Helios is truly a unique school where each child is nurtured, challenged and encouraged to discover his or her true potential. The teachers are dedicated professionals who love what they do, and it shows! Many schools claim to foster a "love of learning" but at Helios this absolutely holds true. Our son, who is in his second year at the school, is thriving. He loves the hands-on learning, is developing strong skills in math, reading and writing, and is happy to go to school every single day! The team who is leading the school includes terrific educators who value and welcome feedback and community involvement. The parents at the school are a wonderful group of people who are tremendously supportive of each other and the school. We are delighted that we found Helios for our son and I am sure the school will continue to grow from strength to strength.
The facts: - no individualized education plan as talked about. Every kid does the same thing at the same time. The individual is not celebrated. -constructivist employs student centered learning but again there is no room for student suggestion, interpretation or creativity. It is almost as if the adults fear it. -no feedback at all. While I love that they don't use traditional grades, it is clear that my child has no idea if what they have done needs improvement, how to improve, etc. they are not learning at all, but going through the work. - learning position is valued above all else. The students will tell you that to be a good student at Helios you should not talk, sit in learning position and not ask too many questions. - teachers have been heard telling students they should just "shut your mouth" - they spend money on two curriculum developers for 35+ kids; in most schools this size the teachers would develop the curriculum. - point systems are rampant in some math groups, Chinese, and home rooms - 4 principals in 4 years In short, this school talks a good game but fails to deliver. There is neither rigor nor a love of children and learning.
Helios implements best practices in gifted ed, including ability grouping and subject matter acceleration. A 5 year old kid at Helios with a passion for algebra can have his current working level identified and be presented with the next concept he is ready to understand in math, working alongside other kids who are at his level even though they are 5 years older than him. And he can also be taught handwriting at his working level, read age-appropriate subject matter at his out of grade level reading level and be around other kids who want to play the same sort of complicated games that he likes to play on the playground. Our daughter is in her 4th year at the school and she remains the same happy and well adjusted kid that she was when she started K. Helios teaches kids how to get along with others, work in teams, how to construct arguments, and stretch themselves outside of their comfort zone . I like its focus on "habits of learning" where the kids learn tools that will help them in the long haul, such as how to read a text critically, write an essay, break down a research project into smaller parts, formulate an argument, and see an issue from multiple perspectives.
My son has been a student at Helios for just over a year so far and we could not be happier. The project based authentic curriculum is both rigorous and engaging, and integrates meaningful fieldwork (field trips) experiences with in-class content. Helios' small size means that everybody knows everybody--teachers outside of my son's class share anecdotes about him with me, and students play and work together across age groups and classrooms. Teachers are able to really get to know their students and their strengths and needs. This (combined with regular real time assessments) translates into flexibility and individualization so that each student's unique learning needs are met. Beyond the academics, my son is a part of an incredibly warm and caring community--from his classmates, to the teachers and administration, to the parents--the people at Helios go above and beyond to make sure it is a safe, fun and welcoming place. The bottom line is that my son loves going to school at Helios.
The school unfortunately has limited classroom and play/recess area space. For this reason, it is difficult to offer variances in the curriculum to the children for the high tuition price (note only slightly less than Nueva). There are some wonderful teachers, and another who uses a whistle. There is a lot of sitting and being still required. The board is made up of parents and their children seem to receive the most careful attention to the promised individualized education. Regarding the Chinese program, it works for some and not others. It's not taught in the most interesting way, but our kid tolerates it. What we don't like is hearing our child report that another kid gets stomach pains before Mandarin class. So it seems like others have really struggled without attention to their concerns. One standout is the parent community which is very involved and full of wonderful people.
We visited 10 schools before choosing Helios for our kids. Although may of the schools we visited claimed to differentiate their curriculum based on kids' abilities, Helios was the only one we found that could demonstrate that they actually DO it. We have been here 3 years now and have found that our children are continually assessed to ensure that the work they are doing is at the right level for each of them--challenging enough to be stimulating, not discouraging. Reading and math groups' average size is 3-5 children, grouped by ability level, not age, so material can be very closely tailored to kids' abilities. Each year, both my children have had the opportunity to move into a group offering more challenge, once they'd mastered the content at their starting level. Helios is also the only school we found that offered truly experiential education, with an interdisciplinary curriculum that enables kids to learn through meaningful, real-world projects. My gifted children are thriving at this school and I'm grateful to the school leadership for creating such a terrific learning environment.
