A friend of mine invited me to her daughter’s 8th grade promotion ceremony, but she told me, “they call it a Gateway.” After attending multiple promotions for my six nephew and nieces, I pretty much knew what to expect. Or so I thought.
A Gateway to Excellence
The Gateway took place on campus, but instead of being in a general auditorium filled with families and friends, it was in a classroom. And it was my friend’s daughter’s- I’ll call her Mary – own personal Gateway. Not the entire 8th grade class. Interesting. I walked in and found a seat in the 2nd row. Some friends and family were already present, and soon the room filled to about 15 people. Intrigued, I waited. Then five more adults walked in the room, but sat along the desks formatted in a U-shape in the front of the classroom that enclosed Mary in the middle. My friend leaned over and said those were her teachers. Mary, a bundle of nervous energy, stood up and welcomed us to her Gateway. What she did next, Rocked. My. World.
Mary proceeded to discuss her five classes: English, Algebra, History, Spanish, and Community Engagement in terms of strengths and stretches. For each area she would display an initial work she did and explain the strengths and stretches of that particular assignment. Then she shared a later work in the same area that exhibited growth in the particular stretch she identified in the first. She did that for each subject. As I sat there and watch her articulate her own learning for the year, many emotions went through me.
First, I was just flabbergasted.
I did what she did in my doctorate program for my oral exams. That was after 12 years of K-12 schooling, four years as an undergrad, a year for my M.A, two years for a teaching credential, and 3 years into my doctoral program. After twenty years into my education, I was asked to defend and give a rationale for my learning. And I thought about the type of classroom instruction that must have occurred during the year to prepare Mary for that reflective moment.
Then I was angry.
What school experience do the majority of our children experience? Teacher-centered instruction. What school experience do the majority of our low-income and working class black and brown kids receive? Worksheets, text books, teaching the test. Why was authentic assessment happening at Mary’s school and not at the majority of public (and probably many) private schools in the nation? In addition to the authentic assessment, Mary was executing skills we value in our society: problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, to name a few – skills that translate to success both personally and professionally.
Then I was sad.
This particular ivy league experience cost $40,000 which automatically limits who has access to it, scholarships notwithstanding. But I thought, more than money, this is about expectations. What society thinks some kids are able to do and not others? Granted, a Gateway in overcrowded public schools would have to look different, but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in some fashion. We could simply change how we do parent conferences to a more student-centered approach, where the student shares their strengths and stretches in relation to the work they’ve done so far. We could plan time during our teaching schedule for a Gateway in the classroom amongst peers. There are so many ways we could bring an experience like this to all children.
A Gateway for All Children
A gateway indeed. The practice that Mary engaged in during her 8th grade year, then again at the end of her sophomore, and lastly her senior year, provided her with a gateway to success that would propel her to succeed in college, and ultimately professionally. Isn’t that what we want for all children?