Clarity of Purpose

Consistency is a funny thing.

On one hand, consistency is key to excellence in performance. The author and scholar Jim Collins wrote that “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change, the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency,” which reshaped the thinking of a generation of innovators and leaders around the globe. It is the foundation of the Six Sigma technique for process improvement used by many companies, and an essential principle by which students build skills, teachers refine their craft, and organizations achieve efficiency.

On the other hand, consistency is often and easily misunderstood to mean unyielding rigidity. When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” he highlighted the importance of being flexible and evolving as new information and ideas come to light. And this too is essential in attaining peak performance, as responding to both internal factors (such as greater skill and capacity) and external factors (such as scientific understanding and advancements) allows for improved achievement.

What does this have to do with raising children?

The past few years have been anything but consistent. From the pandemic to the wildfires, from changing laws to elected officials, from economic gyrations to family transitions, we’ve been navigating an intensely chaotic time in which children look to their parents and adult caregivers with an urgent need for comfort – and for increased consistency in their lives.

How do we be consistent as parents and caregivers? How do we know when to hold firm on a boundary we’ve drawn (children must brush their teeth after dessert, not before), and when do we recognize the need to be flexible (much to my surprise, we’ve allowed our 15-year-old to get a job)?

Last week I read this article from Psychology Today and learned several concepts about the importance of consistency when it comes to helping children deal with increased anxiety at a time like this. Chief among these was that it is important to limit adult accommodations, which is doing (or not doing) things to alleviate a child’s anxiety or stress because that ultimately leads to reduced independent coping skills.

As I sat with this article, I realized that one way parents/guardians can navigate the challenging border between being too rigid and overly flexible is to continually reflect on the values and purpose that underlie their parenting behaviors. I want to help one of my children become a better soccer player, so I bought an agility ladder and make time for us to go to the park; but if she only wants to do it for a little while, or runs out of steam, I must respond positively instead of forcing more high-knee reps. Because my deeper value is to cultivate her love for the game, and for the time we spend together.

At Gateway, our mission is to inspire children to lead lives of purpose and compassion through scholarship and citizenship. We’re clear on our school’s purpose, and we’re glad you are part of this community. Raising children is hard; doing so in community helps and brings unexpected joy. I hope you make time to sit with other parents and caregivers and get the support you need to reach your own parental goals. My door is always open if you’d like to talk.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts, Head of School

Let the Children Play!

During the recent Kindergarten-3rd grade family education and gathering events, we discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected children’s social and emotional growth.

It should be no surprise that children everywhere are behind in their social and emotional development. Most children spent the five months from March 2020 until August 2020 isolated in their family groups. Whether in preschool, elementary, or middle school, kids didn’t get nearly as much time engaging in social interactions with peers as they usually would. Although Gateway School was able to return to On-Campus instruction last year, students were required to be physically distanced in the classroom and on the playground changing the types of play and learning experiences they had. Wearing masks for the past 18 months meant less opportunity to learn how to read facial expressions, communicate with facial signals, understand vocal nuance, etc.

To borrow Malcolm Gladwell’s Ten Thousand Hour Rule, kids simply don’t have the time they need to learn to master the complex skills of relationship building, peer negotiation, shared imagination, and collaborative play that lead to social and emotional maturity. With tweens and teens, this is showing up as anxiety, depression, and mental health issues; with younger students, it comes in the form of struggles to resolve conflict, lower-than-usual fortitude, and general feelings of being isolated and misunderstood.

Gateway’s culture explicitly values and teaches strategies for mental health and wellness. From mindfulness practices to the Mood Meter, children are given tools for self-awareness and self-regulation and taught to be responsible for their feelings. We know that when students understand their own emotions, they are better able to use strategies to help them solve personal and interpersonal problems more efficiently – which in turn leads to positive mental health outcomes.

If you are wondering how to support your child’s social and emotional development, I offer this key concept: more unstructured play. As Fred Roger’s once epically said, “Play is the work of children” — they need time to explore, create, and satisfy their innate curiosity. Play gives children a laboratory to practice social-emotional skills such as sharing, negotiating, decision making, collaboration, inclusivity, and other friendship skills. Loose games of soccer, four square, and field games help students develop their conflict resolution skills as they navigate the rules and as problems come up. And the physical health benefits of play also translate into academic areas, from the improved clarity and focus to the upper body and core strength needed for handwriting, typing, and mental stamina.

