Teaching and Learning in the time of COVID-19

By Patricia Lucas, Spanish teacher at Gateway School

As a teacher of over forty years, I felt I had  “seen it all” — every educational trend, methodology, pedagogy, and innovation. This most recent challenge sent this “maestra”, a World Language middle school teacher at Gateway School, into a near free fall. The educational challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic have caught all educational constituents off guard scrambling for the best ways to move forward. 

My students’ varying responses to Distance Learning have brought me new insights, unexpected innovation, flexibility and challenges.

It is my belief that the most critical need for all students is to feel valued as members of a school or class community. This can be difficult to achieve through a computer screen particularly for the youngest of our learners or those with specific learning differences or challenges. The innate need for inclusion, self identity, and basic security is all-encompassing to most students. Some say that without the steady maintenance of these vital connections the next epidemic we may face could be the most serious of all, one of mental health. 

The well being and feelings of connectedness for our students must be of the highest priority. Ideally, we must tend to this every day, in every class, and at every minute spent in the “on screen” classroom. I am very fortunate that Gateway School subscribes to this philosophy and places it into practice every day.

While learning and skill mastery remain paramount it truly cannot effectively happen without first considering and tending to each student’s social emotional needs. This Social Emotional Learning (SEL) must be firmly in place to nurture the entire class community, foster connectedness and ensure student engagement. 

In short these tenants might be prioritized as such:

  • Students over Standards
  • Compassion over Compliance
  • Patience over Procedures
  • Empathy over Enforcement
  • Grace over Gimmicks

Some may argue that potential delays in curriculum delivery and mastery due to the extra time SEL requires make it too hard to implement. The well being and feelings of connectedness are my highest priorities in order to create the best environment for learning. The above tenants remain key lessons in my curriculum as an educator teaching AND learning in the time of COVID-19.

Patricia Lucas is a World Language educator of over forty years. The past 23 years she has been teaching middle school Spanish at Gateway School in Santa Cruz, CA, the only CAIS accredited school in Santa Cruz County. She has a passion for teaching and learning and credits much of the knowledge she has gained to the hundreds of wonderful students with whom she has worked these many years. Gracias por todo a mis muchos estudiantes estimados!

Alumna Stephanie Miller

Alumna Stephanie Miller (Class of 2006) never dreamed she would be a teacher when she was a Gateway School elementary student. She remembers struggling in all of her subjects. She credits Gateway’s Resource Support Coordinator Joan Saia for being the person who taught her how to read and to become an engaged student.

“Joan is dear to my heart. She took the time to work with me many times a week for several years and reached that part of me that wanted to learn, that quite frankly, I didn’t know was there because I struggled so much.”

Stephanie graduated from Santa Catalina High School in Monterey and earned her Bachelor’s degree in History from Santa Clara University in 2010. After college Stephanie was involved in special education in the Hawaii public school system until 2014 when she moved back to the Bay Area to teach 4th and 5th-grade humanities at a Title 1 school in East San Jose. 95% of her students were English language learners and were struggling to learn how to read English. Stephanie could empathize with her struggling students and applied many of the same methods Joan did when reaching Stephanie all those years ago. 

Stephanie clearly remembers one thrilling moment when one of her students read a complete sentence out loud for the first time in a small guided reading group. She said the look of accomplishment on his face was amazing. He was nervous, but not scared, and his excitement at achieving his goal was invigorating to Stephanie as well as to the other students. 

Last year Stephanie was looking for a new challenge. She accepted a position as a 5th-grade math teacher at the Charter School of Morgan Hill (CSMH) though math was Stephanie’s least favorite subject when she was a young student. 

“I struggled in ALL school subjects when I was a young child, and math just happened to be my least favorite. But nothing in school came easy for me. Joan Saia taught me how to read, and how to be a better student in all subjects. And that’s where the other Gateway teachers dovetailed with Joan’s efforts and taught me that all learning could be fun, even areas that were extra challenging, like math. And it’s because of my unique learning challenges, and the dedication of all the Gateway teachers who helped me, that I can now teach other children how to learn.” 

