Course Catalog
Support for Students with Special Needs


To access Nova's course catalog:

To accommodate both student interests and graduation requirements, Nova offers the standard list of high school courses, but often with an intriguing spin - for example, teaching physical science through art or food, math through origami, or medieval history through the literature of the time.

Additionally, students often have the flexibility to move in their own directions within a given course. Studentsare encouraged to pursue the class through their own particularinterests and then share those through research, writing, andpresentation.

Nova students can also earn credit through independent contracts of their own design, by co-teaching classes at Nova, by taking classes at other schools, or through internships and other programs outside the school.

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Competency-based learning

Nova’s teaching and learning system differs from traditional schools in that the student(s) and teacher(s) collaborate to define the student’s specific areas of interest and develop expectations for fulfilling competencies based on those interests. A competency can be defined as a concept, a skill, or any specific knowledge essential for passing a class. Instead of measuring student knowledge on the basis of teacher-assigned tests, homework, and reports, the student and teacher work together to assess mastery so that the credits earned correlate with the student's understanding and application of the key concepts and skills covered in the class.

Thereis no one standard way to demonstrate a competency; in fact, thecentral difference from traditional models is that in a competency-basedsystem, each student may demonstrate understanding differently fromevery other student. In a history class on the sixties andseventies, demonstrating competency might include recording an oralhistory from an adult who was a young adult then or creating a postercorrelating protests and the end of the Vietnam War. Assessment in a math class might incorporate cooperative group projects, interviews and yes, an occasional quiz.

Freshfolks or 9th Grade Seminar 

Previously known as “Freshmen Seminar,” Freshfolksis required for all ninth graders. This integrated studiescourse is dedicated to exploration of the competencies of Identity,Community, Justice, and Inquiry Analysis. Students will investigate themselves, how they learn, and how to effect change in themselves and their communities. Freshfolks introduces the academic, organizational, and additional skills students will rely on for a successful Nova career. Thisseminar will be designed and co-facilitated by staff and students andwill thus take shape around the interests of all participants.

Earning credit

All classes are offered for credit or partial credit. A standard semester-long class at Nova (as at any Seattle public high school) is valued at 0.5 credits. Nova students take a minimum of five classes, earning the equivalent of 2.5 credits each semester. Astudent, with coordinator approval, can take additional classes astheir schedule allows with class loads varying semester-to-semester.

Students must meet or exceed all course competencies at the equivalent of a “B” or above to receive credit. Full credit or partial credit is only given for student work that is the equivalent of a “B” or higher.

Becauseof the flexibility of Independents, the amount of credit earned varies,but most independents, upon completion of competencies or thepredetermined number of logged hours, are valued at 0.5 credits.

Earning honors credit

Students who would like to receive honors credit in a class should speak with the teacher at the beginning of the semester to discuss criteria. Each teacher specifies the criteria for honors credit in his or her class. Itcould include extra work, and standards for the required work that meetor exceed base competency levels. Honors credit is not offered in allclasses. 


Courses include a full range of history and language arts classes, a comprehensive science program with an organic garden, math, and foreign languages. Although these offerings are also available atother high schools, many have a unique twist and are often designed toaccommodate different learning styles.

Course offerings change each semester, the following list provides the range of options. The course catalog is posted at:

Language Arts:  Beginning with introductory courses that help students build strong foundations in different styles of writing: essays, short stories, journal writing, poetry and reading novels, poems, and non-fiction, most LA classes are thematically focused. Students advance to literary analysis, such as Horror Fiction, Senior Lit, Electric Sheep. Some courses, like Short Story, and Essay are offered in the first semester and are followed in the next semester by a seminar where students participate in more intensive peer critique and discussion. Courses such as Poetry, The Naked Truth on Stereotypes, and the Spoken Word Committee are some of the ways students can immerse themselves in poetry and spoken word writing and performance, in addition to participating in Youth Speaks Seattle writing circles, open mics, and poetry slams.

Social Studies and History:  U.S. History and American Government and Economics (AGE) are offered every semester. Thematic world history course offerings have included: The Art of Yoga, Black Studies, Peace & Conflict, Grab Your Keynes-On Your Marx, Women's Studies, World Mythology, Pandemic, Japan-Korea Studies, Frida (Kahlo), Where the Wild Things Learn, Pardon My Anachronism, and That's Funny.

Math:  Classes range from Algebra I to Calculus and AP Statistics. Although there are plenty of advanced classes for students who excel in math, the math department also make a special effort to help students who are disenchanted with math or are having difficulty. To that end, many math classes, such as Financial Algebra/Applied Math and Know Us By Our Numbers, take an application-based approach: learning statistics through school surveys, creating and tracking personal banking options, studying exponential functions through compound interest, or writing policy papers backed by data and research-based evidence that propose solutions to social issues. Math Lounge is offered every semester, providing students extra support and homework help at every level.

 Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Horticulture continue to be the staples. Biology is usually taught over the course of a year; Physics and Chemistry are offered as concentrated courses in one semester, having twice the workload and meeting more often. Other physical science classes include/have included Marine Biology, Cells to Anatomy, Conservation & the Zoo, Field Ecology, Life on Earth, Arts-Based Physical Science, How Do We Live Here? and Balms Not Bombs.