Play, creativity, and innovation are part of our school’s nine core values, as research shows all are integral to learning. If you care to discover more about the power of play, I recommend the following books:

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

Cheers to having your child turn off their device and head outside for some good old-fashioned play! And feel free to join in and rediscover your inner child.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts, Head of School

Talking With Children About the News

For the past two years, COVID-19, the American political transition, and now the war in Ukraine has dominated the headlines. At Gateway, we support appropriate conversations about these topics as they come up in student conversations or as part of our curriculum. As these conversations may also come up at home, I’ve listed a few resources you might find helpful.

What to Say to Kids When the News Is Scary from NPR begins by suggesting that caregivers limit children’s exposure to news. Sometimes we may need to turn off the news, whether on TV, radio, or computer when we are with our children. Giving children developmentally appropriate facts but not overloading them with information can help them process what they hear. When things are happening far away, it can be helpful to show where things are happening on a map so that children can see that the events are not nearby. 

How Do We Talk To Kids About Scary Times? from the Housemann Institute shares 12 tips for discussing challenging topics. The article makes some of the same points as the NPR piece, such as avoiding labeling a group of people as all bad or all good. Another useful insight is that it’s okay to not have answers and to share that with a child. You can always talk with your child later once you have accurate information and are ready to share it in a developmentally appropriate way.

Explaining the News to Our Kids from Common Sense Media gives a set of tips for talking with kids at different ages (under the age of seven, 8-12-year-olds, and teens) so that you can frame your conversations based on your child’s developmental stage. Regardless of your child’s age, one of the most reassuring and powerful things you can do is to take action together, whether it’s writing to politicians, assembling care packages, or donating time and resources.

We’ve all been through a lot these past few years and many of us are still processing our feelings. Letting your children know that you may need more time before you can talk will reinforce your worthiness as a trusted adult. In addition, your vulnerability can help model the complex, healthy inner emotional life that can be helpful for children to see. Children are resilient and benefit from the social-emotional learning Gateway weaves throughout their curriculum. As a caregiver, you know that the ability to regulate our emotions while supporting theirs is important as they formulate their response to the world around them.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher, advisor, Assistant Head of School Hannah Wikse, Middle School Division Head Melanie Munir, or me if you have any questions or want further resources.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts, Head of School

Essential Questions and Learning About Race

Do others see me the way I see myself?
What are the benefits and challenges of living in a diverse society?
What is prejudice?

These three questions are examples of what we call “Essential Questions” in the Gateway curriculum, which we use to provoke deep thinking and insight in our students. Because they are not easily answered, these questions push children to consider different perspectives from their own, practice critical thinking, and integrate new ideas about the beliefs and values held by individuals and communities.

Essential questions, which can last an entire month, help shape the content in the portion of our social-emotional, social justice, and culture studies curricula that is ever-evolving and emergent in response to the students and the world. For example, we chose the question What are the benefits and challenges of living in a diverse society? for last month, because February is Black History Month. 

While our curriculum strives to include, represent and understand the voices of people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences all year long – and real talk, in this country, white upper-middle-class heterosexual fully-abled men still dominate the majority of many history books and social studies – we take the time to especially focus on the experiences of Black Americans in February. As the kid-friendly Black History: It’s Yours video highlights, it’s important to not tokenize the Black experience by only looking at the lives, words, and work of a few famous Black people, and to teach that Black people have the full range of human experiences through a lens of systemic racism that has sought to oppress them since the first slave ship arrived in 1619.

One classroom activity that was especially powerful this month was the Fourth Grade reading of Born On The Water, a picture book that investigates how descendants of enslaved people might respond to questions about their family tree. It takes an unflinching look at the horrific conditions that enslaved people experienced as they came to this land, and also an uplifting look at the proud heritage that their descendants can claim. It was a profound read-aloud for the class and one we highly recommend for people of all ages. 

Occasionally I am asked why we teach directly about race in our classes; parents have sometimes shared that this is at odds with how they were raised to not notice a person’s color. As Dr. Erin Winkler explains in her short paper Children Are Not Colorblind, children not only recognize racial differences from a very young age, they begin to develop racial biases by the age of five, because they are collecting information from the world around them in order to construct their understanding of that world, and their place in it. Moreover, children attach meaning directly to race, even without adults explicitly telling them to do so; and their biases “reflect both subtle and not so subtle messages about the relative desirability of belonging to one social group as opposed to another”. 

