Play Is a State of Mind

Dear Gateway families,

Of our school’s nine core values, play, creativity and innovation are perhaps the most natural and instinctive to human experience. We are born with an innate ability to play that continues throughout our lifespan — a trait shared only by a very few other species — and it has the ability to bring joy and balance to our daily lives.

At Gateway, we embrace the idea that “play is a state of mind” advanced by the National Institute for Play. Children enter into lasting learning through their play, be it social, artistic, or intellectual. Through innovation and iteration, through making and tinkering with our hands and minds, we build connections within and between ideas and each other. The act of imagination is a unique neurological moment that activates emotion, memory and organization, and it can be applied with individuals, through collaboration, and to problem solving. Only when a child is rooted in play can her individual agency to make ideas into reality flower.

You can see this value deeply intertwined everywhere you look in our program. Our daily schedule protects free time because that is one of the many types of play that is beneficial for children’s growth — recess is a wonderful “SEL classroom” where children learn how to be good friends and playmates. And from our specialist classes in studio art, music and the Discovery Center, to interdisciplinary projects and classroom activities, we ensure that children have access to many different types of playful engagement with content acquisition and skill building.

Indeed, the Gateway education not only protects children’s love of learning, it teaches them to engage with ideas in an intellectually playful manner. Thinking deeply and critically might be serious, but it can also be serious fun! This questioning, creative spirit is a key part of our school’s mission to develop children to be scholars who can make positive change in the world. We know that as they move into high school, college, and life beyond, their ability to be playful and creative is a crucial element of their future success in work and relationships.

Here’s some recommended reading on this topic, if you are interested in exploring more:

The Book of Joy, by HH the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer



Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School

Parenting As A Community

Dear Gateway families,
Our recent parent education events, the first one featuring Sheri Glucoft-Wong (if you haven’t watched the video yet, you really should!) which was then followed by two elementary-grade parent coffees, have sparked an exciting flurry of conversations about parenting in our community. Many people have since asked me to recommend articles about parenting to help them continue their thinking and learning, so I’ve put together the following list as a starting point.
How can we help our children learn resiliency? Often it is our own adult discomfort with our children’s disappointment or struggle that leads us to try to remove challenges from their path. Jessica Lahey’s reflection  Why We Should Let Our Children Fail takes an honest and painful look at how over-parenting can lead to learned helplessness.
How do we teach children healthy tech use? As Erika Christakas writes in The Dangers of Distracted Parenting, the short answer is that we have to model the behaviors we want to see. So put down the phone when you are with your kids. And if you haven’t watched it yet, make sure to check out last year’s fabulous parent education event with Lori Getz on our Youtube channel.
Is social media actually dangerous? The data is clear that increased social media use leads to more feelings of vulnerability and isolation.  As  Sean Cavanaugh reports, research shows that restricting use alone won’t be effective in promoting mental health; children need active coaching in how to build healthy relationships, set boundaries, and stand up for themselves in real life if they are going to have those skills in the online realm.
Will my child be prepared for and get into college? Many parents start asking themselves this question while their child is still in elementary school, and it influences how they approach middle school and high school. In Elite College Admissions are Broken, Alia Wong writes a compelling piece about how a culture of achievement pressure conflates selectivity with excellence.
A few more resources we’ve found:
  • Wait Til 8th empowers families to delay giving their children devices until 8th grade.
  • Lean In discusses how to be a feminist dad.
  • Talk With Your Kids helps parents discuss sex and healthy relationships. We offer a parent ed event on this topic in January, when we run Puberty/Sex Ed Programming.
What recommendations did Sheri Glucoft-Wong have? If you’ve read this far, here’s your reward: the one book recommendation that she passed along! “I usually recommend The Runaway Bunny.  It’s my favorite “parenting book” because it shows parents how important it is to simply be there to “hold” their kids whatever they do, wherever they go and to start from where the kids are, not from where you think they should be.”
I welcome your thoughts on these articles, or any other resources you’ve found helpful in your own journey as a parent. Our whole community benefits from this dialogue!

