MPA’s Upper School is specifically designed to provide the academic rigor that MPA is known for without being overly demanding. The Upper School’s alternating quarter block schedule, completely unique to MPA, does just that, providing an opportunity for students to dive deeply into their core subjects without piling on the homework or sacrificing valuable elective and specialist classes.

Students and teachers alike appreciate the 75 minute class periods and quarterly rotation that make up the Upper School’s block schedule.  Whether it’s taking a full class period to edit an analytical essay in Contemporary Women Writers , donning waders and tagging turtles in the on campus pond in a Biology class, or rehearsing oral arguments before heading to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Constitutional Law, 75 minute blocks allow for the type of hands on, experiential education that makes learning joyful and meaningful. 

How it works

In the Upper School, students’ schedules are broken into two semesters, four quarters, A and B days, and blocks. Students take three 75 minute core classes (math, science, social studies, English, physical education, and French or Spanish) at a time.  Core classes meet every day for a full 9 week quarter, then take a quarter off, then meet again every day for the next quarter.  Meaning that students have the same core classes in first and third quarters, and the same core classes in second and fourth quarters).

Interspersed amongst these core classes in an upper school student’s schedule are three 40 minute periods for our 38 elective and specialist classes like Varsity Choir, Advanced Ceramics , Costume Design, Computer Science, and Makerspace.   Those electives follow a semester on, semester off model and rotate with the A/B days. So, students will have one set of electives that alternate each day in quarters one and two and another set of electives that alternate each day in quarters three and four.

Sometimes, upperclassmen have a free period. During those times, students are generally in the Upper School commons working on homework or meeting with a teacher.  Additionally, 9th, 11th and 12th graders all have a seminar class on their schedules. In 9th grade, that class is focused on a variety of topics including study skills, service learning, college counseling, and social-emotional growth. In the 11th and 12th grades, the seminar class is fully focused on college counseling.

Students have 55 minutes for the lunch and recess period in which student organizations meet and students have the opportunity to meet with an advisor or other teachers. 

Rigor with Purpose

The alternating quarter schedule means students have a maximum of three homework bearing classes per quarter, allowing them to focus deeply on a smaller number of classes and leading to higher content knowledge and retention.  It also means there’s a more manageable homework load each day, which helps busy upper school students have family time and free time to pursue other passions without sacrificing academic rigor.  Instead of taking all of their final exams at once at the end of the school year, students take two smaller, less stressful sets of final exams, one at the end of third quarter for their first and third quarter classes, and another at the end of fourth quarter, covering their second and fourth quarter classes.

What the experts say

The Upper School’s block schedule is based on academic research and best practices from industry experts.  Christopher Tienken, professor of education at Seton Hall University and Sharon Sherman, dean of the School of Education at Rider University, have both studied the block scheduling approaching.  They note that the strengths of a block schedule include the ability to deliver more engaging, student-centered activities, implement cooperative learning strategies, and provide deeper learning experiences.

“When speaking with students, we found that the vast majority of liked it better overall because there are more options and opportunities to experience more courses and deeper learning in block schedules compared to the 6 or 7 period day,” says Tienken.

Tienken and Sherman note that many schools are going to the block because of the benefit of deeper teaching, and even many university courses have gone to a block schedule or increased the length of their class times while decreasing the frequency. 

“The block allows for more in-depth teaching through the form of extended activities and hands-on experiences. And, in the A/B schedule, students report that they like not having the same class every day. It gives them a break and keeps things fresh. It allows them more time to study and more time to internalize information,” adds Sherman.

What the MPA Community says

“The Upper School’s block schedule has a couple of unique advantages for students. First, the longer periods lend themselves to deep learning. With 75 minutes, I can introduce new information and push students to engage with that information through debates, discussions, and simulations. This structure encourages students to really wrestle with a particular topic and extend their thinking, an advantage that is much more difficult to achieve when learning is broken into short, disjointed chunks.  Second, our quarter-on/quarter-off approach allows for academic focus and encourages exploration outside of class. Because students only have two to three academic courses at once, they place their full attention on just a few subjects, which again leads to a greater depth of thinking. Outside of class, students report that they feel less frazzled and overwhelmed when they are not bombarded with the demands of every course at once. As a coach, I think this explains our high participation rate in extra-curriculars. When students are challenged but not overwhelmed, they can explore all the opportunities MPA has to offer.”
- Katie Murr, Upper School history faculty and debate coach

“The Upper School schedule allows students to take a broad range of classes built into their schedule over the course of their high school experience…allowing for depth and breadth within our department. Additionally, every other day classes allow time for rumination of ideas and intentions between sessions.   As a teacher, seeing students an entire semester (as opposed to one quarter at a time) helps me facilitate their continued growth and creates deeper relationships.”
- Renee Sonka and Lisa Buck, visual arts faculty

“What I enjoyed most about the 75 minute block period was the ability to accomplish so much in one class. For example, in science classes, we had time to learn a lesson and complete a full experiment.  In English classes, we could dive into a deep discussion while also learning grammar lessons. It really provided the flexibility to gain a breadth of learning experiences every class period.”
- Nasri Maktal ‘20

Sample Schedule

Ninth Grade Sample Schedule Quarter 1 (A Day) Quarter 4 (B Day)
8-9:15 Spanish II Physical Education
9:20-10:35 Geometry Honors World History
10:40-11:20 Beginning Ceramics Orchestra
11:20-12 Lunch and Recess Lunch and Recess
12:05-12:45 Computer Science Varsity Choir
12:50-1:30 Makerspace Study Hall
1:35-2:50 English 9 Physics 9
2:50-3 Office Hours Office Hours
Eleventh Grade Sample Schedule Quarter 1 (A Day) Quarter 4 (B Day)
8-9:15 AP English Language and Composition Modern United States History
9:20-10:35 French VI Chemistry
10:40-11:20 Madrigal Singers Free Period
11:20-12 Lunch and Recess Lunch and Recess
12:05-12:45 Makerspace Winter Show
12:50-1:30 Racquet Sports
1:35-2:50 Junior Seminar Honors Pre-Calculus
2:50-3 Office Hours Office Hours