One cannot discount the value of the amazing teachers at this school. They are invested, dedicated, kind, creative and challenging all while keeping my daughter emotionally safe. We had struggled previously to find a school to meet her academic needs and support her love for learning. Helios has met that challenge a thousand times over. They took a child who hated to write because she struggles with spelling and has her now thinking about being an author. She adores writing now. Her first love is math and the teachers have been great in finding her a good group and supporting her personal achievement goals. They provide additional materials for her at her asking. Additionally, the community is amazing and supportive. This is a growing place that truly gets gifted kids. I wouldn't send my kid to any other school in the Bay Area. My only criticism is that the Chinese program is mandatory and does not fit the rest of the school constructivist learning style. I hope they will rethink this in future years.
Helios is meeting the needs of gifted children with truly experiential education. This is our 3rd year at Helios, and our son is loving it. The teachers are talented, dedicated and really get the kids. Helios hits the perfect balance with its thematic approach and engaging, real-world projects on the one hand and continual skills assessment on the other. The community is extraordinary.
Helios is a very special place. I often think every child should have this experience, but certainly for my gifted child there really is no better fit. My 7yo has thrived since we joined the Helios community last Spring. When we discovered our son was gifted and that we should consider a gifted learning environment we checked out all three Peninsula options. What had us select Helios was both our sons immediate attachment to the staff and students but also our belief in Anne Beneventi, Head of School. Going through the admissions process at Helios gave us incredible information about our son's learning needs. Anne is incredibly knowledgeable and is such a wonderful resource to the gifted community. I feel so thankful to have Anne and the incredibly dedicated staff at Helios be part of my son's education. Every decision made is so thoughtful and genuine to the needs of the students. The curriculum put in place not only meets California standards but compliments the needs of gifted learners to allow project based learning to take them deeper. My son runs to his classroom in the morning and does not want to come home at the end of the day.
I have a child who is thriving again. At a traditional public school, he was jaded by the rote learning models which rarely went to any depth and failed to addressed the curiosity of children. At Helios, the focus is on leveraging the child's strengths and supporting them as they develop other areas needed to be an independent thinker and learner. My child loves to learn and school is "so great"!
Helios has been a terrific school for my second grader. At Helios, the kids learn, incorporate and use various subjects at the same time, rather than studying each subject in a vacuum. For example, his class is learning principles of geometry, writing, history, logical sequencing and team building by designing and building a maze. First they learned about the different types of mazes and then broke into teams to create scale models of student-designed mazes, and from those scale models they created life-size mazes in the classroom. I think this hands-on approach to learning helps him conceptualize the underlying lessons in a way that allows him to extrapolate the underlying principle to other situations. And most importantly, he has fun doing it. The school also provides very individualized attention. My son's teachers evaluate his progress in different core subjects (e.g., math, reading) and then accelerate or explore different instructional strategies to ensure he is heading on a trajectory that is appropriate for him in all subjects. So, for example, you could have third grader who is doing middle school-level math, while reading at third or fourth grade level.
While we loved this school at first, it has changed significantly in the last years. Just the facts: First ~ The school director has left this school and as of this post, there is still no replacement. Second~ of the original 12 person staff that began the school year 2010-2011 only four remain and as of this post no official announcements have been made about any of them returning next year. Third~ At least 1/3 of currently enrolled students have not yet re-enrolled for next year. It is my opinion the changes in this school have to do with a push from the interference of it's School Board to change the school from a 'School for Gifted Education' to one more standard academic i.e. 'skills based' school.
