I wanted to take this opportunity to speak about Helios to those who may not be familiar with it. Helios is by no means your typical Silicon Valley school, where the pressure to succeed and compete can be overwhelming, but is instead a place that helps kids to develop as both students and people in a far more humane and caring fashion than I've seen at any other school. The culture in the whole school, and particularly the middle school, is incredibly strong, and it was so heartwarming to see the understanding and thoughtful ways in which the middle schoolers interact with each other.
As a teacher, I was given the freedom to work with my colleagues to create curriculum that was meaningful for our students, helped us to meet their individual needs, and which encouraged our students to develop a love of learning and curiosity about the world around them. The administration was also very supportive and thoughtful about doing what they could to make sure all the students' and teachers' needs were met. For families whose only focus is academic achievement, Helios might or might not be a good fit, but for families who want their children to develop into kind, compassionate, and curious people, I cannot think of a better place.
We are very pleased with our experience at Helios and can't imagine our son at another school. Our son is highly asynchronous reading, writing and doing math at very different levels, and the school has worked hard to meet his needs in each area. They understand that with intense cognition can come intense emotions. They have shown amazing patience and love with our son and other intense kids as the kids learn to harness their intensity.
The school understands that there is no single or simple formula that works for all kids given the diverse asynchronies one encounters at a school where all 'levels' of giftedness are welcome.
We know of a few similar kids at other schools -- and no of no other school that shows such dedication to meeting both the emotional needs and intellectual needs of their students -- treating the students as individuals with individual needs rather than as simple members of an aggregate.
I know of no other school in the Bay Area that takes this approach. For our family, it is the right place.
I feel that the school provides a great environment for promoting intrinsically-motivated learning, emotional growth, and lifelong learning.
As with ANY school, to be successful, the school and family culture need to be in synch. The negative reviews for the school seem to me to indicate cases where these may not have been a good fit.
The unlandscaped area that one review mentions has been for our child (and I daresay the overwhelming majority of the students) a place where great creativity has flourished -- as the students have been encouraged to design, build and decorate their own structures -- which they then use during play time. One only has to watch the kids at work and play there to recognize how much they love the experience -- and how much creativity they have poured into it.
We are extremely grateful to the head-of-school who has worked with us and our child (who doesn't fit any standard mold) to help him develop the tools to deal with his intellectual and emotional intensity -- and who has been extremely supportive even during periods where our son has been a challenging student.
So far, the schoolwork has been meaningful. No homework for the sake of homework (which apparently drives some parents nuts: i.e. some parents mistakenly equate homework with rigor). There hasn't been any busy work.
There is a strong emphasis on social-emotional learning in the school with much emphasis on respect for differing needs, manners of expressions and ideas.
I have been amazed at the amount of respect that the kids show for each other (especially given how intense they can sometimes be) and the amount of respect that the teachers show for the kids.
There's so much more to being gifted than being smart or achieving. Of the schools we looked at, Helios hands down had the most humane approach to educating and supporting gifted children. The community is an inclusive enclave of support for children, parents, teachers and staff, where listening, respect, and grace for others is exemplified and demonstrated.
As parents, we no longer experience the anxiety around school we had before Helios. Our children are sufficiently challenged in their ability based math groups and literature circles. Our children don't say the dreaded "B" word anymore, because committing a child to boredom for 6 hours everyday is in a way, stealing from their soul and who they are.
The teachers listen to the children and foster a sense of agency in their learning. They are patient and so so so respectful of each child's sense of self. I've taken a few parenting tips from them myself.
In short, Helios accepts gifted kids for who they are and helps them be who they're meant to be.