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Experiential Learning

In our Experiential Learning Program, students develop their interests, identify their strengths, and find their path to purpose, through a variety of experiences that foster self-discovery.

Developed by David A. Kolb, an American educational theorist, experiential learning involves a four-step process: having concrete life experiences, reflecting on those experiences, refining concepts based on the reflection, and testing those new concepts before repeating the process.

Seven Hills’ approach to experiential learning is also influenced by the work of Stanford psychologist William Damon, who believed that students should be prepared for college and work in a purposeful way. His model for a healthy transition to adulthood asks schools and parents to raise students’ sights beyond short-term goals (such as homework, grades, or making the team), helping them instead to ask bigger questions: What kind of person do I wish to become? What do I want to accomplish with my life? Why should I strive? Asking questions like these creates momentum in our students’ lives and leads to lasting satisfaction in their own journey.

Experiential learning is embedded throughout the entire Seven Hills experience, but it culminates in a formal program in the Upper School. Every Upper School student completes an original, yearlong Challenge Experience project that spurs them to explore a new talent or interest or brings an interests or ability into sharper focus.

Some students opt for additional exploratory opportunities, such as elective courses or summer internships. Others may choose to pursue an Experiential Learning Concentration in a field such as global citizenship or technology and innovation. Alumni presentations, community service projects, field trips, workshops, and reflection exercises enable students to hone in on areas they want to explore.

By participating in the Experiential Learning Program, students begin to discover who they are and how to find meaning and purpose in their lives.

Experiential Learning


Division Specifics

Students take their first steps in this journey of self-discovery in our Early Childhood program. At this stage, our approach is to provide the widest possible range of co-curricular programs. In Early Childhood, we devote significant instructional time to a host of “specials” classes that are designed to pique students’ interests and to get them involved, excited, and engaged with their classmates. Students receive instruction in Spanish, physical education, visual arts, drama, music, library, and guidance. 

A visit from Sunrock Farm and its myriad animals gives our pre-kindergarteners an up-close look at goats, chicks, lambs, and even a pig, accompanied by an interesting lesson on mammal characterization. The visit also incorporates the children’s studies of the life cycles of plants and animals, as well as the importance of habitat and life cycle changes.

Pre-kindergarteners  learn What a Wonderful World  we live in through the study of a book named for the Louis Armstrong classic. Children spend time each day talking about a page from the book and research scientific facts about the world. As the lesson goes on, they craft puppets and stage a show for parents and friends, even visiting their older peers in kindergarten.

After kindergarteners study penguins, marine animals, and Antarctica, they visit the Newport Aquarium to see firsthand the creatures they’ve been talking about. Following the trip to the aquarium, students give presentations for their parents about what they saw and how certain species behave.

Students come to understand the world around them on Terrific Tuesdays. Per Lotspeich tradition, kindergarteners spend their Tuesdays exploring campus during a day of outdoor education. In the winter, students focus backyard birds as they search for nests and study their unique attributes. 

Learn More About Early Childhood Signature Programs

Our wide array of offerings in the arts are essential to building the poise and self-confidence that distinguishes our young students. In carefully sequenced, yearlong classes in art, music, and theater, they have the freedom to explore a multitude of art forms, and discover the unique and many ways they can express themselves.

Our students also begin to learn a new world language. At the same time, we expose them to a wide variety of world cultures and traditions through celebrations, crafts, music, and research projects.

Our Lower School libraries are a great place for our students to engage with our curriculum. Our librarians are dynamic teachers who prepare exploratory experiences that both complement what they are already  learning in the classroom, and add even more topics to the mix. We think of our libraries as our students’ window on the larger world, centers for exploration, inquiry, and discovery.

From simple keyboard skills to mastering advanced searches for research projects, our students come to use technology well, for many authentic purposes. They might Skype an expert food buyer at Whole Foods during a unit on nutrition, or use the web to interview a scientist about Alaskan salmon breeding patterns. Students are also able to take virtual field trips that add to their lessons, like cave paintings in France, South Africa, Australia, and the southwest.

