Distance Learning at Helios


Dear Helios families,

This is a wonderful week! Most of our staff are receiving their first vaccine dose this week and should be fully protected by spring break.  Next week, those students who traveled more than 150 miles over February break are able to return to campus; most of our students will be on-campus on Monday!  As the holiday surge subsides and the county returns to the Red Zone, we are subject to fewer restrictions. We will continue to focus on safety, and look forward to creating a more satisfying school experience within the new guidelines. Read on for our expectations for this month, this spring, and next year.

  • March 8: Each grade band is now a single stable group - new play and learning opportunities

  • April 5: Middle school on campus for the full week

  • Current travel and visiting guidelines

  • Spring camping update

  • Fully on-campus program expected in the fall

Beginning Monday March 8, all students in the same grade band will be considered a single “stable group.” Our teachers are so excited for this change!  Students the same age can have a single outdoor morning circle, play together outdoors at recess and lunch, have playdates together outside school, and rearrange their smaller groups as though they were a single class.  To maintain safe social distance, they will still be separated into smaller groups indoors, but these groups can change throughout the day or week. Why now?  This is now allowed because the county’s strict group-size restrictions have been lifted, and we are now legally bound only by the state guidelines.

Beginning in four weeks, on April 5, middle school students will be on campus full time - five days per week.  This change will allow everyone the interaction we have been missing!  Some classes - Math and Explorations - will still need to be over Zoom, and we expect our internet bandwidth upgrade to be ready at that time.  If not, we will find creative solutions to cover the few days until everyone can log in at once.  Wednesdays will be optional campus or @Home days.  This day will remain as mainly independent work periods with check-ins by teachers which can be done in person or from home.  As before, families can still choose the fully @Home option if they prefer.  Why now?  The physical infrastructure upgrade needed to allow everyone to Zoom at once for math classes has taken time to put in place, and working with all the Condors as a single stable group is opening new possibilities for our live classes.

As we increase group sizes on campus and outside restrictions loosen, we ask our families to keep our community safe.  The state guideline is still to avoid travel more than 120 miles from home, and requires a quarantine of 10 days when returning to California from out-of-state (except for routine essential travel). Small gatherings of three households are permitted indoors or outdoors with masks and distance. Helios additionally asks families to quarantine for 10 days after travel or gatherings that involve exposure to many other people, such as airplane travel or a gathering for a wedding, or an indoor gathering with anyone who is not fully protected by vaccine (10 days after the last shot).  Indoor playdates between Helios students in the same grade band do not require quarantine.

Middle School spring camping is on!  We will keep the risk low by keeping students outdoors, avoiding vans, and mindful tent assignments - they can sleep in individual tents, under the stars, or as described in an upcoming update.  Lower School students will substitute day activities for overnight trips until they can safely share tents.  We will need families to provide transportation to these trips; families can carpool if they are comfortable doing so.  (2-3 students in a family carpool is safer than 9 people in one school van.)  Why now?  Our camping destinations have opened, and we can now work with the entire grade band as a single stable group during their activities at camp.

Our fall program is expected to be fully on-campus for all students.  As always, we will follow legal requirements, but we expect instruction for all classes to be live and in-person.  If we must modify our usual program we will diligently look for ways to return to normal as quickly as possible.  Why now?  Most of the restrictions that governed the way we set up our program this year have been lifted.  With our teachers protected by the vaccine, and a more complete understanding of how the virus spreads, we can make plans for the fall that accommodate the changes we know we will need to make.

We are thrilled to offer our kids more and more of the social and academic program activities they need!


After a great deal of soul-searching we have decided to stay with remote learning until February 1st.  This decision is driven by two factors: (1) that the numbers of positive tests in Santa Clara County are rising at an alarming rate, and (2) that we want especially to protect our faculty; safety for adults and children must drive these decisions

We feel strongly that all our students benefit from being on campus; that collaboration, choice and community are best fostered in school in Sunnyvale; that said, the fear of losing any Helios child or teacher to this virus overpowers us at this time. We do look to later in 2021 to return us to 100% in school when the vaccine has made us all safer.

With best wishes for a healthy 2021.


The Helios administrative team has decided that we must return to all-remote learning during the three weeks between Thanksgiving and winter breaks (November 30 – December 17th).  Returning to Helios@Home represents a safety decision; as COVID cases in Santa Clara County and the whole country continue to soar, we feel that an “abundance of concern” outweighs our personal preference to be in school.

