Explore Life Lab

Our Life Lab Science teachers Caprice and Melody along with Gateway’s farm managers have been busy tending the garden this summer.

The Gourd Arbor is starting to fill in.

The Kindergarten Sunflower House features a heart shaped space to explore.

Growing for Good

For the last 29 years, Gateway School has delivered produce grown in its Life Lab Garden to a variety of agencies through its Growing for Good program. Recipients have included Second Harvest Food Bank, the Familia Center, River Street Shelter Kitchen, and this year, Grey Bears. The Growing for Good program was developed to help students understand access to food and what and how the supply chain works. Every fall as part of Gateway School’s Social Justice curriculum Kindergartners and 5th graders discuss what they are thankful for and learn about those who are less fortunate. 

Gateway School’s Life Lab Garden supports a number of school events each year so in order to provide produce for the larger community, students plant extra crops. They plant, tend, harvest, and deliver the produce. This year, due to the shelter in place order, students were not able to harvest or deliver but that did not prevent Gateway from donating their garden’s bounty. With the help of Gateway’s Life Lab farm managers, Dave Gardner and Tricia Sven, Life Lab instructor Caprice Potter harvested and delivered more than 150 pounds of produce to the Grey Bears in Santa Cruz on April 1, 2020. 

Gateway’s Kindergarten through Middle School students develop a strong sense of personal responsibility for the natural world and others in their community through the school’s rich Environmental Science curriculum which, like all instruction, is integrated with Gateway’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practice. Taking what they learn in the classroom into the community lets students discover and experience the difference that they can make.

To learn more about our Life Lab’s unique Environmental Science curriculum follow this link.

This article was published in SantaCruzParent.com, Aptos Times, and Growing up in Santa Cruz.

California Invention Convention Winners!

A total of 150 students from around the state of California, many from Santa Cruz County, entered their inventions in the California Invention Convention last month. Inventions solved problems that ranged from those in the backyard to those that are global. Three Gateway School inventions and their inventors were among those selected to virtually attend the 2020 National Invention Convention.

This is the first year Gateway students participated in the California Invention Convention. 5th-grade teacher, Kurt Almendras is passionate about the idea of creating and inventing. Design challenges are also part of the co-curricular classes in Gateway’s Discovery Center. Students are challenged to solve problems using hands-on projects using the invention process of Identifying, Understanding, Ideating, Designing, Testing, Building, and adjusting their designs.

The process

5th graders completed three design challenges that lead up to the Invention Convention project.

Using foam disks, cardboard, straws, coffee stirrers, and tape, students had to design an apparatus that traveled approximately 2 meters.
Using 20 pieces of spaghetti and tape, students had to create a structure that could support a marshmallow at the top of the structure.
Students had to take an empty toilet paper roll and turn it into something else. Students then presented their projects to their Kindergarten buddies.

Three Gateway School inventions and their inventors were among those selected to move on to Nationals.

Congratulations to Kate (Windmill on Wheels), Nate and Milo (Produce Protector), and Piper (Solo Soccer Touch Trainer). Good luck at Nationals!

Kate (Windmill on Wheels)
Nate and Milo (Produce Protector)
Piper (Solo Soccer Touch Trainer)

Observe. Engage. Persist. Express.

Kindergarten: Lines –> Maps

Using black paint and a variety of wheeled toy vehicles, Kindergartners observed closely to discover, compare, and contrast the lines and textures created from each tire. Some of the tracks we created were smooth and solid, while others bumped and skipped as they rolled. This investigation eventually shifted to imaginative play involving the different types of vehicles, which is always fun!

Using our investigative knowledge of lines, we continued to explore the subject through the lens of maps. This was an emergent topic that came about from student interest. To begin, we observed and altered existing maps, looking closely to name the types of lines we noticed, as well as adding our own markings. We discussed what a map is, can be, and can help us with, and the many different types of maps we may see. 

1st Grade: Color –> Shapes

What is a shape? Through inquiry, trial, and discussion, 1st graders discovered that shapes are in fact flat, enclosed pieces of space and that there are many different kinds. We began breaking down the shapes into two categories: geometric shapes (shapes used in math/shapes that “have names” to define their characteristics) and organic shapes (all-natural shapes that do not have names concrete defined qualities).

2nd grade: Self Portraits –> Art As Tradition

After studying multiple types of self-portraits and different ways to convey emotion and personality, it was the second graders’ turn to create their own! Using mirrors, students carefully studied their faces and made important decisions about which details to include and which style to utilize.

Students utilized their knowledge of facial expressions and portraits to explore a variety of masks. 2nd graders will be creating animal masks as part of their native California animals study.

3rd Grade: Art & Nature

3rd graders explored ways to use nature in their artwork and as inspiration for their work. Students utilized natural pigments found in sedimentary rocks. Many of the rocks were a type of ochre (or light brownish color) and by adding water to the rocks, students created a type of primitive paint. Students had the chance to explore these materials freely on the pavement, choosing to create words, pictures, and handprints to leave their mark.

Students explored composition through collages of pressed leaves, utilizing wooden pieces as our surface. By carefully considering the different types of composition (balanced, unbalanced, central, etc.) students thoughtfully moved their chosen leaves to create a pleasing arrangement.

To finish the art and nature unit 3rd graders explored natural fabric dyes! 

4th Grade: Mixed Media Sculpture –> Street Art

4th graders were led through the entire five-step process of creating a mixed media sculpture from Planning to Armature to Surfacing (Plaster Gauze/Papier Mache) to Painting with Acrylics to Final Details. Recycled materials used included cardboard, fabrics, plastic and foam packaging, and many more! The process involved a lot of questioning, a lot of problem-solving, and a ton of play!

5th Grade: Observational Drawing

5th graders have been extremely focused on improving their drawing skills, through a variety of life drawing exercises and comic-creation activities. After our exploration of gesture drawings and close-ups of our eyes and faces, we transitioned to shading techniques. Using black paper and white charcoal, students were asked to “carve-out” the pieces or “shapes of light” from the dark paper. Using mid-tone gray paper and oil pastels, students were taught to look closely, layer colors to create complex hues, and explore with their pastels.

Kindergarten Adventures

Out and About


Owl pellets. Kindergartners collected the contents of owl pellets for further study.
Walking Mindfulness practice. Welcome to the labyrinth in our Life Lab Garden. Walk quietly on the path…leave space between walkers…explore your inner world…


…and there’s always room for play!

Think Like a Proton and Stay Positive!

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

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

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

GW: What are the steps to completing science fair?

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

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

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

GW: Who serves as a judge?

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

GW: What’s the biggest challenge for students?

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

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

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

GW: What do you love about science fair?

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

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

Middle School Theater Elective: The Outsiders

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

Interfaith Panel Explores Beliefs with Middle Schoolers

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

Gateway School: Why did you organize this panel?

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

GW: How did you prepare students?

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

GW: What did the panelists talk about?

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

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

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

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

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

GW: What comes next in the curriculum?

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

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

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

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

Flash Kindness Events

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

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

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

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