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COVID-19 Health & Safety Measures & In-Person, Hybrid, & Remote Learning Models at Our Utah Campuses
During the 2021–2022 school year, we plan to keep Rowland Hall open and welcome all students to campus. We'll have technology to support students who may still need to quarantine, but we won't be offering a distance-learning plan.
Whether through in-person or distance learning, we're committed to delivering an unmatched program that inspires deep thinking and builds strong relationships—all while prioritizing the health and safety of our community. Browse our 2020–2021 efforts below. Note that due to declining COVID-19 cases, hybrid learning ended on March 19, 2021. All of our students are now learning either fully remotely, or fully in person.
We know that students thrive when an excellent academic program is matched by vibrant co-curricular life, and we'll deliver both to the best of our ability within each learning model while adapting to community COVID-19 risk levels.
Four principles guide this framework:
Keep our mission and values at the forefront of our thinking
Connect students and teachers in a learning program that is engaging, relevant, and in person, if possible
Create learning models that flex with health and safety guidelines
Our Three Learning Models: Face-to-Face Learning, Hybrid Learning, and Distance Learning
During the 2020–2021 school year, we're prepared to toggle between different learning models based on community health risks. As we designed three different teaching and learning models, we focused on the developmental considerations in each division. In all divisions, we're committed to delivering a challenging and engaging academic program—setting a high standard for teaching and learning in an environment that is supportive and focused on relationship building, no matter where we are. Our plans are designed to flex between being fully on campus, utilizing hybrid components where some students are present and others are not, and returning to a full distance-learning program if necessary.
This is an on-campus model with physical distancing and sanitizing protocols. Students will experience small cohorts, staggered starts, staggered lunches, no large gatherings, physical distancing, and health screenings while attending school in person five days a week.
This model is available for students in the Beginning School (preschool covering 3PreK, 4PreK, and kindergarten) and Lower School (elementary school, grades 1–5).
This model combines face-to-face learning with some distance-learning experiences. Students will experience small cohorts, staggered starts, staggered lunches, no large gatherings, physical distancing, and health screenings while engaging in learning five days a week.
This model was available to students in the Middle School (grades 6–8) and Upper School (high school, grades 9–12). Due to declining COVID-19 cases, this model ended on March 19, 2021. All of our students are now learning either fully remotely, or fully in person.
This model allows students to be actively engaged in their learning five days a week through the use of our new smart classroom audio-visual system and our learning-management system.
This learning model is available to students in the Lower School (elementary school, grades 1–5), Middle School (grades 6–8), and Upper School (high school, grades 9–12).
This is an on-campus model with physical distancing and sanitizing protocols. Students will experience small cohorts, staggered starts, staggered lunches, no large gatherings, physical distancing, and health screenings while attending school in person five days a week.
This model is available for students in the Beginning School (3PreK–K) and Lower School (grades 1–5).
Note About Beginning School Flex-Day and Full-Day Tuition
If campus must close, either due to a government mandate or as a precautionary measure on the school's part, we will offer partial credits to those families who have selected a full-day contract. This is because in distance learning, all of our students in flex-day and full-day programs will receive the same educational experience, regardless of their contract type.
Due to declining COVID-19 cases, hybrid learning ended on March 19, 2021. All of our students are now learning either fully remotely, or fully in person.
We know that middle school years are ones of increasing independence, skill building, and a greater focus on social needs. A hybrid-learning model includes time for building community between students and teachers so that deep learning can occur. This model consists of a five-day-a-week program based on four classes and advisory each day.
In our hybrid, concurrent model, students are separated into smaller cohorts, with approximately half of a given grade working at school, and the other half working at home in order to accommodate physical distancing. Students come to school for one calendar week, attending all classes in person, and then have the following week at home, attending classes remotely. While learning at home, students will continue to be actively engaged in their classes through the use of our new smart classroom audio-visual system and our learning-management system, Canvas.
The hybrid-learning model includes student-to-student connections in class and outside of school, an array of elective opportunities (including arts and sports), an engaging academic program, and more opportunities for students to have voice and choice in their learning.
We are committed to providingan unparalleled academic program matched by vibrant co-curricular life (i.e., arts, athletics, debate). The hybrid learning model prioritizes time and space for community and connections between peers while allowing students and teachers time to build meaningful relationships to enhance learning. Face-to-face learning combined with some distance-learning experiences create enough space on campus for students and adults to be appropriately physically distant. This five-day-a-week schedule allows us to creatively use spaces to accommodate safety protocols and adapt to changing risk phases with minimal disruption to student learning. The Upper School provides the necessary student support services to ensure deep and meaningful learning is happening for all students. This learning model consists of a five-day-a-week program based on four classes each day.
In our hybrid, concurrent learning model, students are separated into smaller cohorts, with approximately half of a given grade working at school, and the other half working at home in order to accommodate physical distancing. Students come to school for a calendar week, attending all classes in person, and then have a week at home, attending classes remotely. While learning at home, students continue to be actively engaged in their classes through the use of our new smart classroom audio-visual system and our learning-management system, Canvas, some flipped-classroom opportunities, and a mix of advisory time, grade-level check-ins, and consultation periods in which teachers are available.
