Academic Program

English Department

We think of Shakespeare as a writer, but he was formatively a reader of books and 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 mastered the art of absorption and synthesis, the ability to read and appreciate and, with that knowledge, make something new. These are our goals in the VES English department. And Shakespeare was a man 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, and it does at VES, 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.
  • English 9: Culture and Identity

    Prerequisites: None. Open to 9th grade students.

    Focused on the theme of Culture and Identity, students in English 9 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 learn to read, think and write with enthusiasm and skill, and develop scholarly habits in group discussions and team projects. This course asks students to strive to ask excellent questions, think critically about themes and literary devices and express their ideas with strong supporting evidence, clarity and style. By the end of the year, students will be on their way toward mastering the analytical essay and developing their authorial voice.
  • English 10: Communities and Power

    Prerequisite: English 9. Open to 10th grade students.

    Students will gain 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 and poems, students explore the manifestations of power in their own writing and their own role in shaping and developing their communities, macro and micro.
  • American Writers

    Prerequisites: English 9 and 10. Open to 11th grade students. Students in other grade levels require approval of the Department Chair to enroll.

    American Writers explores the literature of the United States through the lens of a variety of literary and philosophical movements that occurred throughout the nation’s history, from the Enlightenment up to PostModernism. The essential questions students will attempt to answer over the course of the semester include: How do you see yourself? How do you see your world? What is your journey? How do writers and literary movements attempt to answer these questions?

    Students will hear from a wide variety of American voices, and write a number of response papers, which are a mix of analytical and personal. The summative project is an autobiographical portfolio, in which students present their own answers to the above questions, including how their answers are influenced by and relate to American literary movements. This autobiography is then provided to College Counseling.
  • AP English Language and Composition

    The following criteria are considered for admission into either AP Literature or AP English Language & Composition:

    1. Support of the department and recommendation of the student’s current English teacher, which emphasizes the student’s demonstrated interest in reading and writing well
    2. Average grade of 90 or higher in the student’s current English class
    3. PSAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 550 or higher (or an equivalent score on the SAT, Pre-ACT or ACT)
    4. Satisfactory writing sample
    5. Scores > 3 on any previous AP exams

    Meet all criteria—Approved
    Meet 4 of 5 criteria—Approval Likely
    Meet 3 of 5 criteria—Approval Unlikely
    Meet < 2 of 5 criteria—Not Approved

    AP Language & Composition prepares students for writing at the college level. Through extensive writing practice and reading of essays by professional writers, students will develop their own style and gain greater confidence in their ability to express themselves in writing. Students will 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 will practice the college application essay. This course prepares students to take the AP Language & Composition exam. The primary objectives are for students to take joy in what they read and delight in what they write.
  • AP English Literature and Composition

    1. Support of the department and recommendation of the English teacher, which emphasizes the literacy and working knowledge student’s demonstrated interest in reading and writing well
    2. Average grade of 90 or higher in the student’s current English class
    3. PSAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 550 or higher (or an equivalent score on the SAT, Pre-ACT or ACT)
    4. Satisfactory writing sample
    5. Scores > 3 on any previous AP exams

    Meet all criteria—Approved
    Meet 4 of 5 criteria—Approval Likely
    Meet 3 of 5 criteria—Approval Unlikely
    Meet < 2 of 5 criteria—Not Approved

    The primary goal of the AP Literature & Composition class is to develop students’ abilities as independent readers and writers through a collegelevel course during their senior year. This course is both demanding and intellectually stimulating. It requires a student’s best effort consistently and puts emphasis upon developing independence of thought and mature habits of critical thinking. Classroom discussion and active participation are vital and serve as a means of testing ideas. Written assignments, both short and long, will be an important and frequent feature of the course. Selected pieces are both canonical and modern fiction and poetry, concentrating on learning to encounter new works and respond in an informed voice.
  • English Seminar: Book Design and Literature

    Prerequisites: Open primarily to 12th graders. Students in other grade levels require approval of the Department Chair to enroll.

    Students enrolled in this course will become masters of a particular classic work of literature in the public domain (published before 1923). Examples include Peter Pan, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and so forth. They will study this work intensely, demonstrating their knowledge through discussion, analysis and written reflections. Afterward, students will conceive, design and create a new edition of this book.

