A Banner Year for Gateway’s Young Scientists!

2017 was a great year for Gateway’s budding scientists! We are beyond proud! Here’s the facts:

  • 11 students were selected to represent Gateway at the Santa Cruz County Science Fair.
  • 7 of 11 received awards at the County Science Fair.
  • 4 of 11 qualified to compete at the CA State Science Fair. (3 projects)
  • 3 of 4 received awards at the State Science Fair. (2 projects)

And here’s the deets:

Santa Cruz County Science Fair 2017

  • 6th Graders, Naiya Samios & Sofia Storlazzi, 1st Place, Medicine & Health, & Broadcom Masters Award, “The Effect of Concussion Bands Tested at Various Heights”
  • 7th Grader, Sarah Ertl, 2nd Place, Energy & Transportation & IEEE Advancing Energy for Humanity Award, “Creek Power”
  • 7th Grader, Ty Koebler, 2nd Place, Medicine & Health, & Scwibles Award, “Cover Up Before You Buckle Up: A Driver’s Risk of UV Exposure”
  • 7th Grader, Bailey Manoff, 3rd Place, Energy & Transportation, Plug In America Award, “Solar Scooter”
  • 7th Grader, Kiana Mushock, Project of Merit, Microbiology, “Hand Washing 101”
  • 6th Grader, Calvin Whittle Daggett, Project of Merit, Earth & Planetary Science, “Super Streams”

California State Science Fair 2017

  • 6th Graders, Naiya Samios & Sofia Storlazzi, 4th Place, Product Science, Junior Division, “The Effect of Concussion Bands Tested at Various Heights”
  • 7th Grader, Ty Koebler,SPIE Optics and Photonics Award, 3rd Place, Junior Division

Class of 2013 Reunion Party

Congrats to the Class of 2013 as they graduate high school and look to their new adventures in college, gap years and beyond! Our graduates are headed off to the following colleges next year:

Boise State University
Cal Poly Pomona
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
CSUMB
Colorado College
Colorado State University
New York University
Oregon State University
Santa Clara University
Scripps College
Sonoma State University
Stanford University
Tufts University
University of Arizona
University of Chicago
University of Oregon
University of Puget Sound
University of Redlands
USC
Whitman College

“Museum of Exclusion” Exhibit at the MAH

Gateway 8th graders showcased their “Museum of Exclusion” exhibits on Tuesday, May 23 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) in downtown Santa Cruz.

Throughout the year, our 8th grade students have been tasked to think critically about multiple perspectives of the history of the United States, especially focusing on learning from those voices that are not at the forefront of the mainstream story.

They began with this Driving Question: How and why are groups of people excluded in US history and the present?

The goal in crafting the exhibit was framed in a Problem Statement: How can we as museum exhibit developers create an exhibit to illustrate and teach others about the stories people who have historically been marginalized?

In following the Buck Institute’s Project Based Learning model, the students created an authentic product, a Museum Exhibit highlighting the stories of one group who has been or is currently marginalized in the United States, and they were tasked to share these with a real world audience at the MAH.

Spring Alumni Gathering

We had so much fun welcoming our alumni back to campus on May 18th. Our faculty loved seeing each and every one of these truly remarkable young adults (and only a few faces were hard to recognize)! Hope to see the rest of you at Graduation on June 8th!

A safe space for everyone.

Dear families,

In 1918, pink was the color associated with baby boys, and blue was the color associated with baby girls. It’s interesting to consider that this gendered approach to colors is exactly the opposite in today’s society (and why it unnecessarily persists), and it leads us to ask many other questions about how a dominant society has decided to define the concept of gender, both now and historically, as well as for the future of today’s children.

We hope you are able to attend the Parent education event, “Dimensions of Gender”, this coming Friday, May 5th at 9:15 in the 6th grade Humanities room, immediately following our First Friday assembly, to explore this topic in depth with a panel of administrators and faculty.

Gateway School explicitly values the courage to promote a just society, and this year our faculty and staff have committed to investigating our understandings of gender more deeply, with the guidance of Joel Baum, Senior Director of Professional Development at Gender Spectrum. We know that gender impacts every child, that transgender and gender-expansive youth face great difficulties, and that creating a gender-inclusive school creates a better learning environment for all children. Continue reading “A safe space for everyone.”

When Is It Bullying?

“What’s the difference between bullying and just being unkind?”

I get asked this question every year, in part because I teach a four part unit on bullying to our Fourth Grade students. Children in the upper elementary grades naturally undergo important developmental shifts in how they interact with their friends and classmates. The tools and strategies they used as younger children often no longer work, so they need guidance in developing new ways of having healthy and successful friendships.

The unit begins by anonymously polling students about who has been treated unkindly, who has been unkind to others, who has seen someone be unkind to another person, and similar other questions. I am proud and impressed by the children’s honesty: almost every student will privately acknowledge that not only have they had others be unkind, they have been mean as well.

Continue reading “When Is It Bullying?”

