Windows and Mirrors

At Gateway, we know reading can be intrinsically fun and rewarding, an essential behavior for imagination, connection, and communication, and a path towards learning and success across all academic areas. By the end of 8th grade, children are expected to read a million words a year, and that’s why we have classroom read alouds, novel studies, independent reading projects and ask children (and families) to read at home every night of the year.

This week is Read Across America Week, a beloved program launched in 1998 by the National Education Association to celebrate and promote reading by children and teens. Read Across America featured the work of Dr. Seuss for its first two decades, but as the anti-blackness, anti-Asian, and other racist sentiments in his work were examined in academic research and reputable journalism outlets, Read Across America is now featuring other authors. Dr. Seuss’s estate recognized this as well and has recently concluded that some of the titles should not be republished. I can still feel my own profound disappointment, embarrassment, sadness, and eventual resolve as I looked back at books I had known and loved, and saw with a new understanding that what I had blithely overlooked was both very hurtful to people about whom I deeply care, and carried some messages I could not condone.

Read Across America has pivoted to include and promote a more diverse range of books. People are still free to read Dr. Seuss if they choose, but there’s a world of other authors waiting to be discovered. As the NEA website notes, “Students need books that provide both windows and mirrors if we are going to create more readers, writers, and people who feel included and recognized, and who understand that the world is far richer than just their experiences alone.” The idea of books as windows and mirrors was popularized by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita at Ohio State University and winner of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement given by the American Library Association. In Dr. Bishop’s words, 

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

At Gateway School, we recognize that an education rich in the practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is essential for students to thrive in a multicultural world because it provides those windows and mirrors that illuminate our understanding of each other and ourselves in the context of the larger human experience. We believe that this work is a necessity and that it is not optional as we move towards Cultural Proficiency, a model for shifting the culture of a school through individual transformation and organizational change. Our goal is to promote the viewpoint that cultural difference is an asset to be cultivated and celebrated.

Last month was Black History Month, and our DEI efforts led to an added emphasis on acknowledging the lives and experiences of Black Americans (though this is part of Gateway’s curriculum throughout the year). In 2nd grade, students learned about Dr. Mae Jemison, the engineer, physician, and astronaut who became the first Black woman to travel into space and also discovered that the true story of when Rosa Parks sat down on the bus is not that she was simply tired, but an intentional, planned, and coordinated act of resistance. In 4th grade, students worked on mini-biographies and presentations to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of Black Americans, while in Middle School students read poetry from a range of Black authors such as Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni while beginning to learn about historical elements such as the slave trade, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights movement. 

For many years, Gateway’s curriculum has sought to give windows into the lives of those marginalized by traditional American history — black and brown people, children and enslaved, indigenous and immigrant. The critical step is to move from learning to action — that is, to decide that we have the power to push for justice. Last month, we saw this when our 7th and 8th graders’ Humanities project was to first learn about the proposed mine at the Amah Mutsen’s sacred Juristac site in Gilroy (which threatens both ancestral lands as well as a delicate ecosystem for multiple federally endangered species), and then to undertake a Letter to the Editor writing campaign — which led to students being published in The Gilroy Gazette and other outlets.

March is Women’s History Month. On Monday morning I saw a tweet by @sheathescholar that had me thinking all day: a challenge “to center women who are often erased — Indigenous, trans, undocumented, masculine-of-center, queer, disabled, poor, fat, loud, dark-skinned, house-less, elderly, neurodivergent, Muslim — women who deserve their roses, too.”  Perhaps, as you ponder which new books to share with your children this month, you may find A Mighty Girl’s booklist on social issues helpful as you open new windows and mirrors for your children.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Brighter Days Ahead

Time has been much on my mind recently, as we approach the midway point of the school year. This weekend I learned that the last known widow of a Union Soldier in the Civil War died just last month — a story that left me absolutely speechless (another recent temporal anomaly: the October passing of a grandson of the 10th President, John Tyler, who took office 180 years ago). When my children were younger, I often said that the days went by like years, while the years went by like days, and 2020 seemed to bring a century of challenges compressed into a single year.

Towards the end of this month, we’ll be sending home mid-year progress reports for students. This is the second of the four formal communications about your child’s progress we make each year (along with Fall and Spring parent/teacher conferences, and year-end reports in June). Our teachers employ a range of assessment strategies to understand the arc of children’s growth, and sharing their insights with you is a critical strand of the family/school web partnership. Of course, we are also in constant communication with families as needed, and hope you keep those lines of communication open when you have questions.