Upper School Athletics
The Utah High School Athletics Association website is the best place to look for updates and/or changes to the 2020–2021 school year. Rowland Hall’s athletic department will be in touch with families about any policies and procedures that allow our athletes to safely train while adhering to the latest guidelines while not requiring student-athletes to attend if they do not feel comfortable doing so.
While it's not possible to replicate the learning activities our students experience on our campuses, we believe that deep thinking and meaningful, engaging learning can happen at a distance. Rowland Hall's distance learning is rooted in our five values. By staying true to our values, we ensure that students remain excited about learning, have stability in their education, and feel prepared for their next year of school.
Our five-day-a-week divisional distance-learning plans are designed to encourage students' voices and keep them engaged, learning, and growing through the use of our new smart classroom audio-visual system and our learning management system, Canvas. At the same time, students are provided with frequent and meaningful opportunities for connection and community. We use familiar and predictable structures to meet the needs of our learners. Student support and parent education is widely available in this learning model.
Please note that some classes and opportunities may not be available to students who opt for the distance learning program.
While we are proud of the successful distance-learning plan delivered in the spring of 2020, we know there is room to grow. Over the summer months, Rowland Hall faculty engaged with Global Online Academy to enhance knowledge and best practices of hybrid and distance learning. Faculty is focused on creating more opportunities for students to connect while apart. We are committed to delivering the most dynamic and engaging distance learning program available.
Physical Campus, Health & Safety Guidelines, and Return-to-Work Procedures
Strategies have been discussed and developed in the following areas. These policies may be amended if health and safety concerns change.
Daily health screenings will be required for all students, employees, and visitors prior to entering a building.
Students at High Risk
We will support students who are at higher risk for COVID-19 so that their learning is not interrupted.
We will require all adults and students in grades 1–12 to wear face coverings while in common spaces. In grades 3–12, students will be required to wear face coverings in classrooms.
If a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19
Rowland Hall will follow CDC and local government guidelines to contain the spread of COVID-19. We will provide isolation rooms in each division for students exhibiting symptoms, contact tracing for students and employees, and support in transitioning from in-person to remote learning if necessary.
We will provide safety protocol training to employees, students, and families before the start of school.
Rowland Hall will take all the necessary steps to limit the chances of COVID-19 spreading in our community, and we ask our students, families, and employees to partner with us to maintain a healthy and safe community. We look forward to partnering with you.
Staying Home When Sick
All employees and students will be required to stay home if exhibiting any signs of illness.
Group gatherings may not exceed 20 people and cannot exceed the capacity of the meeting space. All attendees will be masked and physically distanced.
Task force dedicated to determining the best learning models and overall program for our students during each phase of our campus reopening.
Jennifer Blake, Associate Head of School
Emma Wellman, Beginning School Principal
Jij de Jesus, Lower School Principal
Pam Smith, Middle School Principal
Ingrid Gustavson, Upper School Principal
Lori Miller, McCarthey Campus Director of Learning Services
Wendell Thomas, Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Taskforce dedicated to overseeing protocols regarding facility use, physical distancing in the learning environment, protective equipment, and related concerns.
Gita Varner, Project Manager for Re-Opening Campus
Ann Burnett, Director of Operations
Mike Gee, Head of School
Jennifer Blake, Associate Head of School
Gwen Fonarow, Chief Financial Officer
Carolyn Uhle, Director of Human Resources
Brian Bailey, Director of Transportation
Mark Dodson, MD, Pulmonologist at Intermountain HealthCare
Tiffany Glasgow, MD, Division Chief of Inpatient Medicine, Primary Children's Hospital
Andrew Pavia, MD, Chief, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah
“An editorial cartoon isn’t just a funny picture,” Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez told Rowland Hall eighth graders at a special virtual presentation on January 25. “A good editorial cartoon is a fine instrument of journalism: It defines an issue. It challenges hypocrisy. It reveals the best and the worst of humanity. It calls the reader to arms against the complacent, the lethargic, the evil-doers, the indolent body politic, the champions of the status quo, the sordid predators of society.”
Editorial, or political, cartooning isn’t often a subject that middle school students examine closely. So when Rowland Hall had the chance to invite Michael—uncle of eighth grader Elli Ramirez and senior Ke’ea Ramirez—to speak to eighth graders, teacher Sarah Yoon jumped at the chance. She knew that the discussion on editorial cartooning, free speech, journalism, and citizen responsibility would tie to current studies as well as give students a unique opportunity to interact with an esteemed artist: in addition to two Pulitzer Prizes (1994 and 2008), Michael’s awards include a 2015 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year (the highest honor the profession bestows) and three Sigma Delta Chi awards for excellence in professional journalism (1995, 1997, and 2007).
Michael urged students to seek out balanced information on complex issues, noting that this practice will provide them with a more comprehensive view of those issues, help them better understand and solidify their own beliefs, and prepare them to have constructive conversations.
At the January 25 event, Michael talked about how he views his role to help protect and inform the public, and gave students the chance to ask questions about his work, his career path, and even his love of surfing. He also used the time to inspire students to become active citizens and, one day, voters. The job of members of a democratic republic, he told them, is to be informed.