Our son has spent the last two years at Helios. At his previous private Kindergarten we were told that he was not paying attention and was being disruptive. It turned out he was probably bored, mostly by the drilling routine. His transformation at Helios was majestic. His teachers are amazing, interactive and totally immersed in bringing out the best in each child. He loves the project-oriented approach and has just bloomed, with the excitement just oozing every day. His reading level has jumped up at least 2 grades and I cannot believe how much math he has mastered, including 4th and 5th grade material, without all the previous drilling. Best of all, he is surrounded by gifted children like himself, hand-picked to generate a community of kids full of curiosity, imagination and excitement, who love to be challenged, and love being at school.
Helios is a gem! The teachers, staff, and even other parents know my son very well and value his uniqueness. We were previously at a traditional school and while my son did well with the structure there was not enough rigor. I was concerned that Helios constructivist approach would not provide enough structure for my particular child. My worries were unfounded - he has been thriving at Helios for 2 years. Helios teachers are skilled at balancing structure and flexibility. They appropriately challenge my son in all areas and follow where he is ready to go, which is generally 2-3 grade levels above where he would be at a regular school. At Helios he gets to be neither ashamed nor proud of being academically advanced. The challenging core curriculum, foreign language, music and PE are interwoven with SEL components making for a full experience. Helios nurtures his love of learning. My son misses Helios in summer, holidays or when he is sick. A critical priority for any private school is selection of the right kids and families. Helios does an amazing job at admissions and uses a careful and rigorous evaluation methodology. The result is a strong and passionate community.
Tuition aside, the school is amazing. Jo Ellis (head-of-school) is a real find. She get's it. She has vision, seeks to blend head/heart in the classroom, understands the needs of gifted kids (skew of high performance in one subject, poor in another, for some difficulty in sitting at a desk all day, ask 'too many' questions), willing to make personnel changes when warranted, absurdly responsive to parent concerns, long term thinker, and former veteran teacher. In class, the teacher ratio allows each child to work at their level (whether above/below/same as others). Project-based learning makes learning more fun and real-world (no death by worksheet). Great place for active learners. You'll see kids standing, sitting, lying on floor doing their work-all acceptable. Great place for a bright child that doesn't conform well to traditional classroom environment. Our child loved the time spent there.
Our daughter is finally happy and thriving, thanks to Helios. She was counting down the days of winter holiday until she could go back to her Grade 1 class! The teachers are so responsive and respectful, letting the children guide the curriculum but also providing a wealth of their own amazing ideas and a safe, comfortable structure for the children. The constructivist school philosophy matches our desire to have our daughter continue to think independently and question the world around her. We are so thrilled to have found such a fantastic school and highly recommend it, especially when the special needs of gifted children come into play.
Helios New School honor children as active learners. Our son is not stuck behind a desk like he would be in a traditional classroom. Instead he is on the floor telling the group a story using animal figures, 'working' in the clinic he and his peers set up in the classroom, writing a book to add to the library, singing with the music specialist or learning math 'hands-on' (no worksheets here). Our son now sings 'Happy Birthday' to family members in Mandarin. The best way I have found to describe his experience at Helios is to say that 'his brain is on fire'! The teachers are flexible and ready to explore new ideas. They make the children feel brilliant and honor each child as an individual. Yes, the school is small but the backbone of the school is strong, with great professional support. The parents are very active and welcomed!
I visited this school and wasn't all that sure until I met some parents outside, waiting for their children. They spoke very highly of the school and the projects that these kids were doing sounded amazing - I wish I could have gone to a school like this! But the best part was when the children were whining and crying that they didn't want to leave!!!!! The parents love this school and the kids love it even more. I'm sold on it. I have visited lots of schools in the area and this is where I want my daughter to attend.
Helios New School has been a great experience for our son. Helios New School strives to meet the needs of all students. Our son is now getting individualized attention. He is able to accel in math and receive the help he needs with reading. His energy is channeled in positive ways by using his hands to build projects, playtime in the kitchen, medical clinic and at the park. The teachers understand the needs of this group of children and meet the challenges that this intellectual and creative group presents.
My son loves this school! He loves his teachers and the project-based curriculum. The great teacher:child ratio allows for high quality, individualized teaching. We are so happy to be at Helios!
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