As we navigate a year unlike any we’ve experienced, the national media has started to talk about possible “learning loss” and how students may be “falling behind”. This fear-mongering is a manufactured concept that is being promoted by the testing companies — a slice of the for-profit industry finding itself increasingly rejected during this tumultuous year. Please don’t conflate it with the arc of your child’s progress. If you feel any anxiety on this topic, I urge you to read this piece in Forbes by John Ewing who does an admirable job exposing the fallacies of this narrative. And in this beautifully written piece about unschooling in the NY Times, Molly Worthen writes that “2020 is not a lost year. It’s a chance for parents and children to watch and listen to one another, to turn the weekday scramble into an occasion to experiment and think about what it takes to make a free human being — one whose freedom comes from truly knowing something about the world, and about herself.” 

All of us — children, families, teachers, administrators — are doing our best under incredibly challenging circumstances, from the pandemic and economic collapse to society’s racial reckoning, the Presidential election and the Supreme Court openings, and the wildfires and other tragedies and traumas that have touched close to home.  It’s more to hold than I’ve ever seen, and more than ever before, we have to prioritize what is truly important and show grace and patience to each other. 

Childhood is fleeting and precious, and the effects of this year will ripple through the decade to come in many ways. The best thing we can do is to keep the emotional and mental health of our children at the center of our collective work this year. They depend on our steady hand and even-keeled equanimity to signal their safety, and to support their best learning and growing. 

I can’t wait to see them on campus again in a few weeks.

Thank you,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Essential Civic Education

You have likely heard that this past weekend, white supremacists protesting the results of the Presidential election in the streets of Washington, D.C. tore down and burned Black Lives Matter signs displayed at four historically Black churches. I am appalled and disturbed by this, and relieved to hear these events are being investigated as hate crimes. 

This despicable action reminded me of the paradox of tolerance, articulated by the philosopher Karl Popper in 1945: unlimited tolerance cannot be extended to the intolerant, for they will then destroy the very tolerance that allows their existence. This is a challenging idea that I wrestle with whenever I think about educating children to fulfill the portion of Gateway’s mission that calls for citizenship. We work hard to teach children about diversity and inclusivity, and we must also teach them to think through when limits of tolerance must be drawn, both societally and individually. 

At Gateway, we understand citizenship to exist on multiple levels — personal, local, regional, national, and global. This is why we teach students about a wide range of perspectives and views about life and society across both time and geography, and promote values of mutual respect, non-violence, participation, and ethical behavior in our Cultural Studies curriculum and our social-emotional program. We also teach skills of communication, initiative, leadership, collaboration, and responsibility, such as upper elementary students learning to take turns in a discussion without raising hands (truly no small feat!).  And we present a curriculum that is real, topical, and sensitive to students, such as the recent events in our nation’s capital, with an eye on Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards to help us stay aligned and organized across the grades. 

In its broadest terms, citizenship means educating the next generation of citizens for participation in our democratic society. Our children need to understand the systems and processes of government, and also be able to sort through a wash of competing information to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions and decisions about how they will participate and the issues for which they will advocate. This year’s Presidential election gave us a remarkable opportunity to help our students develop these meaningful understandings. 

At Gateway we explicitly promote the ideas of environmental sustainability, economic security, and social justice. This requires teaching students to be self-reflective about our own privileges, and develop an ability to see multiple sides of an issue; creating strong classroom communities where students see inclusion in action as a lived experience; and furthering conversations that move children and adults alike towards thoughtful anti-bias attitudes. The pandemic and new ways of remote learning, which can lead to literal and emotional distance among peers, have only intensified the importance of this in our curriculum.

Children want to understand the world. They are curious about how and why things have come to be as they are, and the possibilities that exist for creative new ideas and ways of being to emerge. How lucky we are, staff and families alike, to have this partnership as we contribute to their unfolding futures.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

It Takes Courage

Dear Gateway families,

Among our school’s nine stated core values is the courage to promote a just society. Gateway has always believed in and advocated for social justice because at the core of social justice is the concept of human rights — that all humans have shared rights. In American society, very specific racist, sexist, and other structural biases and ways of looking at the world prevent those universal rights from being respected.

