Graduating prepared, not prepped

High School Highlights

High school teachers at UMA understand the importance of these four years both academically and socially. Teachers collaborate across subjects to break down traditional silos, and students learn to work together and take charge of designing and discovering their own learning.


Credits for high school classes are earned by semesters. Each semester class is worth 1/2 credit. Courses listed below state whether the class is offered as a year-long class (1) or a semester class (.5). For more information regarding high school graduation requirements, see the information bar to the right.

Language Arts

High school students are required to take four years of language arts classes. The specific year during which each course is offered can vary.

Rhetoric, Speech, and Storytelling (.5)

In this class, the first of two units gives students an introduction to rhetorical language and the history and art of persuasive speaking and writing. During this unit, students read or listen to “classic” speeches, watch a variety of modern day persuasive pieces, and write and present their own argumentative speeches. The second unit expands on rhetoric to focus on the power of the storytelling through an examination of origin myths from various cultures and a study of Euripides’ Medea. This class is taken in 9th grade or 10th grade, depending on scheduling.

World Literature: The Immigrant Experience (.5)

Students explore world literature through individual stories of immigration: fiction and nonfiction, voluntary and forced. Students read, research, and write about a variety of immigrant stories from around the world and develop an understanding of why people migrate and what lessons are learned as immigrants pass their stories to future generations. Final projects focus on tracing one family’s path of immigration through video, pictures, and stories. This class is taken in 9th grade or 10th grade depending on scheduling.

Identity through American Literature (1)

How are identities created — do you do it yourself or is there more to it? How can you conform but still be yourself? What is the American Dream and is it even attainable? With a focus on individuality, identity, and the American Dream, this class pushes students to look critically at themselves, their perspectives, and their biases to understand how identity plays a role in America’s past and present society. This class is taken in 9th grade or 10th grade depending on scheduling.

Scientific Ethics through Literature (1)

Typically offered in 11th grade, this course examines the ethical issues surrounding scientific knowledge through a study of classic Gothic literature and contemporary science fiction. Overarching themes focus on how far modern medicine and contemporary science can be pushed before we have gone “too far.” In addition to traditional forms of literature, students read a variety of nonfiction articles on related ethical topics ranging from the usage of the HeLa genes to cloning to stem cell research. This course incorporates a minimum of two research papers: one analytical and one argumentative.

Science Fiction and Dystopian Literature (1)

Seniors have their chance to be opinionated! We analyze and critique current social issues through the eyes of science fiction and dystopian writers. We examine the power novels have to make change, the similarities of fictional worlds to our own, and the reasons authors choose to write about particular topics. Ultimately, students have the opportunity to defy probabilities through their creations of a utopian world (and explore the consequences of their ideas).


When students join UMA, they are placed into the appropriate math classes based on records and requests received. High school students are required to take four years of mathematics, including at least one year each of Algebra, Geometry and Statistics/Probability.

UMA math classes explore how we learn and develop problem-solving skills through open-ended challenges, puzzles, and projects. Students make connections between what they are discovering in class with the real world around them. Most importantly, they ask their own questions and come up with their own solutions.

Intermediate Algebra (1)

This course is offered to high school students who have either not completed Algebra I or have demonstrated a need for strengthening their algebra skills before moving into advanced algebra classes. Students will review basic algebra skills while developing problem-solving techniques through open-ended problems, puzzles, and projects. Not only do students learn about algebra, but they also make connections between what they discover in class and the real world.

Geometry (1)

This class utilizes nature to discover geometry fundamentals and the theorems that follow. Students employ the endless repetition of iteration to create mathematical representations of trees, the human circulatory system, and landscapes. 

Algebra II (1)

A focus on the fundamentals of math while learning about the rich history of human discovery. We peek into the obscure world of prime numbers, discover amicable forbidden numbers, explore numbers that recur in nature (pi, e, phi, and i), and work with functions from linear to logarithmic to the beginnings of trigonometry. 

Pre-Calculus (1)

This class is an exploration of math with an emphasis on mathematical modeling. Students are encouraged to stretch their imaginations and curiosity to their outer limits. We pose problems, explore current mathematics, and reflect on the history of math and the characters who shaped it.

Calculus (1)

In the 17th century, Isaac Newton developed calculus to solve problems of planetary motion, forming the basis for mathematical techniques that are heavily used in modern day science, engineering and economics. Calculus students have the opportunity to learn mathematical techniques that they can apply in a range of data-generating classes, such as biology, chemistry and physics, as well apply to real world problems.

Statistics and Probability (1)

Statistics and Probability offers students more accessible techniques for organizing, tracking and analyzing data. These skills are essential to navigating an information-heavy world. In Statistics and Probability, students master mathematical systems that allow them to draw conclusions about the reliability of data. These techniques are continually applied to real data sets generated both inside and outside of the school setting.

