Our Schools

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools are made up of five schools, each with its own principal and administrative staff.

Nursery School and Kindergarten

Children learn to play and play to learn in our early childhood programs. Approximately 420 children make up our Nursery 3, Nursery 4, and Kindergarten population. Nurturing classroom environments are designed to provide opportunities for reading, telling stories, art, games, music, and exploration as students develop their cognitive and social abilities. Each classroom welcomes approximately 22 children led by a head and two assistant teachers. At the earliest stages, children learn to engage in class discussions, ask questions, and express their own ideas. They write and direct their own plays and investigate the natural world through projects and observation of classroom pets and plants.

All Nursery, Kindergarten and Primary School children attend school at Earl Shapiro Hall on the Early Childhood Campus. Earl Shapiro Hall is specifically designed to meet the needs of students from Nursery through second grade. Everything from learning spaces to play areas and furniture have been designed with these grades in mind.

Primary School (Grades 1-2)

The Primary School is comprised of over 230 students and their families, and is designed to meet the needs of a diverse population of first and second grade students. Each grade level is organized into 5-6 homerooms. More than 26 homeroom and special area teachers create specially designed classroom environments and learning engagements to inspire primary age learners. 

First and second grade instruction is designed around holistic concepts such as global perspectives and the environment. Students also begin to encounter multiple teachers as they leave the classroom for library, music, art, physical education and, beginning in second grade, computers. Grade level specific and developmentally appropriate skills are woven into the curriculum in meaningful activities, and efforts are made to tie curricular topics in special area classes to larger themes and inquiry.

Along with Nursery and Kindergarten, the Primary School is located at Earl Shapiro Hall on the Early Childhood Campus.

Lower School (Grades 3 - 5)

The Lower School welcomes approximately 370 children into a warm, enriching and supportive environment. Classrooms have spacious play areas and story nooks where students feel at home. The atmosphere is informal with a balance between freedom and discipline. Classroom size averages 23 students. Throughout the Lower School there is emphasis on the mastery of language arts, mathematical skills, problem solving, artistic and scientific exploration as well as individual creative expression. Often a thematic approach to learning is used which gives students an understanding between disciplines.  Beginning in third grade, students receive specialized instruction in laboratory science and world language, in addition to continuing classes in art, music, physical education, library and computer. Third and fourth graders have from one-half to one hour of homework each school day. Certain classrooms participate in partnerships, “buddy programs,” with students in other grade levels.

Middle School (Grades 6 – 8)

Lab's Middle School consists of approximately 360 students. Sixth through eighth grade is a very special time in a child's life, full of complex developmental changes and new academic challenges. Middle School is organized so that each child has a homeroom/advisory that serves as a "home base" and a teacher/advisor to depend on for counsel. Small advisory groups give students a chance to talk about issues with each other and an advisor in a non-judgmental setting. Teachers establish a secure and nurturing environment conducive to the challenge of independent thinking. They bring to their work a deep understanding of early adolescence as well as mastery of their subject areas.

Middle Schoolers engage in a full academic program including mathematics, science, humanities, and world language. In addition to academic subjects, students take physical education, music, art, drama, home economics, and computers. In eighth grade, they have the option of taking a beginning photography course. As students enter and proceed through Middle School, they become increasingly involved in the arts and community service. Additionally, students also have opportunities to compete in interscholastic sports such as soccer, basketball, track, baseball, and volleyball, where they play against other Chicago-area independent schools. By the end of their Middle School years, students are ready for the greater demands of high school.

High School (Grades 9 – 12)

At University High, the student population of approximately 500 students is accustomed to a demanding workload and high expectations in preparation for college and lifelong learning. Our students are taught to think for themselves and challenge assumptions. Active participation in school and community enables our students to fit into the larger community and world around them. Rigorous coursework, lively class discussions, and independent reading and writing assignments all contribute to this goal.

The High School curriculum emphasizes analytical reading, writing, research, math, and science. Students typically take five to seven courses per quarter, all of which are considered honors-level courses in a public school system. Many of our students avail themselves of our eight AP and ten AT course offerings, and some juniors and seniors attend courses at the University. Although Lab’s rigorous course requirements are designed to meet the needs of college requirements, students have a wide range of options and flexibility in their selections. With the help of their advisors and counselors, students can put together an individualized course of study that will prepare them well for future success.

Students are required to take English each year in high school. English electives - a separate course each quarter - are available in junior and senior years. All English courses require extensive reading, writing, and discussion. In math, students are required to complete geometry, advanced algebra, and at least one additional advanced math course. Most of our students take four years of math including some level of calculus. Our science labs enable students to develop a solid foundation in biology, chemistry, and physics. All high school students take three years of history, including Early World and American History. Lab also offers French, German, Latin, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish at various levels. World language classes focus on reading, writing, speaking, and cross-cultural appreciation and understanding.

Music and art are also integral parts of the High School curriculum. Students are required to take a minimum of one year in each of these disciplines, selected among drama, music theory, performance, fine arts, drawing, painting, and photography. Our students exhibit their works and perform frequently throughout the year. As sophomores, students are required to complete two quarters of community service through the Community Learning Program. This activity gives them the opportunity to follow an interest, help others, and make a contribution to community life.

High school students have many opportunities to pursue their interests outside of class. They run an award-winning publications empire, fully staff a nationally-recognized Model United Nations team, and run many other clubs and organizations. Interscholastic sports are also popular. Lab fields 28 different teams in ten different sports (baseball, basketball, cross-country, golf, fencing, soccer, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball). Several of our students also participate in crew and ice hockey through independent organizations based in Lincoln Park.

Special Services

Lab expects a great deal from its students and offers them many challenges. However, we also know that students have different needs as they learn and grow. To that end we provide reading specialists in the Primary and Lower Schools who work with students individually or in groups. The High School writing center helps students with rough drafts, idea formation, and even college application essays. Math tutors are available at the math center where students can go for help on a few problems or review an entire concept. Our teachers are willing and able to give extra help or recommend tutoring when necessary.

A staff of full-time counselors is trained to assist with various educational and emotional issues as they arise; they can also identify helpful resources outside of school as needed. Learning Specialists assist students with learning issues, including help with testing diagnostics and accommodations. Three full-time college counselors provide step-by-step guidance to juniors, seniors, and their parents as they navigate the shoals of the college admission and selection process. This includes conducting workshops on various college topics and directing families to appropriate information at each stage of the process. In 2008 the New York Times named the Laboratory Schools College Counseling office fifth in the nation!