This means we must be intentional, proactive, and highly visible in discussing issues of race – along with gender, ableism, and other aspects of identity –  in developmentally appropriate ways that remove the stigma of the subjects, and that build children’s understanding based on fact. Gateway School’s goal is for students to discover their individual and collective potential to make positive change in the world; what a lovely, transformative, and meaningful project to have! 

This month our community’s essential question is What is prejudice? Here are a few more resources you may find helpful as you navigate topics of race, identity, and belonging with your family:

  • Books that Represent is a wonderful project by a Santa Cruz high school senior to categorize children’s books by reading level. This is one of many such resources available on the web.
  • 10 Tips on Talking to Kids About Race and Racism can help adult caregivers find entry points to this topic and is especially useful if you are not confident of how to do so.
  • A Story of Us? Is a podcast that examines the questions, what role does narrative play in creating a single shared story about the past, and why do we need to revisit and revise that narrative as society evolves?

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts, Head of School

Creating Our Culture Together

“People eat different foods in different parts of the world. We might find it unusual that someone would eat a bat, and someone else might find it unusual that we would eat a cow,” said the teacher to the 4th grade students. “Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the choices that we make, or that we don’t make when it comes to the food we eat.”

And…

“I think some people who visit this country probably find it weird that people walking on the street will say hello to total strangers that they pass,” said the 6th grade student. “That seems like it isn’t something that is part of everyday life and culture around the world.” The other students paused to consider this.

In our Humanities program, the concept of culture propels each unit of study and ties together different strands of the curriculum. Earlier this fall I observed a Middle School class that set about identifying elements of U.S. culture such as social structures, customs and traditions, language, morality, government, and the very challenging idea of cultural expression. After surfacing their own knowledge and ideas, students returned to the framework repeatedly over the following weeks to fill in more information they gathered from their classwork and research. 

The study of human lives, and how we organize ourselves, begins in our Elementary School program. During the Family Culture Share in 1st grade, students and their parents/guardians share photos and images of ancestors, as well as special artifacts, memories, and traditions from their lives. Our 3rd grade curriculum looks deeply at the lives of the Amah Mutsen and other Indigenous Peoples who lived in this area before the arrival of the Spanish, while 4th grade students study the history of California and the people who have shaped it over time.

At Gateway, the word culture is one of our key themes for the year (along with connection, as I wrote about last month in my blog called In Search of Connection, and consistency, which I’ll write about next month). I like to define culture as “the beliefs and values that drive our words, actions, and choices”, and with that in mind, this year we are asking our community the questions, “What is our desired school culture?” and “What can we do to move towards that together?”

One activity we did on this topic was to ask the staff to describe the best attributes of a powerful learning community, which we then boiled down to four key ideas: effective leadership, successful work, engaged professional growth, and a healthy culture and social environment. Words we shared that characterize a healthy culture included Belonging and connection, Equality, Humor, Intentional listening, Reciprocal and respectful, Support and encouragement, Thoughtful and reflective,Trust and safety, and Universal buy-in. I love how this describes the collaborative and collegial environment our team seeks to create.

The forces of culture outside of Gateway are powerful. Sometimes we are asked about the school’s approach to cultural events such as the National Hispanic Heritage Month that runs September 15-October 15, or the LGBTQ+ History Month that runs October 1-31. At Gateway, we’re wary of a so-called “celebrate and ignore” approach that reduces the experiences and identities of people to a single day or month. Instead, we aim for our curriculum to inclusively address the experiences of the marginalized and oppressed in an ongoing way. At the same time, we know that events and theme months are opportunities to kick-start those conversations; and, ignoring them, even for a well-intended deeper approach, can unintentionally communicate that we don’t know or care. So we share resources, and teachers make careful choices to weave the curriculum together with our core value of the courage to promote a just society, and our commitment to teaching students to be upstanders, squarely at the center.

For some people, understanding culture is a challenge. While marginalized individuals often see the shape and impact of a dominant culture, those inside it may not, which explains why white people in this country don’t always know how to describe white culture, or why men aren’t always aware of the experiences of women, or so on with ableism, sexuality, etc. A crucial beginning point is to understand and accept that we make big assumptions about language as having fixed meaning, and learning how different people talk about a nuanced topic — such as Hispanic or Latinx — can be an important first step in gaining new perspectives.

