Spotlight on Education: The Harker School helps children find their passion

Harker was founded in 1893 as a preparatory school that also emphasized character and broad programs. Since then, Harker has continued to promote academic excellence and well-rounded programs, and has created a world-class institution that is now the largest K-12 school in the California Association of Independent Schools.

Outstanding faculty and small class sizes are paramount at Harker. Teachers, many of whom hold advanced degrees in their subject areas, are selected for their academic expertise, positive role modeling and passion for teaching.

As a student’s talent evolves, Harker evaluates the course placement that will best challenge and inspire each student to academic excellence without causing stress. “Our teaching techniques, accelerated curriculum and support systems ensure a motivating and exciting learning environment for all students,” explained Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school.

Harker also seeks out the best tools to help students learn. For instance, Harker’s Global Education Program, founded in 1993, now involves partnerships and projects in eight countries. Harker’s upper school research program enables students to pursue the wonder of science through serious, original research.

Comprehensive after-school offerings — most of which are included in tuition — encourage students to explore and discover their passions outside the classroom. Lower and middle school options may include Mandarin, yoga, violin, cooking and storytelling, and upper school choices include robotics, debate and over 35 clubs. A multidisciplinary program of performance, art and music are part of the curriculum beginning in kindergarten. Whether students head to Broadway or the boardroom, they leave Harker poised and confident.

In Harker’s athletic program, teamwork, sportsmanship, dedication and leadership are cornerstones, and emphasis is placed on developing self-confidence and a sense of fair play. “I still draw inspiration from my athletic experience at Harker, and our journey to the state championships,” said Tanya Schmidt ‘08, a volleyball player recruited to Santa Clara University. “The strong spirit of community made volleyball games so much fun!”

Kindness, respect, honesty, integrity and personal accountability have been in the school’s DNA since its founding. Susan Dworak, mother of two Harker students, grades 6 and 8, puts it this way: “When you talk to Harker students, you discover immediately that they’re impressive by way of both academics and character.” Community service, character development curriculum and the Harker Honor Code all encourage, develop and reinforce these important qualities. “College admission representatives tell us our students ‘have soul,’” said Chris Nikoloff, head of school. “And we couldn’t agree more. They raise funds and awareness for global issues, enthusiastically support each other in celebrating successes and trying new things, and are generous, kind, considerate and thoughtful.” Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Harker guest speaker and author of “Farewell to Manzanar,” said, “The students have a wonderful sense of hope, a positive attitude, an interest in the world and in government and a desire to be of service — admirable in these days of materialism and self-absorption.”

From delivering pumpkins to the school’s neighbors, to representing the U.S. in Germany at the G8 and presenting youth-generated solutions for global issues, Harker students are passionate, caring citizens of their communities and the world. “It’s truly the entire community’s commitment to excellence that makes Harker such a dynamic, invigorating and inspiring place,” said Nikoloff. Harker also brings in visionaries and artists from a wide variety of fields to share their expertise and talents, both with the Harker community and the Bay Area community at large, through the Harker Concert Series, Harker Speaker Series, Harker Teacher Institute and the student-generated Harker Research Symposium. Harker students encourage and support one another and celebrate each other’s efforts and successes with hugs and high-fives. It’s a supportive, safe, fun and nurturing place where kids make friends for life with their peers, their teachers and the staff.

From fostering partnerships with schools around the world, to launching a premiere upper school, to opening a state-of-the-art LEED-certified science and technology building, Harker creates the very best learning experience for its students. “Harker helped our family achieve our goal: to raise honest, well-rounded, responsible kids who can take on the world,” said Abha Shukla, parent of ’07 and ’09 graduates. “It takes a village, and Harker is our village.”