Our Learning Environment

Our approach to learning is different than you have experienced before.

At Purnell, we understand that learning is not one-size-fits-all. Our students come here with varying learning styles, abilities, and cultural identities. We recognize—and celebrate—these differences by focusing on individualized, strengths-based learning.

Our Differentiated Instruction starts with an identification of your learning style. You’ll get to be a proactive participant in creating your academic goals, which we’ll base on your individual gifts, talents, and interests. We’ll monitor your progress continuously, and dynamically adapt class plans and assignments accordingly.

Purnell's learning environment

Engaged Learning

At Purnell, every girl “sits in the front row.” Teachers practice what works best for students and teach their classes in interesting and interactive ways. As a result, students are engaged in their learning, and feel positive and passionate about themselves.

Strength-Based Success

Nothing inspires success like success. At Purnell, we help students to identify their strengths, and then we design a customized learning plan where they can use those strengths over and over, helping them to become a confident, successful, lifelong learner.

Learning By Doing

The key to learning is to make it interesting. It’s why all across our curriculum we engage our students in active, hands-on learning. It’s why we plant gardens. Build robots. Compose music. Create art. Engineer machines. Visit historic sites. Tour museums. Raise fish. Make pottery. Conduct experiments. Ski mountains. Pursue research. Travel to Europe. Attend Broadway plays. Engaged learning – it makes for a deeper understanding. It makes for a lot more fun.


Purnell students study math, and much of their science, in flipped classrooms, where the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Students are introduced to content through teacher-created video lectures at home, and then work through problems, what was traditionally homework, in the classroom. With flipped learning, students no longer do the hard work – their homework – on their own, but rather work through problems in the classroom with a teacher who can offer help when they need it most.

Individualized Math

Highly customized, Purnell’s math program is made up of three tiers, assuring that each student is comfortable, but continually challenged. For the dyscalculic student, we offer one-on-one math support. As a next level, students can go into our Math Foundations class. Our highest tier is advocacy-based support, where the student sees a learning specialist on an as-needed basis. It’s a more customized math program – helping girls to learn math, helping girls to love math.

Learning Support

Support comes in many forms at Purnell. Our academic program is centered on your individual needs, supporting you when you need it, and challenging you when you are ready for it.

Whether it’s one-on-one tutoring to bolster reading and writing skills for a dyslexic or dysgraphic student, specialized instruction to help in math for the dyscalculic student, or a multi-sensory, inquiry-based classroom, whatever the learning style, our girls are given the learning support they need. Plus, our teachers are available every day to answer questions, clarify materials from class, prepare you for assessments, or to help you gain deeper knowledge about the material being covered.

Exceptional Advisor Program

advisor program at Purnell

Our individualized advisor program is a national model of excellence. You'll be assigned a faculty advisor who acts as your advocate, mentor, and touchstone for all academic, social, and communication advice.

One-on-one meetings happen every week. Here you can discuss classes, time management, dorm life, how to manage stress, or whatever need might arise. Your advisor will update you on your academic progress, and work with you to schedule courses and set both academic and personal goals.

Collaboration is a key component of the Advisor Program. Your advisor will communicate with your teachers and parents/guardians to ensure that you are meeting your objectives.

Learning & Enrichment Center (LEC)

student in learning enrichment center

Our LEC combines innovative programs and individualized resources to optimize your learning experience.

Throughout your time at Purnell, you’ll engage in a Self-Study process that uncovers your strengths and challenges. We’ll use this information to design a learning plan that includes academic resources for support and enrichment, as well as your own goal for personal learning.

While you are able to seek help from the LEC as you need it, Purnell is uniquely designed to bring the LEC into the classroom.

Differentiated Learning

differentiated learning at Purnell

Through differentiated learning, we’re able to support multiple types of learners and multiple skill levels in one class. In this highly individualized approach, the content remains the same, but the modes of learning are different for each girl. For example, in an English class, a project might include a written piece, a visual piece, and an acting representation. No matter the class, no matter the learning style, every student is able to learn and succeed – in her way.

Orton-Gillingham Language Training

students in orton-gillingham language training

For students with dyslexia and dysgraphia, Orton-Gillingham is the gold standard in language training. Using a highly structured, multisensory approach, Orton-Gillingham breaks reading and spelling down into smaller skills involving letters and sounds, and then builds on those skills over time. At Purnell, it is a proven approach that is helping students to excel as readers and learners in ways they never thought possible.

Executive Function Coaching

executive function coaching at Purnell

Good study habits are essential for success in school. Planning, prioritizing, time management, staying on track – these are all necessary skills to perform at one’s best. At Purnell, we provide students one-on-one executive function coaching to help them develop these critical skills. From assessing a long-term project, to breaking it into manageable pieces, to creating a schedule to accomplish tasks, we’re able to help students learn valuable lifelong skills and become the successful, independent learners they’re capable of becoming.

Academic Blog

Learn about how we are transforming the educational experience for Purnell girls in our Academic Blog.

How students learn differently

Some girls need to discover success in ways not provided by large, traditional high schools. Read more about learning differences, and ways that Purnell can help.


  • Four years of English
  • Three years of History
  • Two years of foreign language or English as a Second Language unless exempt due to learning disability
  • Three years of Math (including Algebra and Geometry)
  • Three years of Science (including Biology and Chemistry)
  • One year of Performing Arts
  • One year of Studio Arts plus at least one Art History course

In addition:

  • All students must complete 10 hours of community service per year, participate in Project Exploration, and a yearly Seminar class
  • Students are required to participate in either a competitive or a non-competitive sport each semester