Learning and the Brain Conference – Professional Development Notes

Jonnie Cardinale, 1st Grade

The 5 M’s were the name of the game at this years ‘Learning and the Brain’ conference; Memory, Motivation, Mindsets, Making, and Mastery were the topics of discussion and educators were offered a plethora of neuroscience research on the science of how we learn.

The days of thinking that people are born either smart or not, are over. Current research shows that the more a person uses their brain, the stronger it gets.

Inside of the cerebral cortex are billions of tiny nerve cells called neurons, which connect to other cells in a complicated network. When a person learns new things, these tiny connections multiply and grow. The more they grow, the deeper our neural pathways become. This is neuroplasticity.

In Eduardo Brecino’s workshop ‘Learning vs. Performing for Learning Mindset Success’, he talked of the importance of neuroplasticity in the distinctions between learning and performing. The effects on mindsets in these two zones are crucial to how a child perceives risk taking and learning outcomes.

The Learning Zone is a place where improvement is the goal and mistakes are expected. Activities are deliberately designed to foster deepened understanding and the focus is on what we don’t know yet. It is a place where children reflect and practice.

The Performance Zone is the place where the goal is to do as best as we can and where mistakes are avoided. Activities are designed for the execution of acquired knowledge and the focus is on what we have mastered. It is a place where children apply their learning.

As educators, we need to ensure that children are spending most of their time in the Learning Zone so that they can attain a confident growth mindset. Mindsets are about perceptions and on how we view failure. Fixed mindsets lead to helplessness and growth mindsets lead to agency. A growth mindset views efforts positively, and responds to setbacks with persistence and resilience.

While sitting in the audience, I felt my own synapses firing and neural pathways deepening. In this moment, I was my student, learning something new and feeling twangs of scary astonishment. How nice it was to be encouraged to take risks and to make mistakes! I left feeling even more inspired to be the best teacher I can be; and by best, I mean: modeling mistake making, being resilient when failing, and demonstrating lifelong learning for my students.


Jennifer Woodruff, 1st Grade

The presentations at this year’s Learning and the Brain Conference validated that Gateway School is living up to its vision of offering educational experiences rooted in evolving research. Many of Gateway’s current practices and recent initiatives were discussed at the conference as being researched-based best practices. Current brain research shows that offering longer blocks of time to delve into topics is effective in creating engaged learners.  This research supports Gateway’s redesigned schedule that allows for longer blocks of time.  Additionally, allowing time for play, questioning, experimentation and exploration has been shown by research to encourage creative, successful students.  This research supports the school’s brain breaks, discovery center, emphasis on project-based learning and playful approach to curriculum.

In addition, research shows that teachers who continue to learn, and discuss their learning struggles, successes and failures, model and encourage a growth mindset and an environment of deep engagement. All these practices are ones that are seen daily at Gateway.

In addition to validating what we do at Gateway, I am now able to offer a research-based explanation of letter/number reversal and word/sentence mirror writing rather than offering an explanation based on anecdotal evidence. Daniel Ansari, in his address, described an experiment that gave evidence that the brain is wired to recognize objects from any orientation at a young age.  Letters, numbers and words are an exception to the “orientation rule.”  Children need to learn that unlike a tiger, which is the same from any orientation (direction of viewing, whether rightside up, upside down, or from the side), the letters b and a d are not the same.  This is accomplished by uncoupling the neural pathways that generalize the “orientation rule” and forming new neural pathways that indicate letters, numbers, words and indeed sentences, are orientation dependent.


Ana Pena, Spanish Grades K-5

I was so excited to once again attend the Brain Conference in San Francisco this last weekend. Since I have returned to teaching Kindergarten for the first time in almost 20 years, I wanted to know what I could learn from this conference to support my student’s learning and to understand their world.

One keynote speaker, early childhood expert Erika Christakis titled her talk “The Science Of Being Little: The Power of Play, Creativity, and Exploration in Young Children”. She gave alarming statistics on early childhood educational programs that have become too academic resulting in stressed children who lack the joy of learning and who are doing poorly. She presented evidence for the  importance of play in the early years and how we as adults need to change our lenses to view play as a child’s way of learning.

Christakis suggested that we must learn to identify the learning that is going on during “play.” For example, when a child is building with his peers and has made a fort, what learning is going on?  The children are employing their imagination, creativity, problem-solving skills, engineering, using their language skills  as they describe what they have made and using their social skills to engage with each other constructively. So much in just playing with blocks!  She called for a return to a learning environment at home and school that better reflects children’s developmental needs. Let child have time to explore instead of going from one structured after-school class to another. Let them engage their imagination and get bored, because boredom can be a friend to the imagination. We just need to give our children time to fully engage in an activity and believe in their intelligence. We may need to coach them at the beginning, but with practice it will bear fruit.

As she spoke, I was reminded of our kindergarten students, who are allowed to play with mud, sand, water, and build fairy gardens with natural items from their environment. All that learning going on!  Just yesterday I was invited to see a new house/casa for a snail. The children planned what needed to be placed in the environment and were careful to use plants and flowers that were not plucked, naming their home and hypothesizing what will become of the snail.