“Information is a necessary component to guide you in a political system based on self-governance and individual liberties,” Michael explained. He urged students to seek out balanced information on complex issues, noting that this practice will provide them with a more comprehensive view of those issues, help them better understand and solidify their own beliefs, and prepare them to have constructive conversations.
“You cannot make a substantive opinion on anything if you don’t know the depth of what you’re talking about,” he explained. “You can’t build a car if you don’t know the mechanics of an automobile; in the same way, you cannot construct an argument unless you know the mechanics of the debate.”
Michael’s presentation encouraged students—some noted that it aided them in understanding the power of their voices, while others reflected on how learning about Michael’s career helped them realize that they can express themselves in creative ways. They tapped into this inspiration as they embarked on their post-event assignment: to create their own editorial cartoons. In the weeks following the presentation, they became junior editorial cartoonists, researching, editing, and drawing (by hand or computer) their opinions on topics such as the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and the impact of COVID-19. For Monica Fernandez, the assignment gave her a chance to share her views on a subject she cares deeply about: climate change.
“I decided on the subject of my cartoon because I think climate change is a very important and real thing in our lives, and we should all try and become more aware of it so we can make smarter decisions in our day-to-day lives,” she explained. Like Michael and his fellow editorial cartoonists do, Monica took time to research her topic and consider the best approach to make her viewers think.
Monica's perspective is a reflection of what she and fellow students took away from Michael’s presentation—that good editorial cartoons inform and challenge readers as well as draw them into debate and action, and that engaged citizens have a say in the destiny of their country.
“I decided to include an hourglass, because I think this was a good way to visually show how fast time is running out,” she reflected. “My original plan was to show different natural elements (animals, trees, glaciers, people, oceans), but after creating a rough draft I realized that it looked sloppy and didn’t get my point across. I decided to just use the visual of the globe, and I was more happy with that design. My end result was three hourglasses—as the time goes by, each hourglass has more sand at the bottom and less world left.”
Monica hopes that, in addition to making viewers think, this image may also inspire them to change behaviors. “Even the little things in life that we do on a day-to-day basis can affect how much longer we can all make this world last before it all runs out,” she explained.
Her perspective is a reflection of what she and fellow students took away from Michael’s presentation—that good editorial cartoons inform and challenge readers as well as draw them into debate and action, and that engaged citizens have a say in the destiny of their country. The powerful images the students created prove that it’s never too early to help them think about their role as American citizens and sharpen the skills that will support them in that role. After all, as Michael pointed out, “Developing future citizens and participants in our democratic republic is so important.”
In the newest episode of Rowland Hall’s award-winningprinciPALS podcast, Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus discuss some of the most inspiring things they’ve learned (so far) while educating preschool- and elementary-aged children during the pandemic.
During the first months of in-person instruction since March, the princiPALS have learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community.
Recorded during the 14th week of Rowland Hall’s 2020–2021 school year, Emma and Jij reflect on leading their divisions during the first months of in-person instruction since the school moved to full distance learning in March. During that time, they said, they’ve learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community. And though they’re aware that schools across the country are dealing with different learning models and regional challenges, they believe that their perspectives on in-person learning during the pandemic may help other educators—as well as answer some of the many questions parents and caregivers have as schools readjust learning models in 2021.
“Our hope is that these important things we’ve learned are helpful to anyone out there,” said Jij.
The princiPALS also draw on their top lessons to create tips that will help parents and caregivers continue to support children (and themselves) at this time, with an emphasis on making intentional choices rather than, as Emma noted, “letting the world wash over you.”
Listen to “What We’re Learning about Learning during a Pandemic,” along with other episodes of princiPALS, on Rowland Hall's website, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.
Like all educators across the country, Rowland Hall theatre teacher Matt Sincell had to rethink his lesson plans after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed in-person learning in March.
With traditional classes and a spring production off the table, Matt found himself looking for ways to provide theatre experiences for students during quarantine. He decided to introduce them to radio plays, a completely acoustic type of theatre, which could be produced from their homes.
While the term radio play might bring to mind radio series from the 1930s and 1940s, this type of production still attracts audiences today—podcasts, for instance, are “sort of the modern-day version of a radio play,” Matt said. Stories told as radio plays also have lasting power: "The War of the Worlds," a Mercury Theatre on the Air radio episode based on the 1898 H.G. Wells novel of the same name, dramatized a Martian invasion and is remembered because of the fear it stirred when it aired in 1938. “It caused a nationwide panic when it was first performed. People actually thought we were being invaded by aliens,” said Matt.
In the early months of distance learning, Rowland Hall students began exploring this theatre form, ultimately creating an adaptation of the popular children’s book The Gruffalo (which was edited by seventh- and eighth-grade Arts & Ensembles theatre teacher Meighan Smith). Their work was shared with families and friends—and, thanks to Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre Company, the wider community when it was featured on The City Library’s BiblioBoard. And as Matt planned for the 2020–2021 year—which he knew would still include distance learning in some form—he decided to continue the study of radio plays. “With students at home, in class, and, for some, distance learning only, it seemed the most likely class project to be able to complete,” he explained.
