Making Space for Young Minds to Bloom

8th graders celebrating promotion

​​Gateway staff have long believed that learning happens best when students feel safe, supported and able to take risks along the road to discovery. After more than a year away from the routines of campus life and in the midst of a global pandemic, however, even the most resilient of us can be forgiven for feeling a little unsteady. Combine that with the normal stressors of middle school and puberty, and it’s easy to see that the average 6th, 7th, or 8th grader has a lot on their plate. Fortunately, Gateway Middle School’s School Counselor Ken Angelo, along with the entire teaching and leadership staff, have designed a return to school that puts students’ social and emotional needs front and center.

“We've seen an increase in student anxiety and depression,” said Ken. “The anxiety is self-explanatory: for their health and the health of their family, loved ones, and friends. And the depression is often linked to social isolation: being quarantined and away from friends and family.”

New and returning students and families may notice some changes, both large and small, that will help students build community and confidence right away. Students will start off the year by meeting with their advisory each and every morning, as opposed meeting once or twice a week as in prior years. Small advisory cohorts are designed to allow students and their advising teacher to form strong relationships outside of the normal classroom context, with a strong focus this year on mutual support and safety. Once out of advisory, students will move from one class to another with a slightly larger grade-level cohort across the day, to create additional consistency and opportunities for students to form friendships. And across all content areas, teachers are explicitly weaving social and emotional skills into the academic day. 

Ultimately, Ken says, the goal is to help students enjoy the many benefits of being part of an in-person school community as possible, while building on lessons learned from over a year of distance learning. 

“Coming back gives us this opportunity to reinvent public education, where plenty of things haven't worked well from an equity perspective for decades, even somewhere as equity-minded as Gateway,” he said. “Our challenge now is trying to suss out how to keep what worked for students who struggled in person but thrived online, as well as reinventing ourselves as a truly equitable community. And students having that sense of connection and belonging is absolutely paramount to that.”