Grades 9-12 — Upper School

What’s different about NGFS?  In a word: respect.

At NGFS, all students call teachers by their first names. We don’t do that because it’s informal, we do it because it is a treasured Quaker practice that stems from the belief that every person deserves respect. It’s not something you get from a title.

Our teachers recognize that today’s high school students will ultimately be engaged in jobs that do not exist today. From their communication with students and parents, to their daily practices and curriculum choices, they are mindful that the aim is to challenge and engage students; to keep them safe, but not too comfortable.

At NGFS, students work side-by-side with teachers who know that in order to develop critical thinking, communication and collaborative skills, they need to strike a balance between presenting information and supporting inquiry that develops organically, from the curiosity, research, and findings of the students.

Does that make our classes more demanding, of both teachers and students? You bet, but just ask them; they wouldn’t have it any other way.


I'll lean on you and you lean on me and we'll be okay 
— Dave Matthews Band

At NGFS, we talk about respect in a whole new way, and we have to live it, all the time. Going to school together does not make us a community. We are a community because we have each other’s backs. We may not all be best friends, but we have respect for each other, we know that each of us deserves the time and the space to figure stuff out.  

I felt the support of everyone; they were cheering me on, even the kids I didn’t know too well. I tried something I never thought I could do, and because they believed in me, I started to believe too. — Senior, NGFS


Intellectual discomfort is not a bad thing. — Peter Kalajian, Upper School History teacher

Engage our Upper School faculty in a discussion about teaching, and you will find yourself in the midst of a spirited and passionate conversation. While the NGFS curriculum is decidedly college-prep, as a Friends school, we have a unique obligation to our students and families: academic excellence and spiritual depth.  

  • As our Upper School faculty and staff continually evaluate our course content and teaching methods, we consider Tony Wagner’s Key Survival Skills and ask ourselves:
  • Will this course of study support the development of CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS?
  • Will these assignments or activities allow our students to COLLABORATE ACROSS NETWORKS and LEAD BY INFLUENCE?
  • How will these challenges build our students' intellectual AGILITY AND ADAPTABILITY?
  • Are we allowing our students the opportunity to nourish their creativity, so they will feel comfortable taking INITIATIVE?
  • Are we actively cultivating ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
  • Are we providing opportunities for our students to consistently hone their ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION skills?
  • How often are we giving our students the challenge of effectively ACCESSING AND ANALYZING INFORMATION?
  • Are we staying out of the way often enough to allow students to follow their own CURIOSITY AND IMAGINATION?
  • Are we supporting student directed PATHS OF INQUIRY?

An NGFS education not only provides the students with skills needed to analyze and consider complex problems in today’s world; we value their questions, we know that real growth is often born out of struggle. We support our students’ initiative and compassion as they devise solutions. When they are suggesting ways to get out, get involved, and get their hands dirty, we know we are growing citizens who are ready to engage with the world.

More Than Core

Curiosity Keeps Leading Us Down New Paths 
— Walt Disney

Are you and athlete and an artist? Maybe a poet who’s dying to play guitar, or a musician with a passion for science? 

At NGFS, we get it. Students are happiest when not confined by one identity or interest. As Quakers, we are committed to nurturing and supporting each other’s gifts. As educators, we embrace multi-talented learners, and we know that in order to turn curiosity into involvement, we have to meet you where you are. 

When we give our students the chance to try something new, we listen carefully. And we take you seriously. We give you the time you need to practice, to work on your art, your music, your writing. Your voice matters. 

Creativity, entrepreneurship, imagination, discipline, the ability to listen, to discern, to collaborate, to articulate a point of view, these are the qualities of not only artists and athletes, writers and scientists; these are the qualities of people who will make a difference.

Finding Your Voice

We Must Do What We Think We Cannot
—Eleanor Roosevelt

In 2011, a group of history students were impatient and frustrated. They were in a class they had requested, with a teacher they respected, studying poverty. The work was intense, it required the students to dig deeper, it pushed some way out of their comfort zones. They asked for a meeting with the teacher, he heard them out; he was speechless.

The students didn't ask him to lighten up on the homework, or trim down the essay questions, they asked for his help. They were beginning to appreciate the depth of social, economic and cultural inequalities that lay behind the causes and consequences of poverty, and they knew enough to know how much more there was to learn. But they were ready. Their inquiry had ignited compassion; they wanted to use their considerable gifts of intelligence, initiative and energy, to right one small inequality, in one small community. They had a plan.

Months later these students boarded a flight to the Dominican Republic and spent 7 days helping to build an orphanage. The organization, planning and funding of the trip was far more taxing than they had anticipated, but they saw it through. Their trip was not designed by adults to look good on a college application. For many it was the beginning of a deeply personal journey, the product of engaged, creative students, and a community of support.

From international trips to internships with a local medical practice, to classes at Guilford College, students at New Garden Friends School are given the honor and responsibility of being known and challenged. This isn't always easy or comfortable for them or for their teachers.  It requires commitment and respect on all sides.  But we are a Friends school, it is what we do.