Portsmouth Abbey School

New England’s Independent Catholic Boarding School

Our curriculum

Check out this sampling of great courses that we have offered! Students will take three classes during their time with us. The courses are organized by department: English, Mathematics, Science and Engineering, Environmental Studies, Fine and Performing Arts and Music, Social Sciences, Theology, and Test Prep. We are in the process of updating our curriculum for 2016, and it promises to be chock full of interesting options such as those listed below.  Stay tuned for our new listings – coming soon!


  • English Composition (how to write a good essay): Why do we need to write well? Writing is perhaps the deepest clarification of our thinking and demands particular attention to style and content. This composition course explores all aspects of effective composition from clarity of expression to writing with a compelling style. The class are taught in the small sections necessary for individual instruction in the practical mechanics of written expression, so the teacher can focus on each student and his or her individual writing style and development.
  • Creative Writing: Do you like to write stories, poems, or scripts? This writing workshop is designed to encourage you in your creative effort. Readings in both antique and modern styles introduce a wide range of strategies and techniques for developing writers to imitate or critique. Close editing by instructors and peers inspires developing writers to read their own prose with a more demanding eye. Students will begin to discover their own unique voice through a close reading of poems, short stories, dramatic scenes, and excerpts of novels, and exercise their own creative faculties every day.
  • Economics: What is money? How old should we be before we start thinking about personal finance and the responsibility to manage our money? This course provides the student with a clear and intense study of basic economic ideas and concepts. The market, inflation, recession, money, stocks and bonds, and many other economic fundamentals will be explored. Students will leave this class with the tools with which to understand their economic world.
  • English Literature: Why should we read literature? Does literature really matter? Literature brings to life our culture’s centuries-long conversation about the ideas that inform our society, beliefs and attitudes. The purpose of this course is to acquaint students, in word and in writing, with the vocabulary necessary for the study of literature, and through discussions, help them see and appreciate the beauty and meaning of the works studied. Equally important, they will discover that reading literature is a task that engenders delight.
  • The Existence of God: Are you a fool to believe in God? Are you a fool not to? Can the existence of God be proven rationally? What is the relationship between faith, emotion, and reason when it comes to belief in God? This course examines both traditional and contemporary proofs for and against the existence of God; explores current understandings of our universe from theoretical physics, quantum mechanics, and evolutionary biology; and examines the role reason plays in religious belief.
  • Lincoln and the Civil War: In the recent film about Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis's Lincoln deftly maneuvered the thirteenth amendment towards ratification despite formidable opposition.  This is but one of the hundreds of decisions the real President Lincoln made during the Civil War.  The students will explore primary source materials, as well as the work of historians like Pulitzer Prize winner James McPherson, to get a deeper sense of our sixteenth president's character, political savvy, and extraordinary statesmanship during a war that killed as many Americans as all of our other wars combined.
  • Public Speaking: Are you nervous about speaking in public? Do you ever wonder why some people are very comfortable speaking and others find it unbearable? This course in the art and craft of public speaking is an introductory course for the inexperienced student. It covers the basic strategies of public discourse and provides the student intelligent approaches to a variety of speaking situations. From a simple speech conveying information to parliamentary debating techniques each student will have an opportunity to practice this craft and learn to offer positive critiques to other students.
  • English as Second Language (ESL)Do you want to experience a new and different approach to learning a language that will give you a practical and functional grasp of English? This is an intensive language course for international students who wish to improve their English in a program that will instill the habits of true and effective learning. Students are required to speak English at all times and to immerse themselves fully in the language. 
  • The Movies and History: How accurately does Hollywood depict history?  Does it matter if the events and characters on the screen vary from what really happened?  Do writers and directors have an obligation to present things as they actually occurred, or is their main obligation to tell a good story, even if that means drifting from the truth?  In this course, students will study various historical events, and then examine popular films that depict them to determine their accuracy, and discuss the implications of the director's and writers' choices.  Some potential movies to be studied: The Alamo, Glory, Cinderella Man, Flags of our Fathers, Thirteen Days, Blackhawk Down, Zero Dark Thirty

