The UNIS Mission and Guiding Principles underpin our curriculum and its design, review, development and delivery. Guided by the ideals of the United Nations, the curriculum affirms the fundamental value of diversity in the education of our future leaders, activists, and innovators. The value of students' unique passions and learning strengths are recognized as they direct their own personal educational trajectories in dialogue with a diverse community. 
At UNIS, learning is defined as a process that leads to sustained and demonstrable consolidation or extension of conceptual understanding, competency learning and character development. These three types of learning capacities constantly interact together and serve as the DNA of our approach to learning across the school. 
Accredited by the International Baccalaureate, the Council of Independent Schools, and the New York State Association of Independent Schools, the UNIS curriculum aligns to  Common Core Math Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, NY Next Generation ELA standards, and British Columbia Social Studies Standards.

Subject Overview K-12

Subjects & Course Briefs

Subject Overview K-12


The Visual Art program offers opportunities for studio practice, creative problem solving, and cultural investigation through drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, computer graphics, and digital photography.

Our full-time staff has extensive experience in art education, and our teachers are practicing artists who have exhibited their work nationally and internationally. The Art rooms at UNIS are full of natural light and the atmosphere is open and relaxing. Students frequently find their way back to the art studios during free periods or at the end of the day to continue working on their own projects or Art related events.

Skills in design, drawing, creative process, problem solving, special techniques, and cultural research are structured to enable students to direct their imaginative efforts and learn from tradition. Students respond to class projects and interdisciplinary themes with different strategies and personal inspiration. Work is done individually, in small groups and occasionally as a class. Students maintain portfolios and sketchbooks to help them retain knowledge and techniques learned and become aware of their choices and interests. Digital portfolios assist teachers in assessing students' progress during the course and at the end of each semester.

By studying different artistic traditions, students become aware of the cultural contexts that inform perception and imagination and begin to see their own work in context. Artists, movements, and cultures that are relevant to studio projects and interdisciplinary themes are studied. Museum trips and visits by artists are scheduled when appropriate.

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Our Humanities program is sequential in structure, global in scope and guided by the ideals of the United Nations Charter.

We want our students to develop an appreciation and understanding of their own cultural heritage and that of others, to value diversity and to recognize the rights and responsibilities we all share. The program helps students develop knowledge and understanding of world history and geography; of different economic, social, political and cultural systems; of the host country and the United Nations through an integrated approach that emphasizes the interactions of peoples and cultures across time and place.

In the Junior School, Middle School and Tutorial House, we share a common goal: to provide knowledge, skills and values that will enable our students to become active learners, to make sense of the past, to understand its connection to the present and to be informed and concerned participants in their communities and the world.

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UNIS libraries promote learning within and beyond the library walls.

In an age of easy access to an overwhelming amount of data, the library emphasizes the ability to find, evaluate and use accurate information effectively. Numerous studies have demonstrated that students who can identify information needs, access and evaluate information and integrate that information into their studies are higher achievers and are better prepared for college and beyond. Our libraries strive to empower students with the tools and skills to become lifelong learners and achievers and ultimately, socially responsible contributors to the world.

At the same time, we seek to develop, enhance and nurture high level literacy and reading skills. UNIS libraries are proud to challenge students to expand their horizon as readers. We encourage enthusiasm for books and reading from the emergent reader to the accomplished one.

The library has an articulated PK-12 curriculum that underscores these two skills and that ties in with the general curriculum. Library faculty work collaboratively with grade teachers to integrate grade appropriate library skills with the subjects taught.

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Modern Language

Second and Third Language Study
At UNIS we believe in multilingualism and deem that language learning goes hand in hand with the development of the mind; therefore all students should have the opportunity to learn a second and third language. Such study provides a significant experience in international education, enabling students to understand and appreciate other cultures, gain awareness of cultural diversity and develop a deeper understanding of themselves in relation to others.

Through effective communication in languages other than their own, students become skilled analysts and observers of other societies and will be prepared to live in an interconnected world. Further, UNIS believes that achieving proficiency in a second and third language requires a top quality program supported by a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate written curriculum dispensed by highly qualified, trained and motivated native language teachers.

To enhance the socio-linguistic and cultural component of language learning UNIS is particularly keen on developing curricular and extra-curricular activities that expose students to a wide range of cultural initiatives and events in the target language.

