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Sewickley Academy Prepares Students with Insight and Character


Sewickley Academy offers 20 varsity sports for boys and girls including soccer, lacrosse, golf and basketball.
Sewickley Academy offers 20 varsity sports for boys and girls including soccer, lacrosse, golf and basketball.

Mention Sewickley Academy to most people in the Pittsburgh region, and they immediately think of first-class private education. Founded in 1838, the Academy is Pittsburgh’s oldest independent coeducational institutional school.


Much of the focus on the nationally-recognized Academy centers around its Senior School program for students in grades 9-12. The demanding, yet flexible, curriculum teaches students to think and learn independently and cooperatively. College counseling begins in Grade 9, and students will have 18 Advanced Placement courses from which to choose in 2023-24.


Preparing students for the rigor of the upper levels requires a firm foundation established in the primary grades, said Jennifer Donovan, communications manager for the Academy. That’s why Sewickley Academy embraces a play-based approach called Reggio Emilia for students in its pre-K and kindergarten programs, an educational method developed by Italian educator Loris Malaguzzi. “We’ve sent all our teachers to Italy where it originates to study from the experts,” said Donovan.



Karen DiMaio, a Lower School teacher at the Academy, said the Reggio method relies on co-teaching, where the teacher serves as a researcher who works along with the children and supports the cycle of relationships between children and the environment. “They believe that co-teaching is ethical and beneficial for students. Teachers believe that children construct knowledge in the context of social situations and relationships.”


Allowing the children to take charge of their learning has some remarkable results, Donovan said. After spring break this year, the kindergarten students discovered they’d all eaten pizza during their break from school. Their fascination with this commonality prompted their classroom teachers to turn it into a lesson.


“They used it in math with fractions,” said Donovan. “They went to Blaze Pizza in Robinson outside of regular operating hours. The staff there talked to our students about everything that goes into making a pizza.” Metz Food Service set up a pizza-making station in the cafeteria and allowed the children to make their own pizzas.


The obsession with all things pizza continued with their annual year-end performance for their families in which the class based their play on the history of pizza. “They made their own costumes,” said Donovan. “They had regular pizza and dessert pizzas in the cafeteria afterward for their guests. Because the interest in the event was so huge this year, we had to move it into the auditorium and use the Senior School cafeteria.”


Lessons Beyond the Curriculum


The innovation doesn’t stop after children complete kindergarten. Sewickley Academy educators continue to provide opportunities for their students to take charge of their learning across all grades.


Through the unique Global Studies program, students (shown here in Puerto Rico) experience other cultures and communities through service and exploration.
Through the unique Global Studies program, students (shown here in Puerto Rico) experience other cultures and communities through service and exploration.

What’s most beneficial about this approach, said Donovan, is it allows educators to expand their classroom lessons beyond the curriculum to spend time on topics in which students show the most interest. One recent example involved robotics and foreign language.


All students in the primary grades learn Spanish. They can continue with advanced Spanish lessons in the middle and high school grades or branch out into a different language. During the 2022-2023 school year, fourth and fifth-grade students at the Academy used their Spanish-speaking skills in a real-life application by partnering with a school in Guatemala and completing a robotics assignment together. Thanks to a donation of KIBO robots from KinderLab Robotics, the students at the school in Guatemala had the same robots as the students at Sewickley Academy.


“Our students showed the Guatemalan students how to assemble the robots, speaking to them in Spanish,” said Donovan. “It was a great learning experience and opportunity for them with the technology and with the foreign language.”


The Lower School curriculum develops more than the academic skills students need to succeed later in life. Every year, Sewickley Academy selects two students who best represent the school’s Core Values throughout the year for special recognition during the Lower School commencement ceremony.


“We’re not just looking at teaching math and science and reading and writing,” said Donovan. “We’re developing the whole student. We focus on developing character, and it’s based on a community of respect.”


Expanding Toward the Future


Academy leadership continues to explore new ways to expand academic and extracurricular opportunities for students at all grade levels.


On the campus of Sewickley Academy, faculty and staff develop the whole student across academics, athletics, and the arts while encouraging a community of respect in grades Pre-K through 12.
On the campus of Sewickley Academy, faculty and staff develop the whole student across academics, athletics, and the arts while encouraging a community of respect in grades Pre-K through 12.

Taught at every grade level, computer science was significantly expanded last school year based on student interest to include artificial intelligence, game design, and more, said Donovan. Renovations created space for two new computer science classrooms and a robotics lab for senior school students. The Middle School students now also have a new Lego Robotics classroom to help with learning and preparing for competitions. An e-sports space is underway.



Beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, the Global Studies program at Sewickley Academy will become its own academic department. Since 2009, students in grades 9 and 10 have had the option to enroll in the Global Studies Certificate program, then graduate with a certificate proving their global citizenship skills. In 2023, 12 of the 63 graduates earned the special certificate, said Donovan.


Associate Head of School Chris Anderson said, “As one of Sewickley Academy’s signature programs, Global Studies equips students with the skills and knowledge to be innovative, positive, and impactful world citizens who act for the collective well-being of humankind. We have nurtured this program from its infancy and watched it grow into one of our most meaningful student experiences, one which deserves its own identity as one of our academic departments.”


The Academy has plans to strengthen the program and its four learning domains of Language Study, Global Issues, Cultural Engagement, and Global Actions. New courses include Global Studies, World Religions, and Contemporary World Issues. “The Global Studies Department is also collaborating with other departments in the creation of rich, cross-curricular experiences and will offer trips next year to Morocco, Spain, Greece, Israel, and Poland.”

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