Environmental Studies

  • Living in Harmony with the Natural World: This experientially taught class is designed to create a love and understanding within students for their natural surroundings. In the first unit, outdoor recreation, class material will spark a passion for the outdoors by opening up the world of hiking, camping, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. The second unit is based on survival skills and will give students the confidence they need to be comfortable exploring the outdoors. First Aid and Safety is the third unit, which explores how to take necessary action when faced with potential dangers the natural world will bring. The final unit is conservation, which wraps up class material by mapping out ideas and solutions to keeping our environment preserved for generations to come.
  • Oceanography: When you are at Portsmouth Abbey, it’s impossible to miss the natural beauty of the ocean around you.  As humans, we are dependent on the ocean for food, transportation, and goods.  This class explores the origin of the oceans, the science and history of ocean exploration, how different coastlines are formed, and how waves and tides affect beaches.  Given our excellent location, this course includes a variety of experiential components and plenty of time investigating outside of the classroom.

Fine and Performing Arts and Music

  • The Artist’s Eye: How do artists see the world? How do they make the choices they make to creatively and uniquely represent what they see? In this course, open to both new and experienced artists, students will learn how to draw and paint from observation. It is a great way to really begin to see the world around you. This course offers a variety of projects and media, including sustained still-life painting, figure drawing, a la prima landscape studies, and more.
  • Digital Photography and Design: This is a class for students who wish to move beyond taking casual pictures with their camera phone, to more sophisticated photographs and learning the basics of photojournalism. How do you compose a compelling photograph? How do you put together a portfolio of impressive work? What makes a picture memorable? Using our state-of-the-art Apple computer digital media lab, students in this course learn the basics of graphic design and use digital art tools to create pieces to dazzle the eye and catch the attention. Students will compile a portfolio of photos, exhibit them, and as a class put together a photo-essay of the Summer Program.

  • Summer Sound Studio: In this hands-on creative course, you will be learning about sound recording technologies and music composition.  You will compose/arrange music for projects ranging from ringtones to dubstep as well as an introduction to film scoring and making your own music video. See the video last summer’s Sound Studio class made on our homepage!

  • Music Theater Workshop: This course is designed to develop your musical theater skills.  The focus will be on the triple threat: Acting, singing and movement.  This is a performance- based class and all who sign up will be asked to participate in scene work with other classmates.  Over the course of the four weeks, you will put together a repertoire of songs and monologues to get you ready for any audition situation as well as creating group numbers for performance at the end of the summer school session. 


  • PreAlgebra: Is your next Math class going to be PreAlgebra? This course will give you a solid want to make sure they have a solid foundation in arithmetic, solving equations, algebraic expressions, and more, so you will be primed to do well next fall.

  • Algebra 1: Are you ready for Algebra? Do you want to have a really good start and make sure that you have the basics down in Algebra? Linear and quadratic functions are the major topics explored in this preview of Algebra 1, designed to get you ready. It is also suitable fro any student wanting a review of the key concepts in Algebra 1.

  • Geometry: Is Geometry next for you? Would you like to make sure you have the basic concepts and techniques under control even before the class begins? Congruence and similarity, fundamental ideas in geometry, are the major topics presented in this review/preview of Geometry.

  • Forensic Science: Do you like to watch CSI? Are you interested in how science and chemistry can solve crimes and resolve mysteries? In this class, learn the techniques and methods used by real forensic investigators in the FBI and police departments around the world to examine evidence and determine "whodunit.” This class is excellent preparation for anyone taking either biology or chemistry in the coming school year.

  • Robotics: Are you interested in how to get machines to do what you want? Do you know how to program a robot so it completes a task successfully? In this class, using a basic robotics kit and program, students in teams will design their own projects for the summer, build and program robots that will complete the tasks, and then present their work at the end of the program. No prior skill in robotics or programming required, although students who have experience are welcome and can assume leadership roles in their teams. In past summers students have created mobile, self-controlled robots, and also created objects using our robotic 3-D printer.

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