to upper school math courses, receiving high school credits. This is in keeping with our philosophy of elevating the learning experience. Thus, a math course may have students of different grades.
We have a multi-layered approach to teaching science, including hands-on project-based learning and analysis of scientific publications and lectures. We feel this is the best way to prepare students for scientific study in college and the 21st century workplace. Technology is incorporated in a variety of ways, including virtual experiments, virtual tours, and multimedia presentations. In our Makers Spaces students apply math, science and engineering concepts with project-based learning. Here we encourage them to take risks, be creative and collaborate as they develop their inquiry and process skills.
We approach the teaching of history as narrative, resulting in content that is rich and thought-provoking. Students learn to utilize primary source material which facilitates seeing the past through the eyes of those who lived it. Our small seminar-style classes allow for deep exploration of what came before us to inform our present and future. We take advantage of our location, with students conducting research at The University of Texas’s Perry-Castañeda Library.
Kirby Hall is committed to creating truly bi-lingual students. Because our students start their Spanish studies at four years of age, they are taking Spanish for high school credit in the seventh grade. Advanced Placement level course work begins no later than 11th grade. It is both a course of study in the speaking and proper writing of Spanish, literary studies of such works as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which students read in Spanish, as well as a cultural and historical study of Spain and Latin America. The rigor and strength of this program would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. Students who graduate from Kirby Hall typically are placing in second or third year college level Spanish.
We immerse students in all things theatrical, ranging from stage make-up to theater’s beginnings in Ancient Greece. They study acting techniques, special effects, play analysis, modern and classic drama, costuming, stage lighting, stage craft, wigs and stage hair, stage sound, set design, and theater history. Each student also has the invaluable opportunity to act as a technician or performer in major school-wide productions. The result is a thorough and complete exploration of every aspect of the theater world.
Students continue to practice the elements of art and principles of design by using a variety of media. In fundamental art courses, techniques are strengthened to prepare for guided independent practice. For the prospective art school student, the focus will be on building a strong portfolio for the art school application process. With intensive studio practice, these students will have a cohesive body of work that shows their unique vision, as well as an acute awareness of the artists and cultures that inspire us.
We inspire students to see the positive side of being physically active. Our program facilitates MVPA, (moderate to vigorous physical activity) through a variety of sports. Students assess their personal fitness levels by applying the principle of FITT (frequency, intensity, time, type). In our lively, inclusive environment, each student learns the importance of physical fitness and the value of making healthy choices.
The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others. Socratic seminars work best with authentic texts that invite authentic inquiry—an ambiguous and appealing short story, a pair of contrasting primary documents in social studies, or an article on a controversial approach to an ongoing scientific problem.
While students should read carefully and prepare well for every class session, it is usually best to tell students ahead of time when they will be expected to participate in a Socratic seminar. Because seminars ask students to keep focusing back on the text, you may distribute sticky notes for students to use to annotate the text as they read.
Each spring, we take learning on the road and immerse the students in different cultures and environments. An appreciation of that which is different helps Kirby Hall students grow in wisdom and understanding.
Because of our small class sizes, our adventure learning program is unique. Each child in the class can participate in our Adventure Learning and is encouraged to do so. We welcome parents to journey with us as well. Lasting memories are made and bonds strengthened.
Every year, our upper school takes a week-long trip either to a foreign or domestic destination. Our students have travelled to Spain, England, Italy, Australia, Costa Rica, Santa Fe, Washington DC, and New York City.
Kirby Hall’s Upper School may be small, but it yields grand results. We are an academic powerhouse. Our graduates have been accepted into top notch colleges and universities across the country, including University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Middlebury, Pomona, Harvey Mudd, University of Texas at Austin McComb School of Business, University of Texas at Austin Liberal Arts Honors College, Rice, Vassar, Carnegie Mellon, New York University and others.
When school is in session, we have your children for more of their waking hours than you. We consider this a privilege and recognize the opportunity and duty to develop young adults who will be of service to their local, national and global communities. Through participation with Team Kirby, our students volunteer their time in the community at-large and within our school community. They give their time with such organizations as Learning Ally and local food pantries. They tend our sustainable garden, providing opportunities for lower grades to have their own square food garden, with the goal of giving fresh produce to those in need. Team Kirby’s reading buddy program pairs upper school students with our pre-k and kindergarten classes, providing opportunities to be read-to and for the younger ones to share their newly acquired reading skills.
Upper School Enrichment
In our small environment that is accepting of all, students have the confidence to pursue their passions. Through leadership opportunities, they take the initiative and make things happen. Our clubs are as diverse and creative as the students themselves. Our clubs are primarily founded by students, including the Socrates and Cheese Club (founded by a student who majors in philosophy at the number one ranked liberal arts college), Model UN (this student knows one day she will work for the CIA to combat terrorism), or wood carving club (this student at 20 founded an internationally successful company that handcrafts beautiful ergonomically-correct wooden crochet hooks).
An environment in which your peers will support you as you explore your own uniqueness.
Plan A Visit
We would love to get to know you better and discuss the future of your child. Come visit Kirby Hall and see what makes our environment special for yourself!