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 48
Affiliation High Mountain Institute
2nd Expedition Ski In.jpg

The HMI Semester is a semester-long educational program for high school juniors 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-eight 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 2013, the HMI Semester celebrated its fifteen-year reunion on campus where alumni from all semesters were invited to reconnect and appreciate the HMI community.

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1st Expedition Study Hall.jpg


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 distinguished 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 schools attended by HMI Semester alumni are Colorado College, Middlebury College, Bates College, University of Vermont, Whitman College, St. Lawrence University, Yale University, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Denver, and Dartmouth College.


2nd Expedition Ski Tour.jpg

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. The Spring semester practices backcountry skiing for a week to prepare them for their 2nd Expedition, where they hike and camp on the snow.

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 a week. Throughout the day, students can be seen practicing their bouldering skills on the climbing wall on campus, playing instruments around the fire, or participating in field games outside. Every Saturday night culminates in varying activities - from a square dance or ice skating to talent shows and capture the flag.

Students also have a chance to get involved in their community of Leadville, Colorado by visiting the town once a week to explore the history of what once was the second biggest city in Colorado. Classes and community service projects also strengthen the bonds between the school and the town. Science class for example, uses the surrounding area to learn about the environmental effects of mining.

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