This fall, Matt assigned his sixth-grade Arts & Ensembles class the task of creating an original radio play. The result, The Awakening, is a 16-minute production written and performed by students Sebby Bamberger, Lila Bates, Josie Fonarow, Elayna Hoglund, Paulina Ize-Cedillo, Emery Lieberman, Elle Prasthofer, Morgan Schmutz, Sophie Smith, Izzy Utgaard, and Kate Weissman. The play, which took about two months to complete, was written in both the horror and comedy genres, explained Elayna.
“The inspiration for it was the story of ‘The Ghost with the Bloody Finger,’” she said, referencing a well-known campfire ghost story designed to make listeners laugh. Elayna said the sixth graders wanted to incorporate humor into their radio play because they knew their audience would be mostly made up of listeners who were middle-school-aged and younger. “We knew that it’d be more fun to have some funny in it.”
All 11 students were invested in the project, getting involved in the brainstorming, writing, and script editing required of a radio play. Although they weren’t able to do the close-contact acting techniques of a stage production, they did get to experience voice acting, with distance learners applying best practices to capture the cleanest sound possible by recording with blankets over their heads or by sitting inside a closet, and in-person learners utilizing a handmade, COVID-approved sound booth made of two stacked desks wrapped with a thick, padded moving blanket. (Blankets were changed and desks and equipment were sanitized between each recording session.)
“There was never a time that a student was directly interacting with another student, but we were able to create the illusion that they were indeed responding to each other,” said Matt, who edited The Awakening.
The students also learned the importance of sound effects in radio plays, which are key to bringing this art form to life. “The tricky thing about a radio play is that there, of course, is no visual to accompany it,” Matt explained, “so it's even more necessary to rely on our sense of sound to tell the story.” He had students experiment with Foley, a sound-making technique pioneered in the 1920s and still used today—Elayna captured the sound of a refrigerator door closing, a microwave beeping, and a candy wrapper crackling, while classmate Sophie recorded a door slamming, feet running on concrete, and her interpretation of a leprechaun laughing. Sophie said it felt good knowing that her sound effects helped make a difference in the finished recording. “It was pretty nice because you knew it was your work,” she said.
Art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.—Matt Sincell, theatre teacher
And that finished recording is impressive indeed. It’s a strong reminder of student creativity and ingenuity, even within a pandemic. “What they have been able to accomplish in the face of such adversity is really quite unique and wonderful,” said Matt.
The theatre teacher is hopeful that the radio play will also bring smiles to the larger community: on December 14, Matt announced that Jerry Rapier, Plan-B Theatre’s artistic director and a dedicated supporter of theatre education in Utah, had offered to again promote the Rowland Hall students’ work by linking The Awakening to The City Library’s BiblioBoard and to Plan-B’s mobile app.
“It's super exciting to once again have Plan-B Theatre support our students' work,” said Matt. “It’s nice to think that they are able to provide a 16-minute gift of joy to other students outside of the Rowland Hall community. It's proof that art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.”
Banner photo: Rowland Hall middle schoolers Lila Bates and Kate Weissman preparing to record lines of The Awakening.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have these machines,” said alum Gita Varner ’05, Rowland Hall’s project manager for reopening campus. “They’re in full swing in the afternoons and evenings, resetting Lincoln Street Campus classrooms and getting them ready for the next day. They’ve been especially helpful as the weather has become colder and we’ve had to move our HERO testing, as well as testing for our Upper School athletes, inside.”
Rowland Hall started using the devices—the hospital-grade R-Zero Arc—in early November, thanks to a generous donation from parents Benjamin and Joanna Boyer. According to biosafety company R-Zero, the 78-inch-high UV-C light towers can disinfect a 1,000-square-foot room in just seven minutes, destroying over 99.99% of surface and airborne pathogens.
The lights are among the latest upgrades to help us combat COVID-19. After Thanksgiving, we added air purifiers to Upper School classrooms. We also have one of the highest participation rates among Utah schools in the HERO Project, which provides rapid testing and aims to reduce outbreaks.
The towers are among the latest improvements to help the school combat COVID-19. After Thanksgiving break, we also added powerful Blue Pure 211+ air purifiers to every Upper School classroom, even looping a student into the process: freshman Rodrigo Fernandez-Esquivias assisted Gita in researching purifier options. And in September, Head of School Mick Gee announced Rowland Hall’s participation in the HERO Project. This public health initiative—implemented by the University of Utah and funded by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget—aims to enhance school response to COVID-19 and reduce outbreaks. It provides voluntary rapid testing (outside, in a large room, or using a drive-through) for Rowland Hall classmates and teachers only after an individual in their class or cohort reports a positive case. Rowland Hall has had one of the highest project participation rates among Utah schools.