This year I am participating in an affinity group for white Heads of School as we explore our own leadership related to issues of race and justice. This group is run through the California Association of Independent Schools, of which we are proud members (and the only K-8 in Santa Cruz to have a membership). On Monday, we discussed this video, which expertly weaves together facts about post-slavery vagrancy laws, Jim Crow, redlining, the GI Bill, voting rights, the War on Drugs, police militarization, and more to explain how American society has continually oppressed and marginalized Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Our children deserve a more free and fundamentally fair society and will be called upon to help create that more perfect manifestation of our potential. We must help them be prepared for the work. If you are looking for some good books to read with your children, consider the options on the reading lists from Bookshop Santa Cruz and Read Brightly.

Though the Social Justice Standards from Teaching Tolerance give us a pathway to ensure our curriculum rises to the opportunity, external forces continually introduce new challenges. Over the past 11 months, in the midst of a global pandemic, we have also had to navigate twin national reckonings in the form of social protests about the systemic oppression and murder of Black people and a bitterly fought presidential election in which the very nature of truth and justice have been contested. 

The current moment is a study in contrast. The course of the pandemic surges towards a deadly second wave, while news reports of effective vaccine trials give hope of a light at the end of the tunnel. The President has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and yet we are soon to witness history as Senator Kamala Harris becomes the first woman and the first person of color to be elected Vice President.

Through this all, our teachers have been a beacon of light and stability for students, whether in our Virtual Campus or On-Campus program. They continue to provide an environment in which children thrive academically and emotionally, fulfill children’s potential and prepare them for college and life beyond, and guide children to become well-rounded and productive members of society. For example, if you have not yet seen it, I hope you take some time to read When Data Met Candy, a story about some of the data science learning underway in our Middle School.

Gateway’s mission calls us to inspire children to lead lives of purpose and compassion through scholarship and citizenship. I could not be more proud of our community, and how we are rising to meet the challenges of the moment.

I keep a picture of the Cowardly Lion in my office, to continually remind me: it takes courage!

Onward,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Myth, Memory, and Meaning in a Democracy

“Daddy, did George Washington really chop down a cherry tree? And what does apocryphal mean?”

When my Second Grade daughter asked me these questions last week, I was filled with gratitude for her teachers, and her inclusion in an educational environment that teaches children to think critically about the stories they hear and the evidence that is presented. Not to mention the sophisticated vocabulary building!

For over 200 years, the United States has celebrated Columbus Day each October. How did the apocryphal myth of Columbus as the benevolent discoverer of America come to be, and why? Who has benefited from it, and who has suffered? This past weekend a parent shared the video Why The US Celebrates Columbus Day with me, which delves into the historical and social forces at work. That video, along with the TedEd video titled History vs Christopher Columbus, sparked a lively discussion among faculty about how we are discussing the topic in our upper school classrooms.

At Gateway we do not take a day off from school for Columbus Day; instead we recognize Indigenous People’s Day. And so today I reflected on the land acknowledgement Gateway School began offering at major gatherings and events last year. Our statement reads: 

Gateway School recognizes it is built upon land taken from the people who lived where the school now stands. We acknowledge the many tribes that gathered here, the Rumsien, the Amah Mutsun, and those of the Awaswas language group, to name a few. The Indigenous people lived with respect upon this land for thousands of years, and many still live here today.

A land acknowledgement makes worthy observation, but it is not enough. We are called to action, not only in considering the legacy of the world that has come before, but also the world we wish to leave to future generations. 

In every school, educators make choices about what is taught and what is not taught. Too often, the voices and experiences of the oppressed and invisible have been removed from the curriculum of this country. Many of us were taught irrelevant fact knowledge such as names of the three ships Columbus commanded, but not the names of the indigenous people who lived on the lands he reached. This is where the integration of the Anti-Bias Framework and Social Justice Standards from Teaching Tolerance make a difference in Gateway classrooms.

At our school, we answer the call to action through our educational program. Students can learn about the role Columbus’ story has played in the assimilation of Italian Americans into white society, and also acknowledge the lives and experiences of the native Taino people that he slaughtered and enslaved. We can study the convoluted history of race and class in America as reflected in the story of Columbus Day, and also, as our 7th & 8th grade Humanities class is doing, critically examining a primary source document such as last week’s Columbus Day proclamation issued by the White House while asking questions such as, Why does the President frame these conversations as replacement and revision? Why would he not want the failings, atrocities and transgressions of Columbus discussed? And why would he use this opportunity to attack critical thinking about race and history?

