Our Ninth Grade

You’ll find that while entering a rigorous new high school may be fun, it can be complicated: dealing with new classes, new teachers, and a whole new culture involves all sorts of adjustments. At Commonwealth, we have designed a first year aimed at helping you settle in, make friends, and learn how to do your best work as soon as possible.

Advisor and Student Buddy

Even before you set foot inside the school as a new student, you are assigned an advisor and a student buddy. Both will get in touch with you during the summer, and once school starts, you will meet regularly with your advisor one on one. He or she will answer your questions, offer support, or simply take time to chat. In October, when you have gotten to know all your teachers, and after the fall school trip to Maine, you have the opportunity to indicate your preferences for a permanent advisor.

Study Hall

During your first semester here, you will spend your free periods in study hall. This arrangement provides structure and encourages you to focus and use your time productively. It also gives you easy access to teachers if you become snarled in a homework assignment.

Pass-Fail Grading

We want you—and your families—to understand that if you learn to welcome academic challenge, feel free to join in lively class discussions, seek out your teachers when you feel the need, and carefully read their comments on your written work—in short, if you engage fully with your studies—your grades will take care of themselves. To this end, though teachers give grades (and write you lengthy comments) to help you assess your progress, at the end of freshman year, your final letter grades convert to a P (pass) or an E (fail) on your transcript.

Special Courses for Ninth Graders

All freshmen take a special set of three ten-week (trimester-long) courses: City of Boston, Health and Community, and Language and Ethics; the last is taught by the Headmaster. (New sophomores also take Language and Ethics.)

City of Boston

This course is designed to make you comfortable with the city of Boston while at the same time examining the uncomfortable questions cities raise. As we eat our way through Boston (cannoli, banh mi, ice cream, pizza!) we will examine how Boston’s neighborhoods differ from one another and how they have changed over time. Classroom discussions focus on the costs and benefits of segregation and economic development, as well as environmental justice. Throughout we will be asking two linked questions: Who decides how cities change? And who should decide? In a way, this class is a mini-course in the question of what it means to have a multi-ethnic, multicultural democracy—a question our country has been debating since its inception.

Students say...“What we learned in the Boston course is that when you study a city––walking through its neighborhoods, sampling its foods, looking at its beautiful and ugly spaces, its historic houses, and its surprises––it becomes your city.”

Language and Ethics

"One of my aims in teaching this course is that you learn to distinguish between an opinion and an argument (and between a good argument and a bad one) and to see how words, with the social and political baggage they carry, shape human relationships.” —Headmaster Bill Wharton

In the first five weeks, we address matters of critical questioning, the relationship of thinking and emotion, and the ethics of argument. We read texts of William Golding (“Thinking as a Hobby”) and Plato (usually the Crito). And using A Workbook for Arguments, we wrestle with the principles of critical reasoning. In the second half of the course, you practice public speaking, a skill you will put to use making announcements, class presentations, and other speeches during and after your Commonwealth career. Each of you will compose and make an announcement for a serious event, or a silly one (“National Read in the Bathtub Day,” for example). Toward the end of the course, you will each deliver a longer speech to the class on a topic of your choice.

Students say...“It became obvious to me freshman year that close reading was ubiquitous in the Commonwealth curriculum when the same skills were needed in English, Language and Ethics, my advanced French course, and history.”

Health and Community

Smart and information-savvy as your generation is, it might surprise you to discover how many people mistakenly believe you can get a sexually transmitted disease from a toilet seat, or similar myths. Health and Community provides a comfortable place (or as comfortable as possible) to examine crucial intimate questions. We learn about different drugs, what leads some people to abuse them, and their effects on brain chemistry and behavior. We explore the biology of sex and (using some materials from Planned Parenthood’s “Get Real” curriculum) learn about sexually transmitted infections and how to prevent them. The school’s psychologist joins us for a number of discussion sessions dealing with mental health and wellness and ways to manage stress.

At the end of the course, you will have learned to think and talk with clarity and maturity—and without embarrassment—about complicated matters, many of which, at one time or another, in one way or another, will affect every one of us during our lives. And you will have the information you need to make healthy, informed choices.

Students say...“I'm glad that health and community is a requirement. It's not just learning about drugs and sex—it broadens your horizons. It's important not to be blind to things just because they're awkward to talk about.”