Upper School

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Upper School Student Life​

Cultivating a strong sense of self-advocacy in our upper division students

Mary McDowell Friends School is more than a school, it is an empowering learning environment with a strong sense of community. Our array of programs, from weekly clubs to international travel, offers our students learning experiences that they remember for the rest of their lives.

Advancing to upper school brings increased independence and exciting new opportunities, all within the greater MMFS community. Upper school students continue to participate in Silent Meeting twice a week.


Each student has an advisor for all four years who supports them in a variety of ways. Advisors help students develop personal responsibility and work through social and emotional issues. Students build self-esteem and the confidence to advocate for themselves while taking the risks inherent in learning new information. By the time students graduate, they are well prepared and skilled in self-advocacy and empowered to take their next chosen steps.

College Guidance

As a college preparatory school, our college advisory program is a key element of our upper school program. We are preparing students to think about their future beyond MMFS for years leading up to college application and decision time. All students have access to a college advisor, interview preparation workshops, and intensive training and portfolio review for those wishing to apply to competitive college arts programs.

Our college guidance team is extremely well-versed in matching college and university programs around the country with the needs of each of our students. They work closely with students as they progress through the upper school, so that students are prepared and supported through the college application and interview process.

Learn more about our College Guidance program.


Clubs are open to all students and take place regularly. They give our students the opportunity to develop skills and explore interests outside the scope of their regular courses. Standing clubs that are integral to student life at our upper school include Student Government, Quaker Life Committee, and Brave Space.

Clubs are most often proposed by students, and they reflect the varied interests of our student body. Some examples of student-led clubs are Environmental Sustainability, Guitar, Songwriting, Dance, Round Table Discussion, and Astronomy. Faculty members also form clubs, including Badminton, Board Games, and Tae Kwon Do, and many of their suggestions have led to new skills and interests for students.

Field Studies

Field Studies Days happen frequently throughout the year; they are at the heart of the upper school’s education program. Studies show that learning outside of the classroom provides context and meaning to abstract concepts and leads to deeper understanding and long-term retention of knowledge.

Field Studies Days mobilize the entire student body and faculty to expand the core curriculum through partnerships with New York City educational and cultural institutions and invite experts into the school building. We include our equity and social justice work in our field studies and advisory programs and have expanded them to include celebration of heritage months. Our city is one of the world’s great resources for students, offering countless museums, numerous cultural institutions, and a wide range of diverse neighborhoods. The topics and destinations are drawn directly from classroom curricula or arise as an opportunity to take advantage of one-time events.

Examples of past Field Studies Days are a visit to the United Nations, a death penalty debate, presentations by the president of the ACLU and the first death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence, a study of comparative religion through visits to different houses of worship, the presidential election and the electoral college, an LGBTQ activist panel, a viewing and discussion of “I’m Not a Racist, Am I,” the study of notable African American women, and many others.

The Field Studies program fosters a sense of independence in our students, developing their communication and organizational skills while teaching them to interact with people of various cultural and professional backgrounds. We have found that this exposure to the multitude of educational opportunities beyond their classroom has proven incredibly valuable in their development as independent individuals and global citizens.


We start each school year by bringing the entire upper school, students and faculty, on a two-night retreat to kick off the new school year. These annual retreats build community, engage students in their transition to upper school student life, and, eventually, prepare them for life outside of school.

These retreats provide a safe space for students to talk about their particular learning disabilities, if they choose to, and to learn more about what it means to attend a Quaker school. The conversations that happen here help build relationships that grow throughout the year. Students learn about the characteristics of leadership and discuss the leadership roles they have in the upper school community. On these trips, teachers also begin the conversation with older students about preparing to transition out of the upper school and what that can mean for each student.


Fostering a global perspective and respect for all cultures is a high priority at MMFS. One of the ways we promote this global perspective is through international travel, which builds on the themes students are studying and exposes them to a variety of international cultures.

Tenth-grade students take a week-long trip to Europe in the spring, studying art, history, and culture. Twelfth grade students can go on an international trip during spring break. Some examples of past and future destinations for juniors and seniors are Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, and Italy.

Travel gives students the opportunity to explore different cultures and languages with the support of teachers who know and understand them. It is a powerful experience for students with learning disabilities. Travel helps students understand the context of their own communities and helps them gain independence and confidence in their ability to navigate the world. For many of our students, this is a life-changing experience and one that shapes their own future possibilities.​