A Community of Lifelong Learners

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Faculty & Staff Stories in Fine Print, the Magazine of Rowland Hall

Rowland Hall beginning schoolers tackling mathematical thinking while building with blocks.

Blocks are everywhere in the Beginning School.

Every classroom has shelves full of them, available for students to build whatever their imaginations desire. If you go into a classroom while school is in session, you’ll likely have to step over at least a couple walls or towers as you maneuver the space. In doing so, you are stepping right into the middle of a math lesson.

“We use the blocks to teach math concepts like half and whole and fractions,” said kindergarten lead teacher Melanie Robbins. “We start with a student exploring with blocks and expand that experience by asking questions and exploring new ways to look at things.”

Research shows that an early focus on math helps not only with mathematical cognition later, but also with overall learning throughout a child’s education.

Math isn’t a subject that you normally think of being taught in an early childhood setting. For decades the focus has been on literacy for younger children. Research shows that an early focus on math helps not only with mathematical cognition later, but also with overall learning throughout a child’s education. It’s something kindergartener Aria S. seems to realize, even though she’s only six. “I love math because it helps organize your brain,” she says. “It clears your brain and makes it so you can think easily.”

The ways math is taught in early education don’t look like what you might imagine. Yes, if you ask the students if they are learning math they will say they are, and will tell you all about addition and subtraction, how one plus one equals two, and the differences between working with “big” numbers and “small” numbers. What they won’t mention, though, is that they are being taught that math is all around them, in every part of their daily lives—that’s because it’s so naturally woven through the curriculum.

“We are a math community. We do math workshops, but we also use the language of math when we go on shape walks, or during dramatic play time,” Melanie said. “We do so much of our math through stories. It allows math to fluidly enter their brains.”

A preschool girl playing with building blocks.

Teaching math through storytelling also allows the students to teach each other. In one recent lesson students listened to a story about a baby’s adventure as he explored his backyard. While they listened, they drew maps of where the baby went, how his movement formed shapes, and how far he traveled. Then they compared what they had each drawn.

Teaching math through storytelling also allows the students to teach each other.

“We look at how everyone thought about it differently,” Melanie said. “The students explain their thinking, and other students can collaborate and expand on concepts. It brings a joyful energy to math.”

While communal lessons are a cornerstone of teaching, there is also value in the smaller teachable moments. “We as teachers are always looking at how our students are exploring and how we can expand those experiences with questions,” said Melanie. “It’s about giving them choice and voice in how they learn and retain those lessons. We are intentional with our actions, but we are teaching in a way they aren’t thinking, ‘We’re doing math right now.’”

That brings us back to the blocks. As the kids get them out to build the city of the day, they are talking about their design ideas and who or what will live there. But they are also talking about how many blocks they will need to complete the various parts, and how to brace those blocks so they won’t fall down easily. It’s play, but math is also at work.

“The block building piece of the Beginning School is very mathematical,” said Melanie.  “You can always identify Rowland Hall students by their block-building abilities.”


Rowland Hall's 2021–2022 debate team after winning their second consecutive 3A state championship.

For this year’s debate team, there may be one thing that feels better than claiming Rowland Hall’s second consecutive region and state titles.

Doing it in person.

After two years of online-only competition, debaters from across the state were able to gather in person once again for the 2022 regional and state tournaments. After numerous Zoom-room competitions, said Mike Shackelford, Rowland Hall debate coach, these in-person gatherings were a welcome change.

"A return to in-person debate was rejuvenating,” said Mike. “Sure, it meant more planning and earlier mornings—but it also meant pep talks and motivational speeches, real-time collaboration, bonding and playing together between rounds, and supporting one another by watching final rounds as a group. It allowed our students to be truly seen and heard by their opponents, judges, and their teammates." And it was especially exciting for the team members who hadn’t yet experienced in-person debate events. “They didn't even know what they were missing,” said Mike.