In Manhattan, all students begin the study of either French or Spanish in Pre-kindergarten  and another second language (Arabic, Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese or Russian) in Middle Three. At the Queens Campus, all students are initiated to French or Spanish in Junior A and then begin the other language in Middle Three. In Manhattan, both languages are usually studied until Tutorial Two (10th grade). In Tutorial Three students choose one language, in addition to English, as a requisite for the International Baccalaureate Diploma. For students particularly focused on languages the school provides the opportunity to continue both languages through Tutorial Four.

Goals of the Second and Third Language Programs
The goals of UNIS second and third language program are embedded in the strands or standards of the Junior A to Tutorial Four curriculum and are represented by five interconnected circles: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. These goals are:

  • To develop communicative competence in languages other than English.
  • To gain knowledge and understanding of another culture on “its own terms.”
  • To connect with other disciplines and acquire knowledge in the school’s core curriculum.
  • To develop insights into the nature of language and culture in relation to each other and to oneself.
  • To participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world.

Mother Tongue Study
Mother tongue classes in Manhattan are offered during the school day in French and Spanish from Junior A to Tutorial Four and from Middle Three to Tutorial Four for the other six languages. At the Queens Campus, French mother tongue classes are offered from Junior One through Middle Four, whereas Spanish mother tongue classes are offered from Middle Three or earlier, as scheduling permits. In these classes, students receive instruction which, in content, is as close as possible to what they would receive in their home country. The French mother tongue program is known as the Francophone program. In addition, UNIS fosters the study of other mother tongue languages through an after-school program with UNIS-approved tutors.

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Computers are an exciting and important facet of life at UNIS in both Manhattan and Queens campuses.

They are in constant and creative use throughout the school in almost every classroom as well as in dedicated computer labs. The ICT department teaches courses in Systems, Concepts and Operations, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Technology in Society, Communication and Creative Expression and Research.

In addition, an active effort is made to integrate technology into all aspects of teaching and learning to empower students to become lifelong learners through the appropriate use of technology tools.

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Physical Education

Physical Education plays a central role in the physical, mental and social development of the students at UNIS.

Students will be exposed to a range of activities focused on nurturing the students’ knowledge, skill and understanding in a positive learning environment. It is hoped that all students will experience personal success and go on to adopt regular physical activity away from the school community.

Physical education will contribute to the overall education of the UNIS student by helping them to lead full and valuable lives through participating in purposeful physical activity. Through a broad and balanced program, students will be involved in the continuous process of planning, performing and evaluating, although the emphasis will be placed upon the actual performance aspect of the subject.

All graduating students should leave the school having experienced a diverse range of physical activities and learning styles. Students should be competent performers in a range of individual and team activities and sports and should understand the rules and regulations of these activities in order to be able to participate throughout their lives as well has have a good level of fitness and knowledge of how to maintain it. Our classes provide opportunities for students to be creative, cooperative and competitive and to face up to different challenges as individuals and in groups and teams. We hope to promote a positive attitude towards active and healthy lifestyles. In class, students learn how to plan, perform and evaluate actions, ideas and performances to improve their quality and effectiveness. Through this process, they discover their aptitudes, abilities and preferences and make choices about how to get involved in lifelong physical activity.

PE lessons are taught using a variety of teaching and learning styles, with a balance of teacher-centered, student-centered and guided learning approaches. Students are encouraged, wherever possible, to be creative, cooperative, inquisitive and responsible for their own learning. Assessment will be made continuously throughout the units of work based against the programs of study for the specific activity. Recording and reporting on students will occur at specific times throughout the year and relate to the adopted standards and benchmarks.

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UNIS students love to write. Writing is at the heart of the English program in the Junior School, Middle School and Tutorial House.

All students write almost every day, in school and at home, in script and with the computer, in draft and for publication. Students shape their experiences, imagination and reading into literary responses of stories, poems, plays, memoirs and essays. They learn to write with clarity, grace and accuracy by practicing, reading, listening and editing. They study grammar throughout the process.

Reading fine literature inspires fine writing. Students at all grade levels are exposed to classic and contemporary literature by women and men from different countries and cultures. The curriculum includes works by North American, European, Australasian, African, Asian, Latin American, Caribbean and Native American authors.

For Junior School children in Pre-kindergarten through grade four, language arts is at the center of their studies. Through listening, reading writing and speaking activities in all of their subjects in Pre-kindergarten through Junior Four, they begin to explore the world of academics and to learn about the real world beyond the borders of the classroom.

In the Middle School in Manhattan, Middle One and Middle Two English for grades five and six are taught together with Humanities as part of a common Core program. In Queens the courses are taught separately, but in both programs there is frequent integration of themes, reading materials and writing assignments across the disciplines. Middle Three and Middle Four English are taught as separate subjects, but often the texts and assignments reflect the Humanities themes in the seventh and eighth grade years.

