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  • Writer's pictureKids Life Magazine

The Upper School at Capitol School: A Cheerful, Challenging, Collaborative Community

A group of middle school students sit on the porch of McGuire-Strickland House, the oldest wooden house in Tuscaloosa County. A warm spring breeze rustles the pages of the novel one girl is reading. Her tablemate is working on a page of math problems. Another student sits at a nearby table absorbed in a history project. The sounds of laughter and an occasional shriek from a nearby Gaga Ball game, a variant of dodgeball, drift over.

The Capitol School is a small school of 250 students tucked just to the west of downtown Tuscaloosa. Founded thirty years ago, it serves students in grades Pre-K through twelve. Its classrooms are housed in the converted rooms of several historic houses adjacent to a city park. The Upper School at Capitol is made up of grades 6-12, and the class size is usually 16 students. Capitol School has now registered students from 67 countries. The school aims to meet the individual needs of each of these unique students.

Aside from family, school is one of the most influential parts of a teen’s life. It is where they spend at least six hours of their day. Teenagers are at a stage of life in which they need a safe space to be themselves, to try new things, and to grow independence. According to the American Psychological Association[1], “[f]or most adolescents, school is a prominent part of life. It is here that they relate to and develop relationships with their peers and where they can develop key cognitive skills. For some youth, it is also a source of safety and stability. Some of the same qualities that characterize families of adolescents who do well—a strong sense of attachment, bonding, and belonging, and a feeling of being cared about—also characterize adolescents’ positive relationships with their teachers and their schools.”

Since every school is unique, with its own individual community, values, and approach to learning, finding the right match between school and teenager can make all the difference. Dr. Elizabeth McKnight, the principal of the Capitol School’s Upper School, explains that the school’s mission is to know each of its students, to recognize their multiple intelligences, and to provide an environment in which each student can thrive. The Upper School has a rigorous, yet accommodating academic program, reasonable homework expectations, a lively social life, and one-of-a-kind traditions that unite the community together.

Upper School students at Capitol take English, Math, Science, and History every year. In addition to the four core academic classes, students study Spanish or German, art, music (including violin, guitar, and piano lessons), and technology. Expert teachers in a variety of fields offer elective courses such as photography, psychology, and astronomy. High schoolers also have access to the wide range of classes available through the nearby University of Alabama Early College program, as well as the technical and trade classes, like welding, nursing, and cosmetology, offered at Shelton State.

Students at Capitol participate in the most varied sports and physical activity program of any school in Alabama. Coach Jenni Jensen’s goals are for students to learn to use their bodies in a variety of ways, to understand the importance of an active lifestyle, and to find what they love. Habits formed in childhood and adolescence provide a basis for life-long participation and enjoyment. The PE program provides opportunities for students to participate in a range of activities so that they can develop healthy lifestyles now and in the future.

In addition to the regular PE program, middle & high school students participate in a variety of Clubs and competitive sports through the Alabama Association of Independent Schools. Club sports meet in the afternoons from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. and include Wrestling, Climbing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Pickle Ball. High school students also take Health and a Life Skills course developed by Coach Jensen, in which they learn essential skills like performing CPR, preparing a nutritious weekly menu, and changing a tire.

Sports are seasonal, with Cross-Country and Girls Volleyball practicing and competing from August until October and Tennis, Track & Field, and Golf from February to April.

New to our school this year is a state-of-the-art physical training facility with Rogue and Fray equipment to support the strengthening, conditioning, and healthy lifestyles of our students and faculty.

The Capitol School recognizes that a student’s life outside of the classroom is important. Many students are busy with extracurricular activities, like dance, roller derby, and bowling. Some students travel frequently with their families. Teachers, particularly in English and Math, assign regular homework, but it is reasonable. Students have access to regular study halls during which teachers are available to answer questions or help with assignments. Rigorous course work is certainly an important part of the Upper School, but it’s a priority to nurture students as whole people, developing not only their minds, but their spirits and hearts, as well.

Both during lunch and after school, Upper School students gather for other organized activities. A Student Newspaper meets at lunch weekly, and they publish a bi-weekly paper about school and student life. The Spirit Club periodically meets during lunch. They make posters to cheer on sports teams and plan events and fundraisers. A favorite after-school activity is the weekly Dungeons and Dragons Club.

Students at Capitol have a wide range of interests that they share with each other, and the connections and friendships they make often extend outside of school hours. The academic schedule includes a fifteen-minute mid-morning break and thirty minutes for lunch. During these times, students gather with friends of all ages. Although they have separate classes, high schoolers and middle schoolers get to know each other, and the high school students are role models for middle schoolers. Everyone knows everyone, and being together in an inclusive environment fosters a strong sense of belonging.

Annual traditions in the Upper School bring students together for fun and celebration. During the year, there are biannual evening functions for both high schoolers and middle schoolers. In the fall, there is a high school Homecoming party and a separate middle school party. In the spring, there’s a Prom for all high schoolers and another party for the middle school. Students have a large role in planning and preparing for these parties. Also in the spring is the schoolwide International Festival, an evening picnic in which families gather in Capitol Park to celebrate international cultural heritages. Every spring, students in language classes participate in the University of Alabama’s German and Spanish Days. A final important official annual tradition is Honors Day on the last day of school. At this ceremony, every student is recognized for their growth over the year and for their unique, individual contributions to the school community.

Students also go on a lot of field trips that enhance their understanding of the world and their place within it. They attend multiple local theatre productions each year, participate in college and job fairs, explore nature – this year, at Hurricane Creek, Camp McDowell, and the Grand Canyon, and provide service within the local community when needs arise.

The Upper School at Capitol is a unique environment to learn and grow, with classes that are demanding but supportive, reasonable homework expectations, a vibrant social life, and special traditions. Its goal is to support teenagers as whole people through their formative adolescent years, nurturing them to become interesting, capable adults. Choosing a school that best fits students’ needs can help support their satisfaction and success as they grow and develop during this intense developmental stage.

The Capitol School is an opportunity, a first big step in a successful career and life for its students. At Capitol, students thrive, finding their own capacity for excellence in a caring, individual-focused learning environment. Parents have found our curriculum innovative and our faculty responsive to the needs of their children. We want what you want -- to see your child grow into a confident and purposeful, engaged and insightful, ambitious and generous adult.


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