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Teaching Students to Take Charge of Their Learning

Dear Gateway families,

How do we effectively prepare children for the world to come?

Curriculum and education defined by historical facts and contemporary skills will always struggle to prepare children for their future. The challenges they will face are different from the ones we faced growing up; just look at how the pace of human knowledge creation has accelerated, and the impending automation of many traditional jobs. It’s a scary, humbling task we face!

A recent article by Greg Satell posits that the skills children will need for their future are the ability to understand systems, to apply empathy and design skills, to communicate complex ideas, and to collaborate and work in teams. Already we see this driving elite universities as they look for intellectual curiosity among their undergraduate applicants, and in graduate programs that conduct group interviews to check for social cognition and communication skills.

To this excellent list, Gateway adds another critical element: metacognition and self-reflection.

Metacognition is the ability to think about one’s own thoughts and learn from them. It is also the key skill that helps students improve their learning process. Through metacognition, students become aware of their strengths and challenges as learners, and begin to monitor their use of learning strategies. They learn that their own learning processes can change, that they can iteratively use goal-setting and planning to achieve their objectives, and how to self-monitor and adapt. Through this process, students become confident scholars who develop inner standards of success and achievement, and learn to transfer their abilities to new tasks and contexts.

We build students’ metacognition at Gateway by teaching them about the concept, by incorporating their authentic voices and choices into their learning, by explicitly articulating and modeling it in the work of faculty, and by regularly guiding children to engage in reflection. In grades fourth through eighth, families will see this driving force during the upcoming School/Family conferences, in which the students participate to present examples of their work, discuss their learning experiences, and review goals for their academic growth.

Being metacognitive means being more aware of one’s journey on the path of learning. How much more pleasurable and intentional it feels for our children to be agents of their own scholarship, rather than perceive school as something outside of their control that happens to them!


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Design

Dear Gateway Families,

What does it mean to “be good at math”?

Most of us grew up in school environments that emphasized speed and accuracy using specific algorithms to solve discrete problems. If you didn’t go fast, or you weren’t accurate, then likely you didn’t think of yourself as good at math; deep understanding wasn’t necessarily considered part of the equation. Far too many children developed math anxiety during their elementary years because of this focus on a narrow definition of mathematical excellence, and as adults, their relationship with math continuous to be fraught.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to help children develop both strong skills and lasting confidence in math, and last week our Bridges trainer, Alison Mazzola, helped families understand how the math curriculum here at Gateway does that. It starts with redefining the goals and outcomes we have for students’ math learning:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  4. Model with mathematics
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically
  6. Attend to precision
  7. Look for and make use of structure
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Of course we still want students to be efficient and accurate, but a broader view of math outcomes explains why our program looks so different from traditional, rote approaches. An experienced elementary grades teacher, Allison peppered her talk with hilarious anecdotes drawn from her time in the classroom, while helping the audience understand why our faculty is so excited about Bridges. It fits directly into our view that academic excellence means working both hard and smart, and that’s done by learning and then applying strategies. We also recognize that selecting the right strategy for the situation is an essential aspect of academic success. For example, counting on fingers is typically viewed as an appropriate strategy for younger children, but we often expect children to have quick recall of so-called “math facts” that are simply computation. However, Stanford Professor Jo Boaler’s important work with explains why finger-counting can be an effective go-to strategy with older students who are tired, stressed, or struggling to integrate new concepts.

Bridges is based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a set of academic knowledge and skills in math and language arts that has been adopted by 45 states.  CCSS were developed by the National Governors Association (they are not federal standards), which believes that one way the U.S. can catch up to other countries in test scores is to have a more consistent curriculum across the states, rather than every state having its own. Though the pre-existing California State standards were already very good, the CCSS has had a positive impact on public education in some ways, such as increasing the emphasis on critical thinking and reasoning, rather than rote learning and regurgitation.

However, we feel that the CCSS leave out so many wonderful elements; for example, the language arts over-emphasizes reading informational texts, and misses out on novels, poetry, drama, lyric and other forms of creative writing. It also doesn’t fully attend to all five strands of mathematical thinking that are important in a curriculum, as defined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: numbers and operations, data and measurement, statistics and probability, geometry, and patterns and algebraic thinking.

