Signature Programs

The Signature Programs at Birchwood School of Hawken epitomize the school’s mission and play an important role in the development of intellect and character. On one hand, because these programs highlight the best features of experiential learning, they give Birchwood’s elementary and middle school students opportunities to engage in subject disciplines at deeper intellectual levels or at more accelerated achievement levels. At the same time, these programs, due to their high academic standards, introduce students to standards of excellence that inspire them to work hard, persevere and perform at their best. Some of the following Signature Programs are sponsored by national organizations; others are Birchwood’s innovations:


Junior Great Books

Short stories and excerpts from classical children’s literature are used to teach children how to read interpretively using methods of shared inquiry. Beginning in first grade students are introduced to critical reading and thinking skills that they will use throughout their academic career.

Poetry Program & Show

The rich language of poets becomes embedded into the hearts and minds of students across all grade levels as they memorize great works of poetry. Poems are brought to life on stage in an annual show as students apply elements of theater and public speaking, developing creative expression and self-confidence.

Quality Academic Competitions Embedded into the Birchwood Curriculum

Birchwood’s strategic use of quality academic competitions in its curriculum is unique. By addressing students’ academic, social and emotional needs, the process embraces the entire academic experience. Children are immersed in the essential structure of a discipline and experience deep learning over an extended period of time. Competitions also provide opportunities for academic performance against top students in Ohio and the nation. Most importantly, Birchwood uses competitions to teach children how to compete, excel and reach for one’s highest performance. After all, those who hope to live a flourishing life, will find themselves competing in one way or another. At Birchwood there is a special word to describe competition–soft–as students are supported through the process of hard work, struggle, perseverance, disappointment, failure and success.


Beginning in first grade and continuing through eighth grade, students write for real-world audiences. Their work is submitted for publication in national magazines or entered in local, state and national contests. This introduces students to the highest standards of writing excellence as well as inspires them to hone their skills and excel as writers.

PBS KIDS Go! Writers Contest

Promotes the advancement of children’s reading skills by encouraging students in kindergarten through third grade to create original illustrated stories.

Spider and Cricket Contests

Spider and Cricket magazines fascinate young readers and writers with engaging fiction, fantasy, folk tales, adventures, poems, history, biography and more.

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers supports this prestigious writing contest for middle school students.

Creative Communication

Poetry, essay and short story writing contests that are important “confidence builders” for young students as almost half of the entries are selected for publication.

Power of the Pen

Crafted for seventh and eighth grade Ohio students, teams of six hone their imagination and writing skills writing impromptu creative narratives.

“Forty minutes, a blank page and a pen. Add imagination and a prompt. The result? Power of the Pen. Participants not only exercise the skill of writing, but also learn how to manage their time.”

Olivia S., Birchwood Class of 2015

Letters About Literature

Students in grades four and up read a book, poem or speech and then write to the author (living or dead) about how their writing affected them.



Developed at Birchwood School, this simple program helps students become fluent with computational skills, accelerates math learning and lays a foundation for advancement in mathematics.

Math Olympiads

Math Olympiads is a series of five contests that provides students in fourth through eighth grade training in creative problem solving skills.

Continental Mathematics League

Continental Mathematics League is a series of five contests designed for students in second through eighth grade that teaches students how to apply basic math skills to complex logic and reasoning problems.

American Mathematics Contest 8 (AMC 8)

The American Mathematics Contest 8 is a 25-question exam for junior high/middle school students that promotes the development and enhancement of problem solving skills.

Noetic Learning Math Contest

The Noetic Learning Math Contest is a biannual math problem solving contest for second through sixth grade students that encourages an interest in math, develops problem solving skills, and inspires students to excel.


MATHCOUNTS is a math enrichment program that promotes middle school mathematics. Schools select students to compete individually or as part of a team in competitions held nationwide.

Ohio Mathematics League

Fifth through eighth grade students prepare for a 30-question, 40-minuted exam given by the The Math League and compete against some of the best math students in the state.


BEST Medicine Engineering Fair

The BEST Medicine Engineering Fair accepts Northeast Ohio students beginning in sixth grade with "superior” projects from a local or district science day.

The Northeastern Ohio Science and Engineering Fair

The Northeastern Ohio Science and Engineering Fair is affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Broadcom MASTERS

Broadcom MASTERS is a national competition for sixth through eighth grade students to inspire and encourage young scientists, engineers and innovators.

