Lasting learning requires an active process

We know that young children develop life-long attitudes about learning based on their earliest experiences in school; that’s why our elementary grades are filled with exploration and discovery, with experiences designed to nurture every child’s innate curiosity and wonder. From their first day on campus, Gateway students begin learning how to reason, to research, to solve problems and to communicate their ideas effectively. Our students love being active agents in their education; there’s no joy for them in being passive recipients waiting for knowledge to be passed along!

Gateway’s academic program transforms students into scholars

Our elementary program is a study in balance: support and challenge, autonomy and collaboration, knowledge acquisition and skill development, academic mastery and critical thinking. Sometimes our teachers use inquiry-driven methods to help students generate and research questions that will guide their learning, and at others they make sure students are getting the necessary practice to master concepts. Students frequently participate in hands-on, project-based learning that facilitates in-depth understanding. No matter the teaching strategies they use, our faculty focus on helping students develop key behaviors of scholarship:

  • listen carefully and to speak articulately
  • read and to think with a critical mind
  • write fluently and creatively
  • understand and express quantitative ideas clearly and accurately
  • make and defend a logical argument
  •  present their work publicly with skill and confidence

Our choices reflects the best research we can find

Our faculty takes time to understand the individual and developmental learning needs of our students, because every child has a unique neurological profile. They guide each student at the appropriate level of challenge, because when the work is to easy or too hard, children lose interest. They develop unique, heart-centered relationships with each child, because safety and connection are critical for academic success. They stay current on the research in neuroscience and child development, because the science in those fields continues to change and improve our understanding of how to create optimal learning environments. They make time for play and creativity, because those are essential elements of living a healthy life. And they integrate topics of social justice and environmental conservation into the curriculum, because we know that these children will grow up to change the world for the better.

Melding innovation and experience in the classroom

Read more about how our program uses interdisciplinary learning below.

Kindergarten: The ocean plastic project
After students noticed plastic debris that had washed ashore during a field trip to a local beach, Kindergarten teacher Sarah Hernandez led the class through the stages of the Service Learning cycle. They began by investigating the issue, and learned how plastic ends up in the ocean, and why it is so dangerous to animals and the environment. Then they brainstormed possible action steps they could take, like making a movie or writing letters, before deciding to create an information booth to teach the public about the issue. They gathered more information, prototyped and then iterated on the design of their booth, and finally set it up on heavily-trafficked West Cliff Drive, where these five- and six-year-old children (supervised by teachers and parents) engaged in educating passerbys. The service learning cycle closed with reflection on their experience, and sharing and appreciation!
Fourth grade: The kelp forest project
Every spring our Fourth Grade studies the kelp forest of the Monterey Bay as part of our MARE science curriculum. Each student picks a different animal that lives in the forest, writes a short research report about it, and then builds a paper mache model. These get hung up as part of an installation that turns the classroom into the kelp forest. In 2018, Fourth Grade teacher Kurt Almendras partnered with our Tech Integration Specialist Krissie Olsen to overhaul the project; first they taught students physical computing and coding, then they taught them how to use the software and hardware to produce laser-cut outlines of the creatures, and finally they programmed flashing scale patterns for LEDs inserted into the animal cut-outs. The result was an interdisciplinary kelp forest unlike any that has come before.

Academic Curriculum

Read more about each of the core academic curriculum areas below.

English Language Arts
Our language arts curriculum helps students become independent readers, competent writers, discriminating viewers, articulate speakers, active listeners and critical thinkers. In grades K-2, literacy instruction is centered on the goal of helping students learn to read and write, and to develop a lifelong love of reading. In grades 3-5, the literature-based reading program develops students’ ability to interpret literature and to appreciate language. The program uses a range of instructional approaches that respond to the strengths and needs of our students, from Writer’s Workshop and Lit Circles to word study and read alouds. In all grades, writing skills are taught across disciplines, helping the students become stronger writers as well as stronger historians, scientists, and mathematicians. Oral language development is integrated in all subjects beginning in the earliest grades, with strong emphasis on public speaking. Our curriculum develops skills in decoding, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing mechanics and organization, and handwriting and keyboarding. In all grades, teachers foster and facilitate communities of readers and writers who practice for authentic audiences, and present their work through author parties, reader’s theater, and publication.
Our program emphasizes mathematical thinking, not simply computation. Rather than trudging through rote memorization without understanding of what numbers mean and what operations do, Gateway students develop strong conceptual skills by learning to solve problems in multiple ways. The Bridges Mathematics curriculum draws content from several strands of math, including algebra and the use of variables, data and probability, geometry and spatial sense, measures and measurement, numeration and operation, and patterns and functions. The curriculum uses questioning strategies to promote critical thinking and application, promotes student conversation and collaboration, employs the use of models and manipulatives in problem solving, and asks students to make and test conjectures, and record data and reflections. We love how the program is embedded with playful and joyous interaction with mathematical concepts, and that it teaches students to see themselves as mathematical thinkers who can collaborate with their peers and articulate creative solutions to big problems.

Our math program is designed with the goal that students become strong in eight distinct mathematical practices:

  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

Our math curriculum is designed to prepare those students with the proper motivation and skills to place into Math Academy at Santa Cruz High School or into Honors Geometry at independent schools, and for all students to be free of math anxiety, feel confident about themselves as mathematical thinkers, and to appreciate the beauty and role of math in society.

Cultural Studies
Gateway embraces the study of cultures and influences that affect children’s lives. Students gain a sense of their place in the world by understanding that the nation is composed of people whose origins span the globe. The program encourages respect for different cultures and ways of life, empathy for one’s neighbors, and an understanding of each individual’s relationship to the global community. Discussion, debate, dialogue, and self-discovery are cultivated, and combined with field trips and projects to enhance the classroom experience.
Gateway’s science program fosters children’s natural curiosity about the world around them, using the rich natural environments surrounding the school – the ocean, the garden, and Lighthouse Field – as the laboratory to learn principles of earth, life, and physical sciences. The K-5 program weaves together the MARE (Marine Activities, Resources & Education) program with our award-winning Life Lab program. Through an integrated, inquiry-based approach, students learn to use scientific method, and analytical thinking to understand the language and principles of science.
Want to know more about the philosophy behind our unique educational program? Check out our educational philosophy here.