Gateway is proud to be members of the Independent Curriculum Group, a consortium of 200+ leading independent schools from around the country (York School, in Monterey, is another member). We keep a close eye on the trends and standards in national curriculum, and we also pay attention to child development, psychology, neuroscience, and our core institutional values to build curriculum with authentic and engaging student experiences. From science labs studying the movement of seismic waves to calculating compounding interest based on holiday shopping, our academic program weaves areas of high student interest into the curriculum to teach key knowledge and skills.

I encourage you to contact your child(ren)’s teacher with any questions you have about our curriculum, and to enjoy and participate in the curriculum celebrations that mark our year, from the Starlight sing in Kindergarten to Author Parties in the Elementary grades and the Science Fair presentations in Middle School.

Recommended reading on math and curriculum:

Jo Boaler:

Alfie Kohn: Punished by Rewards

Cathy Seeley: Faster Isn’t Smarter

Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher: Neuroteach


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Let Your Children Get Tired, Hungry and Wet!

Dear Gateway Families,

I relished the opportunity to speak with many of you at Back-to-School-Night last week. Just as the children burst with excitement during Preview Day and joyfully engaged in the year’s first First Friday, the chance to connect with new and returning families energizes our faculty and staff. Back to School Night is such an important step in shaping the family/school dialogue into a strong and aligned partnership, and as one of the central rituals of the beginning of the school year, it helps us establish the meaningful connection and community that supports student growth over the year to come.

At Gateway, success is defined as much more than academic and intellectual skills.  We want children to know how to make and keep friends and solve conflicts, and to have a sustaining portion of self-esteem and resilience. We know that success often comes in a journey that includes failures — by being tired, hungry and wet, a child learns to appreciate being rested, dry, and warm. We want our kids to learn how to deal with difficult people, so we continue to hold them accountable even if they feel challenged by a classmate or uninspired by a teacher. By doing so, they will learn valuable lessons that will help them throughout their journey towards adulthood.

With this in mind, this year at Back-To-School-Night I offered some advice to new Elementary families as well as Middle School families. I am pleased to offer those same thoughts here, condensed and consolidated in blog form, for anyone who was unable to attend last week’s events.

  1. Most children are very sensitive to time. Please arrive on time or even a little early in the mornings, and try not to miss a day next to vacations.
  2. Resist the temptation to over-schedule. We want children to have lots of opportunities, but free play is essential neurologically; it makes kids smarter, and helps them learn to solve problems, iterate, imagine, and develop stronger social skills.
  3. Keep “the long game” in mind. Raising a school-aged child can be hard, especially when a child has a hard day or bad experience. Please be careful of mistaking a snapshot for an epic movie, and avoid catastrophizing. Remind your child that tomorrow will be a new day.
  4. Hold your child accountable. Your child will mess up — whether it’s not doing homework, or being disruptive, or speaking rudely, or not being truthful. If we tell you that there’s a problem with your child’s behavior in school, remember that we want the best for your child. It’s important for children to see that we have standards and expectations, and that when they don’t meet those, we expect better from them.
  5. Hold all of the children, including your own, with compassion. Growing up is hard to do, and children should not be shamed for their struggles to mature. For many people, early adolescence is a very difficult time to be kind. It’s also a hard time for many kids to learn to follow through academically, to manage their emotions, and to navigate a shifting sea filled with peers experiencing their own intense identity formations.
  6. Model the behaviors you wish to see. This includes how you talk about other people, including children, parents, teachers and staff; how you reach out to build an inclusive and loving community; how you resolve conflicts and settle disagreements; how you use phones at home around the family; and how you celebrate successes, share worries, and set goals for yourself.
  7. Expect your child to struggle academically at some point, and don’t freak out when that happens. School work won’t always be easy, and it also won’t always be hard. Certainly don’t conflate quantity and quality. And please, please don’t ever do your child’s homework for your child — we need to know what your child can do on their own.
  8. Learn to speak adolescent. If your child says they are “bored”, it doesn’t usually mean they are bored. It does mean they have some unmet need, or are anxious, or that they are struggling to understand the work (and yes, in some rare cases they are actually bored). Similarly, if your child says “whatever”, they don’t mean “I don’t care what you say.” They mean “I care so much about what you say, and it’s different from what I believe, and I’m having cognitive dissonance about this and I don’t know how to resolve that.”
  9. You probably know less about devices, social media, and the online world of children than you think you know.  Online behavior is a tattoo, not a footprint, because it never goes away, and social media is extracting data you probably don’t even know you are providing (that’s how they make money off us). There’s also new research on how screens affect brain development. So take the time to do the research, and make intentional decisions. Check out last year’s parent education even with Lori Getz on the school’s Youtube channel for more.

