PAMELA TATE DRAPER
Pamela appears in the Top 100
Innovators & Entrepreneurs magazine.
Pamela Tate Draper
Just outside the bustling metropolitan city of Wilmington, Delaware, lies a cutting-edge school, founded by an extraordinary woman who believes in the power of education for the underserved and often marginalized.
Gateway Charter School, founded in 2011 by Pamela Tate Draper, provides an immersive educational experience for students in grades 3-8 who struggle to achieve academic success in a traditional classroom environment. Utilizing research-based intervention strategies and an arts-based learning environment, Gateway identifies and capitalizes on a student’s strengths and interests. To date, they have assisted nearly 2,000 learners, many of whom require an Individualized Education Program. They will soon add classes for kindergarten through second grade. “There are not many opportunities for special needs students who fall in the middle of the academic spectrum. There are schools that cater to those who are severely challenged and traditional schools that can assist children who have mildly limiting capabilities, but many others fall through the cracks,” Pamela shares. “We have a diverse population of students with different educational aptitudes. They are bright students who have learning differences, disabilities, and difficulties. I believe that each and every student has the capacity to learn if they are treated as individuals.”
The results of the school’s mission and model speak for itself. The Department of Education recently commended Gateway Charter School for its crucial role with children who might not otherwise have their educational needs met. While Pamela credits this success to the enthusiasm and the dedication of the teachers and administrators at GCS, her background has certainly contributed to the school’s success. Prior to founding Gateway, she amassed more than 30 years of experience in marketing, business development, educational programming, and operations management. She also served as chief programs officer at YWCA Delaware.
The Top 100 Magazine spoke with Pamela to learn more about the arts-based learning environment and what motivated her to found Gateway Charter School.
Pamela, what compelled you to start the school?
It was back in 2006. I was watching an episode of The Today Show, which featured Sally Smith, the founder of The Lab School of Washington. As a parent of two sons with unique learning styles, I felt the anguish of watching them fall through the cracks of an educational system that would not accommodate their learning differences, which resulted in their frustration and feelings of inadequacy. I contacted Sally, thinking that maybe I could start a parent group to bring a lab school here, but tuition was $40,000 per year, and not everyone can afford that. What I envisioned was a charter school that would be accessible to anyone in a situation like mine. That vision turned into my mission.
Can you tell us about your intervention strategies and arts-based learning environment, and how they’re helping students succeed?
Arts integration does a number of things. A large percentage of our students have special education needs, so traditional classroom curriculum doesn’t benefit them. Music has been shown to strengthen math and reading skills, and scientific evidence shows that the arts help students become critical thinkers and gain content knowledge. We’ve also been successful in the development of social skills. Many students who have developmental delays don’t grasp social cues through observation, the way others do. We help them learn how to interact with others, so they feel a sense of belonging. This also aids in reducing anxiety and opens them up to learning. My son was in special ed classes his whole life and I was shocked by the number of teachers who specialized in the field but could not, or did not, understand the nuances of working with these children.
At Gateway, parents see the improvement in grades and engagement, and together we watch the students prepare for high school or college with a heightened sense of confidence. One of our memorable success stories is of a fifth-grade girl who could not read when she enrolled with us. She was so traumatized by a previous school experience that she spent the entire first year in tears. That student is now studying graphic arts in college under a full scholarship and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. It’s so rewarding to hear about the triumphs our students achieve in adult life. Every staff member, every teacher, and all the parents are actively involved in the process, and when the kids know they have so much support and love, it’s a game changer.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I get to see children’s lives transformed on a daily basis. I’m looking forward to the day when one of our students heads off to the White House. We’re making a generational impact because a child who felt hopeless now has a future filled with hope and will pass that on to their children, and on and on. What we’re doing doesn’t just change the child, it changes society.
Pamela Tate Draper
Director of Business Development
Gateway Charter School