As they reach Middle School, gifted learners are ready to tackle more challenging, complex topics. With their heightened sense of justice, they also want to engage with their community and do good in the world.
To meet these needs, we organize our Middle School curriculum around Expeditions, semester-long themes that provide the context for study in humanities and science. The ideas we explore are topical, with a focus on issues where students can make meaningful change. In a 2017 Expedition about Yosemite National Park, for example, students grappled with questions like “How can we preserve Yosemite for the future but allow access to the Park today?” and “When competing groups have compelling arguments about land use, who should decide?”
We begin each semester with a special event that piques everyone’s interest. In 2017, for example, our students visited Yosemite to see the park first-hand. Once hooked, they explored the topic from many angles and in the process acquired new skills in science and humanities.
Students apply these skills in a variety of projects that demonstrate their learnings, with a particular emphasis on impacting their wider community. For the Yosemite Expedition, students planned, created, and staffed a booth at the Sunnyvale Farmers’ Market and informed visitors about the challenges facing Yosemite and the National Park system.
In addition to their Expedition work, students participate in an Ability based math classes, Electives, PE, and iLab. Woven throughout all of these experiences is a customized social-emotional curriculum that helps gifted students manage their intense natures and better understand themselves and others.
Our teachers model and cultivate a culture of kindness. In these sensitive middle years, an emotionally kind learning environment promotes authentic exploration, healthy relationships and intellectual risk-taking. At Helios we value kindness as a means to developing empathy, engagement in the learning process and social and emotional well-being.