My hope is that all of our families engage in an ongoing conversation about our beliefs and values as families, think carefully about the parenting choices we make, and don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to the hard work of raising children. We are confident that your children are poised to become outstanding adults. While they are here at Gateway, they will have an extraordinary experience, and an aligned family/school partnership is an essential part of the supportive environment that our children deserve.


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School


Gateway School students standing in silence during the National School Walkout

Dear Gateway families,

How do you teach a child to lead?
How do you get a child to care passionately about a subject?
How do you inspire a child to believe in their ability to make a difference?

Almost 40 of our middle school students participated in the National School Walkout, in which tens of thousands of students across the country walked out of class to honor the lives lost in the recent school shooting in Parkland, FL, and also those of earlier shootings.

In order to be eligible to participate in the walkout, Gateway middle school students were required to attend at least two of three preparation meetings. A group of five student leaders met separately to craft a permission slip, which required each participant to explain to their parents why they felt it was important to be part of the walkout. Each student then wrote their personal call to action on a sandwich board, which the students wore during the walkout.

Our students walked down West Cliff to the Lighthouse, where they formed a line facing the street. At the mark of one of the student leaders, they began 17 minutes of silence. Many passing drivers and pedestrians showed their support; for example, a woman jogging with her baby stopped and asked to take a picture, while a driver pulled over and told the students they were heros.

Those students who did not participate in the walkout also had important learning experiences. In small groups they discussed their choices to stay at school, their feelings and comfort with the idea of direct action, and the responsibility they each carry for finding the right ways to advocate for the issues about which they are passionate.

Hearing and seeing our middle schoolers choose to take their time to learn about the Second Amendment, how gun control and mental health issues are depicted in the media, think through their own views on these and related subjects, and then take action, was inspiring and uplifting. Our school goal is for children to discover their individual and collective potential to make a positive change in the world.  Truly, today, our Middle School students showed they are ready to be agents for positive change.

This past weekend, over 200 schools from the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) published a signed letter in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times (click the link to read the full text of the statement). This is an exceptional step of public activism on behalf of our school, and I’m proud that through Gateway’s participation in this publication, our Board, employees and community are beginning to take a more active role in promoting a safe, peaceful, and just society. On behalf of all children, we have much more work do to.


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Napping Really Is Good For You

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Dear families,

Dr. Mark Rosekind’s presentation on the science of sleep at last week’s annual Speaker Series event was anything but soporific! As the former head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, in addition to his work at NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board, Dr. Rosekind has conducted extensive research on the effects of sleep and fatigue on the human condition over the last 30 years, and his expertise and command of the material — as well as his great sense of humor — was on full display.

From the start, Dr. Rosekind argued that sleep, like air, food and water, is an intrinsic and essential component of healthy existence, not an optional one that can or should be manipulated. Forget the idea of “sleeping when you are dead”; if you follow that rule, you’ll die much sooner!

Dr. Rosekind explained the neuroscience of sleep cycles, including why the body experiences temporary paralysis during dreaming, and our natural circadian rhythms of greatest sleepiness and wakefulness. He also spoke about the effective way to use naps — either short naps of 20-45 minutes, or longer naps of around two hours — and why society is short-sighted to look down on people who take naps.