    Along the way, students will study many examples of iconic as well as esoteric book design and illustration. Postmodern novels and artists’ books will be analyzed closely for both literary and aesthetic merit as students consider the book as an artistic medium. Further study will include contemporary publishing houses such as MinaLima and Visual Editions. The dynamic, intertextual relationship between visual artists and authors will be highlighted and studied throughout the year through critical essays, biographies, poetry, film and images. Students will write and illustrate frequently and in a wide variety of genres, as they analyze and illuminate the texts they encounter. Class also will include field trips and guest speakers.

  • English Seminar: Classical Literature and Contemporary Adaptations

    Prerequisites: American Writers or AP English Language & Composition

    Students will study classic literature and equivalent modern adaptations in various types of media. Students will learn literary analysis skills and apply these skills to literature and text. Units will begin with students reading the text and discussing themes and literary devices at work. Then, students will watch the modern film version and discuss these themes and literary devices again. After each unit, students will complete an analytical essay, a creative writing assignment or a project-based assignment. By the end of the course, students will have a lexicon for analysis of literature and media, will recognize literary tropes, will write creatively and analytically, and will be able to draw connections between classic literature and modern adaptations.
  • English Seminar: Poetry Across the Curriculum

    Prerequisites: American Writers or AP English Language & Composition

    “Write what you know,” that tired edict, still holds water—at least it will hold water in the context of this course. Poetry Across the Curriculum will enable students to use the substance of their days at VES as the subjects of the poems they create. Students will be exposed to a variety of poetic forms, and then consider how the form of a poem holds the poem’s subject. Each poem they draft will utilize, directly or indirectly, the content they are wrestling with in their other classes, and the form of each poem they draft will reflect that wrestling.

    By exposure to a wide array of poets and poetic forms, students will discuss how form can appropriately mirror content. Students will critique each other’s work with a keen eye toward the symphony created between words, and the form those words take as lines and stanzas. Students will also write reflective essays that critique their own work while at the same time critiquing the work of another poet. Each semester will culminate in a portfolio of polished work, with at least one piece that students will want to submit for publication in teen literary journals.

Department Staff

  • Photo of Brian Campbell

    Brian Campbell

    James W. Hopkins Chair of English | Head Coach, Track & Field
    Bowdoin College - B.A.
    Dartmouth College - M.A.
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  • Photo of Melissa Csatlos

    Melissa Csatlos

    Academic Dean | Director of College Counseling | English Teacher | Advanced Studies Advisor
    Hamilton College - B.A.
    University of Virginia - M.Ed.
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  • Photo of Jason Knebel

    Jason Knebel

    Jean & Bill Cook Master of English | Advisor, Honor Committee | Asst Coach, JV Boys Soccer
    Lenoir-Rhyne University - B.A.
    Western Carolina University - M.A.
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  • Photo of Amy Kolman

    Amy Kolman

    Dean of Students | English Teacher | Asst Coach, Swimming
    University of Tennessee at Knoxville - B.A.
    Saint Joseph's University - M.S.
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  • Photo of Matthew LaFreniere

    Matthew LaFreniere

    Assistant Dean of Faculty | English Teacher | Head Coach, Boys JV Lacrosse
    University of Maine - B.A.
    Fairfield University - M.F.A.
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  • Photo of Kathryn Markunas

    Kathryn Markunas

    English Teacher | Head Coach, Swimming | Asst Coach, Girls Varsity Soccer | Advisor, Junior RAs
    Loyola University - B.A.
    Loyola University - M.A.T.
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  • Photo of William Rhem

    William Rhem

    English & Spanish Teacher | Global Initiatives Coord | Head Coach, Girls V Soccer/B-Team Basketball
    Wofford College - B.A.
    Middlebury College - M.A.
    Columbia University - M.Ed.
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  • Photo of Alison Tuck

    Alison Tuck

    English Teacher | Coach, Drama | Yearbook Advisor
    University of Lynchburg - B.A.
    University of Lynchburg - M.A.
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A College Preparatory, Independent Boarding and Day School for Students in Grades 9-12
400 VES Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503 • 434.385.3600