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.
- Center For Racial Justice in Education
- George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What Do We Tell Our Children?
- How to Talk to Your Children About Protests and Racism
- Talking to Children about Racial Bias
- Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice
- Talking to children after racial incidents
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.
Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School