HMI Semester

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HMI Semester
High Mountain Institute Semester Logo.svg
Leadville, Colorado
United States
Coordinates 39°14′18″N 106°22′08″W / 39.23836°N 106.36901°W / 39.23836; -106.36901Coordinates: 39°14′18″N 106°22′08″W / 39.23836°N 106.36901°W / 39.23836; -106.36901
Type Private single-semester college preparatory boarding school program for high school juniors
Established 1998
Head of school Danny O'Brien
Faculty 12
Grades 11th
Enrollment 46
Mascot American Pika
Affiliation High Mountain Institute

The HMI Semester, formerly the Rocky Mountain Semester, is a semester-long educational program for third-year secondary school students located at the High Mountain Institute's campus in Leadville, Colorado. HMI Semester welcomed its first class in 1998 with Molly and Christopher Barnes as its first directors. Since its inception, the HMI Semester has served as a unique opportunity for talented high school juniors to spend a semester living, traveling, and studying in the mountains of central Colorado and the canyons of southeastern Utah, combining the academic program of a rigorous college preparatory boarding school with the adventure of a summer backpacking expedition. Students spend five weeks over the course of the semester on three wilderness expeditions that focus on leadership and community-building and twelve weeks on campus completing a standard junior year curriculum. Admission for HMI Semester's forty-two spots is highly competitive, with the applicant pool centered on a group of customary "sending schools" that have supported the Institute from its start. In June 2008, the HMI Semester celebrated its ten-year reunion.


The school offer an honors and AP-level curriculum to prepare students for their senior year and college. Courses are designed to match the content and rigor of sending schools. Class offerings include Literature of the Natural World, Natural Science, and Spanish of varied academic level, United States History, AP United States History, Algebra 2, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus A, B, and C. The courses combine as a place-based curriculum that allows students to learn more about the intellectual, physical, and historical underpinnings of the Rocky Mountain region to create a pedagogy that diverges from that of most prep schools.

One of the more unique course offerings at the HMI Semester is termed Practices and Principles (or P&P): Ethics of the Natural World. It combines the disparate elements of backcountry "hard skills" that students learn with a seminar-style ethics course focused on classical and contemporary environmental philosophy. Authors and thinkers considered in the course include Edward Abbey, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Louis Owens, Wendell Berry, Jack Turner and Ted Kerasote. In summation, the course aims to introduce Semester students to the precepts underlying the Institute's goal of being "simple in means, [yet] rich in ends," as stated by Arne Naess.

Graduates of the HMI Semester go on to attend top colleges across the nation. The top three schools attended by HMI Semester alumni are Colorado College, Brown University, and the University of Colorado.


During the wilderness program, students travel to the canyons of Utah and the mountains of Colorado. They practice a high-level wilderness curriculum taught by their academic teachers, who are also experienced outdoor educators. In addition to camping skills, the HMI Semester uses expeditions to teach leadership concepts and build community. On campus, students chop their own wood to heat wood stoves in rustic cabins. They complete all chores on campus, and students cook dinners for the entire community once per week.

Students also have a chance to get involved in their community of Leadville, Colorado by visiting the town once a week to do laundry, shop, and explore the history of what once was the second biggest city in Colorado. Community service projects also strengthen the bonds between the school and the town.

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