Upper School

DVFriends Upper School students in class
Welcome to Upper School at DVFriends
DVFriends Upper School program offers a comprehensive college preparatory curriculum within a learning environment specifically designed for students with learning differences.
Our small class sizes, innovative teaching techniques grounded in the Orton-Gillingham approach and latest LD research, and use of state-of-the-art technologies to support different learning challenges help guide and support students successfully through our academic program. Both our academics and extracurricular programs are designed to provide students with the structures and supports they need based on how they learn, while also teaching them the self-advocacy and skills they need for life after DV.
Of great importance as the philosophical foundation of our approach, our Quaker identity lends itself seamlessly to our work with students who learn differently. In striving to see, appreciate, and nurture each student as an individual with inherent worth, we meet our students where they are and find ways to help them succeed as individuals. This pedagogical and ethical approach helps young people find their confidence and appreciate themselves for who they are.
In Friendship,
Jim Miller signature
Jim Miller, Upper School Director
Jim Miller
Upper School Director
Allison Gill signature
Allison Gill, Upper School Assistant Director
Allison Gill
Upper School Assistant Director
Eighty-five-minute classes provide opportunities for multiple teaching approaches as well as time for students to work collaboratively and one-on-one with a teacher in a single class period. This extended instructional time allows for rich exploration into content and provides the space needed for direct, explicit academic skill instruction. Learn more about our innovative schedule here.
Language arts is taught in grades 9 through 11 using our accredited, Orton-Gillingham based literacy program. Language arts instruction includes critical skills-building and remediation strategies in the areas of decoding words, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension, reading fluency, morphology (word origins), and writing. Groupings are based on student needs and learning profiles. In the upper school grades, teachers build language arts courses around engaging content such as art history, social justice, photography, and more--sometimes partnering with teachers in other humanities disciplines such as English or social studies around these themes. The reading and writing skills taught in language arts provide the underpinning for the skills needed across the curriculum.
DVFriends OG literacy program was the first area program accredited by the leaders in structured language instruction: IMSLEC (International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council) and IDA (International Dyslexia Association). Learn more about OG at DVFriends.
Upper school math offerings cover a range from Pre-Algebra to Calculus. The class groupings are small and based on students’ skill levels and learning needs. Emphasis is placed on skill development and reinforcing foundational skills to underpin higher level concepts. Seniors also take a financial literacy course online as part of their graduation requirements.
At DVFriends, we separate language arts and English classes in the middle and upper school. In language arts, the focus is on building and remediating reading and writing skills based on the student’s specific learning needs. In English classes, the focus is on reading and engaging with a broad range of relevant and meaningful literature. Particular emphasis is placed on analytical writing, literary analysis, and critical reading and thinking skills. English classes are grouped by grade and include some diverse learning needs, which our teachers are very skilled at supporting.
The DVFriends upper school science curriculum includes the disciplines of physics, chemistry, and biology in addition to exciting options such as Anatomy of Forensics and our award-winning, STEM-based SeaPerch underwater robotics class. All science classes at DVFriends are lab-based and take a dynamic, hands-on approach. The goal is to teach the scientific method grounded in practical applications.
DVFriends has competed in the US Navy’s Greater Philadelphia SeaPerch underwater robotics competition for several years, and the DV team has won the regional overall competition against other area high school teams in 2016, 2019, and 2020.
Upper school social studies includes courses on World History/Current Events, American History, 20th Century World History, and Sociology, as well as direct instruction on Quaker history. In addition to providing engaging content, social studies teachers emphasize skill development including note-taking, study skills, critical thinking, presentation, and discussion skills. Students work with grade-level non-fiction texts, and the course content thoughtfully incorporates diverse and inclusive perspectives.
DVFriends offers Spanish as a foreign language for upper school students. The Spanish faculty use an acquisition-driven instruction model emphasizing verbs, words, and phrases that are most often used in conversation. They use an approach called TCI (Teaching Comprehensible Input) to anchor interactions and learning in vocabulary and expressions that the students have already learned so they build their facility in the language naturally, adding on new content piece by piece. These comprehensible input techniques prioritize the delivery and production of understandable messages that are personalized, meaningful, interesting, and relevant to our students. This approach also creates a more nurturing environment where students retain more, are more willing to speak up, and feel comfortable signaling that they don't understand something. The result is more practical and holistic language acquisition for any student, but this approach is particularly effective with students who may have language-based learning differences. Read more about Spanish the DV Way.
