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 Youcubed.org 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: Youcubed.org

Alfie Kohn: Punished by Rewards

Cathy Seeley: Faster Isn’t Smarter

Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher: Neuroteach


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

November School Day Tours

Tuesday, November 6th, 9am – 11am  RSVP HERE.

We hope you will join us for our October School Day Tours to experience first hand our dynamic classrooms in action. Tour our K-8th grade and specialist classes in action. Come and learn how our teachers use innovative teaching informed by research to inspire a love of learning. Meet parent ambassadors, students and our Head of School.



Poetry contest winner!

Sofia Donaldson-Zurita’s poem, Crow, won first place in the Scotts Valley Arts Commission’s annual Verse in the Valley Poetry Contest. Sofia was invited to share her poem at a Scotts Valley City Council meeting and received a book with her poem printed inside. Congratulations Sofia!


By Olga Sofia Donaldson-Zurita

Crow flies so high- soars

Crow’s silky feathers ink black

Regal – Beautiful

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

Girls Leadership is coming to Gateway School!

Register for a Girl & Grown-up Workshop with Girls Leadership!

Girls Leadership offers a series of courses for girls and grown-ups to build emotional intelligence. In the upcoming workshops, girl & grown-up pairs will learn about identifying healthy relationships, finding their voices, and communicating more effectively. Girls also develop resilient responses to conflict, drama, challenges, and mistakes. The program is interactive, fun, and enlightening, and it’s also a great opportunity to gain insight and spend time with your daughter in a new and different way.

Nine Tools for True Friendship (Grades 2 & 3)

Saturdays, September 15, 22, October 6, 13, 9am-10:30am

  • Week One: Standing Up For Yourself

  • Week Two: Sharing Feelings

  • Week Three: Double Sorry

  • Week Four: Choices For Friend Trouble

Register online at

4 Steps For Getting What You Need (Grades 4 & 5)

Saturdays, September 15, 22, October 6, 13, 11am-12:30pm

  • Week One: Assertive Self-Expression

  • Week Two: Emotional Intelligence at Home

  • Week Three: Owning Our Mistakes

  • Week Four: Road Map for Conflict

Register online at

Be Who You Are, Say What You Mean (Grades 6,7 & 8)

Saturdays, September 15, 22, October 6, 13, 1pm-3pm

  • Week One: Dealing with Difficult Friends

  • Week Two: Emotional Intelligence

  • Week Three: Making Mistakes & Not So Funny Jokes

  • Week Four: Four Steps for Healthy Conflict


Register online at https://girlsleadership.org/programs/gateway678/

Scholarships are available. Visit girlsleadership.org/scholarships for more details

Alumni Spotlight

Gateway School Alum, Doug Leonard, returned to Gateway last week to perform for current students. Doug’s honest, warm-hearted sentiments were as inspiring as his voice. He shared his music and talked with students about the impact music has had on his life.

Doug graduated from Gateway in 2010. He fondly remembers Gateway School talent shows, the Harvest Festival and playing flag football.

Doug is a talented guitarist, pianist, and storyteller currently living in Boston, Massachusetts, studying at Berklee College of Music. He is writing, performing and composing the works of his upcoming album “In the Open”.

Teaching Teachers

Gateway School’s physical education teacher, Kirsten Mehl, was invited to present at the 45th Annual K-8 Elementary Physical Education Workshop. Presenters come from all over the world to present their unique ideas.

Here is what EPEW attendees shared about Kirsten:

“Kirsten’s session at EPEW was one of my favorites! I really liked how she integrated social emotional learning into instruction and shared strategies I can use with my own students. Her passion for the topic was inspirational. Her students and school are lucky to have her!”
Terri Drain, National Board Certified Teacher
SHAPE America Board of Directors

“Kirsten’s session was tremendous. Her commitment to teaching the whole child is impressive and inspiring. I learned a ton.”
Steve Reifman
Classroom Teacher

“Kirsten’s presentation and interactive games, with the SEL layered into everything, was the best PD I’ve attended since getting my teaching credential! She articulated so well many of my main beliefs about Physical Education and educating the whole child. What an inspiring day! I am so excited to implement some changes into my classes and to have more intentional SEL!”
Leah Pero
Middle School Physical Education Teacher

Professional Development

One of our third grade teachers, Kaia Huseby, shares from her experience attending the Columbia Teachers College: Summer Writing Institute.