Social Studies

High school students are required to take four years of social studies classes, including U.S. History, World History, Geography, Government, and Economics. The specific year during which each course is offered can vary.

Human Geography (1)

Human geography is the study of how people & cultures have been impacted by the world around us, as well as the ways that humans have and continue to change our planet. Students use different lenses from a variety of social studies disciplines to study each geographic region. A major focus of this course is on the themes of migration & immigration.  Migration stories of people in our local communities, as well as those across the globe, will guide our studies.

United States History (1)

In order to make the teaching of United States history clear, relevant and interesting, this course takes a thematic, rather than chronological, approach to learning U.S. history. In this course, students demonstrate a clear idea of the major developments, events, and personalities in U.S. history; understand the American character and the American belief system; show increased interest in current issues and the responsibilities of American citizenship; have a better perspective on the economic success of our country as well as the current challenges of a global economy; understand the ongoing struggle to achieve the American Dream; and appreciate diversity throughout the history of the United States.

World History (1)

This course explores the major events and global historical trends that have shaped the world we live in today. Starting with early human life from over 100,000 years ago and ending in the present, the wide scope of World History allows us to look at many aspects of the human experience: culture, economics, science, religion, philosophy, politics and law, military conflict, literature and the arts. This course allows students to make meaningful connections between their present lives and those of other cultures and peoples, identify and analyze large-scale patterns of human behavior, recognize trends and themes in a variety of cultures, and explore changing movements and concepts throughout history.

Economics (.5)

Typically offered in twelfth grade, this required course is an introduction to economics, focusing on the macro & micro levels, as well as personal finance.  Students learn the basics behind our global economy, the differences between individual economic systems, and key economic terms. Economics requires critical thinking skills from across all disciplines, as well as basic math skills. Students also read sections from Freakonomics (Levitt and Dubnerby) and learn to question preconceived notions of economics and finance.

Citizenship and Government (.5)

A requirement to graduate, this course is an exploration of the ideas of citizenship and our U.S. government. Students learn the skills and ideas of citizenship, the role of government in their lives, and the key components of our federal and local government. The goal of this course is to help students become informed citizens who are knowledgeable about our country’s government foundations and their rights. A key component of this class is the sharing of ideas. With this in mind, students work to respectfully state opinions, backed up by facts, in a small group or large discussions and debates.


High school students are required to take four years of science courses, including at least one credit of Biology. The specific year during which each course is offered can vary.

Physical Science 9 (1)

This class is an exploration of science with an emphasis on experiments and mathematical modeling. We pose problems, hypothesize solutions, test our ideas, explore current science, and look back on the history of discovery and human failure and triumph.

Biology (1)

Students connect content to context by exploring biological concepts in the setting of our local ecosystems. Students interact with these ecosystems through measurement of both biotic and abiotic factors and present this data as a description of living systems, from cell to ecosystem.

Chemistry (1)

Chemistry at UMA strives to combine theoretical chemistry with experimental chemistry so that students develop both a conceptual framework and a skill set that will serve them in the pursuit of any science: biology, physics, geology, or chemistry itself.

Physics (1)

Did you know that the root of the word “physics” means nature? This 12th-grade class provides an overview of the universe we live in: from what makes up atoms to what comes after superclusters of galaxies. As a class, we celebrate the works of great scientitsts from Archimedes to Hawking.


While all classes incorporate UMA Pathways, ninth-grade students are enrolled in stand-alone Pathway classes. Each student takes two Pathways per semester during their ninth-grade year.

Design & Engineering (.5)

In this course, students have the opportunity to explore, discover, and create! With a focus on problem-solving within the design process, students analyze and deconstruct real products to understand how they were created and refined. Along with a trip to Loll Design in Duluth, designers visit the classroom to share their own creations and encourage students to critique their work. After a series of smaller projects, students complete the class by utilizing the design process to solve a unique problem. 

Edible Schoolyard (.5)

This class dives deep into farming practices, conventional growing vs. GMO’s, bees and other beneficial insects, food safety, food waste, and food budgeting. Additionally, students plan and produce videos on cooking techniques and social issues regarding food sources, health, nutrition, and a variety of other topics.

Essential Ingredients (.5)

This course explores how components come together to make a whole and how the relationships between these components can form complex systems that are greater than the sum of their parts. Using this paradigm, students look specifically at how the ratio of parts can affect the characteristics of the final product. We explore the periodic table and focus on the atomic chemistry necessary to understand how concrete is created, manipulated, and made durable. Students mix, pour and test their own concrete cylinders and then design and pour blocks for a variety of projects.

River to River (.5)

Ninth grade River-to-River Exploratory is an investigation of community: community in both the scientific and social sense. With regard to scientific communities, students explore ground beetle assemblages in Victoria Park through a population study in conjunction with The University of Minnesota, The University of Nebraska, and the St. Paul Parks. Socially, students develop neighborhood stories through research and access to community members, which they ultimately present in the form of a podcast.

