I’ve been dreaming of our school for the majority of my life, and now that I’m here, I find myself in an identity crisis of sorts. I’ve always defined myself by this dream – this vision – but it was always just that, a dream. To some degree, I realized this dream 10 years ago when we opened HEROES Academy in New Brunswick to provide weekend classes to gifted students. But, the dream was always to do more than that – to open a real school that would provide for their entire education. I’ve spent the better part of my life holding onto two goals – to build this school and to start my family.
We did construction on our new facility during the Spring Shutdown of COVID-19. We took a dilapidated building and transformed it into the school I’d always dreamed of – with oak top desks, a modernized one-room-school-house meets farm-house vibe, the library shelves I’d adored for years in the catalog, and (most importantly) our students. Due to the pandemic, we didn’t have the grand opening I’d always envisioned, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Seeing our students enter the door on the first day in this new facility was everything I’d imagined it to be.
We started HEROES for my younger brother, and we continued with HEROES for the kids like him that I’ve met and worked with every day for the last fifteen years. When we started dreaming of this school, we knew it wasn’t going to help my younger brother; we weren’t going to be able to open a school for those original HEROES, but we could help the next generation – the children of our original HEROES, and I look forward to the day that that I get our first “second-generation” HEROES student. With many of our original HEROES finishing graduate work and getting married, that day will be here soon.
As I published the new webpages and announced to the world our plans to take students for our microschool program for the 2023-2024 academic year, I realized that my 20 year plan hasn’t been a 20 year plan in quite some time. It’s here. It’s the present. My first child, Noah, was born in June of this year, I built the (physical) school, and we’re now accepting applications for the school of our dreams. And, for a moment (or two), I felt lost.
But, I realized that the 20-year plan doesn’t really end here, it just becomes more malleable. We’re starting with students between the ages of 6 and 10, and we plan to carry those students through and beyond high school. The students that start at 10 can – and should – continue on with us at age 11, 12, and beyond. But, at a certain point, their education becomes less about my goals for them and their parents goals for them, and more about their own goals.
I’ve always said that my goal is for my students to become independent learners; eventually, they shouldn’t “need” me as their teacher. By teaching students how to learn and to study, how to follow their interests and apply their knowledge and skills to advance, and how to manage their time to do so, my students become independent learners, and eventually, I become their mentor more than their “teacher.”
Gifted children often have a seemingly insatiable appetite for learning; they are curious, and they are driven by that curiosity. When educating a gifted child, there are generally two options: acceleration and enrichment. These options are not exclusive, there are subsets within these sets, and often it’s a combination of these two that works best.
Acceleration isn’t mandatory or necessary for gifted students, but many of them benefit from acceleration – they want to learn more – to understand more, and I tell my students that I’ll take them as far as they want.
Acceleration also often becomes necessary to “enrich.” While enrichment can be provided at any level, students may reach a point in their studies at which point they need acceleration. For example, a student interested in engineering or computer science ultimately needs higher level math and reading skills to advance.
Our weekend students cover about 1.5 to 2 years of material in 36 class sessions, and the time they can spend studying is limited by the time-obligation of their Monday through Friday school. While every student moves at a different pace, I anticipate that the many students in our microschool will move forward at an even faster pace when given the opportunity to study at a pace and place suitable for them for their entire education.
So, what do you do with a child that’s completed high school standards at such an early age?
We must first consider how we define “highschool;” are we defining highschool by age or by curriculum? When given the opportunity to accelerate, many of my students reach high school level curriculum before they’ve “finished” elementary school. And yet, that doesn’t mean that they’re ready to go to college either. College isn’t necessarily a suitable environment for a young child, and it can put children in a difficult position of having to “choose a career path” far before they’re ready to.
We’re starting our microschool with students between the ages of 6 and 10, but eventually those students will need to move through– and beyond – high school level material.
Some children simply want the experience of a “regular education” and may opt to enroll in a standard highschool program. Competitive magnet highschools can provide students with the opportunity to dive deeply into fields of interest. By enrolling in these programs, students have access to some of the “normal” highschool experiences such as sports, prom, and more. Students may choose to continue their studies and pursue their passions outside the normal school day.
A former HEROES scholar, C, chose this path. She enrolled in a “standard” highschool program, but used her time outside of school to pursue her own passions and interests. When she was about 14 years old, she contacted us regarding some research she wanted to do. She was particularly interested in a particular enzyme in the skin. She wrote up a proposal for her research. Ms. Voit contacted several professors at the university on her behalf. Because of child labor laws, she couldn’t work in a lab. Ultimately, we were able to convince the University to create a special course, “special topics,” which allowed her to spend a semester in the lab, doing her research, as a student earning 3 credits. She continued on at her regular highschool and graduated as valedictorian and prom queen.
D, another HEROES scholar, completed math up through– and beyond – Calculus before reaching highschool. He used credit by exam to earn college credit for his math studies. He enrolled in highschool in his local public school. Because he was able to show college credits for math beyond what his highschool was able to offer, the school facilitated dual enrollment with a local university to continue his math studies, and he was still able to get the “highschool experience” he and his family sought. He also enjoyed tutoring his peers after school.
Q started taking classes at the local university at 11 years old. Because he had no desire to return to a traditional school environment, he completed the distributions that would be required in highschool through independent study and online classes while taking a select few classes at the university each semester. This allowed him to “stretch out” his degree plan, allotting him more time to “taste test” different fields before settling on computer science.
H sought a traditional highschool experience and enjoyed participating in marching band and editing the school newspaper. She completed some college classes as a summer scholar during junior year before ultimately dropping out of highschool, earning her GED, and continuing with her college studies instead.
G completed many highschool level courses before most children would finish elementary school. She opted to take time off to pursue her passion for dance. Unfortunately, when she eventually decided to apply for colleges, she found that she had to backtrack and relearn course material she’d forgotten over the years.
K completed the majority of her high school requirements through homeschooling and used her “extra time” to write and self publish her own books.
We’re accepting students between the ages of 6 and 10 for the 2023 – 2024 Academic Year, but ultimately, our students will be ready for (and need) high school. Unlike our elementary and middle school level programs which emphasize specific learning standards in standard subjects, our high school program will focus on facilitating student learning and growth as they embark on passion projects, research, and more.
The above stories are true stories of past HEROES students, but they’re certainly not the only options that exist. Once students have reached reached (or surpassed) high school levels in all subjects, they have the time, the knowledge, and the skills to dive deeply into topics of their own interest.