Rowland Hall’s leading participation in the HERO Project is just one COVID-era example of our conscientious, supportive community—traits that have helped our school be one of the few in the Salt Lake City area to offer in-person learning. The Boyer family donation for the UV-C light towers was another such example, and it triggered a smaller one. Following the arrival of the towers, computer science teacher and student and plant dad Ben Smith ’89 surveyed his colleagues to help inventory their campus plants and keep them safe from any potential UV-C light damage. It was a simple, green-thumbed gesture—but one that was reflective of the broader thoughtfulness and adaptability that Rowland Hall faculty, staff, students, and parents have modeled since the pandemic’s start.
2020 may well be remembered as the year of overwhelming stress, and research shows that it’s not only adults feeling the pressure—students feel it, too, and it plays a big role in how they learn.
Schools have long known that they play a critical role in supporting students’ mental well-being. Even before 2020, a heightened understanding of how mental health initiatives contribute to students’ welfare and their ability to learn shifted curriculum and priorities at Rowland Hall. Today, a strong social-emotional learning (SEL) thread runs through all school divisions, and a variety of resources that support students’ mental well-being—from trained counselors, to grade-level advisories, to SEL-based curriculum—are in place. Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund explained that the shift toward this support structure began in 2010, as educators across the country began to better understand how an overly anxious mind affects learning.
You're not learning if your brain is engaged in worry and stress—learning is a higher-order thinking skill.—Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education
“You're not learning if your brain is engaged in worry and stress—learning is a higher-order thinking skill,” Ryan said. “We knew we needed to focus on the whole child, giving them tools to free their cognitive load so they can give greater attention to learning and social connections.”
Upper School Social-Emotional Support Counselor Dr. Mindy Vanderloo said that a good way to think about this approach is to remember the phrase “Maslow before Bloom,” which underscores the theory that human beings must have their basic needs met before they can take on higher-level desires or thinking.
“If you don't have your basic needs—home, security, food, mental health—then you can't do those things that are higher up on hierarchy,” said Mindy. “Research has demonstrated the relationship between academics and mental health. We understand the importance of identifying and treating mental health problems; we also know that incorporating SEL can improve mental health.”
And while this is true in any academic year, it has become even more important in 2020, when heightened anxiety around issues including COVID-19, the election, and social unrest can further impact students’ mental well-being—which was already concerning mental health professionals. Mindy pointed to American Psychological Association research released in 2019 that found that the percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders—serious psychological distress, major depression, or suicidal thoughts—has risen significantly over the past decade. Though there isn’t a clear cause why, she said, issues like social media, political divisiveness, and climate change may play a role.
“Mental health disorders have increased over time, and there isn't a known cause,” Mindy explained. “Prevalence rates are going up—and it could be we feel more comfortable talking about it now, and so we notice it more—but there is something categorically different that has changed over generations. Schools, appropriately, have responded and said, ‘This is a bigger problem than it used to be, for whatever reason, and we need to address it.’”
Resources that support students’ mental well-being are available in all Rowland Hall divisions, starting in the beginning and lower schools, where a supportive SEL foundation is first established. Guided by Emotional Support Counselor Chuck White, Rowland Hall’s preschool- and elementary-aged students begin building their social-emotional skills through programs like Second Step and Responsive Classroom. Faculty and staff also cultivate strong partnerships with caregivers during these years, providing resources that advise adults on how to talk to young learners about issues such as COVID-19 and social unrest or the election, as well as how to have healthy conversations around topics such as race.
As students move to the Middle School on the Lincoln Street Campus—and begin a phase of life known for a great deal of change—educators take even more action to help them understand and manage their own mental wellness.
“It's important to remember that in middle school brains are changing at a high rate,” said Middle School Social-Emotional Support Counselor Leslie Czerwinski. “Then on top of brain changes, hormones start to change.”
At the same time, students are learning to navigate the world in new ways, with an increase in online time—including, for many, access to social media, which can add new layers of pressure, such as the need to present perfection. It is therefore important to help these students find healthy coping strategies that they can practice in Middle School and carry into their Upper School years, and beyond.
That notion of productive struggle is that if I'm not stressed, I'm not learning; if I'm overstressed, I'm not learning. What we really want to find is that yellow zone where I'm challenged. I've always used this canoe analogy: I want you to rock your canoe, but I don't want your canoe flipping.—Ryan Hoglund
“The goal is not zero stress; that's really important to emphasize,” said Ryan. “Stress is normal—it drives us to deadlines that keep us accountable. But how do you keep it productive?” To do this, he said, Rowland Hall focuses on productive struggle, also known as the zone of proximal development, a sweet spot for each learner where the student has found balance between being too comfortable and too overwhelmed.
“That notion of productive struggle is that if I'm not stressed, I'm not learning; if I'm overstressed, I'm not learning. What we really want to find is that yellow zone where I'm challenged,” said Ryan. “I've always used this canoe analogy: I want you to rock your canoe, but I don't want your canoe flipping.”
Productive struggle not only prepares students to build resilience and succeed under the pressures of life, but to learn how to head off more serious issues, like chronic anxiety, that can develop under too much stress. In the middle and upper schools, this skill is purposefully encouraged by faculty and staff in classroom conversations as well as in advisory, a program designed to help build community and promote student wellness. Advisory now plays a major role in the Rowland Hall experience—one that is so important that sixth graders’ placement into their advisory groups is a thoughtful process handled by the middle and upper school counselors, principals, and assistant principals, who understand that identifying the best advisor for each student can lead to strong relationships that support mental well-being throughout their years on the Lincoln Street Campus. This is necessary, Mindy noted, because research shows that one of the biggest ways to protect students against mental health problems is to give them access to consistent, healthy adult mentors.