We are in a national political moment fraught with purpose as the Senate begins Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the Presidential election approaches in just a few short weeks. This is a ripe time for students to learn not only about the three branches of our federal government and the mechanics of elections such as the Electoral College and the drawing of Congressional districts, but also to think critically about topics such as voter ID laws and when/whether they reduce fraud or function as voter suppression; the rhetoric of propaganda and use of negative advertising; and most importantly, the critical issues driving social discussion, from reproductive rights to gun ownership rights and from minimum wage to medical care.

All education is political — this is a fundamental axiom of existing in a society. As a nonprofit organization, Gateway will never support a particular political party or candidate; and by contrast, we will always guide students to look deeply at the specific issues, the arguments and perspectives that are presented of differing viewpoints (let’s not say “opposing sides”, as there are far more than two perspectives on these issues), and lead them towards applying these thoughtful critiques in service of their own meaning-making and the development of their personal ethics.

I’m proud and excited that our school gym will be used as a polling place for the elections taking place on November 3rd. Though this will cause some disruption to our use of the campus during the time poll workers and voters are on our campus, providing a space for the residents of Santa Cruz to vote embodies our school’s mission to inspire citizenship. Many years from now, I hope our students will take pride in knowing that people used our gym for this essential political purpose.

I was glad to explain to my 8 year old that people tell the story of George Washington and the cherry tree to make him appear more honest and more accessible than he may otherwise have seemed. She already knows he was a slave owner; I’ll be ready when she asks about the myth of his wooden teeth.

Regards,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Learn more about the Gateway Families Association

Interview with Gateway Families Association President Lindsey Chester

Last week I sat down via Zoom with Gateway parent Lindsey Chester (Olivia, 3rd Grade) who has been the President of the Gateway Family Association (GFA) for the last 2 years. In her day job, Lindsey serves as the Executive and Artistic Director of All About Theatre, and after checking in about the challenges of running a non-profit organization in the current circumstances, we discussed the work of the GFA and what’s in store for this year. Enjoy! — Zaq

Zaq Roberts: Why do you like volunteering with the GFA?

Lindsey Chester: I love it because of the sense of community. It’s a wonderful way to find and deepen friendships. The event planner in me rejoices whenever there’s an opportunity to help, and I love cultivating community. Volunteering is a way to enrich my life and those of others. I’m an educator and love teaching and lifting people up, and in turn, it naturally does that for me too. I have also learned new skills from volunteering – everything from floral decoration and arrangement to running a large scale auction. I love meeting new people, learning from them, and hearing new perspectives. So, volunteering with the GFA is truly a joyous symbiotic experience for me.

ZR: How did you first get involved with the GFA?

LC: I remember the very first August packet I received when Olivia was entering Kindergarten. It was immediately apparent to me, that this would be a great way to meet other families at the school, to embed myself in the school culture, and also to help out. Quickly, I met a couple of other Kindergarten moms who were thinking about attending the GFA meetings as well. We connected through the GFA and have developed our friendships together through this shared experience. Honestly, it was really easy to just fill out a form and check out the meeting. Everyone made it inviting and welcoming. I knew that I had found a way to have a deeper purpose at the school.

ZR: What have you learned by being part of the GFA leadership?

LC: It takes a lot of care and effort to run the school and its events, more than I could have imagined, and that comes from someone who runs a busy non-profit! I appreciate the community of families that keep the school pulsating. A shout out to Jen, Cindy, and Petra in the Advancement Office who are exceptionally talented and incredible individuals. They are great listeners who validate the perspectives of parents and families. And then, by sitting in at the Board meetings, I’ve learned so much about what the school’s mission truly means, which I think people might sometimes take for granted. From the annual budgets and new site development to strategic planning for the future, it really takes so much to create this enriching school environment.

ZR: What’s your favorite GFA-related event or activity?

LC: Ooooooooh! There’s three actually. I’m sad we didn’t get to do the Back to School Picnic this year because I am a social butterfly and love dropping into all the different conversations and connecting with new and old friends. Next is the Winter Solstice Festival, which we just started last year — the laughter, celebration, and joy of the event were really touching, and almost spiritual. And then finally, One World One Earth Day. It’s so inspiring to see how we are teaching the kids, and each other, about all our cultures through music, dance, and food.

ZR: How is the GFA adapting its activities to this unusual year?

