You’re Not Alone

Dear Gateway families,

I’ll begin first by thanking you and then with a request. The appreciation; thank you for all you are doing to support distance learning at home. We could not do it without you, and we greatly appreciate the involvement you are having to support your child’s learning. Now for the request: if you haven’t had a moment to thank a Gateway teacher yet, please do so! Your notes mean a great deal and fill them up in a unique and sustaining way. Our quick pivot to distance learning last week simply could not have been accomplished without extraordinary effort on their part.

Our distance learning program is built on a few key principles. 

First, we know that flexibility is essential. Whether dealing with new technology, managing around working parents and other children, or simply feeling all the feelings that come from experiencing this unusual time, we know that children need their adults to be especially flexible right now. 

Second, we are prioritizing relationships and mental health over curriculum and content. Our school puts heart-centered connection at the core of our program, and that doesn’t change when we move to a distance learning model. 

And third, we believe it is better to start slowly and ramp up the academic work over time than to start fast and have to dial back in the face of overwhelm. This is especially true when so many people are already feeling fragile and anxious due to the public health situation.

Similarly, we hope you can pay attention to three key areas as you support the implementation of the distance learning model at home. 

First, be intentional about setting up your child’s work area; a discrete space for learning, with a comfortable seat at a table or desk, is best for students (not lying on the floor or across their bed). This includes setting up expectations around online and digital health and safety.

Second, especially if you are also working at home, have a clear area or way of indicating to your children when you are “at work”, and teach them how they can ask for your attention appropriately without interrupting your flow. 

And third, be ready and open to new energy influencing your family dynamics, the role each person in the family plays in contributing to the life of the home, and the possibility of changing some of those patterns and ways of relating.

In this time of stress and anxiety, it’s important that we all practice good self-care. Whether it’s lowering the parenting bar or making sure you get enough exercise, engaging in self-care not only helps us stay calm and centered for our children, it models for them how to do the same for themselves.

Right now there are many unknowns about how life will change over the next several months. We don’t know if the spread of the virus will be slowed down, how the economy will respond to the shocks it is experiencing, or when we will be able to resume on-campus education. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and engage in continuous planning that enables us to be responsive to shifting conditions.  

What we do know is that we’ve got this, and so do you. To paraphrase the 1963 hit by Gerry & The Pacemakers, you don’t have to walk this path alone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions, need help, or just want to talk.


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

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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.

Silence Is Not Golden

“[M]y silence is not benign because it protects and maintains the racial hierarchy and my place within it.” — Robin DiAngelo

Conversations about race in America are hard. It’s easy to offend, or to be offended, in these discussions; we quickly and sometimes unknowingly reveal our ignorance, our limits, and our biases. And yet, these conversations are also essential. As the 1619 Project laid out last fall, racism and its legacy has shaped the history of this country for the past 400 years in profound ways. If we are to guide our children towards creating a more just and equitable world, then those of us who are white must think critically about the dominant narratives of society, wrestle with uncomfortable facts about systemic racism, and begin to acknowledge how our racial privilege has unfairly functioned to our benefit.

This summer, our faculty and staff read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and we have slowly been re-reading it and discussing the ideas it contains. We have had to learn a new definition of racism that incorporates a structural dimension to society, rather than simply blaming individual bad actors. We have had to grapple with the fact that we are not exempt from the forces of racial socialization, and to confront the idea of white solidarity, or wanting to save face in front of others. We have had to recognize that we need to have an authentic interest in the perspectives of people of color, because the voice and experience of white people dominates national discourse. And we have had to lean into the fact, sometimes painfully, that our good intentions matter much less than the impact our words and actions have had on people of color.

