This is a safe place to share your honest opinions of a school, whether good or bad.
Helios New School5
Posted April 20, 2015
- a parent
Our family has been with Helios for several years now and couldn't be happier. By design Helios is informed by best practices in gifted education. Helios understands that the goal is not to push kids to extract the most achievement but rather to nurture and support them so that their own curiosity can flourish. We have found at Helios a unique combination of teachers, staff, curriculum and community that, in concert, result in a truly special place. The kids are engaged. They form relationships with peers that are deep and genuine and beautifully complex. The teachers and staff care about and understand each child. The community of families includes some of the kindest, most supportive and most interesting parents we ve known. Perhaps the best testament to the impact Helios has had on our kids is seeing their joy and enthusiasm to go to school every morning and how, during school breaks, all they can talk about is getting back to school and their friends. We feel very fortunate to have found Helios.
A young school can be an occasionally rocky place to teach, but I ve turned down several other attractive job offers in my years at Helios for the opportunity to stay and help build this remarkable program. What makes Helios such a great place to teach? There s solid trust between colleagues; Helios has a notable absence of the office politics that can consume faculty lounges. I have rewarding, multi-year relationships with families. Our head of school recognizes teachers strengths and places them in positions that play to those strengths. I ve worked at both traditional and progressive independent schools. The traditional schools tended to discourage authentic respect for children; the progressive schools, while caring, were frequently short on intellectual rigor. Helios has an exquisite balance of both that permeates the school's culture, distinguishes it from its peer schools, and makes Helios a fantastic place to teach. There have been some growing pains at Helios, but they are normal for a school at this point in its evolution, and they re nearing completion. What is emerging is one of the strongest, most humane schools I ve seen in a long time.
We liked the idea of project-based learning, synthesizing all subjects excluding math under one broad topic with interconnected stories. There is no textbook, no notebook, and almost no homework. The positive reviews by kindergarten parents show that it works for them. But as you get to higher grades this approach turns out to be problematic. There is not much teaching or learning in the classroom, but a lot of fiction reading and creative writing. Science becomes science fiction, and history becomes historical fiction. Foreign language is simply a failure. We do want our child to be imaginary and to have fun, we do dislike rote memorization, but we also feel that he should be studying something real as he moves on to middle school. That the students are gifted and can learn on their own is no excuse for substandard teaching.
My child is in middle school. I know of no other school with a curriculum that requires this level of original thought and work. Many parents equate rigor with acquisition of facts and progress through textbooks. Our family prefers an education that teaches students to apply the skills and knowledge they ve learned to solving problems. Helios excels at this type of education. One of the recent expeditions, titled The Nature of Change , began with an examination of systems using the concrete example of the redwood systems. Students performed a variety of science experiments on other physical systems to learn how changes in one part of a system affect the whole. They then moved on to the study of social systems. This included study of three major periods of change the Industrial Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Civil Rights era. Finally each student researched a person who had made important changes in the world, and built a website on the change-maker they had chosen. In math, my fifth-grader is working on pre-algebra and classmates in a more advanced group are working on algebra.
I was amazed to read the 1 star review(s) of my son's school. We absolutely love Helios, and would encourage any parent of a gifted child to check out our school. Helios is incredibly innovative and thoughtful in its teaching. Our head of school, is an incredible leader. The leadership team has built such a solid curriculum, and has brought so much expertise, specifically with hands-on project based learning. The staff knows my child, they deeply care, and so do my son's classmates/parents. This is the last place I would worry about "bullying." I think you really have to see for yourself.
Too much theory, too little practice. If you want to hear about gifted children s special needs, Helios is a great place they host many talks and workshops on visual-spatial learning, asynchronous development, SEL Giftedness is their branding and they just can t stop talking about it. But if you are a gifted child with precisely such needs the school does nothing to help you. If they spot it they screen you out and deny admission. If you get in, they stigmatize you and tolerate verbal and even physical bullying. Blame the victim seems to be the school policy. Unethical and unprofessional. It s hard to believe that it s all fake but we re not the only disillusioned family. A betrayal of gifted education indeed.
I am a mom of a kindergartner at Helios and the school has done a wonderful job helping my son adjust to kindergarten - prior to this, he did not want to go to school. At Helios he is engaged, learning (reading at the 3rd grade level after starting the year at the K level), enjoying math (not learning rote facts, but rather understanding the concepts), learning how to play/ work with other kids and navigating social emotional issues that are common with gifted kids (and all kids) his age. Personally, I find the campus delightful - the kids and teachers work together to create a wilderness habitat, build bunny hutches and just this morning were building a fairly large working model of the Stevens Creek reservoir system. My son talks about the work they do to build areas that are meaningful to them - he is proud of his school. The school took over a new building at the start of the year and has spent weekends refurbishing the classrooms - yes there may be nicer buildings/ spaces around, but the children and teachers feel a real sense of ownership around what they are creating in Helios.
For a few years the school has been growing 50% per year, and is not over its growing pain yet. At this rate of expansion, the school is in general dysfunctional and disorganized. For weeks after moving to its current location students were told to do "quiet choices" daily--that is, they can do whatever they want as long as they are quiet--while the teachers were busy unpacking boxes or shelving books. For months there was no drinkable water--the school was too cheap to improve the system. The new campus is large but looks like a dump--no sports facilities or landscaping, only an ugly building and a parking lot covered by concrete. Teachers are not valued enough and are constantly coming and going. There are lots of non-teaching administrators who boss teachers around, and a whole band of ever-changing, disqualified and ineffective part-time teachers responsible for foreign languages, music, and technology and PE (curiously considered as 1 subject). There is no art--you need to pay to join the after school club for art. For a school charging almost twice as much as others in the area, only slightly less than Nueva, this all seems unthinkable. Not worth the money.
My child started here last year in Kindergarten and we have been very pleased with the program. I love the way how kids are learning in a creative project based curriculum which is truly bringing out their love for learning. I can see my child's creativity coming out in various ways even when he is home. Imagine lab which is the makers lab is such an awesome tool for these kids to build and express themselves. He looks forward to going to school each and every single day. This truly is a school which does individualized and thoughtful education and does it well. Any time any issue has come up, school leadership and teachers have been prompt in addressing it and they genuinely care for all children. As far as what the earlier reviewer mentioned about calling this school campus a dump, you have no idea how hard it is to get a school campus in a central location and this campus is far from being a dump. Interiors have been beautifully remodeled and kids love the outdoor space. It would be nice to get Art as part of the curriculum but there is so much being offered and something will have to go to make time for Art in an already packed school schedule.
A gifted child is a rare opportunity and a great responsibility. Its very important for gifted children to find a gifted friend, and at Helios my daughter has a whole classroom full of gifted peers. Gifted children really thirst for a challenge or they may become turned off to say math. Few schools will let a child work ahead more than a year or two, but Helios uses ability grouping and lets children work several years ahead if appropriate. Regarding the curriculum, Helios administers a test three times a year. Its an adaptive test called MAP. They let the kids explore, but they monitor their progress. So that feels grounded to me. Beyond academics, there is a deep knowledge base at Helios embodied not only in the staff but the parent community. Gifted children do have particular social and emotional needs, and the school community brings a wealth of experience to bear upon this. My daughter has grown to trust and express herself through her writing and her new friends. Helios has pulled together really a dream team of teachers. I don t believe more than a handful of schools like it exist.