District Science Days

District Science Days, overseen by the Ohio Academy of Science, are held throughout Ohio.

State Science Day

State Science Day highlights the top 10 percent of student research and engineering projects in Ohio. Students may compete if they have received “superior” at both their local and district Science Day.

National Chemistry Week

National Chemistry Week is a community program of the American Chemical Society. Birchwood students participate in local the chemistry contests to teach advanced content and provide for experimentation and critical analysis.

“Participating in science fairs gave me the chance to research questions I pondered. One project asked whether or not middle school students get enough sleep. By doing research before starting to experiment, I discovered information that helped me formulate a hypothesis. On another project to determine which beverages stay freshest in the refrigerator, I learned how to use tools to estimate how many bacteria colonies would grow. These were great experiences that will benefit me in my future studies.”

Farah S., Birchwood Class of 2015

Social Studies

National History Day

National History Day, sponsored by the US government, introduces students to the historical method beginning in sixth grade. Students conduct extensive primary and secondary research and present their work at district and state contests. The program culminates with a national competition at the University of Maryland each June.

From an early age, the seeds of my fledgling interest in history had been planted. Birchwood opened a door to channel this interest via National History Day. Through the extensive and in-depth research that the competition involves, I became well versed in conducting primary and secondary research, spending days in libraries, archives, presidential museums, and contacting experts. I like to joke that I became infected with ‘a research disease.’ The cure? Research more! Competing in History Day, I learned invaluable research skills, which served as the rain that helped my seed to grow.”

Zaeem M., Birchwood Class of 2010

Creative Training

Creative Problem Solving / Future Problem Solving International

Birchwood recognizes that the ability to think creatively is an essential life skill that empowers children to thrive and flourish. Birchwood also recognizes that creative thinking skills can be taught and developed. Consequently, all children participate in creative problem solving. This program teaches children to apply the creative problem solving to personal and group challenges and it also includes strategies from project-based learning and design thinking programs.
The Creative Problem Solving Program culminates in the middle school where students participate in Future Problem Solving Program International. In this competition, students study futuristic topics, work in groups to evaluate problems and challenges in the future, and brainstorm potential solutions and action plans.

Foreign Language

National Latin Exam

The National Latin Exam, given by the American Classical League and National Junior Classical League, tests grammar and reading comprehension as well as etymology and Roman culture.

Public Speaking

Speech Fest

Seventh and eighth grade students select and interpret great speeches from history or Shakespearean monologues and speak before a panel of judges in a public presentation. Students gain practice in public speaking as well as receive feedback on vocal delivery, interpretation and use of body language.

Explorers Program

In seventh grade students explore and research a topic of interest with a view toward giving an oral presentation to classmates using the skills of a speechwriter and speaker.

Graduation Speech

Eighth grade students prepare and deliver a speech upon their graduation from Birchwood School. Students reflect upon their experiences and summarize what they have learned about becoming a great person.

Character Education

Due to its unique design, Birchwood’s character education program has had meaningful and measurable effects on students. It is comprehensive, consistent and systematic starting in the first grade and culminating in the Ben Franklin Initiative in eighth grade. Built around teaching, training and school ethos, character education is an integral part of each classroom at every grade level.

Educating High Ability and Gifted Students

Using a talent development model, Birchwood provides accelerated and enriched learning for those students who are capable of, and interested in, advanced studies. As a result, there are no academic ceilings for academic advancement at Birchwood.

The threefold objective of Birchwood’s reading program is 1) learning to read, 2) reading to learn, and 3) reading for enjoyment. The result is that students not only become able readers, but they also develop a love of reading. Our literature-based reading program, in which students are introduced to excellent literature in a variety of genre, also offers extensive reading lists that supplement classroom objectives for all levels of ability.

Midwest Academic Talent Search

The Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University conducts the Midwest Academic Talent Search for third through eighth grade academically talented students. Students qualify by attaining outstanding achievement in math and/or verbal areas. Students who qualify take either the EXPLORE, ACT or SAT.

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The primary reason I took part in competitions, facilitated through Birchwood’s Signature Programs, was to build my work ethic and develop skills I would not have been able to garner anywhere else.

Dhweeja D. –
2013 Birchwood Graduate