Here are some of the questions with which we have been grappling:

  • What made a school good? Who went to good schools? Who went to bad schools? If the schools in your area were racially segregated, why didn’t you attend school together? Were “their” schools considered equal to, better than, or worse than, yours? If you went to school together, did you all sit together in the cafeteria? If not, why not? Were the honors/AP classes and the lower track classes equally racially integrated? If not, why not?
  • Colorblindness (saying you don’t see race or that race has no meaning) is a form of racism. How do you see/have you seen color-blind ideology in your own life and teaching practice? How does color blindness show up in school and how does it impact students of color? What evidence do you have that color-blind policies are not leading to more equitable outcomes for students of color?
  • How does racial belonging play out in school? Do students of color feel they belong? How do you know? How is the burden of race a reality for students of color? What are some examples of how they would feel burdened by race? 

Last year our school celebrated Kind is Cool awards, which were given out at our First Friday assemblies to recognize students who had embodied our school value of kindness. There’s no doubt in my mind that kindness continues to be important to children and adults alike, but as Robin DiAngelo points out in this short video, kindness will not end racism; what will make a difference is justice. So that’s where we’re headed.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20th, is the United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice. Gateway School’s definition of citizenship explicitly calls for teachers to help students operate on multiple levels, from the personal and local to the national and global through curriculum that is real, topical, sensitive, and moral. We invite you, as parents and caregivers, to similarly engage with your children on the topic of social justice; you may be surprised at their deep understanding of this idea. And perhaps you’d enjoy thinking together about what you can do to improve the lives of people in other parts of the world, as children are often eager to get involved in supporting entrepreneurship through micro-lending websites, supporting health and nutrition programs, and establishing connections with rural schools. 

Teaching our children that they have the power to promote justice — now that is a transformational education.


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

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!

Think Like a Proton and Stay Positive!

Our annual Middle School science fair was held on Thursday, January 23rd. The culmination of a ten-week process, during the fair all of our Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Grade students present their projects to visiting scientists who serve as judges, and explain their methods, findings and conclusions. Gateway students consistently win awards at the county-wide level and participate in the state science fair, so we sat down with Middle School science teachers Alli Birkhead and Michael Matthews to learn more.

Gateway: Why do we have students participate in the science fair?

Michael Matthews: Science fair gives students an authentic, facilitated chance to think and work like scientists and engineers. They get to pursue their personal interests at a high level and complete a large-scale project in which they can take pride. Along the way they practice and develop critical academic skills in areas such as scientific writing, public speaking and project management, as well as scholarly habits of curiosity and persistence.

GW: What are the steps to completing science fair?

Alli Birkhead: We have a very complete booklet that helps students keep track of where they are in the process, what they need to do next, and how to evaluate the quality of their work. For most kids, the process begins with coming up with an idea that they want to investigate. Then they give it a shot with a preliminary project, and use the feedback from that to make their idea better. And then they move on to carrying out a final project. But with some of the engineering projects they might draw a prototype first, rather than building it; for example, one student wanted to build a hovercraft, so he tried it out with a hairdryer on a tabletop, and ran into some problems that helped him think about the final project. Another child was interested in filtering for pH and did a bunch of tests and made a discovery about chemistry that hydrogen was difficult to filter, and so he switched from filtering for pH to filtering dye.

GW: How do you help students prepare for the presentation itself?

MM: Public speaking makes many people nervous, regardless of their age, so students are given a list of general questions that the judges might ask and practice with those at home. Then we had students present their projects to each other in class as a warm-up, and practice interviews with classmates. This year the 5th graders also interviewed the 6th grade, to give them an extra round of practice. But really, the best preparation is in the students’ experience with their projects. Because they’ve been so closely involved in these over the past two months, the core of the student’s success with their presentations lies in their deep understanding of what they hypothesized, how they went about developing their methods, and what they found. The step of interpreting those findings as conclusions, and extending those conclusions into new questions, is another important area where they tend to grow over the years.

GW: Who serves as a judge?

AB: Our judges are all scientists who have science degrees or work in the field, including some Gateway parents. We send out emails to judges from past years to see if they’d like to continue, and also ask them to reach out to their friends and colleagues, and that networking helps us recruit new judges. Some of the judges this year included an ecologist, an engineer, an astronomer, a statistician, an oceanographer/chemist, and a computer scientist.