From his studies with Army tank crews firing hundreds of rounds a day, to long-haul pilots flying 777s from Hawaii to Tokyo, Dr. Rosekind definitely demonstrated that adequate sleep is closely tied to performance, as well as mood, safety and health. Sacrificing sleep for work may give an immediate benefit, but by day two of reduced sleep that benefit has disappeared, and it gets worse from there.

Dr. Rosekind provided great insight into the sleep needs of children and adolescents, and how they vary across stages of development. While adults need 8 hours of sleep per day, children need 9.25 or even more. Dr. Rosekind had a very direct piece of advice for parents to ensure this happens: “Parents, be the parents, and set bedtimes for your children.”

I was heartened to hear that sleep deficits can be remediated, and found the eight-point list of good sleep habits that Dr. Rosekind recommends succinct and helpful. These include:

Protect sleep time
Keep regular bed/wake times
Use a regular pre-sleep routine (15 minutes)
Avoid work and worry in the bedroom
Use relaxation techniques
Light snack or drink if needed
No alcohol or caffeine
Don’t toss or turn for more than 30 minutes

Dr. Rosekind closed by pointing out that American culture and society have taken an unhealthy view towards sleep. If we are going to guide our children to live healthy lives, we adults need to model good attitudes and habits towards sleep. So the next time you feel drowsy, give yourself permission to take a nap!

Interested in more? Here are a few great books on the subject recommended by Dr. Rosekind.

The Science of Sleep by William Dement

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker


Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School


What is Brain-Based Education?

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Dear Gateway Families,

When prospective families are visiting the school, I am often asked, “how does the school integrate research into the program?”

When I talk about brain-based education based on research, I like to draw from three or four concrete examples. For example, I often explain that our faculty understand that they need to integrate movement throughout the day, because movement increases blood flow through the brain which strengthens learning, improves memory, and generates motivation. Sometimes I point out that our program makes time for play: imagination and play teaches problem solving, social skills and empathy, and requires several portions of the brain to fire in unison, including areas of emotion, memory, organization, and planning.

I might highlight that in order to strengthen long-term memory, our curriculum mixes spiral approaches and interdisciplinary experiences among the discipline-specific work, so that students experience and revisit content and skills through spacing (length of time between reviewing ideas), context (literally when and where the learning takes place), and interleaving (switching between ideas, rather than extended blocks of study).

Or I may share that research has shown that making predictions has a powerful neurological effect on children’s brains. The brain recognizes that something good or bad is about to happen, which leads to increased anticipation and motivation to do something. Students experience an increased in focus and engagement, because they want to find out if their reasoning was accurate and if their predictions came true.

Our school’s commitment to incorporate the best available research about child development and the brain into our teaching and learning is reflected in the major investment of time, money and resources we put in place in order to send half a dozen teachers to the Learning and The Brain conference in San Francisco every February. The participating teachers then return and share their learning with our entire staff at a subsequent in-service event, and together we begin working to evolve and improve our instructional practices to reflect these new insights about the brain.

We look forward to sharing this year’s learning and growth with our community in the months to come.

Warm regards,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Do we want faster Horses?

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Two weeks ago we welcomed 178 special guests for our annual Grandfriends Day event. Truly, it is one of my favorite school days of the year — the beaming smiles of children and adults outshone even the glorious sunshine that day!

In my welcome to our community’s elders, I made note of the fact that many of the jobs today’s students will someday hold have not yet been invented. This is why education today must be substantially different from what they (and most likely their children) experienced in their K-8 years: our goal must be to teach children how to think. While some memorization of facts and knowledge is important (for both neurological efficiency and the development of expertise), soft skills such as curiosity, creativity, problem solving, resilience and love of learning are essential for our children to experience future academic, economic, and emotional success.

Walking through the classrooms during the day, I was struck by how joyfully our grandfriends entered into the world of our educational program. From practicing mindfulness with Ilana in the First Grade classrooms, to sipping tea with Middle School students, our grandfriends seemed to truly embrace our vision for a healthy and effective educational program, with our balanced attention to academic vigor and personal growth.