Visual Arts

At UMA, we consider the Visual Arts to be an integral part of our curriculum. For this reason, we encourage all students to take at least one semester of Visual Arts each year.

Visual Arts classes count toward 8 required elective courses. The following list is a sampling of classes offered throughout a student’s high school journey.

Advanced Printmaking (.5)

Students engage in a variety of printmaking processes to create images of their choosing. Students learn monotype, multi-layer monotype, collagraph, multi-layer collagraph and reduction block printing. This is a studio-forward class which focuses on creation, critique, and reflection. Students learn how to operate in the printmaking studio and are expected to create artwork each day.

Ceramics (.5)

Ceramics is offered to those artists who enjoy working with clay. Students spend the first weeks of class mastering a variety of clay building techniques and then independently design and create a series of ceramic artwork throughout the rest of the semester. Students are expected to use all of the various techniques within their creations. All artwork will be displayed upon completion.

Choice-Based Art

The foundations of this art class are based on the philosophies of a Choice-Based classroom. Each day, students enter the art studio as a working artist, where they independently — and at times, collaboratively — plan, experiment and construct different artwork throughout the semester using the medium of their choice. Students are expected to develop a theme for their work and are encouraged to use a variety of materials. Artwork is displayed appropriately as it is completed.

Darkroom Photography (.5)

Students learn the basic parts and uses of a single lens reflex (SLR) camera. The class discusses the foundations of photography composition and uses these to take artistic black and white photographs. Students also learn how to use and maintain a darkroom, where they develop their own photographs. Lastly, we learn the steps of mounting photographs and displaying them for viewing. In addition to creating photographs, students research and discover a variety professional photographers as well as photographic occupations.

Studio Arts: Experimental Painting (.5)

This course will be composed of two parts: absorb and exude. Students learn the studio habits, processes, and techniques of artists from the Renaissance period through today. They then generate their own habits, processes, and techniques to create a series of artworks. Throughout the semester, students work together to critique, reflect on, and hone their own artistic process and creative technique.


At UMA, we consider Music to be an integral part of our curriculum. For this reason, we encourage all students to take at least one semester of Music each year.

Music classes count toward 8 required elective courses. The following list is a sampling of classes offered throughout a student’s high school journey.

Vinyl Appreciation (.5)

For this class, students agree on a set of rules for appropriate listening, then head off to the record store to bring in some music printed on vinyl. Throughout the term, we listen to each student’s record and learn to sing and perform some of our favorite songs. The class focuses on production technology, history of the music industry, and musical analysis.

Guitar Workshop (.5)

This class will cover basic through intermediate guitar technique. Students have the opportunity to create music alone, in small groups, and as a large ensemble. Furthermore, students learn to read notes, chords, and tabs, and leave the class with all the tools they need to learn songs of their choice on guitar.

The Entrepreneurial Musician (.5)

What kind of jobs exist in the music industry? How does a person start a band? How does music get produced and distributed? How does a person become a professional musician? This course seeks to answer those questions and more. Students pick an instrument (or voice) to develop throughout the semester. The process of developing technique is punctuated with daily discussions of the skills and attitudes that accompany successful musicians. This course features guest lectures from musicians in the community, hands-on experience with music technology,  and a project-based approach to building a musical business plan. Finally, students develop a realistic and practical concept of what it takes to be a lifelong musician.

Performance Skills (.5)

In this course, students bolster their performing skills, both musically and nonmusically, and gain confidence presenting material in front of a crowd. Students have the opportunity to work alone and in small groups to prepare regular performances to present to the class. Class discussion focuses on strategies for building confidence, planning presentations, and collaborating with others.

World Languages

High school students are required to complete two years of a world language.

UMA offers Spanish at four different levels. As our program grows, we plan to expand our world language offerings.

Spanish I-IV (.5)

For all Spanish classes at UMA, the key is an authentic experience! We take advantage of any authentic experience we can get our hands, ears, and eyes on. This usually comes to us by way of authentic music, movies, short films, short stories, myths/legends, unique holidays, commercials, and current events, among many other cool and interesting things!


UMA’s elective offerings are taught by both “elective teachers and “core” teachers. Each of these classes counts toward 8 required elective courses.

The following list is a sampling of classes offered throughout a student’s high school journey.


Personal Finance



Film Studies





Outside Art


Intro to Coding

Science of Magic


Environmental Science


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Upper Mississippi Academy

Upper Mississippi Academy is a public charter school providing high-quality education for students in grades 6-12 in the St. Paul-Minneapolis metro area. Located in downtown St. Paul, UMA’s experiential, collaborative environment encourages dynamic teaching and learning through an interdisciplinary and multi-dimensional instructional approach.



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