GW: What’s the biggest challenge for students?

MM: It varies for each age group. Deciding on a question that they can answer in the time we give them is hard for everyone, and especially for 6th graders who are doing this for the first time; they think way too big, and then need to pare it down to something that is doable.  For many 7th graders, establishing a solid methodology for data measurement is a significant growth area, and they struggle to establish how to measure changes in their projects, like how much algae grew in a container. For the 8th graders, who are on their third time through and have a much higher level of scientific understanding, the main challenge is often finding something they are interested and curious about that matches the scope of their scientific skills and their access to professional tools, so that their innate curiosity can be satisfied throughout the project. And also by 8th grade they have to manage much more scientific writing.

GW: How do our students do at the county level?

AB: It’s really exciting that our students do very well at the county level. Typically we send 10-12 students to participate in various categories, and about half of them receive awards of some kind. And from there, usually 3-5 are invited to go to the state-wide competition, which takes place later in the spring down in Los Angeles. We’ve had 18 students go to the state competition in the past four years, and it’s fun to see how those students iterate on their projects as they move from the Gateway fair to the county fair to the state fair, and really step up their presentations each time.

GW: What do you love about science fair?

MM: Seeing students do multiple trials and engage in the process of gathering data and thinking through their protocols, or those doing engineering projects trying to make their thing move or fly. It’s really seeing them begin to think like a scientist that’s exciting to me. I went to college thinking I could be a scientist because of what I knew, but then I learned quickly that I didn’t really understand what it meant to do science.

AB: For me, the best part is when the students present their projects, and the sense of accomplishment that they and I have after this three-month process. Every project is unique, and we get to learn something new every year because the students pick topics in which they are personally interested.

“You must take a stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Other America (1967)

Columbus discovered America.
The Constitution proclaimed that all men are created equal.
The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Perhaps, like me, you were taught these (and many other) so-called facts without reference to the full truths and historical context within which these ideas were presented — that tens of thousands of indigenous people were on this continent before Columbus, and that the national holiday in his honor was due to the efforts of Italian Americans who aimed to be culturally assimilated as White in the early 20th Century; that enslaved peoples were widely considered property and not humans during the Colonial era, and the “three-fifths compromise” in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 counted slaves as people only for the purpose of giving southern states more seats in Congress; and that the 19th Amendment of 1920 gave only White women the right to vote, and it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that all people regardless of race or gender held the lawful right to vote.

Though I used to look back very fondly at my K-12 experience, I have increasingly become more concerned about the brazen white supremacy embedded in my early schooling. I remember and am grateful for the environment of love and care I experienced from teachers, but now I wonder if all children felt that, and how it worked out for those who did not — especially the black and brown children with whom I did not develop lasting friendships. I remember the feeling of personal success as I internalized knowledge and developed academic skills, but now I wonder how the experiences of other students shaped their perspective on the classroom and themselves — especially the students that struggled with traditional academic content and instruction. And I am full of questions about why my teachers did not bring critical consciousness to decolonize the curriculum by exposing the ways in which narratives presented as facts marginalized and erased the experiences of people of color in America.

I’m grateful to see our community of educators and families lean into the work of becoming better educated on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion this year, and how we are translating these growing understandings into new classroom curriculum and practices. One of the crucial steps that we adults can do to help our children thrive now and throughout their lives is to vigorously continue to surface our assumptions, dismantle our biases, and educate ourselves about the perspectives of those who experience life very differently from our own — whether by dint of gender, race, class, body type, nationality, or other facet of human experience. It is our responsibility to first seek out the voices of people with those diverse experiences, and then dive deeply into their words and worlds so as to shed new light on their experiences of our shared society, and in doing so better illuminate the complex truths of humanity to and for ourselves.

Later this month the United States takes a national holiday to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While many of us are familiar with I Have A Dream, his speech delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, he left behind an incredible body of work that continues to be relevant to the work of social justice today. Whether his damning identification of the particular challenge posed by moderate Whites in Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963), his clarity in naming racial injustice, poverty, and war as society’s three main problems in The Quest for Peace and Justice (1964) and The Three Evils of Society (1967), or his radical intellectualism foreseeing the neo-conservative movement that arose after his death in The Other America (1967), Dr. King’s work continues to loom large over the modern society more than 50 years after his assassination. 