Peter Drucker, one of my favorite organizational psychologists, famously encapsulated the power of culture thus: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s why, as both individuals and a school, there is no state of being finished with this work; the journey towards a braver, more compassionate, and more rigorous culture is what matters. I invite you, our parents and guardians, to consider the culture of our community — the social structures, customs and traditions, language, morality, government, and cultural expressions — and to lend your voice and ideas to our efforts in your child’s class and with your peer group. Indeed, the culture of our enrolled families is a major factor in the school’s success and our ability to help our children grow and thrive in today’s world.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

In Search of Connection

A moment. The Kindergarten students stood unevenly around the room, wearing one shoe. The other shoe had been sorted into one of three groups on the table. “How many sandals do we have?”, asked the teacher. “One” they cried out. “How many crocs do we have?” she asked. “Three,” they replied. “And how many sneakers do we have?” she asked. After hearing many guesses, she said “Let’s count them together!”

Another moment. The Fourth Grade students stood in a circle on the playground. One stood in place pretending to swim, while another asked “What are you doing?” “Jumping jacks” the first replied, and the second began to do jumping jacks. “What are you doing?” the third student asked the second. “Skiing” came the reply, and the third student began to act like they were skiing down a slope.

Students make intellectual connections in many different ways. They find them within their academic work every day, such as learning multiple strategies for multiplication; and also between disciplines, such as when they use their writing skills to draft effective lab reports for science class. In the two moments I described above (which I witnessed on campus in the past week), students were connecting their personal lives to the respective concepts of mathematical groupings and active verbs, in Gateway’s classic “serious fun” approach.

In our reading program, children learn to make connections from texts to other texts, to themselves, and to the world at large — an approach called The Mosaic of Thought. Whether through guided all-class read alouds in Lower Elementary, literature circles in Upper Elementary, or class novels in Middle School, children learn reading skills from decoding to comprehension to critical thinking, enabling them to engage with the world of ideas, and connect their own ideas with each others’.

Students also make social connections every day they are at school. These may be with individual peers and teachers, or with larger groups, such as the sense of the class or school as a whole, and the broader community in which we live.

What does it mean to make a personal connection to another person? For younger children, it may be as simple as acknowledging what their neighbor has for lunch, or an invitation to play during recess. As one gets older, connection may come from appreciating someone’s sense of humor, or their insights into current events. And as we become full adults, we learn that deep connection means learning to listen closely, ask questions, seek feedback, and acknowledge the lives and experiences of other people. What comes from connection is trust and security; autonomy and interdependence; and ultimately, a sense of intimacy and fulfillment.

New and strange situations can be challenging to tolerate, but if we let them evolve into something known and comfortable, we can make meaningful connections. Our children are asked to do this every day, as they develop empathy and compassion for others.

Here are a few ideas for how you can help create an environment of connection at home for your child:
Model intellectual curiosity: talk about how you are making connections between the things you read and the world around you.
Set inclusive goals: these might be having your child spend a recess playing with each classmate every month, or learning something new about a different classmate daily.
Broaden your family’s circle: invite families you don’t yet know over for a game night, or invite a family from another grade to connect at the park.
Forge community connections: host your neighbors, stop by to chat at local (and Gateway family-owned) businesses, and pause to say hello to all the dog walkers and gardeners you pass.

If we all put our attention towards connecting, we’ll do wonders to cultivate our children’s sense of empathy and purpose towards the world around them.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Summer is for Reading!

At Gateway School, we celebrate literacy from the first day of Kindergarten through the 8th grade graduation ceremony, by writing poems, letters, reports, and speeches, sharing read-alouds, and discussing readings in book groups. We know that building reading and writing skills takes a lot of time and practice, with materials carefully calibrated to each child’s readiness. Being in a print-rich environment that celebrates literacy helps build a culture of readers and writers in our community. 

One of our teachers’ strategies is to model writing and reading strategies in the classroom, which helps students see adults employing strategies while taking pleasure in the activity. With that in mind, I want to share some of the reading I’m planning to do this summer.

Something on race: Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, by Emmanual Acho. A former player in the NFL, Acho tackles important topics like cultural appropriation, systemic racism, and interracial families, concluding each short chapter with a section on practical ways to advocate for justice and equity.

Something on leadership: Unleashed, by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss. As a formal leader, I’ve also been an active student of leadership for a long time, and this book focuses on an aspect of leadership that I greatly value; figuring out how to create an environment in which all of our teachers and administrators can succeed.

Something on child development: 14 Talks By Age 14, by Michelle Icard. Though the topics are nothing new (relationships, boundaries, etc), Icard offers a transformative approach that invites engagement, defuses pushback, and leads towards genuine connection. I’ve already started using the conversational framework with my own 14 year old, and I’m only a couple of chapters in.

