We think of Shakespeare as a writer, but he was formatively a reader, of books, of life. It was said of Shakespeare that he could get more from a single book than most people could from the whole British Museum. He had mastered the art of absorption and synthesis, the ability to read, appreciate, and with that knowledge, make something new. These too are our goals in the English department. But Shakespeare was of the world too—not just academically inclined. So when one reads Shakespeare, one finds everything from references to curing leather (his father was a glove maker), to legal terms he picked up likely while suing his neighbors. Literature ought to include everything, which it does at Virginia Episcopal School, where material ranges from the classics, to modern best sellers, to the students own lives and experiences.

Books help give you something to say, and they help you learn to say it well. The VES English program intensively promotes writing, whether in formal essays about literature or personal narratives. We believe that in reading we might discover the world and in writing we might reintroduce the world to itself.

Course Descriptions

English 9: Culture and Identity
The primary goal of English 9 is to inspire students to read, think, and write with enthusiasm and skill. Focused on the theme of Culture and Personal Identity, students will read literature from around the world, working to understand what makes different cultures distinctive and also to see the qualities of humanity that transcend place. Students are supported as they develop scholarly habits in group discussions and team projects, and much emphasis is placed on their individual development as writers. In short, this course asks students to strive to ask excellent questions, to think critically about themes and authorial devices in great literature, and to express their ideas with clarity, strong supporting evidence, and at least a little bit of style.

English 10: Communities and Power
In English 10, students will develop appreciation for how groups develop, thrive, and sometimes falter through the close appreciation of literature. The class, centered around the theme of Communities and Power, explores the differences in varying community structures—the individuals, the insiders, the outsiders, the families, the leaders, the honorable, loyal, and corrupt. Through a variety of novels, short stories, plays, poems,, students explore the manifestations of power in their own writing and their own role in shaping and developing their communities, macro and micro.

English 11: Major American Writers
The American literary voice is at once expansive and introspective. In this class students encounter a selection of writers who have tried to express just what it means to be American, as well as what it means to be human. In this third year of English, students explore the notions of what is considered The American Dream, as well as the specific ideologies of independence and solitude and how it shapes the literature of the United States. Essays, both narrative and critical, are assigned regularly and graded for clarity, thorough development of ideas, and effective use of textual references. Texts include selected poetry of Emily Dickinson, selected poetry of Langston Hughes, The Great Gatsby, The Bell Jar, As I Lay Dying, and The Lords of Discipline.

English 12: Major British Writers
Major British Writers studies the vast artistic influence of a very small island and how that one nation’s identity can be so dependent on its literature. Readings begin with the Middle Ages, travel through the Renaissance, and into the Romantic and Victorian periods. This senior-level class is taught in seminar style, with students learning through discussion. Papers, both analytical and narrative, are assigned regularly. Seniors are expected to write with sophistication, personal style, and original thought, and to demonstrate a mature facility with literary terms, documentation of secondary sources, and analysis.

English Topics
With the increase in the importance of English grammar as it impacts daily skills in composition, speech, and standardized tests, this semester course is an intense study of grammar and usage. It will aid the 21st century student with the mechanics of expository writing. Some of the topics included are common punctuation errors, correct pronoun usage, the avoidance of run-on sentences and fragments, correct verb tenses, and agreement issues. All freshmen and incoming new upperclassmen are given a standardized test during the year to determine their competence with the concepts in grammar. The test is entirely diagnostic with no formal preparation necessary and is meant to determine their level of achievement throughout their education. The passing threshold on the test is 70, and if the students make a lower score, they are required to take this course for one semester during the next year. Students take this course in addition to their regular English class. Of course, any students may elect to take the course if they or their parents wish to include it in their curriculum during their tenure at VES.

AP English Language and Composition
AP Language and Composition prepares juniors and seniors for writing at the college level. Through extensive writing practice and reading of essays by professional writers, students develop their own style and gain greater confidence in their ability to express themselves in writing. Students learn various forms of composition: the definition essay, the descriptive essay, the narrative essay, the expository essay, the persuasive essay, and the critical review. Students also practice the college application essay. The overall arch of the class is to explore as well as experience what it means to be a professional writer, the demands, the habits, the discipline required. Students are encouraged to become apprentices of style and hopefully experience the joyful expression of life in words.

AP English Literature and Composition
Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition is both demanding and intellectually stimulating, the primary goal being the development of students’ abilities as independent readers and writers. Students in this course work at a college-level pace and study challenging texts. The richness of the course derives from its emphasis on students developing mature habits of critical thinking. Thus, classroom discussion and active participation are vital and serve as a means of testing ideas. Written assignments, both short and long-term, are an important and frequent feature of the course. Students work with both canonical and modern fiction and poetry, concentrating on encountering new works with open minds and responding in their own informed voices.

Contact English Department


Brian Campbell
James W. Hopkins Chair of English
Phone: 434-385-3663

Tatum Bell
Phone: 434-385-3625

Mimi Csatlós
Phone: 434-385-3632

Jason Knebel
Phone: 434-385-3839

Margaret Tolmie

Alison Tuck

Honor. Rigor. Community. Relationships. Individual Attention.

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400 VES Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503 | 434-385-3600