“Individual connections to supportive adults is one of the best things we can provide for students as a school,” she said.
Healthy adult role models also help students discover their own leadership capabilities. During their time at Rowland Hall—particularly as they move from sixth to twelfth grade—students are given more autonomy and ownership of their learning and self-governance, which builds their confidence.
During their time at Rowland Hall students are given more autonomy and ownership of their learning and self-governance, which builds their confidence. This includes giving students opportunities to support their own and others’ mental well-being by letting them lead critical conversations, make essential connections, and even help to develop curriculum.
“In the Upper School, what we want to do is build self-efficacy and empower students to take care of themselves. They've learned skills in advisory through informal discussions with teachers—and so how do they take the next step?” Mindy said. “We shift from a focus on adults teaching students to what students can teach each other and take into their own hands.”
This includes giving students opportunities to support their own and others’ mental well-being by letting them lead critical conversations, make essential connections, and even help to develop curriculum. In support of this goal, in 2019 Mindy created a student group called the Mental Health Educators, whose mission is to help build awareness of and combat stigma around mental health issues. Since its founding, Mental Health Educators has played a vital role in normalizing mental health discussions on the Lincoln Street Campus—members address peers at chapels and morning meetings, and they build long-term relationships with students through advisory groups, where they lead discussions around topics like stress and anxiety, as well as offer tips on areas like healthy coping mechanisms.
“The school’s been doing a good job trying to reduce stigma around mental health,” said Samantha Lehman, a Rowland Hall junior and Mental Health Educator. “The Mental Health Educators are working to improve mental health resources, and I think we’ve already seen a lot of improvements and a lot of good feedback from the student body.”
They’re also continuously finding new ways to bring their mental health training to their peers. For example, Samantha used some of the topics the group discussed—like motivation, relationships, and the importance of mental breaks—to create Instagram challenges that engaged and connected students during the long weeks of quarantine this spring. Senior Mena Zendejas-Portugal applies her mental health knowledge to her work as a member of the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Committee. And this fall, the entire Mental Health Educators group partnered with Dr. Carolyn Hickman, English Department chair, and Mike Shackelford, political science teacher and debate coach, to present Deliberate Dialogue, an initiative Carolyn and Mike designed to help reduce student stress during a contentious election season by giving them opportunities to practice civil discourse. Over two weeks in October, the Mental Health Educators taught the five skills of Deliberate Dialogue—open-mindedness, speaking, listening, responding, and reflecting—to all students in grades nine through eleven, as well as helped them practice constructive conversation techniques, which center around exchanging perspectives openly, challenging viewpoints respectfully, and building empathetic understanding. Samantha said the initiative fits in well with the Mental Health Educators mission “because you’re coming to the conversation seeking to understand, seeking to listen.”
We are making meaning, we are creating purpose, and those are the things that are going to help prevent us from being completely demoralized by stressors such as COVID.—Dr. Mindy Vanderloo, Upper School social-emotional support counselor
Mena added, “Once you learn how to have Deliberate Dialogue in your everyday life, that really helps you better your mental health and your relationships. The conversation turns toward building bridges and relationships, which then translates into how you perceive yourself and others.”
And this is a big deal, said Mindy, because by taking action to fight the stressors that affect their well-being—like a divisive election within a global pandemic—students feel a sense of purpose amid chaos.
“We are making meaning, we are creating purpose, and those are the things that are going to help prevent us from being completely demoralized by stressors such as COVID,” said Mindy. “If you can take a difficult or tragic event, take action, and decide to make change, it is so good for not only your mental health, but other people's mental health.”
Mena agreed. “You see students confront problems in such an elevated manner—they’re incorporating all these skills we’ve taught them, and they’re able to relieve themselves of so much stress,” she said. “It makes you feel a sense of joy and pride, not only in yourself, but in your community and in those students.”
Banner photo: Junior Remy Mickelson presenting Deliberate Dialogue skills during an advisory class.
As the world of virtual debate has expanded this fall following a late-spring start, national tournaments have grown even more competitive than in pre-pandemic years; students far and wide can simply log on instead of hop a bus or plane to participate. And still, Rowland Hall students have thrived in these new conditions, with twice as many opportunities to compete, hone their skills, and accrue top accolades.
“Debate is as competitive as ever,” coach Mike Shackelford said. “Rowland Hall competed at 17 tournaments this fall, from New York to Los Angeles, local and national, occasionally at the same time.” Normally, that number is about half as high. On the weekend of November 6, for instance, Winged Lions competed in three different tournaments. One was the Utah Debate Coaches Association (UDCA) tournament—the most prestigious local regular-season tournament—where the team had its best showing of the fall. Rowland Hall won the sweepstakes award for the top school thanks to students’ impressive results:
Senior Calvin Barbanellwon the varsity big questions championship.