In the first week of August, I traveled to New York City to attend a writing workshop for teachers. Many of Gateway’s elementary teachers have attended this workshop, so I was eager to see what it was all about. 1,200 teachers from all over the world were there to learn about how to teach writing; I met people from Jordan, France, Texas, and Florida. I even met teachers from public schools where so much emphasis is placed on test preparation that there is hardly any time for writing. That is difficult for me to imagine, since we place such emphasis on the development of writing skills at Gateway.

My favorite part of the week-long program was the small group workshop of about 25 teachers. We were active participants in the writing exercises so that we could learn what writing workshop feels like as a student. Models of personal narratives were shown to us and we analyzed them together. Then we were asked to think and write quickly, to get first ideas down for a personal narrative of our own. Then, after being offered tips and techniques, we were told to go back to our writing and apply them. This made me feel ownership over the process, in a way that I hope students will feel during writing workshop. As our group leader talked and shared more strategies, I felt sad to have to stop writing.

Another fun assignment was to choose a topic to practice information writing. After reviewing mentor texts, we dove in. I started a piece describing the process of soldering; this is a new skill I have been practicing this summer, as part of making jewelry. Writing workshop involves a lot of writing, but also a great deal of quick shares and check-ins with a partner. This makes the writing less solitary and more social; it also made me feel continuous support from others as I honed my work.

Now that I have experienced this workshop, I am excited to apply what I learned to all that we do in third grade writing!

Gateway School walk-a-thon

Gateway School’s Student Council and their lead teacher Kim Lenz inspired the entire school to take part in a student-led walk-a-thon. Each class selected an organization that they were passionate about supporting. Students raised money for the organizations they chose, made posters sharing each organization’s information and mission, and then walked in support of them.  Thank you to our Student Council for leading this effort and to all those who supported and participated in this fun and powerful event! Together our students raised over $11,000 for the organizations that their classes chose to support!

Organizations supported by the walk-a-thon:

Santa Cruz SPCA

Save the Whales

Save Our Shores

Ocean Conservancy

Native Ca Animal Rescue


Jacob’s Heart

Marine Mammal Rescue

CA Native Animal Rescue

Museum of Natural History

Child Abuse Prevention Center

Susan G Komen Foundation

Cancer Research Institute

Santa Cruz County Health Center

Walnut Avenue Women and Family Center

Santa Cruz Animal Shelter

Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz

Does wingbeat frequency predict honeybee flower selection?

State Science Fair Update:

Gateway student, Abigail Goodman, won fourth place in the California State Science Fair Zoology category. She was one of only nine sixth-graders to place in California, and one of two projects from Santa Cruz to win.

Abigail’s project was titled “B Flat Bee: Does wingbeat frequency predict honeybee flower selection?” She discovered a novel potential tool for optimizing how beekeepers use honeybees to pollinate commercial crops!


Five Gateway students head to the State Science Fair!

This past January, ten middle school students who participated in our Gateway School Science Fair were invited to present at the Santa Cruz County Science and Engineering Fair in March. Flynn Rorty, Sofia Kvaternik, and Abigail Goodman were invited from 6th grade, Jared Henderson, Calvin Whittle-Daggett, Naiya Samios-McQuain, and Konish Bhattacharya were invited from 7th grade, and Owen L’Heureux, Sophie Folger, and Ty Koebler were invited from 8th grade.

To prepare for the County Science Fair these students dedicated extra time outside of school to revise and ready their projects for presentation to the county judges. Gateway students collectively won nine individual special awards at County, and five were invited to progress on to compete at the California State Science Fair in Los Angeles. Good luck to Sofia K., Abigail, Konish, Owen, and Ty. Gateway is proud of all of these students’ accomplishments!