The middle school years are a time of enormous growth for students — their bodies, minds, and emotions are all changing rapidly as they begin to define who they are as individuals, as well as their role in relationships and the world.
Gifted adolescents, with typically intense natures are offered the necessary support to navigate these changes and address their strong concern for moral issues and social justice.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is woven in throughout the school day, as well as into discrete lessons. Open Session, a peer to peer activity, is introduced and regularly practiced to normalize the issues individuals are experiencing and draw upon the wisdom of each other. Our thematic curriculum helps students grapple with dynamics of social justice and inequality. Teachers are trained in a customized SEL curriculum with goals that emphasize self-care and the practice of mindfulness; as well as the skills of empathy, perspective-taking, and the development of moral identity.
Building empathy is the foundation of our approach to SEL and research shows that it’s a linchpin to both happiness and effectiveness in life. The crucial first step in the practice of empathy is emotional literacy; understanding emotions in yourself and others. Emotional intensity can make it difficult for gifted adolescents to identify and manage their own emotions, and they benefit from the practice of naming, understanding and resolving the more nuanced or conflicting feelings they may experience.
We also focus on perspective-taking to strengthen awareness of the needs of others and better understand how their actions affect those around them. We use literature and film to develop students’ social imagination. Guided discussions to recognize and identify with the motivations of fictional characters build perspective-taking and empathy in real life situations.
Helios Middle School students are also assisted in developing a moral identity to guide behavior and responsible decision-making. Through thoughtful discussion, students clarify their values and align behavior and actions with personal ethical standards, providing a moral compass in which they can depend on when facing peer pressure or ethically ambiguous choices.
Perhaps most importantly, 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.