Seniors Sophie Dau and Maddy Frechwon the varsity policy championship.
Seniors Augie Bown and Ty Lunde placed second in varsity policy.
Juniors Lizzie Carlin and Casey Maloy placed second in varsity public forum.
Sophomores Layla Hijjawi and Aileen Robles placed first in JV policy.
Sophomore Iman Ellahie and freshman Regan Hodson placed first in novice public forum.
Calvin is a brilliant mathematician, he loves philosophy, and is a senior on the debate team. Everything lined up for his first career championship.—Debate Coach Mike Shackelford
UDCA marked Sophie and Maddy's second-straight tournament championship, following their October win at the Rowland Hall-hosted Young Lawyers tournament. It also marked Rowland Hall’s first foray into the newer big questions event, which started in 2016 and entails debating resolutions at the intersection of science and philosophy. This year’s topic: "Resolved: Mathematics was discovered, not invented.” It’s a fortuitous premise for senior Calvin—an accelerated math student who, for instance, took AP Calculus BC as a freshman.
“Calvin is a brilliant mathematician, he loves philosophy, and is a senior on the debate team,” Mike said. “Everything lined up for his first career championship.”
In addition to JV and varsity successes, Mike said our sharp underclassmen bode well for future years. “The program has possibly the most impressive freshman class I've ever coached,” Mike said. “Strong in all events, dominant locally, recognized nationally, and so resilient.” One of those speakers is freshman Logan Fang, who on November 7 earned an iPad for being the top speaker in novice policy at the Damus Hollywood Invitational. Logan said he was dumbfounded but pleased with his win: “I strive to make every round better than the last so it's exciting to see progress towards becoming a polished speaker.” And it’s probably due to close bonds, he explained, that freshmen are excelling. “We're all friends outside of debate so we're able to give each other advice on a more personal level,” Logan said. “We all push each other to be better.”
Juniors Samantha Lehman, George Drakos, and Emery Bahna have also earned national recognition lately. Emery, for one, said one of her biggest accomplishments this fall was being named third-best speaker out of 300 competitors in varsity public forum at Grapevine Classic, a national tournament.
I’m unbelievably proud of the Rowland Hall debate team for adapting to these unforeseen circumstances, and I can’t wait to continue a successful season!—Junior Emery Bahna
Naturally, debaters like Emery and sophomore Aileen Robles miss in-person events and the related social perks such as team dinners, hotel overnights, and mingling with students from other schools. But in all likelihood, students who are able to take advantage of this virtual forum will have an edge when in-person events return: “We gain all kinds of experience,” Aileen said, as the sheer number of events that she and her classmates can attend is much higher this year.
Both Aileen and Emery expressed gratitude for people like their coach who have been working diligently to launch virtual editions of beloved competitions. “Being able to continue interacting with members of the debate community has been extremely important this year, especially given the crazy state of the world,” Emery said. “I’m unbelievably proud of the Rowland Hall debate team for adapting to these unforeseen circumstances, and I can’t wait to continue a successful season!”
Top: Seniors Sophie Dau and Maddy Frech celebrate victory at arm's length, showcasing their Young Lawyers varsity policy trophy while following Rowland Hall's physical-distancing rules.
Watch our COVID-adjusted music program shine in this year's Lower School virtual holiday program, organized by McCarthey Campus Music Teacher Susan Swidnicki and filmed by videographer and PE teacher Collin Wolfe.
Susan Swidnicki, McCarthey Campus music teacher, is passionate about the power of music—especially during a global pandemic.
There’s perspective in music. People use music both for celebration and for mourning—and for understanding life a little better: love and friendship and what is important.—Susan Swidnicki, McCarthey Campus music teacher
“There’s perspective in music,” she said. “People use music both for celebration and for mourning—and for understanding life a little better: love and friendship and what is important.”
For many, music has been a powerful tool for coping with the emotions that the pandemic has stirred up—and that’s true for all ages, Susan explained. During the early childhood and elementary years, music can help children process and express big emotions, as well as build their confidence. As a longtime music educator, Susan has seen this again and again: how a song can help a child work through a difficult experience, how the discovery of hidden musical talent can awaken a previously unengaged student, or how performing in front of classmates can empower a shy student. It was, therefore, more imperative than ever to safely provide music education this year.
“I needed to figure out a way that kids could have skilled, active music making together in community,” Susan said.
Susan spent the spring and summer immersed in professional development with music educators around the world, trading ideas and best practices for lessons that fit within safety recommendations and school guidelines. She acknowledged that this was tricky: Rowland Hall has a long tradition of active music making, and the Lower School curriculum uses the Orff Schulwerk music-education approach, which emphasizes play, and in which music and movement go hand in hand. But under the school’s health and safety guidelines, activities like singing, playing the recorder, working in small groups, and folk dancing were off the table. Susan didn’t let this discourage her, though. Like many other COVID-related challenges, she said, it just required a new kind of thinking and some creativity.
“We’re all learning that we can adapt and be flexible,” she said, “and that we are more resilient than we thought.”