LC: Mindfully! And with a day by day approach, to be honest. We’ve had to change some of the beginning activities like the Back to School picnic due to being unable to gather together on campus. We are also looking to modify some activities. For example, Staff Treat Day, instead of the exquisite meal that Mary Chapman led with an army of volunteers in preparing last year, we’re focusing on the purpose of the event, which is the message of gratitude we want to send our staff. We are creating a treat package that will sustain them, so they know that we are grateful for all their hard work and efforts. For many of the future planned events, we’ll be taking our lead from the administration about what’s possible, because we don’t know where we’ll be at each month and what will be allowed with the CDC Health Guidelines.

ZR: What kind of volunteer opportunities will the GFA have for families?

LC: This is the hardest question you’ve posed. Normally, we would have lots of small opportunities to put in an hour or two, here and there, to help set up an event or wash dishes. This year it will be different in terms of making an impact. We’re looking for out-of-the-box thinkers who can bring creativity. Covid has changed the way we can function this year so we will need to use our imaginations a little more to ensure we can continue to make these events magical. We hope people will start by attending a meeting — they don’t have to commit to all of them! Just come, connect, and share their ideas. The scavenger hunt we did on First Friday last week was an epic example of how to bring everyone together in a fun way to build and uplift our community spirits. We are hoping families will help us come up with more ways to celebrate this year.

ZR: How can families get their hands on Gateway Gear?

LC: Definitely check out the Gateway Family News (GFN) — we have the 50th Anniversary mugs available now, but there are only a few left, so email Jen Graham (jen.graham@gatewaysc.org) to place your order! We are working with the 50th Celebration Committee to get more gear and we’ll have that in the GFN and on the website shortly. We may even have a table out front of the school during drop-off at some point, along with some tea and coffee.

The Gateway Families Association meets the first Thursday of the month. Everyone is encouraged to attend! We are a group of parent volunteers planning school events, and all are welcome! To attend check the Gateway calendar for the link or email Lindsey (gfa@gatewaysc.org) for information. 

What’s In A Word?

Dear Gateway families,

Welcome to the 2020-21 school year — a year that promises to be unlike any other that we have ever experienced. 

One lesson from the past six months is that we have far less control over certain aspects of life than we would wish to believe. Like a character traversing the shifting terrain in Lewis Carroll’s classic texts Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and Through the Looking Glass, the illusion of certainty about the realm in which we live has been stripped away as the pandemic and resulting economic crisis have collided with a rising movement to confront society’s structural racism and the systemic oppression of Black & Indigenous people.

As if to reinforce this lesson, just as we were about to begin our academic year last week, a devastating fire began tearing through our community, destroying the homes of some families and staff, and causing the widespread displacement of many others. While I rejoice that everyone in the Gateway community is physically safe, my heart is breaking with the hurt and suffering of so many of our loved ones.

For some, the past six months have been an extremely fertile time to learn the meaning of words and concepts such as Black Lives Matters, white fragility, and anti-racism, while minds have been opened to the diverse realities and perspectives experienced by individuals across this country. Indeed, when Alice is able to get the better of her fears, she finds that her experience down the rabbit hole is a wonderful education.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

In the last few weeks, I have found myself thinking about how much meaning and power words contain. I’ve rediscovered the word equanimity and found comfort in the idea of calmness and composure in the face of a difficult situation. I’ve dwelled on the old chestnut resilience when thinking about our unending efforts to open this school year while navigating a situation in which we have had far less control than usual. And I’ve returned repeatedly to compassion, and the need to go beyond mere empathy to the place of taking action to relieve the suffering of others, as we think about those suffering in our community now, and from the racialized violence in Wisconsin this week, and in many other places across this country.

Every day our children learn new words. We have a great opportunity not only in the language we teach them, but also in how we model the ideals and qualities of integrity and character that we hope they grow to embody.

Last year, our community talked a great deal about inclusion and impact. This year, I propose flexibility, curiosity, and agency as the key ideals that will give us strength through the unfolding future. These ideas, and others, will be essential as we join together to support our community members through the tragedy of these wildfires, support our children as they navigate this unique school year, and support our teachers as they do everything they can to ensure that our students flourish and our program thrives.

I look forward to sharing this year’s journey with you; as the Cheshire Cat pointed out, “Every adventure requires a first step.”