The art program has long been a strong component of DVFriends’ curriculum. Upper School students can choose from a wide variety of art electives in drawing and painting, printmaking and book art, ceramics and sculpture, theater and movement, music, photography, and culinary arts. Often art teachers infuse concepts of social justice and Quaker elements as themes in their classes and projects. A strong studio arts program focused on portfolio development is available for students looking to attend art schools or programs after DVFriends. All of our art teachers are professional artists and bring exceptional quality and passion to their teaching. Student artwork is displayed during our All School Arts Festival each May.
Our program’s emphasis on wellness encourages everyone in the upper school to play a sport, participate in an ABLE elective, and/or complete regular physical activity outside of the school day. About 85% of our students play at least one DV sport a year. Health classes, seminars, and guest events occur annually, often by grade group, so that we can offer a well-rounded and age-appropriate health curriculum.
Teachers and administrators at DVFriends work with students in developmentally appropriate ways throughout their years at the school to develop their understanding of their learning--what strategies, technologies, accommodations, and approaches work best for them, and what they need to be academically successful. In the upper school, increasing emphasis is placed on direct coaching of students on how to advocate for their own learning in preparation for college.
DVFriends provides direct executive function support for students in the areas of organization, time and materials management, the writing process, and long-term assignment and project management. Students’ advisors are the primary resource for this support in a broad sense, but all DVFriends faculty members have trained with national leaders in the field of executive function to develop a system of strategies, prompts, and tools that are reinforced consistently across the division and curriculum. Sarah Ward, Russell Barkley, and Sam Goldstein are among the national experts in ADHD and executive function who have worked directly with our faculty. Here are some resources for parents that they shared during their visits.
In an effort to enhance our ability to communicate the level of support our students receive in our upper school college-preparatory program, we have created a system called the Academic Support Continuum. This system is a tool to support teachers and advisors as they have structured conversations with their students, advisees, and parents about the level of support the students receive in their classes and what they need to be successful. ASC indicators are part of the advisor/parent/student conference conversations and integrated into teacher comments for each class. A student’s level of support may vary from one class to another and may change throughout the school year.
The upper school advisory program provides the opportunity for each student to have an adult advocate who also serves as their parents' first point of contact when communicating with the school. Advisories have 6-8 students and a teacher. Advisory periods meet at the start of each day, as well as a daily extended advisory period in the afternoon. Advisors help students properly prepare for the day--check their email, organize their class materials and assignments to hand in, and plan any time they need to schedule with specific teachers during the school day. Advisors provide support to make sure students have a plan and the materials they will need to complete homework assignments. There is an emphasis on materials management and for students to practice and become more independent with self-advocacy skills.
Technology is integrated through the program and is highlighted by the student laptop program. Each student is provided with a laptop computer loaded with all the software they need for each class, as well as any individualized assistive tools specific to their learning needs. Teachers encourage students to explore these tools as a means to enhance their learning strategies. Teachers incorporate technology as a means to uniquely deliver instruction and organize content, using classroom tools such as smart boards and digital document cameras, and delivering content using strategies that include video, audio and more. Our upper school teachers are constantly exploring new and better ways to support student learning using technology.
The ABLE program has been part of the DVFriends upper school curriculum since the school began in 1987. The program offers outdoor experiences from rock climbing and ropes courses to sailing, hiking, biking, and skiing, and it includes international trips to Peru and Costa Rica, where students hike and camp, perform community service, and visit world-famous landmarks. Each of these experiences enhances students’ critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership skills, and builds confidence and self-esteem. Students are required to complete one ABLE course prior to graduation. Learn more about upcoming ABLE courses.
Upper School students can participate in a number of performing arts elective courses including music, tap dancing, theater and movement, songwriting, and music production. In addition, there are a number of clubs and extracurricular performing arts opportunities available. Recent examples include DV Rock Band, singing ensemble, and Drama Club. These clubs are based on student interest and change as interests change and develop. The music department organizes open-mic style performances a couple of times during the school year, and a more formal performance during the Annual All-School Arts festival in May.
Even with the challenges of 2021, our students put together a performing arts film festival. Click here to see the DVFriends 2021 Film Festival
A robust set of diverse elective courses rounds out the upper school learning experience. In addition to the many arts-based options mentioned earlier, each year faculty members offer other options based on their areas of expertise and interest. Some electives include printmaking, painting, drawing from nature, computer art, ceramics, culinary arts, storytelling, digital photography, coding, financial literacy, songwriting, music and technology, and STEM.
