Message from the Head of School
Pam Clarke, Interim Head of School
I'm glad you're taking time to get to know our wonderful school. Helios was created to meet the needs of the gifted and talented children that may not thrive in the traditional education setting. Placing a strong emphasis on the internal life of each child, we weave social and emotional learning throughout each day. We teach children the skills and language of emotions, how to become good friends, and be positive and active members in their community. Helios students are intensely curious and intellectually open. Our students are more likely to draw conclusions from evidence and reasoning rather than memorizing facts.
We get to know each child, understanding their strengths and interests, and what motivates them in the learning process. In addition, Helios is a lovely family-focused community providing multiple opportunities to help parents connect with one another. Raising gifted children can be incredibly complicated and exhausting, especially during a global pandemic. The social and parent education opportunities offered throughout the year help parents learn more about giftedness, how to navigate parenting gifted students and just have fun together.
We hope you will spend time exploring our website to learn more about Helios and the gifted learners we serve. I invite you to reach out to our Admissions Director Teri Raffel to learn more! Helios is a special, special school. Come and see for yourself!
Interim Head of School
Back to School Jitters?
As summer wanes, most school kids get a bit nervous about the start of the school year - be they going to a new to a school or returning to their familiar school. This is normal as kids get ready to face new challenges, make new friends, get back into the schedule of early mornings, car or bus rides, packed lunches, homework, etc.
This year’s students may well be unusually anxious about the start of “in-person” school; many have not been inside a school for more than year; others found distancing, cohorts, repeated returns to zoom and such changes most distasteful -- they didn’t really like school last year. And all our children, all our teachers, and all our parents have some level of fear over covid-19. The word wide pandemic has consumed our news outlets, taken over our daily information search. We have a whole new vocabulary to prove it: “in-person” school; hybrid education; quarantine requirements; N-95 masking; super-spreader events; anti-vaxxers; the list seems endless. And all this is not lost on our kids; they have paid a price we cannot measure today and may not ever be able to measure.
So, as they return to school this year, we’ll be more deliberate about listening for concerns, about playing get-to-know games (no touching?), about assessing skills with compassion and understanding, about forming and codifying our classroom rules for behavior. We’ll talk to our kids in the days before school and listen for anxieties and concerns. We’ll try to keep our own fears to ourselves - and we’ll let teachers know our child’s current states of mind. We won’t add any pressure - not about the outfit for the first day, not about eating every scrap of the packed lunch, not about how many friends to make on the first day, not about , not about, not about….
We’re lucky at Helios; our SEL preparation has us ready for these challenges; our professional development has included strategies for re-entering the classroom; and our health protocols still provide some comfort as we continue to worry about new strains of the virus and possible new outbreaks. We have renewed our intention to build a culture of caring, to see and know each child for that child’s strengths, not weaknesses, and to tap into the natural curiosity and eagerness that comes with the opportunity to learn. We’re lucky to have a very low student/teacher ratio so that we can accomplish for each child, attend to each anxiety, and provide the safety they need.
Why does Helios go camping?
Helios students generally take two camping trips per year - fall and spring. The youngest students, Hummingbirds spend one night camping on our campus- using the Wilderness Village and the newly green field, they pitch tents, enjoy a campfire and sleep outdoors - safe within our gates. Their parents may be invited to join them for the sleeping part- Mom or Dad is cozy in a tent with their 5-year-old. As students get older, the camping trips take more nights and days as we travel to state parks, beaches and even private camps in the woods. By 7th and 8th grade the trip is five days and four nights. Day hikes, thoughtful lessons about collaboration, and good outdoor play provide for learning about trees and plants and for appreciating the nature we determine to save.
On these important and very fun trips, new skills are learned, friendships made, and groups are bonded. We believe that confidence is built, that resilience is practiced, and that horizons are extended when one lived outdoors and connects with nature. To accomplish a long hike, to tame a pesky tent pole; to eat one’s own cooked meal and to learn to leave no trace are experiences that bake in self-awareness and control as well as memories that last forever. Students are asked to reach their full potentials as they unplug and enjoy both the quiet and the noise of nature. One stops to hear birds sing and crickets chirp; one learns to respect the vast out-of-doors, and one returns with self-respect and respect for our environment. “Tis an important part of our education, for sure.
Easter is celebrated by Christians as a joyous holiday because the resurrection of Jesus established him as the Son of God. Christian tradition holds that the sins of humanity were paid for by the death of Jesus; those who follow Jesus are spiritually resurrected with him so that they may walk in a new way of life and receive eternal salvation.