Art & Music:  Nova has a fantastic art room with natural light where drawing, painting, sculpture and ceramics are offered. High-tech digital art and animation are created in the Animation Portal. Musicand drama studies are also offered, with students forming bands andcomposing original music, studying opera, drafting screenplays andstaging productions. Nova students have shown art at SAMand the Vera Project, hosted animation showcases, produced fashionshows, and organized band nights.

World LanguagesSpanish and French are available through the third year. Languages offered have included Russian, German, Italian, Japanese, Greek, and more. Students who wish to pursue these languages further or learn another language entirely can do so through independent study, with Running Start classes, or at other institutions.

Physical Education:  Nova has offered PE classes in Ultimate Frisbee, skating and belly dance. All other sports are taken independently, e.g., swimming, skateboarding, martial arts, running, gymnastics, and so on.

Health:  Required for graduation, a health class is offered one semester per year.  Nova’shealth classes, like those in most high schools, cover reproduction andsexual health, chemical dependency, building strong relationships, andother teen health issues.

Occupational Education:  Occ.Ed. (i.e. CTE or Career and Technical Education) credit can be earnedin web design, animation, horticulture, art and applied math.

Electives:  Every content area offers electives for credit.

Committees: Committees allow students to pursue interests, expand knowledge and build community beyond their regular classes. Credit may be awarded for committee work, as determined by the student, coordinator and committee affiliated teacher. Committees in recent years have included: Mothership, Action Faction: Gender Justice,Community & the Yearbook, Identities, Wellness, Budget, Recruitment, Science Geeks, Spoken Word, POC (People of Color & Allies) Committee, and Transformation.

Sports:  The Ultimate Frisbee team is Nova’s only official sports team. Class and committee offerings provide additional sport and athletic opportunities including: Skate Squad, American Tribal Style belly dance,martial arts, dodge ball, 3-Way Soccer and more. Students may also try out for a sports team at their “assigned” high school. Nova students have participated in baseball, basketball, softball, football,swimming, and track at schools throughout the district. Students can arrange to play for another team by contacting the coach of that team.

Students as teachers: Students can coordinate with staff to co-teach a class. Working with a teacher in an area that interests them, students develop curriculum, prepare classes, make assignments and assess student work.

Independent contracts

Unique to Nova, students may design their own independent classes together with a Nova teacher, with an organization or person outside the school, or at another high school. Independent contracts greatly expand the learning horizon; contracts are limited only by student interests. There are two types of independent contracts, those made with Nova teachers and those outside of Nova with other teachers or organizations.

Independent contracts at NovaThese are the solution for a student who wants to explore with a Nova teacher a subject not being taught - say, collage art, or the study of fresh water kelp. It can also be the way to get credit for starting a sports team, casting and directing a play, shooting a movie, or participating in peer mediation. Students can use independent contracts to accommodate their schedule or learning style.

Although students often do most (if not all) of the work for these classes outside the Nova classroom, students work closely with Nova teachers to make sure the work is meaningful, engaging, and meets competency standards.

Independent contracts outside Nova:  Withtheir coordinator, students can develop field contracts to studyoutside Nova, with contracts approved and credit granted by Nova.

Outside contracts might include:

  • An internship at a museum, a political campaign, or the opera.
  • Taking a class, joining an orchestra, string quartet, jazz combo, or sports team at another school. 
  • Attending a class at a community center, private piano lessons, dance, martial arts, or drawing at an outside institution.

How Independent Contracts work

The student and coordinator or teacher discuss and decide the following;

  • Curriculum: what the student wants to learn and how they will learn it.
  • Goals: competencies, and how the student will demonstrate completion of the contract.
  • Logistics: the length of the contract, what kind of credit and how much will be earned.

As the contract proceeds, coordinators check regularly with the student to monitor progress. Whenthe student has completed all work necessary for credit, threeevaluations are required to complete the contract: a studentself-evaluation, an evaluation of the teacher by the student, and anevaluation of the student’s work by the Nova teacher or outside resourceperson. These evaluations are recorded in the contract and coordinators sign off on the contract’s completion.

It’sworth noting that when a student embarks on an independent contract,he/she is taking on more responsibility than with a class. Sometimes students are unable to complete these contracts. This is one way students learn about consequences and responsibility.

Running Start 

Juniors and seniors (students with 10 or more credits by Sept 1st) are eligible to attend Running Start at Seattle’s community colleges tuition-free. Students must first qualify for admission by taking the COMPASS placement test ( which measures skill in reading, writing and math - scores determine class enrollment.

Running Start classes can be a wonderful introduction to the college experience, but are meant to supplement, not replace, high school. Because community college courses award more credit than high school classes,students may use this program to make up credit or complete high school on a fast track. Students are, however, expected to treat Nova as their home school and remain involved at Nova.

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Support for students with special needs

As with any Nova student, those receiving special education services have input on the direction of their education. The coordinating system, with its personalization and support of each individual student, our small community, and the philosophy that students with disabilities should be with their typical peers as much as possible, allow many students in the special education program to participate in general classes.

Students who receive special education services have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that identifies the areas and amount of support needed for academic success. This serves as a guide for coordinators, teachers, and instructional assistants as they collaborate to help students develop a course curriculum to fit their needs.

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