One student video earned an award from The International Bridge Film Festival in 2021.
Upper School students can join any of DVFriends’ interscholastic athletic teams. The school offers soccer, cross country, tennis, basketball, lacrosse, golf, and ultimate frisbee. DVFriends teams are no-cut and emphasize skills development and sportsmanship while remaining competitive in our league. DVFriends student-athletes make friends across grades and divisions and learn leadership and teamwork through school athletics. Our soccer, lacrosse, golf, and ultimate frisbee teams have won league championships. About 85% of students play at least one school sport.
Service learning is deeply rooted in our school’s Quaker heritage. There is a Service Committee that is part of the upper school student government and on which any upper or middle school student can serve. That committee helps to develop school-wide service projects each year. Annual traditions include the Thanksgiving food drive and holiday toy drive. In addition to outward-facing initiatives, students can earn hours toward their service learning requirements by being of service to the DVFriends community--volunteering as door greeters for visitors to school events, participating in admissions events, helping with the school’s composting initiative, and other tasks. Upper school students are required to complete service hours each year.
Each spring, our seniors participate in off-campus career explorations. Seniors complete two-week internships or job-shadowing experiences in various industries of their choosing. The goal of this program is for the students to experience meaningful work outside of our school while looking ahead to their futures. Seniors return to school and complete a professional presentation to faculty, staff, and Board members. Recent internship hosts have included major global companies, smaller regional businesses, area schools, law firms, zoos, museums, non-profit organizations, medical practices, and regional media companies.
Each spring, our seniors take part in an exciting and meaningful three-day trip that is a mix of transition planning, reflective bonding, and fun. Together they explore topics of gratitude, self-advocacy in adulthood, and identity during life transitions. The program concludes with a fun day at Hershey Park.
On average 98% of DVFriends graduates over the past 10 years have matriculated to college the fall after graduation. The DVFriends College Counseling Department is always working to provide students and families with the necessary tools to make informed decisions about their future through comprehensive, individualized guidance. Our Director of College Counseling, Hallie Ciarlone, supports and empowers students to investigate their options by identifying schools or programs that meet their academic, social, career, co-curricular, and personal aspirations. Hallie is the DVFriends student's advocate throughout their college search, providing guidance on college selection, serving as a link to college admissions offices, and supporting each application with a letter of recommendation. Students receive extensive support in all aspects of the college application process with emphasis on application completion, interviewing, essay-writing, and academic-support self-advocacy. Learn more about DVFriends College Counseling program here.
Community is an essential part of the DVFriends experience, and for the upper school, a central feature of that is our Quaker Student Government. Students apply to a nominating committee for leadership positions within the Quaker-based student government committees. The committees include Service, Activities, and Diversity, which also has several subcommittees committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion work in the school. Those subcommittees include Black Student Union, LatinX, Feminism Subcommittee, and S.A.F.E. (Students and Faculty for Equality), our gay/straight alliance. The leaders of each of these committees in addition to the two main student government co-clerks make up the Executive Committee. Student leaders break the silence at the end of each day’s Quaker Gathering, manage school-wide announcements, clerk and present to the school during Meeting for Business, and lead the school in initiatives from their specific committees. DVFriends student leaders learn public speaking skills, organization, and decision-making by consensus, and serve as role models for our younger students.
In addition to the student government committees described above, DVFriends upper school students lead and participate in a variety of clubs. Clubs are student-led and created based on student initiative and interests. Some recent examples include Tea Club, Anime Club, Shelter Helpers, Fishing Club, Yoga, Dance Art, yearbook editors, and more. Clubs typically meet during Community Time, a 40-minute block of unstructured time built into the upper and middle school schedules between their first and second academic blocks. 
DVFriends students come from across the Delaware Valley and beyond. To facilitate friendships and fellowship within our community, we have a number of school-sponsored on- and off-campus activities. Upper school dances, prom, movie nights, and off-campus meet-ups for activities like ice skating, trampoline parks, and professional sporting events help foster a sense of community and provide opportunities for friends to meet and spend time together.

The School shall not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, age, disability or marital status in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletic and other school-administered programs, or in hiring, use of volunteers or board membership.