The excitement to innovate starts at a young age, so both our Lowers Schools provide students makerspaces to inspire and nurture students’ curiosity. At our Doherty Campus, students design and build in a well-equipped Creation Studio, bringing their ideas to life with 3-D printers and assembling recycled materials, with the support and guidance of their teachers. Our Lotspeich students participate in Project Math, an innovative enrichment program designed to engage students in applying quantitative and geometric skills to address real-world challenges.

Our After School Enrichment Programs offer the space and supervision for your student to stay involved in learning after the bell rings. Eight-week programs like Move & Groove, Creating with Clay, Bricks 4Kidz or Mad Science offer fun opportunities during the fall, winter and spring sessions. There are also mini-sessions, which run for two weeks and will offer a one-day special event, or programs that can meet on a short-term basis.

Our Summer Camps and Programs reflect many of the same qualities of our regular school programs: hands-on, adventure-filled experiences where they can reach further and learn even more. Our Honeybee and Stingerbee programs are designed for our youngest campers, from ages three to six. Weekly special-interest programs provide a great framework for appealing activities that support academic, social, and emotional growth. Whether it’s painting or drawing, chess or tennis, acting or creative writing, every program contains countless opportunities for new discoveries and unforgettable summer memories.

Even at a young age, we like to give our students opportunities to take the lead in a team or group. Leadership roles offer invaluable experience with working with peers, learning new skills, and stepping a bit out of their own comfort zone. An important part of the Seven Hills education is the rich tradition of students presenting and speaking in front of their peers. Students assume leadership roles over their projects and hone their public speaking skills in the process. They may transform into the subject of a poem in third grade, when students present verses they meticulously memorized. Or they may become project leads while collaborating as a member of a team project to design a theme park ride and make a presentation to classmates and teachers about their design process. In fifth-grade, students take center stage in the yearly musical and perform in front of an audience of teachers, parents, and peers. Children may also participate in the Good Apple program, spending an afternoon a week aiding the Lower School community with various helpful projects. There is no shortage of opportunities for students to gain leadership skills.

In Lower School, field trips help our students to understand how their classroom conversations come to life outside the school’s walls. These tailored trips encourage discovery, foster curiosity, and take experiential learning to new heights. Here are some examples:

City Hall (Lotspeich)

Our third-graders’ trip to City Hall launches their unit on Cincinnati history. They discover the city’s infrastructure and architecture, as well as the importance of civic responsibility. Students leave the day with a better sense of their community’s past and their own role today in local government.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Doherty)

Fourth- and fifth-graders visit Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to learn more about the history of slavery, broadening their historical knowledge and better understanding its affect on our society.

SunWatch Indian Village (Doherty)

At SunWatch, third-graders explore both indoors and out in nature, including 13th-century-type structures rebuilt in their original locations. In the Interpretive Center, students view artifacts and learn about the rich history of the village and its inhabitants.

Learn More About Lower School Signature Programs

The journey continues in Middle School with a wide range of co-curricular courses; however, at this age students begin to have some chances to make choices, to choose their own path, driven by their emerging interests and talents.

So, while all students are required to have significant annual exposure to physical education and health; library skills; visual art, music, drama; world languages; design thinking and technology; and social and emotional learning, they can supplement these required courses by opting to immerse themselves in one or in several areas by joining one of a wide range of after-school, extra-curricular programs.

So, in Middle School, all students dedicate roughly 80 minutes a day to our immersive arts program, which gives all students a host of opportunities to explore and express themselves in a variety of media. But many students chose also to participate in after-school music, theater, or arts programs.

Similarly, while all students are required to take a robust creative writing course in sixth-grade, many choose to develop their skills further in the journalism elective or on the yearbook staff.

All of our students take a full-fledged physical education course throughout Middle School; and over 80 percent of students choose, also, to play on at least one competitive, after-school team.

As students begin to discover unique talents or interests, they can pursue them in interest-based activities or clubs. These cover a wide range of performing arts, athletics, leadership programs, academic topics, and more.

Eighth-graders selected to attend the Bystander to Upstander: Youth Leadership Summit participate in valuable, interactive sessions about personal integrity, teamwork, and recognizing personal strengths. The leadership summit is an all-day program that encourages students to stand up to anti-Semitism, bigotry, racism, and bullying.

Seven Hills offers three seasons of athletic options for Middle Schoolers. Whether it’s soccer, volleyball, or baseball, every student athlete can find a team to join.

