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

Essential Civic Education

You have likely heard that this past weekend, white supremacists protesting the results of the Presidential election in the streets of Washington, D.C. tore down and burned Black Lives Matter signs displayed at four historically Black churches. I am appalled and disturbed by this, and relieved to hear these events are being investigated as hate crimes. 

This despicable action reminded me of the paradox of tolerance, articulated by the philosopher Karl Popper in 1945: unlimited tolerance cannot be extended to the intolerant, for they will then destroy the very tolerance that allows their existence. This is a challenging idea that I wrestle with whenever I think about educating children to fulfill the portion of Gateway’s mission that calls for citizenship. We work hard to teach children about diversity and inclusivity, and we must also teach them to think through when limits of tolerance must be drawn, both societally and individually. 

At Gateway, we understand citizenship to exist on multiple levels — personal, local, regional, national, and global. This is why we teach students about a wide range of perspectives and views about life and society across both time and geography, and promote values of mutual respect, non-violence, participation, and ethical behavior in our Cultural Studies curriculum and our social-emotional program. We also teach skills of communication, initiative, leadership, collaboration, and responsibility, such as upper elementary students learning to take turns in a discussion without raising hands (truly no small feat!).  And we present a curriculum that is real, topical, and sensitive to students, such as the recent events in our nation’s capital, with an eye on Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards to help us stay aligned and organized across the grades. 

In its broadest terms, citizenship means educating the next generation of citizens for participation in our democratic society. Our children need to understand the systems and processes of government, and also be able to sort through a wash of competing information to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions and decisions about how they will participate and the issues for which they will advocate. This year’s Presidential election gave us a remarkable opportunity to help our students develop these meaningful understandings. 

At Gateway we explicitly promote the ideas of environmental sustainability, economic security, and social justice. This requires teaching students to be self-reflective about our own privileges, and develop an ability to see multiple sides of an issue; creating strong classroom communities where students see inclusion in action as a lived experience; and furthering conversations that move children and adults alike towards thoughtful anti-bias attitudes. The pandemic and new ways of remote learning, which can lead to literal and emotional distance among peers, have only intensified the importance of this in our curriculum.

Children want to understand the world. They are curious about how and why things have come to be as they are, and the possibilities that exist for creative new ideas and ways of being to emerge. How lucky we are, staff and families alike, to have this partnership as we contribute to their unfolding futures.

Warmly,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

It Takes Courage

Dear Gateway families,

Among our school’s nine stated core values is the courage to promote a just society. Gateway has always believed in and advocated for social justice because at the core of social justice is the concept of human rights — that all humans have shared rights. In American society, very specific racist, sexist, and other structural biases and ways of looking at the world prevent those universal rights from being respected.

This year I am participating in an affinity group for white Heads of School as we explore our own leadership related to issues of race and justice. This group is run through the California Association of Independent Schools, of which we are proud members (and the only K-8 in Santa Cruz to have a membership). On Monday, we discussed this video, which expertly weaves together facts about post-slavery vagrancy laws, Jim Crow, redlining, the GI Bill, voting rights, the War on Drugs, police militarization, and more to explain how American society has continually oppressed and marginalized Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Our children deserve a more free and fundamentally fair society and will be called upon to help create that more perfect manifestation of our potential. We must help them be prepared for the work. If you are looking for some good books to read with your children, consider the options on the reading lists from Bookshop Santa Cruz and Read Brightly.

Though the Social Justice Standards from Teaching Tolerance give us a pathway to ensure our curriculum rises to the opportunity, external forces continually introduce new challenges. Over the past 11 months, in the midst of a global pandemic, we have also had to navigate twin national reckonings in the form of social protests about the systemic oppression and murder of Black people and a bitterly fought presidential election in which the very nature of truth and justice have been contested. 

The current moment is a study in contrast. The course of the pandemic surges towards a deadly second wave, while news reports of effective vaccine trials give hope of a light at the end of the tunnel. The President has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and yet we are soon to witness history as Senator Kamala Harris becomes the first woman and the first person of color to be elected Vice President.

Through this all, our teachers have been a beacon of light and stability for students, whether in our Virtual Campus or On-Campus program. They continue to provide an environment in which children thrive academically and emotionally, fulfill children’s potential and prepare them for college and life beyond, and guide children to become well-rounded and productive members of society. For example, if you have not yet seen it, I hope you take some time to read When Data Met Candy, a story about some of the data science learning underway in our Middle School.

