Shady Side Academy Middle School: Because ‘how’ matters

Please note this article is provided by our sponsor, Shady Side Academy.

Middle school is a time of great transition, when children grow at a rapid pace socially, emotionally and intellectually. It’s a time when kids are trying to figure out who they are, searching for their strengths and voices. How can you help your child navigate this journey?

Shady Side Academy believes that how you educate children is as important as what they learn. With small class sizes, individual attention and a rigorous curriculum, Shady Side helps students develop confidence, critical-thinking and collaboration skills.

SSA’s Middle School, which enrolls 210 students in grades 6-8 on a 35-acre campus in Fox Chapel, guides students through this important transition. Supported by a team of passionate educators, students begin to make choices, take on more responsibilities, gain greater independence and learn to advocate for themselves in an environment that encourages intellectual risk-taking.

“One of the things that makes our school different is the size,” said Amy Nixon, head of the Middle School and interim Academy president. “Classes are generally around 15 kids, so the adults get to know each child very well, both as a learner and as a human being.”

The curriculum balances inquiry, skill development, critical thinking and subject mastery. Students develop as communicators and scholars, gaining valuable writing skills and effective study habits. They learn to reason logically, communicate clearly and use factual information to support their ideas.

“Our job is to set the bar high, and then to help them get over it,” said Nixon. “All of their peers are in the same boat, so it becomes the norm. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and it increases their ability to soar.”

Hands-on projects and experiential learning permeate the curriculum. The math program builds excellent problem-solving skills and offers accelerated courses. The science program utilizes a project-based approach and offers high-school-level physics for advanced students. Three languages are offered, including Chinese. Computer science classes teach coding, robotics and program design. The arts program includes visual art and music classes, plus musical ensembles and drama productions. Each student receives an iPad through a 1:1 program.

At the end of each day, students participate in a co-curricular program of athletics and activities that encourages them to try new things and uncover hidden talents. Choices include sports, drama, Science Olympiad, a literary magazine and more.

Students receive academic and social-emotional support through an advisory program, a school psychologist and learning specialist. Students see their faculty advisor three times a day, and a daily conference period offers time to meet with teachers for extra help, developing self-advocacy skills.

“The critical piece is always knowing what you don’t know, and then, knowing how to get that information,” said Nixon. “Is there any better lesson for life, let alone in school?”

With caring adults to guide them, SSA students become proficient learners and gain an understanding of how to be better citizens in an ever-changing, diverse world.

To learn more, visit or attend a spring open house on Tuesday, April 30, at 9 a.m. RSVP at