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motors, is famously reported to have said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This quote is often used when people are discussing the nature of innovation, imagination and the capacity for change, and in fact I shared it with our Grandfriends as I talked about our hopes that our students become “creators, not just consumers”, by embracing their own empathy, creativity and agency.

Though there’s some historical doubt that he ever actually said those words, one insightful critique of Ford is that he initially adapted the assembly line to car manufacturing, but he was later unable to adapt car manufacturing to the changing needs and wants of society — which in turn resulted in his company losing its dominant market position. Food for thought, as we consider how to both teach children to be flexible and adaptive, and also to have the courage of their convictions and to act on their beliefs.

I rejoice at knowing that our staff, students and families are so often like our Grandfriend visitors were last month; ready and willing to become fully present with each other, and enter into the world of the school with open eyes and warm hearts!

Have a wonderful week,

Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School

Our Innovative Approach to Education


Nowadays it’s cheap and easy to stream music and video using the internet, but you probably remember making copies of albums using cassette decks, or recording TV shows on a VCR — and your glee at being able to do so. My own beloved collection of several hundred bootleg concert cassettes lingered in my garage for many years before I overcame my emotional attachment to them (and wanted the space for something else).

Some types of technology are impactful for many years (laptops) and others are not (iPods and DVD-Rs, anyone?). Unfortunately, digital technology is often conflated with innovation, or used as a simple shorthand in its place, especially in school contexts.

So what is innovation, if not technology?

A quick internet search turns up many definitions for “innovation”, but I am drawn to the one that proposes three elements: 1) new ideas that 2) create value when 3) they are implemented, whether through updates to existing systems or the creation of new ones. Some innovations are incremental, while others are radical, but all three components are essential to innovation.

I hope you can join me in marvelling at how our faculty continually integrate new innovations into our classrooms that have direct benefit to students.

One area in which we think about innovation are the outcomes for students. Krissie Olsen’s work this year teaching digital citizenship and digital literacy helps our students be prepared to navigate the complexities of the online world — a reality that did not exist when we were children. We also want students to learn to act with grace and courtesy in real life, which shows up in instances such as an author party where older students share tea and muffins with younger students while reading their original work.

Another key space where we try to innovate is in what students actually do in the classroom. Rather than simply memorize addition facts, our youngest students are asked to build their own understanding of what numbers mean and how they work — in mathematics, this is formally called “number sense” — from counting the seeds in a pumpkin to measuring the circumference of an apple. The work is meaningful to them, not rote.

Across all areas of our program, teachers help students learn agency; the capacity to take action independently, while holding awareness and purpose of the world around them. Last year’s 8th grade Humanities program culminated in the “Museum of Exclusion”, in which students worked in small groups and designed museum exhibits about marginalized peoples in American society, which they presented both on campus and at the MAH.

We apply the innovation approach to the instructional practices of faculty. We’ve begun using new types of collaborative assessments in the middle school, while teachers are now implementing literature circles and “morning blast” across upper elementary grades. We’ve built upon the school’s history of integrating art into academic projects by adding Spanish, music and Disco collaboration to classroom projects, such as the fifth grade year-end performance piece.

In the last two years, we’ve also begun innovating in the design of classroom environments. Our flexible classrooms in grades 2-4 and in the middle school are easily reconfigured for whole class discussion, small group collaboration, and individual work, while promoting student choice and health through a variety of seating options.

Beneath this all, the burgeoning field of neuroscience has been especially useful in driving our understanding of how to effectively innovate the teaching and learning that happens at Gateway. This is a far cry from goals of “college and career readiness” or “high school preparation” that don’t put students’ actual lives at the center of the academic and social program.

Though educational innovation is much more than just computers and other devices, and technology is not necessarily innovation in and of itself, technology can “add value” in some schooling circumstances across the above areas. At their best, these tools increase communication and networking, promote the faster flow of ideas, and spark creativity and imagination.

Educational innovations can present intellectual and emotional challenges to teachers and families. They need to be supported with time, energy, money and other resources to have lasting impact. At Gateway, by using innovation to add value to the child’s learning, the teacher’s instruction, and the family experience, we put students in the best position to thrive in the future.


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School