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

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You’re Not Alone

Dear Gateway families,

I’ll begin first by thanking you and then with a request. The appreciation; thank you for all you are doing to support distance learning at home. We could not do it without you, and we greatly appreciate the involvement you are having to support your child’s learning. Now for the request: if you haven’t had a moment to thank a Gateway teacher yet, please do so! Your notes mean a great deal and fill them up in a unique and sustaining way. Our quick pivot to distance learning last week simply could not have been accomplished without extraordinary effort on their part.

Our distance learning program is built on a few key principles. 

First, we know that flexibility is essential. Whether dealing with new technology, managing around working parents and other children, or simply feeling all the feelings that come from experiencing this unusual time, we know that children need their adults to be especially flexible right now. 

Second, we are prioritizing relationships and mental health over curriculum and content. Our school puts heart-centered connection at the core of our program, and that doesn’t change when we move to a distance learning model. 

And third, we believe it is better to start slowly and ramp up the academic work over time than to start fast and have to dial back in the face of overwhelm. This is especially true when so many people are already feeling fragile and anxious due to the public health situation.

Similarly, we hope you can pay attention to three key areas as you support the implementation of the distance learning model at home. 

First, be intentional about setting up your child’s work area; a discrete space for learning, with a comfortable seat at a table or desk, is best for students (not lying on the floor or across their bed). This includes setting up expectations around online and digital health and safety.

Second, especially if you are also working at home, have a clear area or way of indicating to your children when you are “at work”, and teach them how they can ask for your attention appropriately without interrupting your flow. 

And third, be ready and open to new energy influencing your family dynamics, the role each person in the family plays in contributing to the life of the home, and the possibility of changing some of those patterns and ways of relating.

In this time of stress and anxiety, it’s important that we all practice good self-care. Whether it’s lowering the parenting bar or making sure you get enough exercise, engaging in self-care not only helps us stay calm and centered for our children, it models for them how to do the same for themselves.

Right now there are many unknowns about how life will change over the next several months. We don’t know if the spread of the virus will be slowed down, how the economy will respond to the shocks it is experiencing, or when we will be able to resume on-campus education. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and engage in continuous planning that enables us to be responsive to shifting conditions.  

What we do know is that we’ve got this, and so do you. To paraphrase the 1963 hit by Gerry & The Pacemakers, you don’t have to walk this path alone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions, need help, or just want to talk.

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.

Silence Is Not Golden

Head of School Blog

“[M]y silence is not benign because it protects and maintains the racial hierarchy and my place within it.” — Robin DiAngelo

Conversations about race in America are hard. It’s easy to offend, or to be offended, in these discussions; we quickly and sometimes unknowingly reveal our ignorance, our limits, and our biases. And yet, these conversations are also essential. As the 1619 Project laid out last fall, racism and its legacy has shaped the history of this country for the past 400 years in profound ways. If we are to guide our children towards creating a more just and equitable world, then those of us who are white must think critically about the dominant narratives of society, wrestle with uncomfortable facts about systemic racism, and begin to acknowledge how our racial privilege has unfairly functioned to our benefit.

This summer, our faculty and staff read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and we have slowly been re-reading it and discussing the ideas it contains. We have had to learn a new definition of racism that incorporates a structural dimension to society, rather than simply blaming individual bad actors. We have had to grapple with the fact that we are not exempt from the forces of racial socialization, and to confront the idea of white solidarity, or wanting to save face in front of others. We have had to recognize that we need to have an authentic interest in the perspectives of people of color, because the voice and experience of white people dominates national discourse. And we have had to lean into the fact, sometimes painfully, that our good intentions matter much less than the impact our words and actions have had on people of color.

Here are some of the questions with which we have been grappling:

  • What made a school good? Who went to good schools? Who went to bad schools? If the schools in your area were racially segregated, why didn’t you attend school together? Were “their” schools considered equal to, better than, or worse than, yours? If you went to school together, did you all sit together in the cafeteria? If not, why not? Were the honors/AP classes and the lower track classes equally racially integrated? If not, why not?
  • Colorblindness (saying you don’t see race or that race has no meaning) is a form of racism. How do you see/have you seen color-blind ideology in your own life and teaching practice? How does color blindness show up in school and how does it impact students of color? What evidence do you have that color-blind policies are not leading to more equitable outcomes for students of color?
  • How does racial belonging play out in school? Do students of color feel they belong? How do you know? How is the burden of race a reality for students of color? What are some examples of how they would feel burdened by race? 

Last year our school celebrated Kind is Cool awards, which were given out at our First Friday assemblies to recognize students who had embodied our school value of kindness. There’s no doubt in my mind that kindness continues to be important to children and adults alike, but as Robin DiAngelo points out in this short video, kindness will not end racism; what will make a difference is justice. So that’s where we’re headed.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20th, is the United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice. Gateway School’s definition of citizenship explicitly calls for teachers to help students operate on multiple levels, from the personal and local to the national and global through curriculum that is real, topical, sensitive, and moral. We invite you, as parents and caregivers, to similarly engage with your children on the topic of social justice; you may be surprised at their deep understanding of this idea. And perhaps you’d enjoy thinking together about what you can do to improve the lives of people in other parts of the world, as children are often eager to get involved in supporting entrepreneurship through micro-lending websites, supporting health and nutrition programs, and establishing connections with rural schools. 

