This article first appeared in the Harker Magazine Commemorative Anniversary Issue, celebrating 125 years, published July 2018.
Throughout its history, Harker has offered programs both inside and outside the classroom that have the power to transform the student experience.
Harker has long valued the performing arts as integral to education, with the school producing more than 70 annual theater, dance, instrumental and vocal performances. Opportunities are available at every age. For example, Harker began hosting a junior high school drama festival in 1981, which has now developed into annual plays produced by both grade 6 and grades 7-8. And since 1996 students in grade 2 have reenacted fairytales at the Ogre Awards ceremony. Dance has been part of the curriculum since the late 1980s, and has had a prominent place in summer programs, after-school activities and annual Maypole celebrations for decades; the annual middle school show, Dance Jamz, has been going strong since 2005. Instrumental and vocal music opportunities abound, from orchestra to jazz band to musical theater to show choir to a cappella groups. The Harker Conservatory, established in 1998, cultivates students’ artistic talents and its unique Student Directed Showcase began in 2001 to give selected seniors the chance to produce shows and direct their peers.
Physical fitness has always been emphasized at Harker, with baseball, football and tennis offered year-round at Manzanita Hall. Miss Harker’s School built a gymnasium in 1921 to accompany its outdoor fields for tennis, basketball and baseball. PAMA cadets enjoyed year-round outdoor sports such as swimming, boating, bicycling and horseback riding. Today, Harker provides developmental, intramural and competitive athletic opportunities for every skill level: nine sports at the lower school, 13 at the middle school and 15 at the upper school. Nearly 70 percent of students in grades 4-12 participate in Harker’s sports program.
Business & Entrepreneurship
Harker’s comprehensive business & entrepreneurship program, formed in 2013, supports student innovators by leveraging the school’s Silicon Valley location. In 2010, students founded TEDxHarkerSchool, an annual conference that features professional and student speakers, mentors and corporate booths, allowing students to learn from and be inspired by Silicon Valley’s culture of innovation. Harker DECA, founded in the 2007-08 school year, prepares students in the business areas of marketing, finance, hospitality and management and has won many state, national and international honors. Harker founded one of the nation’s first high school incubator programs in 2017.
Research and Innovation
Harker developed a student scientific research program in 2001, celebrating students’ achievements at an annual research symposium beginning in 2006. Students have embraced hands-on research opportunities, finding success at the national level in programs such as the Siemens Competition and the Intel Science Talent Search. The John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund, established in 2009, and the Mitra Family Endowment for the Humanities, established in 2011, support student research in the humanities. Harker’s robotics team was started by students in 2001 and enjoyed its most successful season in 2016-17, advancing to the semifinals in two regional competitions. Howard and Diana Nichols were visionaries in a real sense, with Diana Nichols owning and driving an electric car back in the ‘80s. The car was used as a teaching tool for both ecological responsibility and the science of a functioning electric vehicle.
Harker’s partnership with Japan’s Tamagawa Academy started in 1992, allowing for academic collaboration and exchange visits between the schools’ middle school students. Other partnerships followed with schools around the world, including one with Shanghai’s World Foreign Language Middle School in 2003. Today, students starting in grade 4 participate in more than a dozen school-sponsored trips, first within California, then throughout the United States and internationally as students age.
First established as a student club, Harker’s journalism program became part of the upper school curriculum in 2004. The program, responsible for the school newspaper, yearbook and student news website, is nationally recognized, garnering top awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. In 2008, the program expanded to include summer work retreats, taking students to pursue journalism in other locales.
Speech and Debate
The middle and upper school speech and debate teams, whose members have won national awards, teach high-level research skills, critical thinking and leadership. In 2008, a middle school speech and debate duo won the Novice High School Division at the Santa Clara University Invitational. It was the only middle school team at the event. Harker’s middle school debate team has continued to compete against high schoolers and in 2010 claimed the 2010 National Junior Forensic League championship in public forum debate. The team has been going strong ever since. The upper school speech and debate team has won numerous accolades over the years, including national championships in three out of the four events at the National Debate Coaches Association Championship in 2014. In 2016, Harker won the top Overall School of Excellence Award for the fifth consecutive year at the National Speech & Debate Association championship in Salt Lake City. In 2018, Harker qualified 18 students to the national championships.
Palo Alto Military Academy offered summer enrichment programs of academics, military drills and exercise at the recreational Camp Eldorado in the Sierra Nevada Mountains from 1920 to 1952. Summer programs have continued to emphasize both academic and physical enrichment – from swimming and archery to dance and drama. In the 1990s, Harker began offering extended summer trips to sites throughout California. Today, Harker’s summer programs include the academically focused Summer Institute, and programs in sports and music.
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Marla Holt is a freelance writer based in Minnesota.