Tutorial House students follow a year-long program in Tutorial One and Two, the ninth and tenth grades. The curriculum also includes elective ninth and tenth grade drama courses, and a tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade film course and journalism course. In the eleventh and twelfth grades, Tutorial Three and Four students select from a series of semester-long literature and writing courses as well as courses in drama, film studies, journalism and independent study. UNIS offers all levels of International Baccalaureate English with programs designed for native, near-native and non-native speakers. Many students elect to take double English one or more semesters of their last two years of High School. Students may also enroll in the International Baccalaureate theatre course or film course as part of the eleventh and twelfth grade IB program or the UNIS electives program.

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English Language Learners (ELL)

English is the common and primary language of instruction at UNIS. More than 1,600 students, speaking one hundred different languages, may be represented at any one time.

Some students arrive at UNIS with little or no knowledge of English. On a regular basis about ten percent of the student body requires additional instruction in English.

The UNIS ELL teachers are responsible for the teaching and curriculum design of the K-12 program. The goal is to ensure successful integration of ELL students into the UNIS community both academically and socially.

Upon entering UNIS, students who speak a language other than English at home or are not fluent in English are assessed by the ELL teachers. Evaluation results place a student in beginning, intermediate or advanced ELL classes, or in a full mainstream program.

From the first day of school, the ELL students are assigned to a homeroom with their peers. The placement into homerooms ensures their constant exposure to English and allows for an early integration into the UNIS community. For a certain number of periods per day, depending of the level of the students' English, they are instructed by ELL specialists.

For the complete ELL beginner, the focus is on verbal communication skills to enable the student to function in the new environment. Reading and writing are used to reinforce these structures and vocabulary. The intermediate ELL student works on expanding vocabulary, increasing reading comprehension and refining writing skills, facilitating participation in mainstream classes. The advanced ELL student moves towards fluency in spoken and written English to approximate grade level competency. Full integration into the UNIS mainstream curriculum takes place when a student masters the advanced level ELL materials for the appropriate grade level and can comprehend content material used in the mainstream classroom.

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The Mathematics program is sequential, unified and integrated and links to other disciplines and real life experiences.

Mathematics is viewed as a language that is essential to our understanding of events that occur around the natural world. Mathematical knowledge provides an understanding of the world in which we live. We are committed to serve the needs of all students of different abilities and backgrounds. A variety of strategies are used to present each concept in order to respond to students’ varied developmental levels and cultural backgrounds. With each successive year of study, the knowledge of Mathematics is enhanced and the capacity for abstract thought is expanded. The Mathematics program in each grade provides the foundation for success in subsequent grades and courses. We select tasks to engage students’ interests and intellects. We provide opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of the Mathematics being studied and its applications. We seek connections to previously acquired knowledge as well as developing knowledge.

The Mathematics program constitutes the study of the following content strands: number sense and operations, measurements, geometry, statistics/ probability and algebra/functions /patterns. We include meaningful and appropriate learning experiences that incorporate technology tools.

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Music is fundamental to the human condition—it is an essential source of communication, expression and understanding.

Studying music prepares children for lifetime involvement with music not only as audience members, but also as active participants in performing and creating, thereby enabling them to contribute to the richness and beauty of their own culture.

UNIS has developed a standards-based music program, in which students are actively engaged in performing, creating and responding to music. The UNIS Music program values and promotes the qualities outlined in the school’s guiding principles. Through the study of music, students are encouraged to be more comfortable with the scope of their own feelings and more considerate of the feelings of others. They learn how their own culture and the cultures of their classmates deal with real-life issues such as family, conflict, celebration and adversity. They are guided to be literate, expressive, risk-taking and informed about the music they encounter.

For Additional Information Explore the Arts Section of Our Website.

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An understanding of science is an essential component of modernity.

Science is both an activity for generating knowledge about the natural world and a set of ideas – the mental models of chemists, physicists and biologists – about the origin and content of that world and the interactions that take place in it. While only a small number of individuals will become professional scientists, all our lives are being transformed by technology, the application of these ideas. Challenging ethical issues arise with each new scientific discovery, and changing scientific ideas shape and reshape our thinking about who we are. In order to participate in this discourse, and be critical about what is claimed in the name of science, we must have some direct experience of scientific activity, and a familiarity with the major scientific ideas that this activity has produced.