Teaching our children that they have the power to promote justice — now that is a transformational education.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

“You must take a stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Other America (1967)

Columbus discovered America.
The Constitution proclaimed that all men are created equal.
The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Perhaps, like me, you were taught these (and many other) so-called facts without reference to the full truths and historical context within which these ideas were presented — that tens of thousands of indigenous people were on this continent before Columbus, and that the national holiday in his honor was due to the efforts of Italian Americans who aimed to be culturally assimilated as White in the early 20th Century; that enslaved peoples were widely considered property and not humans during the Colonial era, and the “three-fifths compromise” in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 counted slaves as people only for the purpose of giving southern states more seats in Congress; and that the 19th Amendment of 1920 gave only White women the right to vote, and it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that all people regardless of race or gender held the lawful right to vote.

Though I used to look back very fondly at my K-12 experience, I have increasingly become more concerned about the brazen white supremacy embedded in my early schooling. I remember and am grateful for the environment of love and care I experienced from teachers, but now I wonder if all children felt that, and how it worked out for those who did not — especially the black and brown children with whom I did not develop lasting friendships. I remember the feeling of personal success as I internalized knowledge and developed academic skills, but now I wonder how the experiences of other students shaped their perspective on the classroom and themselves — especially the students that struggled with traditional academic content and instruction. And I am full of questions about why my teachers did not bring critical consciousness to decolonize the curriculum by exposing the ways in which narratives presented as facts marginalized and erased the experiences of people of color in America.

I’m grateful to see our community of educators and families lean into the work of becoming better educated on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion this year, and how we are translating these growing understandings into new classroom curriculum and practices. One of the crucial steps that we adults can do to help our children thrive now and throughout their lives is to vigorously continue to surface our assumptions, dismantle our biases, and educate ourselves about the perspectives of those who experience life very differently from our own — whether by dint of gender, race, class, body type, nationality, or other facet of human experience. It is our responsibility to first seek out the voices of people with those diverse experiences, and then dive deeply into their words and worlds so as to shed new light on their experiences of our shared society, and in doing so better illuminate the complex truths of humanity to and for ourselves.

Later this month the United States takes a national holiday to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While many of us are familiar with I Have A Dream, his speech delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, he left behind an incredible body of work that continues to be relevant to the work of social justice today. Whether his damning identification of the particular challenge posed by moderate Whites in Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963), his clarity in naming racial injustice, poverty, and war as society’s three main problems in The Quest for Peace and Justice (1964) and The Three Evils of Society (1967), or his radical intellectualism foreseeing the neo-conservative movement that arose after his death in The Other America (1967), Dr. King’s work continues to loom large over the modern society more than 50 years after his assassination. 

I hope you join me in finding inspiration and wonder by diving deeply into the words and thoughts of Dr. King, and a renewed optimism in our community’s efforts to teach our children the full truths of American history, along with the development of their moral compass, their critical thinking skills, and the agency and confidence they need to become positive change agents as they grow into the next generation of civic participants and activists.

What an exciting time to work in education. What a gift to be at Gateway!

Welcome back,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Where Experience and Innovation Meet

Dear Gateway families,

I was fortunate to witness two extraordinary events in our program on Monday, December 10th.

Archeologist Dustin McKenzie

In the morning, archeologist Dustin McKenzie spoke with our Third Grade students about the lives of the indigenous people of this area, while examining artifacts including a mortar estimated to be over 1,000 years old that was found in the backyard of a Gateway family, as well as chert knives and atlatl (spear-throwing devices). Mr. McKenzie spoke about how these tools would have been used in the daily lives of indigenous people and why it’s important to contact archeologists when native artifacts are found, to a sea of raised hands and questions bursting on the lips of students.

In the afternoon, the curtain went up on our Middle School theater elective production of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton for our Upper School students, with a second show for families in the evening. The story of two groups of teenagers struggling to find their place in the world, over the course of 90 minutes our students brought alive the joy, despair and conflict of these nuanced characters. While some of our students are committed actors, for others this elective was the first time they had ever been in a play, and the class provided the chance for them to try something new in a safe, supportive setting.

Johnnycakes and Ponyboy

These two interdisciplinary experiences gave students the opportunity to think and use the behaviors of scholarship, citizenship, compassion and justice that sit at the heart of our mission. The students (both audiences and actors) were deeply and fully engaged in the activities; they were intellectually curious about the ideas presented and discussed; and they were open-hearted to the needs and experiences of others, and the way other people’s lives unfold. By grappling with how to responsibly act if you discover an indigenous artifact, what to do in the face of unfair social pressures and constraints, and how to reconcile the good and bad deeds in our lives, these educational experiences captured the essence of our educational model, and I was grateful to all of the faculty and staff who helped make them possible.

Speaking of being grateful, in the run-up to the gift giving that characterizes the season, several people have asked me for help with resources to find books written by authors from diverse backgrounds, including race, gender, sexual identity, and more. I want to use this opportunity to share the diversebooks.org resources with our community. The research is clear that children experience better academic outcomes when they have more books at home; as we intentionally move towards fostering healthy perspectives on diversity and equity, having books written by authors from diverse backgrounds dealing with diverse topics becomes an effective tool for families to reinforce messages of inclusion and justice to children.

Cheers to you all as 2019 winds to a close; I hope to see you at the Winter Solstice Festival put on by the Gateway Family Association on December 18th!

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School