Upper School Course of Study

As at every level, MSR seeks to remove the artificial barriers that tend to separate “school work” from its authentic context — life!

While your student masters all the traditional subjects through our interdisciplinary curriculum at MSR, he also applies his academic learning through real-world projects (which, as life experience teaches us, are by nature interdisciplinary, personal, and interpersonal), so that every school day helps him grow his intellect, develop his humanity, and strengthen his sense of autonomy.

Take, for instance, our students’ yearlong “Engineering Structures” project. We begin not with a set of geometry theorems to practice, architectural histories to study, and physics laws to memorize. We begin by asking your student to interpret the idea of structure. In Art he plans and builds a model of a house, engaging his full imagination and interest. In Math, he applies ratios and geometrical formulas to determine square areas and circumferences of his proposed structure — cubes, cylinders, ellipses, and irregular polygons — and the measurements of his interior and exterior walls. In Humanities, he studies scale and learns to read contour maps. Where is the best place to build? What are the traditions, customs, and materials considerations of building on this or that piece of land? How will his house affect the neighborhood, energy resources, or existing animal habitats? He examines the earth’s terrain and learns about erosion and other natural forces that affect the environment and creates models of the land and the home he’s designed. In Science, he examines the structural integrity inherent in specific materials, testing samples of timber, brick, cement, stone, and metals in order to determine their load capacity and durability.

And learning isn’t limited to the usual academic subject areas. Consider just a few of the supra-academic skillsets your student develops in this single project. He calculates the real-world costs of his building project, balancing his dream outcomes with his practical limitations and employing self-discipline, organization, and prioritization. He applies design thinking to creative problem-solving. He consults with experts, exercising personal initiative and self-confidence. He considers the competing needs and desires of his friends, family, and community and reconciles them with his own values, preferences, and ideas, developing empathy and skills in diplomacy and conflict resolution. He manages the entire complex, long-term project, gaining self-awareness and practicing collaboration, planning, and persistence.

In other words, in MSR’s Upper School, your student begins to master the crucial-to-happiness life skills that many young people authentically encounter for the first time post-college. And he gains this experience in ways that fully integrate with and strengthen his academic studies.

Through Intersessions, internships, community service, the college search and application process, and other opportunities for learning beyond the classroom, your student develops essential life skills, building competence and confidence (not to mention his résumé!) in preparation for his next experiences in college and beyond. These distinctive aspects of our program — deeply integrated with academic learning in traditional subject areas — exemplify the Third Plane principles of the Montessori approach.


Twice a year the regular curriculum pauses for Intersession, a one-week period when students — accompanied by MSR teachers, staff members, and sometimes parents — participate in full-immersion, interdisciplinary studies. Intersessions introduce your student to new experiences, places, people, and ideas that spark what often become lifelong passions. Some are offered year after year, while others are newly designed to meet students’ unique interests.

A sampling of Upper School Intersession projects:

  • Literary Journal – Research the lit mag market (both print and online), develop your own criteria for what makes a successful literary magazine, then create, solicit, and evaluate content for our very own publication, gaining practical experience in editing, layout, and production, as well as in publicizing and promoting the finished product.
  • Robotics – Explore the origins, applications, and future of robotics and then put the fundamentals of robot mechanisms and dynamics into action! Collaboratively design, build, and program robots that respond to light, motion, sound, or other human-machine interfaces.
  • App Design – Create an engaging mobile app design from start to finish, working through the design thinking process to develop and explore your original app idea and building the technical proficiency and planning skills that take your idea to finished product.
  • Food Blog – Learn about all that goes into starting and running a successful blog business. What are the best blog platforms? How do you brand your blog? How do you increase traffic with SEO? How can you generate income? Together, students write, design, photograph, code, market, and — oh, yeah! — cook for their own food blog.
  • Photography – Practice the art and science of photography in the digital age! You learn the timeless principles of lighting, composition, and perspective and also the technical tools for controlling exposure, shutter speed, aperture, and photo editing.


The Triangle is home to an abundance of colleges, universities, nonprofits, and business ventures of all shapes and sizes, from start-ups to publicly traded companies. (In fact, in 2014, Raleigh was named the number one city for business and careers by Forbes Magazine.) MSR makes the most of this concentration of highly regarded educational institutions and innovative businesses around us, offering our upper school students extraordinary opportunities for real-world collaborations and preparation.

While internships officially take place during the junior and senior years, one day per week for 16-week periods, students actually begin preparing for them long before. During 9th and 10th grade, they research their interests and passions, create their résumés, learn to network in their community, and participate in mock interviews, ultimately securing their internships during their sophomore year.

Your student might participate in investigating the physics of diagnostic medicine in a radiology lab. She might join a team of technologists at an investment firm where she helps develop a database, perform systems analysis, and design and develop new software applications. She might apply her artistic skills in an internship with a marketing firm, assisting in the creation of real content for professional blogs, websites, and advertisements.

Through the internship experience — from preparation through performance —students not only gain valuable insight and experience in the world of work in their areas of interest, they have opportunities to apply their in-school theoretical learning to real-world situations and, conversely, to discover new motivations to fuel their academic inquiries.

This program perfectly exemplifies the Third Plane manifestation of the Montessori approach, combining mastery of academic learning and the development of essential life skills — preparing students fully for their next experiences in college and beyond.


Many high schools offer community service and leadership programs. The MSR difference: Our entire program — for students from 18 months old to 18 years old — is designed to cultivate a sense of personal and social responsibility and genuine engagement in service. In other words, it’s not just something our students do, it’s a part of who we are together as a community.

Our mixed-age classrooms prepare students to work collaboratively, to master their lessons in order to teach them to others, to look for and foster skills and strengths in their peers, and to tend to their responsibilities and communities. As students advance at MSR, leadership opportunities exponentially increase. In Upper School, this means that your student not only practices leadership and service in his home and school communities; he is expected to begin making a positive impact in the wider world.

Starting in their freshman and sophomore years, students must complete 50 hours of service; in their junior and senior years, this grows to 75 hours of service per year. This work doesn’t merely signal the high value MSR places on service to the community, it plays a valuable role in galvanizing your student’s sense of self at this age, his sense of responsibility, generosity, and empathy. In both whole-school service activities and in service projects of his own design — improving marine habitats with an environmental organization, tutoring younger students, volunteering at a local hospital, organizing and participating in a charity run, building and populating new beehives, or other self-constructed commitment to community — your student forges a connection between his advancing talents and interests and his maturing self and social consciousness.