During the weeks we have been in school, we have built relationships with our in-school students; they are comfortable with distancing and masks and even reasonably comfortable staying within their cohorts. They have enjoyed making friends and meeting the new students, and the community meetings in the parking lot have been good fun! I appreciate that our families have been conscientious about the daily health checks and very cautious with even the slightest runny nose – thank you all.


Remote since March, Helios School is looking forward to welcoming students safely back to campus! The opening of Helios is permitted because Santa Clara County has been designated “Red” for 14 consecutive days. You can find more details for Santa Clara Guidelines here. 

We have deliberately designed a program that mixes our students throughout the day and the week. This allows both student choice and placement by academic level -- two hallmarks of Helios. We also encourage students to mix across age groups, which is important for their social and emotional development as asynchronous, gifted individuals. Unfortunately, no in-person mixing of student groups is permitted at this time. Even when on campus, many parts of our school day will need to be on Zoom. For students mature enough to access these remote classes on their own, doing so from home results in a higher quality experience. This has led us to create a schedule where younger students spend more time on campus, and older students spend more time at home.

Virus Testing Available Weekly

We are able to offer weekly testing for everyone who wants it. We won’t require testing but sincerely hope parents will get their children tested regularly – if not at school, at the place of their choosing. Testing, masks, and distancing have proved to be the best way to prevent the spread of this coronavirus. 


During unprecedented times when global leadership is requiring social distancing to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 virus, most educational institutions have been forced to implement heroic efforts to minimize the disruption to students' educational experiences. During this global crisis, Helios has risen to the challenges of distance education, taking a whole-school approach to delivering high-quality programs in all academic disciplines (not just core subjects). While distance learning is not a new educational format, it is very new to our community. It’s no easy feat to redesign classes from rich project-based, hands-on classes into a distinctly remote learning experience. However, with the support of well-qualified faculty, students are receiving an innovative education.

Thanks to the countless hours our faculty, administrators, and staff continue to put into their work, Helios students have regular opportunities to engage with each other, connect with teachers, and continue their learning through our remote learning space. We don’t underestimate the hardship this has caused for families and we are here to our support.

Yes, we have provided academic content, but we’ve also continued to be a place for friends to stay connected, for groups to problem solve, and for families to find some measure of comfort when much around them is in a state of change.  We are a community built on connection and relationships providing care, compassion, and guidance to each other. Please rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep us connected as a community. Even if we’re physically distant, our community is still strong. 

A community is a garden in which to grow people--James Rouse



“I liked how the teachers had office hours when we knew we could reach them. I could sense the stress floating away from my girls as their teachers answered their questions and gave them attention and love.”


“I am blown away not just by the devotion to instruction, but the level of emotional support and connectedness Helios has maintained with the kids.”


“Creative projects are a huge, huge winner, not surprisingly. The kids have enjoyed them very much. Kudos to the teachers for innovating on the curriculum in all these great ways!”


“The co-curriculars and extras are truly amazing and show an incredible commitment of the staff to meet the needs of the whole family. Amazing, you guys. There are so many things that we don't have time to even think about all of them...”


“Thank you, for the compassionate Helios Daily Update. I was moved by the "permission" to acknowledge that occasionally yielding beneath the many pressures upon all of us now is not a failing but simply a fact of life and that's fine.”


“You should really take some time to acknowledge what an incredible job you've done. I couldn't be happier that we're part of this wonderful community.”


"Watching my kids' math lessons gives me joy. One class was using math logic to translate a foreign language puzzle, while the other was learning about the relationship between music and algebra. They're so lucky!”


“We are very impressed and grateful. The assignments seem thoughtful and interesting. Our kids are engaged in their classes. We know that the teachers are doing a ton of work to make that true.”


In Ancient Greek folklore, the phoenix was associated with the sun, an indestructible bird that was reborn from the ashes of its predecessor. It symbolizes renewal and perseverance in the face of adversity. The definition of strength is the capacity for endurance, the power to resist, and having moral force. 

Helios is strong because of the mission that binds us together, to provide engaging and imaginative education that meets the unique intellectual, social and emotional needs of gifted students and families. AND we are strong thanks to our values, reflected in our motto: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Kind! As a community we find strength in our ability to care and support one another.

This graphic was designed with all of these qualities in mind, and we are introducing it as a symbol of our community’s ability to not only survive these challenging times, but to thrive.

Be well, be Helios Strong!