Gateway’s mission calls us to inspire children to lead lives of purpose and compassion through scholarship and citizenship. I could not be more proud of our community, and how we are rising to meet the challenges of the moment.

I keep a picture of the Cowardly Lion in my office, to continually remind me: it takes courage!

Onward,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Myth, Memory, and Meaning in a Democracy

“Daddy, did George Washington really chop down a cherry tree? And what does apocryphal mean?”

When my Second Grade daughter asked me these questions last week, I was filled with gratitude for her teachers, and her inclusion in an educational environment that teaches children to think critically about the stories they hear and the evidence that is presented. Not to mention the sophisticated vocabulary building!

For over 200 years, the United States has celebrated Columbus Day each October. How did the apocryphal myth of Columbus as the benevolent discoverer of America come to be, and why? Who has benefited from it, and who has suffered? This past weekend a parent shared the video Why The US Celebrates Columbus Day with me, which delves into the historical and social forces at work. That video, along with the TedEd video titled History vs Christopher Columbus, sparked a lively discussion among faculty about how we are discussing the topic in our upper school classrooms.

At Gateway we do not take a day off from school for Columbus Day; instead we recognize Indigenous People’s Day. And so today I reflected on the land acknowledgement Gateway School began offering at major gatherings and events last year. Our statement reads: 

Gateway School recognizes it is built upon land taken from the people who lived where the school now stands. We acknowledge the many tribes that gathered here, the Rumsien, the Amah Mutsun, and those of the Awaswas language group, to name a few. The Indigenous people lived with respect upon this land for thousands of years, and many still live here today.

A land acknowledgement makes worthy observation, but it is not enough. We are called to action, not only in considering the legacy of the world that has come before, but also the world we wish to leave to future generations. 

In every school, educators make choices about what is taught and what is not taught. Too often, the voices and experiences of the oppressed and invisible have been removed from the curriculum of this country. Many of us were taught irrelevant fact knowledge such as names of the three ships Columbus commanded, but not the names of the indigenous people who lived on the lands he reached. This is where the integration of the Anti-Bias Framework and Social Justice Standards from Teaching Tolerance make a difference in Gateway classrooms.

At our school, we answer the call to action through our educational program. Students can learn about the role Columbus’ story has played in the assimilation of Italian Americans into white society, and also acknowledge the lives and experiences of the native Taino people that he slaughtered and enslaved. We can study the convoluted history of race and class in America as reflected in the story of Columbus Day, and also, as our 7th & 8th grade Humanities class is doing, critically examining a primary source document such as last week’s Columbus Day proclamation issued by the White House while asking questions such as, Why does the President frame these conversations as replacement and revision? Why would he not want the failings, atrocities and transgressions of Columbus discussed? And why would he use this opportunity to attack critical thinking about race and history?

We are in a national political moment fraught with purpose as the Senate begins Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the Presidential election approaches in just a few short weeks. This is a ripe time for students to learn not only about the three branches of our federal government and the mechanics of elections such as the Electoral College and the drawing of Congressional districts, but also to think critically about topics such as voter ID laws and when/whether they reduce fraud or function as voter suppression; the rhetoric of propaganda and use of negative advertising; and most importantly, the critical issues driving social discussion, from reproductive rights to gun ownership rights and from minimum wage to medical care.

All education is political — this is a fundamental axiom of existing in a society. As a nonprofit organization, Gateway will never support a particular political party or candidate; and by contrast, we will always guide students to look deeply at the specific issues, the arguments and perspectives that are presented of differing viewpoints (let’s not say “opposing sides”, as there are far more than two perspectives on these issues), and lead them towards applying these thoughtful critiques in service of their own meaning-making and the development of their personal ethics.

I’m proud and excited that our school gym will be used as a polling place for the elections taking place on November 3rd. Though this will cause some disruption to our use of the campus during the time poll workers and voters are on our campus, providing a space for the residents of Santa Cruz to vote embodies our school’s mission to inspire citizenship. Many years from now, I hope our students will take pride in knowing that people used our gym for this essential political purpose.

I was glad to explain to my 8 year old that people tell the story of George Washington and the cherry tree to make him appear more honest and more accessible than he may otherwise have seemed. She already knows he was a slave owner; I’ll be ready when she asks about the myth of his wooden teeth.

Regards,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School

Learn more about the Gateway Families Association

Interview with Gateway Families Association President Lindsey Chester

Last week I sat down via Zoom with Gateway parent Lindsey Chester (Olivia, 3rd Grade) who has been the President of the Gateway Family Association (GFA) for the last 2 years. In her day job, Lindsey serves as the Executive and Artistic Director of All About Theatre, and after checking in about the challenges of running a non-profit organization in the current circumstances, we discussed the work of the GFA and what’s in store for this year. Enjoy! — Zaq

Zaq Roberts: Why do you like volunteering with the GFA?

