Signature Programs

Signature Programs at Birchwood School of Hawken epitomize the school’s mission and play an important role in the development of intellect and character for all students.

Elementary and middle school students are given the opportunity to engage in subject disciplines at deeper intellectual levels or at more accelerated achievement levels. Due to their high academic standards these programs introduce students to standards of excellence that inspire them to work hard, persevere, and perform at their best.

Signature Programs include proven academic programs sponsored by national organizations, quality academic competitions, and Birchwood’s own innovations like the Ben Franklin Initiative and Speech Fest.

Unique Immersive Experiences

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.

Read on to discover the wide array of Signature Programs offered to Birchwood students:


Junior Great Books & Junior Great Books Roundtable – 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. The Great Books Roundtable for sixth through eighth grade students adds selections from enduring literature, poetry, and nonfiction. These programs introduce students to the critical reading and thinking skills they will use throughout their academic careers and as citizens in our democratic society.

The Avid Readers Clubs – Believing that children learn to love reading by reading, we have created reading clubs that nurture this lifelong habit. The Avid Readers Clubs  introduce able readers to classical literature for young people and hold discussions of these works at lunchtime meetings with our reading teachers. Read Across America stimulates the love of reading by setting children on imaginary treks in which each page they read translates into travels across the world and through history.

Public Speaking and the Performing Arts

The Poetry Show – Students across all grade levels memorize great and enduring works of poetry, enabling the rich language and thought of master poets to be embedded into their hearts and minds. These poems are brought to life on stage in a yearly show in which students apply elements of vocal delivery and theater arts, drawing upon a range of fine arts experiences through the incorporation of props and costumes. By engaging in this process year after year, students develop teamwork, self-confidence, and dramatic expression.

Project Presentations –
 Beginning in the earliest grades, students are required to create and present projects in reading, social studies, science, and our Signature Programs. Through a scope and sequence of skills in public speaking, project design, and unique creative presentations, students build up confidence in public speaking before difference audiences. In this way, public speaking becomes a familiar non threatening experience.

The Explore Program – In seventh grade, students have the opportunity to explore a topic of interest pertaining to any subject. Applying all the steps of the research process learned systematically in earlier grades, they proceed through the steps independently with a view toward a demonstration of their findings. Students present their projects through a medium of their choice while also giving an oral presentation to classmates. 

Speech Fest – Selecting and interpreting great speeches from history or Shakespearean monologues, seventh and eighth grade students speak before 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 to communicate effectively.

Graduation Speech – To demonstrate the public speaking skills acquired through the years, each student composes a culminating speech. Eighth grade students reflect upon their experiences at Birchwood; summarize what they have learned about becoming a great person; and write and deliver their speech before family, faculty, and students.


Spider and Cricket Magazine Contests – Young writers are fascinated with the opportunity to create engaging fiction, fantasy, folk tales, adventures, poems, history, and more.

Scholastic Art & Writing – The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers supports this prestigious middle school contest.

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.


The Mathematician’s Toolbox – Developed at Birchwood, this simple program helps students become fluent with computational skills, accelerates math learning, and lays a foundation for advancement in mathematics.

Math Olympiads – A series of five contests provides grades 4-8 students training in creative problem-solving skills.

Continental Mathematics League – A series of five contests for grades 2-8 students teach how to apply basic math skills to complex logic and reasoning problems.

AMC 8 – This 25-question exam for middle school students promotes the development of problem-solving skills.

Noetic Learning Math Contest – A biannual math problem-solving contest for grades 2-6 students that encourages an interest in math, develops problem solving skills, and inspires students to excel.

MATHCOUNTS – Enriches middle school mathematics as students compete individually or as part of a team.

Ohio Mathematics League – Grades 5-8 students prepare for a 30-question, 40-minute exam and compete against some of the best math students in the state.


Bridging Engineering, Science and Technology BEST Medicine Fair – Northeast Ohio’s premier engineering fair devoted exclusively to students (beginning in sixth grade) interested in exploring biomedical or environmental engineering.

Northeastern Ohio Science and Engineering Fair – Affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the goal is to get young adults interested in science and engineering.

Broadcom MASTERS – A national competition for grades 6-8 students to inspire young scientists and engineers.

District Science Days – Overseen by The Ohio Academy of Science and held throughout Ohio.

State Science Day – Highlights the top 10% of Ohio student research and engineering projects. Students may compete if they receive a superior at both their local and district Science Day. 

National Chemistry Week – Community program of the American Chemical Society that teaches advanced content and provides for experimentation and critical analysis.

Ohio Science Olympiad – Students in grades 4-6 demonstrate their STEM skills in this premier science competition


National History Day – This U.S. government-sponsored program introduces students to the historical method beginning in sixth grade. Students conduct extensive primary and secondary research and present their work at the district contest. Those who qualify move on to the state and national level. 

Character Education

Inspirational Openings – Inspirational Opening time is a 15-minute period at the beginning of the day in which teachers model character and virtue through literature, simulations, or videos regarding biographical and historical events. This daily schoolwide practice is informed by the research of Robert Coles on the effect of stories on the moral imagination and the Lawrence Sternberg on the cultivation of moral reasoning.

Day-to-Day Instruction – Our focus is always to cultivate a child’s reasoning according to the seven moral virtues, so that “right” behavior is supported by knowledge and understanding . In support of these efforts banners, admonitions, directives, and instructions fill the classrooms and hallways to remind children ”to know the good, to love the good, and to do the good.” The research of William Damon and Carol Dweck have guided our approach. 

Leadership Program – Building upon the foundation of daily instruction, the Birchwood Leadership Program, educates seventh and eighth grade students about leadership skills and provides opportunities to practice these skills. Students select school responsibilities that match their interests, assist in maintaining the school building, and help foster a positive school atmosphere. Students choose from jobs such as helping younger students pack up at the end of the day, computer maintenance, recycling, gardening, librarian, office help, hallway bulletin boards, and more.

The Ben Franklin Initiative This program is an extension of our eighth grade character development program and an authentic capstone of our creative problem solving program. Beginning in the fourth quarter of seventh grade, it is an opportunity for students to learn skills that promote independence, self-reflection, responsibility, collaboration, goal setting, and planning. It speaks to the best intentions of young teens and inspires them to fulfill their potential.

Creative Training

Creative Problem Solving (CPS) – Birchwood recognizes the ability to think creatively is an essential life skill that empowers children to thrive and flourish. Birchwood also recognizes creative thinking skills can be taught and developed. All children participate in CPS. This program teaches children to apply creative problem-solving to personal and group challenges and includes strategies from project-based learning and design-thinking programs.

Future Problem Solving (FPS) – Creative Problem Solving culminates in middle school with Future Problem Solving Program (FPS). Students study futuristic topics, work in groups to evaluate problems and challenges, and brainstorm potential solutions and action plans.

Additional Programs

Midwest Academic Talent Search – Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development conducts this program for academically talented students in grades 3-8. Students qualify by attaining outstanding achievement in math and/or verbal areas on either the PSAT 8/9, SAT, or ACT.

National Latin Exam – This exam given by the American Classical League and National Junior Classical League tests grammar and reading comprehension, etymology, and Roman culture.
National Spanish Exam – This motivational contest recognizes student achievement. Online standardized assessment tools beginning in sixth grade measure performance and achievement of students studying Spanish as a second language. 
“From an early age the seeds of my interest in history had been planted. Birchwood opened a door to channel this interest via National History Day (NHD). I became well-versed in conducting research; spending days in libraries, archives and presidential museums; and reaching out to experts. Competing in NHD I learned invaluable skills which served as the rain that helped my seed to grow.”
Zaeem M. ’10