For Susan, this meant examining the skills that music class has always built, and then finding new ways to teach them. For example, she’s developing students’ notation, rhythm, and patterning skills with sets of non-wind instruments—like ukuleles, bucket drums, glockenspiels, boomwhackers, xylophones, and hand drums—that are rotated among classes monthly. Additionally, she’s helping kids, who tend to think of movement as something that requires their legs, find different ways to express themselves with their bodies. “They’re learning there are other parts to movement to explore,” said Susan, like arms and torsos, and even facial expressions around their masks (she challenges them to do things like share feelings using only their eyes).
And to continue helping students process 2020, Susan is also focusing on ways to further tie music education with school-wide social-emotional learning goals. She plans to expose students to music and expressive movements that don’t always reflect happiness, as well as to continue to introduce them to music from around the globe to illustrate how many cultures use music to make sense of the world. It’s clear that every choice she makes is thoughtful and designed to support students’ overall well-being, whether they are learning in the classroom or from home.
Despite the year’s limitations, Susan says students are still shining in music class, discovering not only their ability to create, but an understanding that they have something to contribute.
“My main goal, of course, is to keep kids healthy, but also to give them some sense of peace and calmness in their day,” Susan said.
And, of course, to empower them. Despite the year’s limitations, Susan says students are still shining in music class, discovering not only their ability to create, but an understanding that they have something to contribute, “which I think is one of the biggest messages we want to give to children right now,” she said.
Susan Swidnicki, formerly our Beginning School music teacher, took over for longtime McCarthey Campus music teacher Cindy Hall after Cindy retired this summer. Susan—also a professional oboist who has played with the Ballet West Orchestra and the Utah Symphony—was a natural choice and Rowland Hall is so grateful to have her. Read more about Susan in this 2018 profile.
The Many Benefits of Music
Rowland Hall has long embraced active music making, and each division offers opportunities for students to build musical artistry. On the McCarthey Campus, explained Susan, music is an integral part of the beginning and lower schools’ curricula for many reasons:
It builds self-discipline. In music class, students learn to control themselves within a group by listening to and respecting their peers when they perform.
It encourages bravery. Everyone is expected to contribute, which builds students’ confidence and performance skills—and sometimes even taps into undiscovered talent.
It helps students get comfortable making mistakes. Though all students are expected to contribute in music class, perfection is never expected. “You can still enjoy the process with mistakes,” said Susan.
It supports math skills. The skills built in music class, like patterning, can help contribute to students’ success in math.
It supports language skills. Music class helps build language skills in many ways, from exposing students to vocabulary and rhyming words, to helping build fluid reading skills with meter.
It exposes students to diverse cultures. A culturally inclusive music approach, like Orff Schulwerk, helps students understand and appreciate the diversity of cultures.
For alumna Andrea Hoffman ’05, RN, landing the job of Rowland Hall’s all-school nurse has been a dream come true.
“It’s like coming home,” she said.
In this role—created in the summer of 2020 as part of Rowland Hall’s ongoing commitment to community health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic—Andrea, a graduate of Westminster College’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences, blends her nursing background with her deep affection for the Rowland Hall community. She brings to the school years of experience caring for children of all ages, most recently as a registered nurse and parent educator at Primary Children's Hospital, as well as experience as a Rowland Hall lifer—someone who attended the school for 12 or more years.
“It’s a nice full-circle thing,” Andrea said, “to support the Rowland Hall community during this difficult time, to be present and answer people’s questions, to make sure that we are doing this right.”
That is such a gift from Rowland Hall: a lifelong community.—Andrea Hoffman ’05, all-school nurse
Andrea works closely with former classmate Gita Varner ’05, project manager for reopening campus, to manage the school’s COVID-19 protocols. The all-school nurse also liaises with families and the Utah Department of Health regarding exposures and cases in the Rowland Hall community. Andrea said it’s fulfilling to use her training to help navigate evolving guidelines and mandates, and to help provide reassurance to the community that has played a major role in her life.
“That is such a gift from Rowland Hall: a lifelong community,” said Andrea, who can recall many moments since her 2005 graduation where the community has supported her—and even changed her life: she credits an Alumni Association event for reconnecting her with Christopher Felt ’06, a former classmate who is now her husband. She said the couple is proud to support Rowland Hall: Chris is a member of the Alumni Executive Board, and they regularly donate to the school, attend events, and volunteer for opportunities like Day of Giving, where, Andrea laughed, they compete to see who can get more people to give to the school.
And because of her years watching the Rowland Hall community come together, Andrea has no doubt her community will continue to rise to the challenges of this pandemic. She is already proud of the clear commitment to health and safety that families have shown so far.
“They are really doing a fantastic job: they’ve been keeping their kids home and being extra cautious any time they have symptoms, they’ve been communicating, and they’ve stepped up to help keep all of us safe,” she said. “We really appreciate that.”
As we move into the winter months, Andrea reminds the Rowland Hall community to continue to be vigilant: wear masks, wash hands often, and maintain social distancing. She also emphasized the importance of limiting gatherings with people outside of your household to protect in-person learning, as data shows that COVID-19 spreads originate outside of classrooms. “Being more mindful of interactions that happen outside of school will help keep our school open and prevent the spread of COVID within our community,” she said.