As their Spanish teacher, I have decided to engage in their play and honor their way of learning and making meaning of their world.


Kaia Huseby, 3rd Grade

This year’s conference on Learning & the Brain was entitled “The Science of How We Learn: Engaging Memory, Motivation, Mindsets, Making, and Mastery.” I traveled with four other Gateway teachers to attend this exciting three-day conference in San Francisco.  The speakers were all experts from the fields of psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience; they were eager to speak with educators to share the implications of their findings for the classroom.

I found one presentation particularly illuminating: “Learning by Thinking, Questioning, and Explaining.” Tania Lombrozo, a professor at UC Berkeley, shared her research on the ways in which genuinely new insights can come about through the process of thinking out loud and explaining one’s thoughts to others. While we already place great emphasis on articulating thoughts and communicating with others here at Gateway, Lombrozo’s talk inspired me to plan more “explaining time” into lessons – not for me to explain things to students, but for students to explain their thinking to partners or to the whole group. In her research, Lombrozo found that prompting people (both children and adults) to explain their thinking aloud helped them to recognize the gaps in their knowledge and then be motivated to dig deeper. She argued that explaining can help learners to go beyond the obvious and prepare them for future learning. If, in the process of explaining a general pattern or underlying principle, people notice inconsistencies, they will want to dig deeper because they are unsatisfied with their first ideas. Knowing how to explain one’s ideas takes practice and support, however; this is something we can help children to learn both at school and at home.


Krissie Olson, Discovery Center Specialist

I was fortunate to attend the Learning and the Brain Conference this year as we considered the topic “The Science of How We Learn”. Especially compelling to me as the Discovery Center teacher was the track of sessions exploring Making, Design Thinking and Hands-on Learning. With each new speaker and workshop, my reflection was framed in the context of how the new information and research I was hearing could impact the students and the program in the Disco.

Stanford Assistant Professor and FabLearn founder Paulo Blikstein spoke at the conference of three frontiers of Making in Education: integrating making into the classroom; finding real world solutions and applications; and conducting research using neuroscience methodologies to better understand the effects of making on learning. He also reminded us that “Children are not hackers and still need support to learn the tools and techniques involved in making.”

Susie Wise, Director of the k-12 Lab and Stanford’s d.school, spoke during her session about empathy as a crucial component of Design Thinking and Making. Whether it be appreciating the difficulty of moving water that 14th century Italians had or how the fictional book character Stuart Little could integrate into a modern day classroom, Wise underscored that understanding someone else’s worlds and hidden needs helps all inventors, designers and thinkers better achieve their goals. We also participated in a rapid prototyping activity to emphasize the idea that a Bias Towards Action, or action-oriented behavior, plays a crucial role in maker activities and challenges.

Reflecting back on all the lessons I’ve taken away from the conference, I’ve been able to look with a fresh perspective on curriculum that already seems “set” but still requires revision. I appreciate that Gateway offers an agile environment in which to pivot and grow in my instruction and will leave you with a sweet quote I heard at the conference: “Every child in our classroom is someone else’s whole world”.

Neuroscience & Social Emotional Learning

Last Wednesday, our annual Speaker Series event brought Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at USC, to Santa Cruz. Between the afternoon in-service for the collective faculty of Gateway School, Mt Madonna School, and York School, and the evening presentation for families and the broader community held at Cabrillo College, I walked away with a head full of ideas and insights about how neuroscience can help shape our approach to education and raising children. Here are just a few of Mary Helen’s phrases I found especially meaningful.

“Embodied cognition means that the body gives the brain a platform for experiencing the world.” Because a brain exists within a specific space and culture, it is co-dependent with the biological and cultural context. This dynamic interdependency plays out in countless ways, including the manner in which we learn to experience feelings. We each have a cultural construct that helps us learn ways to process our feelings, and these varies around the world. This means we have to be reflective, aware and intentional about the norms and structures of our culture.

“Emotional and cognitive development are co-dependent.” Through fMRI and other tools, neuroscience has proven something that we have long believed to be true based on observation and theory; when a child doesn’t have a sense of emotional safety in the environment, or strong social connections with others, the child’s ability to learn is compromised. Our implementation of the RULER approach to teaching emotional intelligence reflects this understanding; we are teaching students to recognize their emotions, to empathize with the emotions of others, and to create healthy social connections. Continue reading “Neuroscience & Social Emotional Learning”

Learning in a Global Context

Dear Gateway families,

In the second half of the 20th century, the world experienced a powerful transformation towards a globalized economy and society. From shifting geopolitical boundaries and the rise of continental political organizations, to military alliances and the proliferation of multinational corporations and free trade zones, human society was more tightly bound together than ever before in an interconnected web of dependencies.

The new administration in Washington D.C. will undoubtedly have a significant impact on how our country chooses to move forward as a global leader in the years to come. This impact will reverberate around the world, and it will be felt here at home, and in independent schools too. Though our school will remain apolitical from the structure of American politics, we have some core values and essential beliefs that have risen to the top of my mind as I consider this shifting landscape.
Continue reading “Learning in a Global Context”