Stephanie’s most poignant Gateway memory was the 8th grade trip to Washington, DC. Her class was the first 8th-grade class to go on the DC trip, so it was very special. She distinctly remembers her classmates’ reactions at the Holocaust Museum, and how the experience brought them even closer together as a class. 

Her favorite memories from Gateway are times spent with former classmates and their families. She still sees many of them to this day, and also has enduring relationships with many of her Gateway teachers. Stephanie says that she takes the Gateway community with her into every experience she has as an adult. 

In the spirit of giving back, Stephanie is currently serving as a Gateway School Trustee. She has been on the board for three years and is a key link to the alumni community. 

Thank you, Stephanie, for passing along your love of learning to future generations, for reaching struggling learners, for acting with grace, and for advocating for those who need extra help.

When Data Meets Candy: A Voting Story

Sixth Grade Math and Science teacher Michael Matthews has integrated an interdisciplinary study of data science with the Humanities curriculum. Middle School students have been studying different aspects of the elections in their Humanities classes for the past several weeks. Michael used the math and science classes to add data analysis to this study and decided to use Halloween candy as a way to get them involved in the election process.

We sat down with Sixth Grade Math and Science teacher Michael Matthews and asked him to tell us more.

What’s going on with this election project we’ve been hearing about?

MM: Students in Middle School Humanities classes have had studying different aspects of the elections for the past several weeks. I wanted to use our math and science classes to add data analysis to this study and decided to use Halloween candy. It’s been a great way to give kids a tactile experience and get them involved in actual elections.

It really hooks to their lived experience too.

MM: Yes, it’s perfectly in-the-moment and works for this season. It wouldn’t come off the same in February or July. Last month the students voted for Student Council, and the actual process was somewhat complicated or confusing to some, and I could see the stress on their faces. After that experience, I asked them, “do you think that voting for President is easy?” and I could see the lights go on for everyone that this is a big deal. So the idea that elections sound easy but are complicated is something we are exploring throughout the whole Middle School. For example, the Humanities curriculum has looked at topics such as voting access, voting complications, and whether ballots get counted or not. The candy election was set up to allow for spoiled ballots, for example, if someone selected more than four candies their vote didn’t count.

So students voted for their favorite candy?

MM: The first stage of this project was choosing the top four, and I did that in honor of the local experience and the race for the Santa Cruz City Council. All of the candidates are women, which is pretty cool. I opened my ballot with the class and talked through it, which helped them understand how ballots work. I had a set of candies to include, and the kids added some more ideas, so in the end, we listed 15-20 choices. We sent it out to all students and staff with a Gateway email account and got back about 90 responses. The data is anonymous so we can’t analyze who voted for what, and the students talked about whether to do an exit poll, but we didn’t.

The second phase will use ranked-choice voting, which is happening in Maine and some other districts around the country. This is a way of voting that potentially changes the divisive nature of elections because it might encourage people to appeal to the middle instead of the extremes. We’re having the top four vote-getting candies run for mayor, which are Sour Patch Kids, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Skittles, and Kit Kat. This phase is also a week long.

The third phase will be a “ticket” election, just like how the President and Vice-President choices are presented in pairs. The students will help decide on the tickets among the candies. There are four or five ticket choices on Presidential ballots in California, but nationally there are only two big parties who have a realistic shot, so we might add in a fringe third-party candidate like licorice to see if that siphons off any votes.

Phase four is where this initial idea for this whole project came from, which will be creating power rankings. This is something that often happens in sports, and it’s a way of going through one-on-one matchups to find out which is most favored. 538 did this with about 80 candies, and that was inspiring to see. I think the kids will really enjoy it.

Why is teaching data and measurement important?

MM: I’ve always appreciated how mathematics comes alive when numbers and patterns are paired with images. It’s a pleasing combination, like complex flavors in food, where there is a mix of sweet and salty and savory — data visualization does all of that. I’m also fascinated by how people manipulate data visualizations and represent things nefariously, and want our students to be literate in that way so that when they are being lied to or told half-truths, they can determine that for themselves.

That really ties right to our mission statement!