To this end, the UNIS science program seeks to establish a climate of learning in which students feel that asking questions and evaluating the answers to those questions is the legitimate business of science. Students learn that only ideas that can be tested experimentally are scientific ideas, and that science proceeds by making predictions based on these ideas and testing them. The program is designed to excite students about the possibilities of knowledge so that their early curiosity about the natural world remains unbounded, to develop in students the practice of critical thinking and logical argument, and to encourage, recognize and value creativity in finding solutions to scientific and technological problems.

This is a vertically integrated program of study from Pre-kindergarten to Tutorial Four in which ideas build on each other towards an increasingly sophisticated understanding of current scientific models. At every level the program provides students with a rich hands-on experience of laboratory work during which they become familiar with a range of laboratory equipment and experimental techniques. Students are given opportunities to plan as well as carry out laboratory investigations. They learn the different ways in which data can be processed so as to yield its significance. They learn to be at ease speaking the language of science and employing its writing conventions.

Throughout the program, there is a deliberate attempt to engage students at every level with the ethical and social implications of scientific ideas and the technology based on them. Students also learn that science is an international enterprise that observes no frontiers; scientists build their ideas upon the ideas of other scientists, both men and women, representing every country and every continent.

Full details of all Tutorial House science courses can be found on the UNIScienceNET web site.

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Theater Arts

UNIS Theatre promotes the unique international community of our school through experiential courses, cross-cultural and multi-lingual workshops, and the production of plays and musicals by and about people from across the globe.

The theatre program celebrates the many voices of UNIS with training in movement, public speaking, improvisation, ensemble development, playwriting, directing, and multi-media installation. Guest artists teach master classes in lighting and sound design, auditioning skills, world theatre traditions, and acting for the stage and camera. Theatre classes offer exploratory training intended to develop student skills as performers, as collaborators, and as creators.

The program encourages each individual to embrace a life-long love of the arts, the confidence to take risks, and the belief in the power of imagination in learning and in life.

T1 Introduction to Theatre:

Students in the Tutorial 1 Introduction to Theatre course begin the year by exploring theatre making through short form improvisational games, monologue performances, and scene study. Throughout the second semester students are introduced to original script development as they write and perform original plays and study the styles of theatre artists such as Robert Wilson, Tim Etchells, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Julie Taymor. Students also learn to appreciate the varied techniques of acting for the camera, creating set-designs, and technical theatre and stage management. Guest artists present workshops on auditioning, lighting design, and dance; students attend at least one professional production per semester.

T2 Theatre Studies:

Students in the Tutorial 2 Theatre Studies course expand their knowledge of process and product-based theatre as they develop their skills through individual and collective work. The course explores the theatre experience from a variety of perspectives, including the audience, the playwright, the actor, the designer, and the director. Each week, students practice the techniques of short and long-form improvisation and movement for the stage. By the end of the first semester students have been introduced to Commedia Dell’Arte theatre and they form ensembles and present one-act plays for invited audiences. During the second semester of the course, students appreciate the creative elements of genre, archetype, and set design as they devise their own plays. They also have the opportunity to acquire producing and theatre management skills as they help organize aspects of the International Festival of Performing Arts or they may focus on social justice theatre through a process of: selecting a topic, interviewing effected individuals, and then writing and performing a work of documentary theatre for a live audience. Guest artists present workshops on such things as Anne Bogart’s “Viewpoints,” Augusto Boal’s “Forum Theatre,” acting for the camera, and auditioning for professional productions. Students attend at least one professional production per semester.

T3/T4 IB Theatre:

IB Theatre is a practical and intellectually stimulating subject that encourages discovery through experimentation, risk-taking and the presentation of ideas. The IB Theatre course gives students the opportunity to actively engage in theatre as creators, designers, directors and performers. It emphasizes working both individually and collaboratively as part of an ensemble. Students experience the course from contrasting artistic and cultural perspectives. They learn about international theatre traditions, the importance of making theatre with integrity, and the impact that theatre can have on the world. The course enables them to discover and engage with different forms of theatre across time, place and culture, promoting international-mindedness and an appreciation of the diversity of theatre. In addition to the required assignments, UNIS IB Theatre students devise and perform an original play and they attend at least three live productions per semester.

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As a founding school of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, the UNIS learner profile mirrors that of the IB. UNIS is committed to develop learners who: 

  • Inquire
  • Have knowledge
  • Think
  • Communicate
  • Are principled
  • Are open-minded
  • Care
  • Take risks
  • Are balanced
  • Are reflective