On another April 4th – the one in 1968, Dr Martin Luther King was shot and killed on the porch of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Sometimes I am glad that he is not here to see the state of race relations in his country. He eschewed violence in all its forms -- even as he championed the right to equality for all humans. Were he here today, I believe he would be beyond dismayed at the violence recently aimed at members of Asian communities.
I speak for Helios when I say that we denounce all racial injustice. Violence against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are traumatic not only for the families of the victims but also for our students, friends, and colleagues in the Asian American community. In the same way we protest discrimination against marginalized individuals in any community, we stand united against anti-Asian racism and violence.\
Democracy Threatened at the Capital
We are living in an unusual time of social disconnection; I hope we will remember our commitment to civil discourse and to contributing in positive ways to our common goals of respect both for individuals and the community. There are many questions to be answered, and we would do well to remember to listen actively and to read with an open mind. What happened today cannot be allowed to topple our belief in the peace and respect implied in democracy.
Our schools are tasked with teaching the fundamentals of democracy and the values that it encompasses: civil discourse; separation of powers; the call to participate and an understanding that the rule of law supersedes one’s personal wishes or obsessions.
Our freedoms are governed by agreed-upon rules of behavior and societal norms. What we ask at Helios is responsibility, respect, and kindness; we encourage collaboration, critical thinking, and self-reflection.
Our school community is strong because we care for everyone equally. In this current dark minute, we would do well to remember Gandhi’s insistence that "non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.” And also to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s very real belief that "darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
The proverbial tunnel may seem long right now, but the light is at its end, no matter the length of the journey. Helios is a small but powerful place in which to grow up, and we are lucky to have that for our children. 2021 has had a rough start; with best wishes for the rest of the year.
A belated good wish to all those who have celebrated Hanukkah, and the miracle of light amidst darkness. In this year of great upheaval and hardship, finding light in the darkness is especially powerful.
The celebration of Hanukkah is more than 2000 years old; it commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after it had been desecrated by their Syrian-Greek oppressors in an attempt to assimilate the Jewish people. The holiday is celebrated for eight days – lighting a candle each day – because when it was time to rededicate the Second Temple, only one day’s worth of oil was available for the menorah, which was to burn all night. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, surely a gift from God and the reason we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days.
And as Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, the light of the star over Bethlehem reminds us of light’s power. In the Bible, light represents spiritual illumination and truth. Light represents all that is good and pure and holy – it opposes the darkness of evil. From Mark,16: “Let your light shine before men, that. they may see your good works…”. So, we see lights on the Christmas trees, and candles in the windows.
Interestingly, light is a universal symbol in almost all the religious and cultural celebrations in history; certainly, it portends hope, understanding and a relief from the dark of night. Light is the source of goodness and the ultimate reality, and it accompanies transcendence into the Nirvana of Buddhist doctrine. In fact, all the major religions of the world pronounce the power of light in their rituals and beliefs.
In Hinduism and also in Jainism and Sikhism, light also has a special significance, especially during Diwali when the triumph of light over darkness is celebrated with lamps and fireworks. The five-day celebration, which this year began on November 14, is known as ‘the festival of lights.” It marks a new year for Hindus across the world, and symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
And, as we approach the end of December, we all wish for light in 2021.
Veteran’s Day, November 11th, is a day when government offices close down and many business and schools take a day off from work in order to remember and say thank you to the men and women who have served in our military forces to preserve our democracy and its concomitant commitment to freedom. When I was a child, it was called Armistice Day, and we were taught that it celebrated the day the First World War ended – November 11, 1918. President` Eisenhower, a veteran of the Second World War, changed the day’s name to honor all veterans – and he fervently hoped that we had seen our last war. Although considered a hero in WWII, Eisenhower opinion of war was pretty clear:
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
My own father, born during the First World War, served in the Second World war, and when I was born, he was far away in the Pacific Theater – a lovely name for an awful time and place. Although he never spoke about his service in the U.S. Navy, he was very clear that our democracy and freedom was worth fighting for. Twenty-five years later, my husband also served in our Navy; he went to Officer Candidate School right after graduating college partly because his father had served in WWII, but also because he would soon be drafted and likely sent to Vietnam. A philosophy major in college, he credited the Navy with acquainting him with the real world and requiring him to get his head “out of the clouds” – referring to the world of abstract thought which he so loved.
As we reflect on the jobs our service men and women do, let’s be clear that their work is real and important and, while we (ironically) celebrate them by taking a day off, service men know no days off. We thank all our veterans on this day and we should remember them every day.