Something just for fun: I’m taking suggestions for this slot! If you’ve read something wonderful recently — about music, world history, or science fiction especially — please pass it along, I’d love to hear. 

Some of my fondest memories from childhood include the thrill of getting to pick out a new book at the bookstore, having a helpful librarian make recommendations based on some authors I enjoyed, and sitting in the cool shade of a backyard tree with a book in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other. Whatever your child wants to read (because there’s room enough for old favorites, new Graphic Novels, cliched Young Adult, and ambitious novels), I hope your family makes many happy memories reading together this summer.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

The Learning Continues…

Gateway School is home to many special grade-level student experiences, one of which is the native California animal mask project. I’ve heard more than one parent remark “A 2nd grader made that!?!” when first seeing the animal masks on display. This week, our 3rd grade students have been staying after school to paint the animal masks they started in 2nd grade but were unable to complete when we had to pivot to distance learning last year. The kids are thrilled to have the chance to finish painting their bobcats, burrowing owls, and other amazing creatures that live in this state.

It’s exciting to welcome back some aspects of life from before the pandemic, and this project is a perfect example. Like the River Day performance in 3rd grade and the Invention Convention presentations in 5th grade, it’s just one piece of a large interdisciplinary unit. While the masks are the most visible, the students also conduct formal research for the first time, write their first-ever report, compose a poem celebrating their animal, and give an oral presentation to their classmates. In recent years we’ve added elements such as PowerPoint presentations, 3D-printed scale models, habitat dioramas, and stop-motion movies to this wonderful tradition.

These sorts of thematic, interdisciplinary experiences transcend typical learning. Students consolidate all the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in class and find joy in expressing themselves in ways that are simultaneously playful and serious — playful in the integration of arts and culture, serious in the development of underlying scholarship and academic skills. It’s the best of both worlds, and it’s one of the hallmarks of our program that sets Gateway apart.

Beyond the academic program, though, we’ve all learned so much this year — about the depths of our strength in the face of challenge; about how to be flexible and adaptable as we navigate shifting public health constraints on our program; and about how to teach and learn in many different settings. And as the end of the year begins to appear on the horizon, I know that the lessons we’ve learned this year will stay with our community for a long time.

At the same time, there is still so much more for us to learn. Many of us must continue to learn to lean into uncomfortable conversations about race and identity, and to call out white supremacy as we grapple with what it means to be an inclusive community; this is especially true with the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd dominating the news. 

We must learn to apply our curiosity to learn about the diversity of human experience that surrounds us and act on opportunities such as the current Islamic holy month of Ramadan to build new understandings and relationships. We’ve begun thinking and learning about issues of equity and justice in our classrooms, and we must learn to be confident in our understanding that fair doesn’t mean equal, and that equity requires the recognition of and choice to reduce privilege and self-centering. And we must continue to learn what it means to use agency to pursue Gatewayl’s goal of teaching our children to discover their individual and collective potential to make positive change in the world.

This awesome work will transform the lives of children and their futures just as much as the academic knowledge and skills they build. I believe that we are lucky to have this opportunity!

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Windows and Mirrors

At Gateway, we know reading can be intrinsically fun and rewarding, an essential behavior for imagination, connection, and communication, and a path towards learning and success across all academic areas. By the end of 8th grade, children are expected to read a million words a year, and that’s why we have classroom read alouds, novel studies, independent reading projects and ask children (and families) to read at home every night of the year.

This week is Read Across America Week, a beloved program launched in 1998 by the National Education Association to celebrate and promote reading by children and teens. Read Across America featured the work of Dr. Seuss for its first two decades, but as the anti-blackness, anti-Asian, and other racist sentiments in his work were examined in academic research and reputable journalism outlets, Read Across America is now featuring other authors. Dr. Seuss’s estate recognized this as well and has recently concluded that some of the titles should not be republished. I can still feel my own profound disappointment, embarrassment, sadness, and eventual resolve as I looked back at books I had known and loved, and saw with a new understanding that what I had blithely overlooked was both very hurtful to people about whom I deeply care, and carried some messages I could not condone.

Read Across America has pivoted to include and promote a more diverse range of books. People are still free to read Dr. Seuss if they choose, but there’s a world of other authors waiting to be discovered. As the NEA website notes, “Students need books that provide both windows and mirrors if we are going to create more readers, writers, and people who feel included and recognized, and who understand that the world is far richer than just their experiences alone.” The idea of books as windows and mirrors was popularized by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita at Ohio State University and winner of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement given by the American Library Association. In Dr. Bishop’s words, 

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

At Gateway School, we recognize that an education rich in the practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is essential for students to thrive in a multicultural world because it provides those windows and mirrors that illuminate our understanding of each other and ourselves in the context of the larger human experience. We believe that this work is a necessity and that it is not optional as we move towards Cultural Proficiency, a model for shifting the culture of a school through individual transformation and organizational change. Our goal is to promote the viewpoint that cultural difference is an asset to be cultivated and celebrated.

