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!
Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School