This is a safe place to share your honest opinions of a school, whether good or bad.
Helios New School5
Posted January 15, 2015
- a parent
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.
My kid started at K and loves it because learning at Helios is so joyful. She is thriving in this environment. Every student is tested so their levels in math, reading are assessed. Then students are placed according to ability. Each child has her own individual learning plan which is discussed with parents. The school handles asynchronous learning very well. Big emphasis on social emotional learning and the kids learn Chinese or Spanish, music, science, imagine lab, writing stories, story lab. Their teaching style is project based so language arts, reading, and writing are all based on the topic/project the class is learning. We love the school because my daughter learns at such high level and it doesn't feel very academic because there is no homework yet she learns and absorbs so much! What brought us to Helios is that Helios really understands how to educate gifted children. There is no arbitrary age cut off, no focus on IQ test which are not a good predictors of giftedness. Instead, Helios looks at the whole child including other dimensions and sensitivities of the child that give clues as to whether the child might need a different approach to education.
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.