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Black Lives Matter

Dear Gateway families,

The end of the school year is always a time of heightened emotions. Children tremble as new horizons open before them, families reflect on how their children have grown through the trials and successes of the year that was, and teachers rush to provide experiences of intellectual and emotional closure before the sands of time slip away. This year, with the twin crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic impacts adding far more pressure than usual, we also contend with bringing the year to a close in a distance learning mode and must adapt our traditions to the moment at hand.

Then, just ten days ago, the senseless murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man — the latest in a 400-year-old line of such tragedies — touched off a new phase of our national reckoning about justice and society.

Among our school’s nine stated core values is the courage to promote a just society. Gateway has always believed in and advocated for social justice because at the core of social justice is the concept of human rights — that all humans have shared rights. In American society, very specific racist, sexist, and other structural biases and ways of looking at the world prevent those universal rights from being respected.

This year, we began a series of important conversations and efforts to deepen our program’s engagement in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a desire to move beyond a “celebrate and ignore” approach (such as focusing on holidays and heroes), we invested in training teachers and administrators in the Anti-Bias Framework and Social Justice Standards from Teaching Tolerance and practiced weaving these into our program through Essential Questions. As a staff, we read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and held monthly conversations to unpack her ideas and reflect on our identities, and role in whiteness as applicable. We began critically examining and curating our classroom libraries through a social justice lens. And we spoke about issues of race and racism at events such as First Friday and Grandfriends Day, and in our blogs and other communications to families.

I’m proud of how our faculty grappled with these important issues. With examples ranging from the family culture shares in First Grade, to the land acknowledgment that opened the River Day celebration in Third Grade, to the Fifth Grade project to write to various indigenous tribes and nations across this country, to integrating content about social justice activists and adaptive PE into our physical education program, to teaching Middle Schoolers to apply a critical justice lens to issues of history and literature, teachers in all grades and disciplines pushed themselves to rethink curriculum and develop new intentionality about being justice-oriented.

But our work is far from over. We must continue to learn how to confront and dismantle invisible biases and prejudices within ourselves. We must create more space for the voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in our curriculum. We must give children the opportunity to link their learning to meaningful action. 

We must also foster more dialogue within our community of parents, and find more ways to engage with the community outside of the school. I’m here all summer if you are interested in conversing over a cup of coffee (perhaps virtually, perhaps in person if conditions allow). As a white leader, I’m not always going to get it right, and I’m committed to listening to and learning from all voices in our community.

In my video message last Friday, I encouraged our families to talk about the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery with your children, and the long history of racialized violence in this country. Our job, as adults, is to prepare our children with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to construct a better, more just world. It will probably be difficult, but families of color don’t have a choice. They have to talk with their children about how to survive encounters with the police and about the casual racial bullying and microaggressions they experience while simply moving through the world. Our children need to know that black lives matter.

Here are some resources that may help with this important work.

Thank you for entrusting your children to Gateway. As educators, we believe that we can change the course of history and that we will help create a better, more just, and more equitable society.

Because that is what everyone deserves.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Grappling with Distance Learning

When Charles Merrill founded the renowned Commonwealth School of Boston in 1957, he created a single rule for students:

“No rollerskating in the hallway.”

Just as an acorn contains an entire tree, Mr. Merrill knew that by planting this one idea in the heads of students and teachers, an entire moral and intellectual ecosystem would spring up regarding the way people should behave towards and with each other. I recently read this anecdote in Ted and Nancy Sizemore’s wonderful book The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract, which they use to illustrate how educators can inspire people to think deeply about the ways their behaviors and choices impact others, and how we each exist within a personal and collective framework.

Our school’s mission is to inspire children to lead lives of purpose and compassion through scholarship and citizenship. In our pursuit of this noble goal, we embody the three main purposes of schools that the Sizemore’s believe are essential: to prepare people for the world of work, to prepare people to think deeply and critically and to prepare people to be thoughtful citizens and decent human beings.

To say that doing this well during emergency-implemented distance learning is a challenge is to understate the scope of the problem.

Knowledge and skills form the basis of our academic efforts, but they are not a goal in themselves. Academic knowledge about letter-sound correspondence, the water cycle, or the spelling of multisyllabic words is a means to our greater ends, as are learning the skills of calculating the slope of a function or the number of protons in a molecule. But in the current period of distance learning, an easy over-reliance on these relatively simple aspects of curriculum is deeply unfulfilling; we know children are not simply empty vessels to fill up with facts. And yet, anxiety builds about whether students — and in particular, our students — are “falling behind” some made-up standards (quick note: they aren’t).