I hope you join me in finding inspiration and wonder by diving deeply into the words and thoughts of Dr. King, and a renewed optimism in our community’s efforts to teach our children the full truths of American history, along with the development of their moral compass, their critical thinking skills, and the agency and confidence they need to become positive change agents as they grow into the next generation of civic participants and activists.

What an exciting time to work in education. What a gift to be at Gateway!

Welcome back,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Middle School Theater Elective: The Outsiders

Last week we were treated to a riveting performance of The Outsiders directed by Terri Steinmann from West Creative Performing Arts. Each trimester Middle Schoolers choose from a variety of electives. To see more about our electives click here.

Where Experience and Innovation Meet

Dear Gateway families,

I was fortunate to witness two extraordinary events in our program on Monday, December 10th.

Archeologist Dustin McKenzie

In the morning, archeologist Dustin McKenzie spoke with our Third Grade students about the lives of the indigenous people of this area, while examining artifacts including a mortar estimated to be over 1,000 years old that was found in the backyard of a Gateway family, as well as chert knives and atlatl (spear-throwing devices). Mr. McKenzie spoke about how these tools would have been used in the daily lives of indigenous people and why it’s important to contact archeologists when native artifacts are found, to a sea of raised hands and questions bursting on the lips of students.

In the afternoon, the curtain went up on our Middle School theater elective production of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton for our Upper School students, with a second show for families in the evening. The story of two groups of teenagers struggling to find their place in the world, over the course of 90 minutes our students brought alive the joy, despair and conflict of these nuanced characters. While some of our students are committed actors, for others this elective was the first time they had ever been in a play, and the class provided the chance for them to try something new in a safe, supportive setting.

Johnnycakes and Ponyboy

These two interdisciplinary experiences gave students the opportunity to think and use the behaviors of scholarship, citizenship, compassion and justice that sit at the heart of our mission. The students (both audiences and actors) were deeply and fully engaged in the activities; they were intellectually curious about the ideas presented and discussed; and they were open-hearted to the needs and experiences of others, and the way other people’s lives unfold. By grappling with how to responsibly act if you discover an indigenous artifact, what to do in the face of unfair social pressures and constraints, and how to reconcile the good and bad deeds in our lives, these educational experiences captured the essence of our educational model, and I was grateful to all of the faculty and staff who helped make them possible.

Speaking of being grateful, in the run-up to the gift giving that characterizes the season, several people have asked me for help with resources to find books written by authors from diverse backgrounds, including race, gender, sexual identity, and more. I want to use this opportunity to share the resources with our community. The research is clear that children experience better academic outcomes when they have more books at home; as we intentionally move towards fostering healthy perspectives on diversity and equity, having books written by authors from diverse backgrounds dealing with diverse topics becomes an effective tool for families to reinforce messages of inclusion and justice to children.

Cheers to you all as 2019 winds to a close; I hope to see you at the Winter Solstice Festival put on by the Gateway Family Association on December 18th!


Dr. Zachary Roberts

Head of School

Interfaith Panel Explores Beliefs with Middle Schoolers

As part of the Cultural Studies curriculum in our Middle School, last month we partnered with Islamic Network Group (ING) to host an interfaith panel that included a Buddhist, Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, and a Muslim. We sat down with Kim Lenz, our Cultural Studies teacher, to talk about this powerful learning opportunity.

Gateway School: Why did you organize this panel?

Kim Lenz: In 6th and 7th grades, our curriculum includes the development of various religions. This panel was a way of bringing these constructs that can seem ancient in the historical context and connecting them to the present for our students. In particular, having people who are representatives of their faiths and come from a viewpoint of sharing values across faiths helps students connect with those perspectives.

GW: How did you prepare students?