MM: Yes, it’s sinking in there with their innate sense of justice, and I know the Humanities program is addressing this directly too. For example, we did a gerrymandering puzzle in class, since this was brought up in Humanities. One party was underrepresented compared to the other, and the kids could redraw the map to address this issue. The only rule is that each voting district has to be comprised of five contiguous squares. And what they recognized was that politicians have the right to draw districts that don’t make sense outside of supporting their party — they aren’t based on neighborhoods or simplicity. They had learned this concept in Humanities, and this activity actually put it into practice. So this gets us to questions about what is legal compared to what is ethical.

What else are students learning in this project?

MM: So far we’ve been looking at how data is represented, and we’re using this project to help the students learn how to use Google Sheets, which is an important technical skill for managing information. Later on, they are going to learn what makes a good survey question, what makes a good poll question, and what does not. I recently introduced a “double-barreled” survey question, and we talked about why those are not good questions to ask. And all of this helps prepare students for the rigors of the Science Fair, which comes later in the year.

Have you had any surprises thus far?

MM: The level of background information that students have, and how they are able to take the language from Humanities and apply it in this new context. They are becoming informed citizens about the challenges to our democracy. And all in three weeks, this isn’t a ton of class time! And the rest of the curriculum is continuing too. It’s really great to see that this is being woven into the Sixth Grade curriculum successfully.

Welcome On Campus!

In the last few weeks, we’ve welcomed Kindergarten, First, Second, and Third Grade on campus. Fourth and Fifth Grades are next!

P.E. fun!
Kindergartners heading out to their play area.
Happy reunions!
Students used rocks in their engineered tower buildings today for the first time ever because, you know, they were right there on the ground! Teachers are finding many bonuses when teaching in their outdoor classrooms.

Explore Life Lab

Our Life Lab Science teachers Caprice and Melody along with Gateway’s farm managers have been busy tending the garden this summer.

The Gourd Arbor is starting to fill in.

The Kindergarten Sunflower House features a heart shaped space to explore.

Growing for Good

For the last 29 years, Gateway School has delivered produce grown in its Life Lab Garden to a variety of agencies through its Growing for Good program. Recipients have included Second Harvest Food Bank, the Familia Center, River Street Shelter Kitchen, and this year, Grey Bears. The Growing for Good program was developed to help students understand access to food and what and how the supply chain works. Every fall as part of Gateway School’s Social Justice curriculum Kindergartners and 5th graders discuss what they are thankful for and learn about those who are less fortunate. 

Gateway School’s Life Lab Garden supports a number of school events each year so in order to provide produce for the larger community, students plant extra crops. They plant, tend, harvest, and deliver the produce. This year, due to the shelter in place order, students were not able to harvest or deliver but that did not prevent Gateway from donating their garden’s bounty. With the help of Gateway’s Life Lab farm managers, Dave Gardner and Tricia Sven, Life Lab instructor Caprice Potter harvested and delivered more than 150 pounds of produce to the Grey Bears in Santa Cruz on April 1, 2020. 

Gateway’s Kindergarten through Middle School students develop a strong sense of personal responsibility for the natural world and others in their community through the school’s rich Environmental Science curriculum which, like all instruction, is integrated with Gateway’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practice. Taking what they learn in the classroom into the community lets students discover and experience the difference that they can make.

To learn more about our Life Lab’s unique Environmental Science curriculum follow this link.

This article was published in SantaCruzParent.com, Aptos Times, and Growing up in Santa Cruz.

California Invention Convention Winners!

A total of 150 students from around the state of California, many from Santa Cruz County, entered their inventions in the California Invention Convention last month. Inventions solved problems that ranged from those in the backyard to those that are global. Three Gateway School inventions and their inventors were among those selected to virtually attend the 2020 National Invention Convention.

This is the first year Gateway students participated in the California Invention Convention. 5th-grade teacher, Kurt Almendras is passionate about the idea of creating and inventing. Design challenges are also part of the co-curricular classes in Gateway’s Discovery Center. Students are challenged to solve problems using hands-on projects using the invention process of Identifying, Understanding, Ideating, Designing, Testing, Building, and adjusting their designs.

