Helios School’s rich and complex curriculum fosters not only the development of the intellect, but the social and emotional life of our students, as well.
Gifted children have little need for rote learning; they need to be actively solving problems, making connections and using their imaginations. In keeping with our Guiding Principles, Helios offers a rich, interconnected curriculum that provokes deep thinking, provides a real-world context, and produces meaning. We teach in mixed-grade classrooms and regularly organize students into small ability groups to ensure all are appropriately challenged.
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 learning, 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.
Enabling students to practice meaningful self-directed learning, find solutions to problems, and recognize that they are part of a larger community are just a few of our educational goals. Self-directed learning leads to lifelong learning. It places the responsibility on the individual to initiate and direct the learning process. Our Expeditions provide the contextual environment that makes learning exciting and relevant. Gifted adolescents crave this kind of agency and find these efforts deeply fulfilling.
In addition to their Expedition work, students participate in math class daily, where they are grouped according to ability rather than grade. Students also have the choice of Art or Spanish, and an extra elective. We provide physical education as well as time in our Imagine Lab Maker Space each week. Helios takes learning beyond the classroom with regular fieldwork and camping trips. Finally, 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.
Whether on campus or away from school, our students engage deeply in learning, expressing passion and eagerness to advance their knowledge about themselves and the world around them.