PBA’s Humanities program emphasizes reading, writing, and critical thinking skills in an environment of frequent discussion and project-based learning. At the elementary level, students read books of their choice and complete a wide variety of writing assignments, including journal entries, poems, original stories, letters, and short essays. Their study of spelling is guided by Donald Bear’s Words their Way, a program that allows each student to progress through spelling lessons at his own pace. Our social studies curriculum consists of a three-year rotation that includes California history, American geography and history, and world geography. Frequent discussions and group projects reinforce not only academic skills and content but also interpersonal and social/emotional skills like disagreeing respectfully, appreciating and building upon the contributions of others, and sharing responsibilities equally in group work.
In middle school, our Humanities program consists of separate programs in literature and history, both of which are taught in a writing-rich context. In literature classes, students often study a common text, engaging in daily discussions about what they’ve read while also building their annotation and note-taking skills. Our middle school history program, like our elementary program, follows a three-year rotation, in which students study ancient, medieval, and American history over the course of their middle school career. Research skills are emphasized, and students learn to evaluate websites and other sources for their reliability and build the habit of citing the sources of their information. Projects include detailed timelines, model building, debates and simulations, and both creative and analytical writing assignments.
In the second trimester, the middle school literature program is fully devoted to the study and performance of a classic play, usually by Shakespeare. Students learn their lines by heart, gather items for their costumes and props, create a set, and perform each year’s play as a cohesive team. In recent years, our middle schoolers have performed unabridged renditions of Julius Caesar, The Tempest, Macbeth, Henry IV, Part 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cyrano de Bergerac.