The process

5th graders completed three design challenges that lead up to the Invention Convention project.

Using foam disks, cardboard, straws, coffee stirrers, and tape, students had to design an apparatus that traveled approximately 2 meters.
Using 20 pieces of spaghetti and tape, students had to create a structure that could support a marshmallow at the top of the structure.
Students had to take an empty toilet paper roll and turn it into something else. Students then presented their projects to their Kindergarten buddies.

Three Gateway School inventions and their inventors were among those selected to move on to Nationals.

Congratulations to Kate (Windmill on Wheels), Nate and Milo (Produce Protector), and Piper (Solo Soccer Touch Trainer). Good luck at Nationals!

Kate (Windmill on Wheels)
Nate and Milo (Produce Protector)
Piper (Solo Soccer Touch Trainer)

Observe. Engage. Persist. Express.

Kindergarten: Lines –> Maps

Using black paint and a variety of wheeled toy vehicles, Kindergartners observed closely to discover, compare, and contrast the lines and textures created from each tire. Some of the tracks we created were smooth and solid, while others bumped and skipped as they rolled. This investigation eventually shifted to imaginative play involving the different types of vehicles, which is always fun!

Using our investigative knowledge of lines, we continued to explore the subject through the lens of maps. This was an emergent topic that came about from student interest. To begin, we observed and altered existing maps, looking closely to name the types of lines we noticed, as well as adding our own markings. We discussed what a map is, can be, and can help us with, and the many different types of maps we may see. 

1st Grade: Color –> Shapes

What is a shape? Through inquiry, trial, and discussion, 1st graders discovered that shapes are in fact flat, enclosed pieces of space and that there are many different kinds. We began breaking down the shapes into two categories: geometric shapes (shapes used in math/shapes that “have names” to define their characteristics) and organic shapes (all-natural shapes that do not have names concrete defined qualities).

2nd grade: Self Portraits –> Art As Tradition

After studying multiple types of self-portraits and different ways to convey emotion and personality, it was the second graders’ turn to create their own! Using mirrors, students carefully studied their faces and made important decisions about which details to include and which style to utilize.

Students utilized their knowledge of facial expressions and portraits to explore a variety of masks. 2nd graders will be creating animal masks as part of their native California animals study.

3rd Grade: Art & Nature

3rd graders explored ways to use nature in their artwork and as inspiration for their work. Students utilized natural pigments found in sedimentary rocks. Many of the rocks were a type of ochre (or light brownish color) and by adding water to the rocks, students created a type of primitive paint. Students had the chance to explore these materials freely on the pavement, choosing to create words, pictures, and handprints to leave their mark.

Students explored composition through collages of pressed leaves, utilizing wooden pieces as our surface. By carefully considering the different types of composition (balanced, unbalanced, central, etc.) students thoughtfully moved their chosen leaves to create a pleasing arrangement.

To finish the art and nature unit 3rd graders explored natural fabric dyes! 

4th Grade: Mixed Media Sculpture –> Street Art

4th graders were led through the entire five-step process of creating a mixed media sculpture from Planning to Armature to Surfacing (Plaster Gauze/Papier Mache) to Painting with Acrylics to Final Details. Recycled materials used included cardboard, fabrics, plastic and foam packaging, and many more! The process involved a lot of questioning, a lot of problem-solving, and a ton of play!

5th Grade: Observational Drawing

5th graders have been extremely focused on improving their drawing skills, through a variety of life drawing exercises and comic-creation activities. After our exploration of gesture drawings and close-ups of our eyes and faces, we transitioned to shading techniques. Using black paper and white charcoal, students were asked to “carve-out” the pieces or “shapes of light” from the dark paper. Using mid-tone gray paper and oil pastels, students were taught to look closely, layer colors to create complex hues, and explore with their pastels.

Kindergarten Adventures

Out and About


Owl pellets. Kindergartners collected the contents of owl pellets for further study.
Walking Mindfulness practice. Welcome to the labyrinth in our Life Lab Garden. Walk quietly on the path…leave space between walkers…explore your inner world…


…and there’s always room for play!