Lindsey Chester: I love it because of the sense of community. It’s a wonderful way to find and deepen friendships. The event planner in me rejoices whenever there’s an opportunity to help, and I love cultivating community. Volunteering is a way to enrich my life and those of others. I’m an educator and love teaching and lifting people up, and in turn, it naturally does that for me too. I have also learned new skills from volunteering – everything from floral decoration and arrangement to running a large scale auction. I love meeting new people, learning from them, and hearing new perspectives. So, volunteering with the GFA is truly a joyous symbiotic experience for me.

ZR: How did you first get involved with the GFA?

LC: I remember the very first August packet I received when Olivia was entering Kindergarten. It was immediately apparent to me, that this would be a great way to meet other families at the school, to embed myself in the school culture, and also to help out. Quickly, I met a couple of other Kindergarten moms who were thinking about attending the GFA meetings as well. We connected through the GFA and have developed our friendships together through this shared experience. Honestly, it was really easy to just fill out a form and check out the meeting. Everyone made it inviting and welcoming. I knew that I had found a way to have a deeper purpose at the school.

ZR: What have you learned by being part of the GFA leadership?

LC: It takes a lot of care and effort to run the school and its events, more than I could have imagined, and that comes from someone who runs a busy non-profit! I appreciate the community of families that keep the school pulsating. A shout out to Jen, Cindy, and Petra in the Advancement Office who are exceptionally talented and incredible individuals. They are great listeners who validate the perspectives of parents and families. And then, by sitting in at the Board meetings, I’ve learned so much about what the school’s mission truly means, which I think people might sometimes take for granted. From the annual budgets and new site development to strategic planning for the future, it really takes so much to create this enriching school environment.

ZR: What’s your favorite GFA-related event or activity?

LC: Ooooooooh! There’s three actually. I’m sad we didn’t get to do the Back to School Picnic this year because I am a social butterfly and love dropping into all the different conversations and connecting with new and old friends. Next is the Winter Solstice Festival, which we just started last year — the laughter, celebration, and joy of the event were really touching, and almost spiritual. And then finally, One World One Earth Day. It’s so inspiring to see how we are teaching the kids, and each other, about all our cultures through music, dance, and food.

ZR: How is the GFA adapting its activities to this unusual year?

LC: Mindfully! And with a day by day approach, to be honest. We’ve had to change some of the beginning activities like the Back to School picnic due to being unable to gather together on campus. We are also looking to modify some activities. For example, Staff Treat Day, instead of the exquisite meal that Mary Chapman led with an army of volunteers in preparing last year, we’re focusing on the purpose of the event, which is the message of gratitude we want to send our staff. We are creating a treat package that will sustain them, so they know that we are grateful for all their hard work and efforts. For many of the future planned events, we’ll be taking our lead from the administration about what’s possible, because we don’t know where we’ll be at each month and what will be allowed with the CDC Health Guidelines.

ZR: What kind of volunteer opportunities will the GFA have for families?

LC: This is the hardest question you’ve posed. Normally, we would have lots of small opportunities to put in an hour or two, here and there, to help set up an event or wash dishes. This year it will be different in terms of making an impact. We’re looking for out-of-the-box thinkers who can bring creativity. Covid has changed the way we can function this year so we will need to use our imaginations a little more to ensure we can continue to make these events magical. We hope people will start by attending a meeting — they don’t have to commit to all of them! Just come, connect, and share their ideas. The scavenger hunt we did on First Friday last week was an epic example of how to bring everyone together in a fun way to build and uplift our community spirits. We are hoping families will help us come up with more ways to celebrate this year.

ZR: How can families get their hands on Gateway Gear?

LC: Definitely check out the Gateway Family News (GFN) — we have the 50th Anniversary mugs available now, but there are only a few left, so email Jen Graham (jen.graham@gatewaysc.org) to place your order! We are working with the 50th Celebration Committee to get more gear and we’ll have that in the GFN and on the website shortly. We may even have a table out front of the school during drop-off at some point, along with some tea and coffee.

The Gateway Families Association meets the first Thursday of the month. Everyone is encouraged to attend! We are a group of parent volunteers planning school events, and all are welcome! To attend check the Gateway calendar for the link or email Lindsey (gfa@gatewaysc.org) for information.