Last month was Black History Month, and our DEI efforts led to an added emphasis on acknowledging the lives and experiences of Black Americans (though this is part of Gateway’s curriculum throughout the year). In 2nd grade, students learned about Dr. Mae Jemison, the engineer, physician, and astronaut who became the first Black woman to travel into space and also discovered that the true story of when Rosa Parks sat down on the bus is not that she was simply tired, but an intentional, planned, and coordinated act of resistance. In 4th grade, students worked on mini-biographies and presentations to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of Black Americans, while in Middle School students read poetry from a range of Black authors such as Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni while beginning to learn about historical elements such as the slave trade, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights movement. 

For many years, Gateway’s curriculum has sought to give windows into the lives of those marginalized by traditional American history — black and brown people, children and enslaved, indigenous and immigrant. The critical step is to move from learning to action — that is, to decide that we have the power to push for justice. Last month, we saw this when our 7th and 8th graders’ Humanities project was to first learn about the proposed mine at the Amah Mutsen’s sacred Juristac site in Gilroy (which threatens both ancestral lands as well as a delicate ecosystem for multiple federally endangered species), and then to undertake a Letter to the Editor writing campaign — which led to students being published in The Gilroy Gazette and other outlets.

March is Women’s History Month. On Monday morning I saw a tweet by @sheathescholar that had me thinking all day: a challenge “to center women who are often erased — Indigenous, trans, undocumented, masculine-of-center, queer, disabled, poor, fat, loud, dark-skinned, house-less, elderly, neurodivergent, Muslim — women who deserve their roses, too.”  Perhaps, as you ponder which new books to share with your children this month, you may find A Mighty Girl’s booklist on social issues helpful as you open new windows and mirrors for your children.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Brighter Days Ahead

Time has been much on my mind recently, as we approach the midway point of the school year. This weekend I learned that the last known widow of a Union Soldier in the Civil War died just last month — a story that left me absolutely speechless (another recent temporal anomaly: the October passing of a grandson of the 10th President, John Tyler, who took office 180 years ago). When my children were younger, I often said that the days went by like years, while the years went by like days, and 2020 seemed to bring a century of challenges compressed into a single year.

Towards the end of this month, we’ll be sending home mid-year progress reports for students. This is the second of the four formal communications about your child’s progress we make each year (along with Fall and Spring parent/teacher conferences, and year-end reports in June). Our teachers employ a range of assessment strategies to understand the arc of children’s growth, and sharing their insights with you is a critical strand of the family/school web partnership. Of course, we are also in constant communication with families as needed, and hope you keep those lines of communication open when you have questions.

As we navigate a year unlike any we’ve experienced, the national media has started to talk about possible “learning loss” and how students may be “falling behind”. This fear-mongering is a manufactured concept that is being promoted by the testing companies — a slice of the for-profit industry finding itself increasingly rejected during this tumultuous year. Please don’t conflate it with the arc of your child’s progress. If you feel any anxiety on this topic, I urge you to read this piece in Forbes by John Ewing who does an admirable job exposing the fallacies of this narrative. And in this beautifully written piece about unschooling in the NY Times, Molly Worthen writes that “2020 is not a lost year. It’s a chance for parents and children to watch and listen to one another, to turn the weekday scramble into an occasion to experiment and think about what it takes to make a free human being — one whose freedom comes from truly knowing something about the world, and about herself.” 

All of us — children, families, teachers, administrators — are doing our best under incredibly challenging circumstances, from the pandemic and economic collapse to society’s racial reckoning, the Presidential election and the Supreme Court openings, and the wildfires and other tragedies and traumas that have touched close to home.  It’s more to hold than I’ve ever seen, and more than ever before, we have to prioritize what is truly important and show grace and patience to each other. 

Childhood is fleeting and precious, and the effects of this year will ripple through the decade to come in many ways. The best thing we can do is to keep the emotional and mental health of our children at the center of our collective work this year. They depend on our steady hand and even-keeled equanimity to signal their safety, and to support their best learning and growing. 

I can’t wait to see them on campus again in a few weeks.

Thank you,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School