Engagement is another essential element of our program because we know that non-cognitive factors such as motivation and perseverance impact children’s learning results and academic performance through information recall, test scores, and skill acquisition. In periods of engagement, children can sustain and grow their attention, curiosity, and interest in the work that the teacher presents. And in this very strange time of remote instruction, engagement is an important indicator to teachers that a child’s progress reflects deeper mastery learning. But very few of us adults are used to engaging through online meetings for hours each day, and the intellectual and emotional drain on children required to do this is even greater. It is no surprise that engagement wanes as we near the end of the school year.

And yet, engagement alone is not enough, for it does not require that the student truly bring themselves to the learning struggle. The Sizemores propose the word grappling as the defining goal in the development of a child’s character, and demand that students invest in their learning for themselves. I often say that when our students graduate, they can’t still be doing school simply to please their parents; it has to be for themselves at that point. By putting themselves on the line as they try to do what they’ve never done before, children learn to reason through perspectives, examine assumptions, and trust themselves and their abilities to succeed in the face of challenge. In a scenario, no one asked for and at a time no one can control, our distance learning program continues to develop this essential spark in students.

And in an entirely different way, we are all grappling with distance learning this spring. We’re tired and sad and mad that forces beyond our control have thrust this situation upon our community (and others around the globe). Though the flow of academic knowledge is affected, though engagement is difficult to sustain, our commitment is unwavering in leading students to truly grapple with the ideas we present, and in doing so develop their future selves. Our school’s Portrait of a Graduate equally prioritizes loving learning, working hard, and valuing intrinsic understanding as it ensures students have a sense of agency and confidence in order to take action to bring their ideas into reality. Our progress towards that vision continues.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Bringing Our Best Selves to the Moment

Dear Gateway families,

Over the last five weeks, I’ve enjoyed sending weekly messages to our community (links to these are on the Coronavirus page of our website), while also sharing a number of articles, videos, and podcasts that offer insight and strategies for dealing with the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in. I’m writing today to highlight a few of these that have stood out as especially helpful, based on feedback from our community.

Tips for Managing the Stress of Social Distancing as a Family In this short interview, psychologist and author Dr. Lisa Damour gives a few tips on helping adults manage chronic stress in themselves and in their children.

When a Child’s Emotions Spike, How Can a Parent Find Their Best Self? Drawing on the work of Dr. Mark Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and creator of the RULER program, this article investigates how to recognize and respond to children’s emotions, and how to model healthy ways of moving through emotion.

Three Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During – and after – Covid-19 As Director of the Neuroethics Program at Emory University, Karen Rommelfanger studies the relationship between stress regulation and human well being. In this piece, she examines the interconnectedness of brains and stress and offers suggestions for how to build a better, healthier “new normal” of mental health.

Now’s a Good Time to Teach Your Kids to Play on Your Own Learning to be comfortable on our own is an essential step in personal development that teaches organizational skills, physical awareness, and emotional regulation. Drawing advice from a variety of parenting coaches, this article suggests eight strategies such as prioritizing connection, creating invitations to play, and making room for mess.

Lower Your Expectations, and Other Parenting Advice Dr. Scott Cypher is the Director of the Johnson Depression Center at the University of Colorado. He raises awareness of the ways in which parents unintentionally contribute to children’s anxiety, such as hidden criticality and anxiety priming, and a variety of techniques and mindsets adults can use to help children relax.

Pediatricians on Balancing Screen Time, Sleep, and Family During Coronavirus The American Academy of Pediatrics has released revised guidelines for screen time during the current pandemic. While increased screen time may be necessary and appropriate during distance learning, getting offline as a family, and ensuring adequate exercise and sleep, remain essential. 

Finally, Brene Brown has a wonderful podcast called Unlocking Us. In Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Setting the Ball, she discusses falling apart, staying connected, and feeling hard things, while in Permission to Feel With Marc Brackett, she talks with Dr. Brackett about how emotional literacy affects everything from learning and performance to health and relationships.

I hope you find something helpful in these links. Though it may be hard to lean into our parenting right at this moment, our children need and deserve our best selves in the midst of this pandemic — which includes being gentle and forgiving with ourselves, if necessary.

And please, please reach out if you need help. We are here to support our community!

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Follow this link to learn more about Gateway School

Click here to learn more about our Admissions process