At Helios, as all around the country, we are bombarded with political opinion, party enthusiasm and personal competitiveness. Every news report, every human-interest story and almost every radio report is about the election -- not only who will win, but also whether the results be on time? Believable? Contested? There’s a lot of nasty speculation going around as well as accusations and general nastiness, often blared on national TV and radio.
At Helios we will do better than the news watching public and the campaign oppo researchers. I do not believe that our school has to sink to the levels of vitriol and distrust that is marking the less-than-civil discourse this fall. At Helios we teach students to be curious about the ideas of others — to judge less and ask questions more. Recognizing that emotions run high, we may occasionally miss the mark. When we do, there must be consequences. Some feelings get hurt, unkind remarks pass some lips; however, our strength in learning is to recognize mistakes, apologize sincerely, and work hard not to fall again.
As adults, it is not our job to push an agenda or ideology, but to help students grow into independent thinkers and thoughtful citizens. Our young people will one day shape our country’s conversations and discourse for years to come, and we hope they will rely on what Helios asks them to value: respect, responsibility and kindness. These are not just pretty words; these are required outcomes of a Helios education. From Hummingbirds to Herons, I ask you to pay careful attention to your own emotions, reactions and actions.
The first Presidential debates of 2020 were not, in my opinion, very “presidential.’ I found myself wondering what has happened to civil discourse in our society – writ large or even right at home. When I was a child, we had a sing-song about name calling: “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” Of course, being called a bad name did hurt, and the song was Mom’s way of telling me to shake it off.
Authentic civil discourse refers to the way we speak with others. Civil discourse excludes name-calling, bad-mouthing, yelling, interrupting, even patronizing – these are uncivil. Civil discourse does not, however, mean that we can’t disagree vehemently, or even be critical or negative; it does mean that we feel and say our contrary opinions with respect for the freedom we have to say them. We don’t discount the other’s moral worth, or question their best judgment. We do appreciate the experience and opinions of our opponents. We avoid hostility and aim for modesty.
A friend taught me to measure my discourse by remembering the acronym ACE.
A = Acceptance of the rights and humanity of others
C = Compassion is understanding the suffering of others
E = Empathy is sharing and understanding the feelings of others
I admire Meryl Streep, marvelous actor, who said, “Grace, respect, reserve, and empathetic listening are qualities sorely missing from the public discourse now.” I hope it is not missing from our discourse at Helios.
Adults: remember back, if you will to 09/11/01
We had spent the day looking at those awful images of the planes hitting the towers – over and over again. I gave this talk to my school at 8:30 am the next morning; we had invited parents as well.
The Mourning After
Good Morning. I am comforted to be back at school, and I hope that for you students that an evening with your parents was a good thing. Welcome and many thanks to parents for joining us today for this assembly—if ever there was a day to pull together for the benefit of the children we share, this is it. I know most of you spent the evening (as I did) watching TV news and talking to family and friends. I want to reassure all students that homework is never as important as talking with your families. We would never penalize those students who spent their time trying to understand these awful tragedies -- a task imposed upon us by a force we can’t yet identify.
Like many of you, I didn’t want to believe what was happening yesterday—perhaps like you, those hijacked planes began to look like toys driven into the sides of our tall buildings, and perhaps like you, I am jolted by the sight of those New York towers which today look more like tall fences than tall buildings, and perhaps like you, the terror of yesterday will harden into anger…an anger that one day must yield to knowledge and understanding – we’ll get there some day.
Now begins the grisly task of sorting through the rubble of all of yesterday’s tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania… of accounting for those who have died and trying to save those who have survived…of cleaning up and trying to figure out just what and why those hijackings and crashes took place.
We will continue to pray for those in grief, for those in fear, and for those on the scene who are working to rescue survivors, to put out fires, to find bodies, and eventually, to clean up. I urge you to resist rage and to eschew hate; nothing good ever came from rage, and hate never leads to peace.
It is the beacon of justice, not the fire of hate, that illuminates the way to peace.
I know we feel helpless, but we can do some things—we can give blood and money, and we can try to learn from this awful event – to learn why these tragedies happened, and to learn about our own reactions to things we cannot control or even understand. Please stay calm and read and talk. Look for hope and pray for all who suffer. Please avoid hate, avoid speculation, and avoid jumping to seemingly easy conclusions. There will be no easy conclusion to these events.
One of my heroes is Mohandas Ghandi—I was reading him last night and want to read you one of his beliefs:
“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
I don’t think any of us (let alone Ghandi) could have predicted an airplane full of innocent travelers used as a weapon of destruction, but I’ll take comfort in knowing that Ghandi would have stood firm — non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.
Please work and pray for peace. Good Morning.