KL: We’d been talking about beliefs and values as a general theme of cultures as a basis for understanding diverse cultural perspectives. The panel was actually providing important concrete knowledge about these specific religions, and we will now be able to go deeper into the content with that prior knowledge in mind. It was amazing to have five major faiths represented because they have different sets of beliefs, and at the same time they can all be friends and treat each other with respect, and that really impressed our students. We’ve hosted ING panels before, but we’ve only had monotheistic faiths represented before. This was the first time we had a Buddhist and a Hindu on the panel, which is really beneficial for our ongoing discussions on diversity and variation of beliefs and practices

GW: What did the panelists talk about?

KL: Primarily, they gave us a glimpse into a group of people with diverse religious identities who have shared values between them. Our students are learning how cultural values and beliefs (religious or otherwise) affect human behaviors. Reflecting on these aspects of culture in ourselves and others allows us to consider the why of people’s behaviors, and also allows us to have critical conversation with different perspectives in mind

The presenters also focused on the concept of extremism, which exists across all of the religions, and how violence can manifest in those viewpoints. They discussed extremism as when a highly selective perspective on a religion excludes many points in the general philosophy, and I think this was helpful for our students who hear the word “extremist” to have a sense of the context and definition that carries. They explained that extremist views and behaviors do not exemplify the majority of beliefs and practices that people of faith have and that because of media exposure, these views often represent what people assume is the entirety of a religion. This leads to stereotyping, which can increase the power that extremist groups are trying to obtain through often violent behavior.

One thing that jumped out at me is that the students haven’t heard about many critical events in recent history, such as the shootings in Christchurch or at the Tree of Life Synagogue. However, they were very aware of stereotypes associated with different religions, and that violence does occur in the name of religion.

GW: How does this discussion and work tie into the school’s Social Justice standards?

KL: In our standards, the domain of Identity requires that “students will recognize that people’s multiple identities interact and create unique and complex individuals.” So this dug into that idea deeply. It also connected with four of the Diversity standards, including “Students will express comfort with people who are both similar to and different from them and engage respectfully with all people” and “Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified”. And finally, in terms of Justice, the students were investigating this topic as they became aware of the inequities and power structures both within these religions, and in the relationship between society and religion more broadly. Awareness of these concepts allows students to choose to take Action, the fourth domain of the standards.

GW: What comes next in the curriculum?

KL: I asked students to write reflections about their experience of the panel, which included identifying additional and new questions that they have. We’re going to investigate some of those, such as “Why do people choose to associate with a religion when they don’t follow the standards?” and “If you are an extremist, do you not communicate with other religions?”

Going forward, as we trace the development of these religions, we are also looking at current events and how people are treating each other in different parts of the world. We are starting the young readers’ edition of I am Malala in 7th grade, and then we’ll look at Girl Rising to look at how different cultures have different behaviors based on their values and beliefs. This helps give perspective, and not just critique something that seems different. And in 8th grade, we are looking closely at Christian ideals that have influenced much of modern American culture. For example, we’ve talked about “what is a Puritan” and why they wanted to dress the indigenous people who were here, and why they were caught up in their comfort with nudity and their bodies. We will look at our currency and how that depicts our culture as well, from religion to politics, and examining that through a lens of beliefs and comparing personal to societal. And then we’ll look at regional development in the US, and how religion ties into that, such as white supremacy of the Mission era and how that unfolded. This leads to important conversations about power, and how our beliefs and values cause us to act in certain ways, which can include pushing aside other people’s beliefs.

GW: This sounds very powerful! Thanks for sharing about it with our community.

KL: My pleasure. Ask the kids — it’s very compelling content for them, and so important to learn and think about.

Flash Kindness Events

Kindness Graffiti Board
Students added their messages, positive self-talk, words of encouragement, drawings to the Kindness board.

Kindness Notes
Students picked a name, wrote a note. Every single student will get a Kindness note!

4th Graders writing Kindness Notes to deliver to all Gateway Students.

To read more about How To Raise Kind Kids check out our Head of School Blog.