Field trips allow our Middle School students a chance to explore the world beyond our classrooms and truly see how what they’re learning applies in everyday life. Whether it’s interacting with professionals in a certain field, studying a new ecosystem, or putting themselves in someone else’s shoes for the day, our field trips are designed to push students out of their comfort zones, and introduce them to communities they might not otherwise encounter. Here are some examples:

Indianapolis, Indiana

Sixth-graders spend two days and one night in Indianapolis, exploring the city’s museums and zoo. Chaperoned by our teachers, students have the chance to exercise independence and responsibility in a new setting and learn about a new city.

Middle School Retreats

At the end of the first full week of classes, sixth-graders get the opportunity to learn about our campus, our facilities, and particular features of life in Middle School. The seventh-graders have their own retreat for play-based activities, both in small groups and with their entire class.

Around Cincinnati

Venturing into the city together, all Seven Hills seventh-graders explore historic sites and landmarks that continue to influence Cincinnati’s story. What they learn reinforces the concepts and lessons students are studying in their history and English classes.

Adventure Treks

At the beginning of their eighth-grade year, students travel to Pisgah National Forest, in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, for a four-day camping trip. The endeavor is planned and designed by Adventure Treks, a national leader in outdoor education. In the company of their classmates and teachers, students take on a variety of challenges (like rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and overnight camping) that work to create a shared identity for the entire grade. Learning what it means to be both a member and a leader of a community, they return to campus with a renewed sense of identity and purpose.

Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education

In conjunction with studying the rise of fascism in the 20th century and reading Lord of the Flies, eighth-graders visit the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education. The field trip challenges injustices, inhumanity, and prejudice, and fosters understanding, inclusion, and engaged citizenship. Students have a rare opportunity to understand the tangible importance of tolerance, inclusion, and social justice.

Learn More About Middle School Signature Programs

In addition to our core curriculum, we offer electives that appeal to a wide variety of student interests, whether in the arts, science, history, English, or a combination of them all. Students can delve into music, art, and theater with a slew of fine and performing arts electives, including Ceramics, Theater Directing, Chorus, and Instrumental Ensembles. Science students can explore Psychology, while learning about the inner workings of stem cells and DNA in Biotechnology. Young historians can take Introduction to Archaeology as well as Honors Modern Political TheoryAnd for budding writers, Journalism and Creative Writing are opportunities to expand on different writing styles they learned in the classroom.

Our student clubs meet during lunchtime and feature topics like new chess strategies, the environment, activism, and more. They’re a great way for students to share their interests with others, or discover a new group of friends to connect with. Many of our clubs are fueled by the students themselves: born out of their own interests and organized by their efforts.

During and after the school day, students might also gather to prepare for a state-level Latin competition, share French food and conversation, or edit poetry and short stories for the Seven Hills literary magazine. There are always many fun and interesting ways to get involved.

Volunteering opportunities are another great way for students to get some hands-on experience in topics they care about, and to help others at the same time. Seven Hills students support local food banks, shelters, clinics, rehab centers and literacy programs.

Students can connect with Seven Hills parents and alums to find summer internships or job shadowing experiences that align with their career or what they would like to pursue in college.

For those students who wish to pursue an area of interest in more depth, Seven Hills offers the option of graduating with a concentration. Students can request a specific or unique area for their concentration, but some include Community Engagement, Engineering and Design, Environmental Stewardship, Global Citizenship, Political Engagement, Technology and Innovation, The Arts, Wellness and Written Expression. To earn a concentration, it’s required that students do one of the following:

  1. Core course requirements plus an elective, an online course, a summer course, a college course, or some other educational experience.
  2. Some combination of job shadowing, internship, interviews with professionals, public lectures, conferences, and workshops.
  3. A Challenge Experience project, community service, a job, an internship, a student project, or a student competition.

They also must write a reflection paper, perform an oral defense, and keep a log or journal of their activities.

May Term Intensives offer students the opportunity to explore their academic interests in further depth. After spring exams, when all regular classes are finished, our ninth, 10th, and 11th graders participate in these courses for five days during regular school hours. Some examples: furniture design and construction, food production and processing, medical careers, architecture and murals, and more. 

Learn More About Upper School Signature Programs