Sophomore Zac Bahna was one of these students: he experienced his first year of competition—where he placed third in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking at state—on Zoom, and now understands the contrast between the two settings.

We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.—Zac Bahna, class of 2024

“The in-person experience is a lot different but more fun,” said Zac, who, with fellow sophomore and partner Harris Matheson, took third place in this year’s Public Forum event. “You get to talk to debaters from other schools and hang out with your teammates between rounds. Although last year’s debate season was still a great experience, the team felt more isolated and disconnected when we were all debating from our own homes. The state tournament was one of the first times that I could really feel the good energy of a team environment.”

That energy makes a difference for Rowland Hall not only because the team plays up a division into the 3A classification, pitting them against larger schools, but also because they had to spend a lot of time preparing for individual speech events—an area they don't practice during the regular season—to be competitive.

“It was so awesome to see so many Rowland Hall debaters come together and push themselves to compete in different events than they normally would and work together to achieve a common goal,” said Zac. “We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.”

As a result, the team walked away from the state tournament with their second consecutive 3A state title (their total score, 108, was 33 points higher than the second-place team) and an impressive list of performances:

  • Senior Samantha Lehman took first place in National Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a domestic affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Senior teammates Ella Houden and Kit Stevens took first place in Public Forum, an event that includes short speeches interspersed with three-minute crossfire sections, on the topic of the pros and cons of organic agriculture. Senior Samantha Lehman and junior Micah Sheinberg as well as sophomores Zac Bahna and Harris Matheson closed out the top three spots, giving them a co-championship.
  • Junior Layla Hijjawi and sophomore Joey Lieskovan took first place in Policy, an event in which teams advocate for or against a policy change resolution, for their take on the best proposals for water resource protection. Juniors Ruchi Agarwal and Julia Summerfield also went undefeated in this event, giving them the co-championship, while senior George Drakos and sophomore Gabe Andrus, as well as sophomores Marina Peng and Logan Fang, tied for third place—a clean sweep of the top four spots! (Learn more about how debaters across the state, including Rowland Hall students, prepared for this topic in The Salt Lake Tribune.)
  • Freshman Aiden Gandhi took fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas, a solo debate event, for his speech on journalistic ethics.
  • Junior Zachary Klein took third place in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a foreign affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Freshman Andrew Murphy took fifth place in Student Congress, a competition in which students lead and participate in a simulation where they debate different pieces of national legislation.
  • Junior Micah Sheinberg took fourth place in Impromptu Speaking, an event in which debaters are required to prepare and deliver speeches on a random topic, with only one to two minutes to prepare.

Samantha Lehman also made school history by being the first Rowland Hall student to win an individual state championship in three different debate events over her high school career. The senior said the accomplishment showed her that she can successfully debate on both national and state levels—and reminded her of what she’s learned over four years.

Debate has made me more confident in my voice.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

“Debate has made me a more confident person,” said Samantha. “I’ve always been willing to put myself out there, but debate has made me more confident in my voice, in my ability to convey ideas. I know how to speak to a specific audience, to use my research skills and cater arguments to different groups. I know how to speak efficiently and clearly, in a way that’s not pedantic. I know more about the world: criminal justice issues, arms sales, international relations, water, climate change—subjects you would never find out just in school and reading the news.”

This perspective was echoed by ninth grader Aiden Gandhi, who emerged as a team phenom in his novice season, taking fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas at his first state tournament.

“The season allowed me to grow and learn about topics and ideas that I never would have explored otherwise,” said Aiden. And though he is thrilled about the accomplishments of this year, he’s even more excited about his personal growth. “I think I am most proud of achieving the growth that I did this year in debate. It means that I will be better equipped for next year and future debates.”

It’s this kind of attitude, found across the team, that promises continued excellence for Rowland Hall Debate. Even after graduation, said Samantha, she’ll be keeping an eye on the team—she’s that excited about what lies ahead. Zac and Aiden, also looking forward to what's in the team’s future, have already promised to contribute to ongoing success by challenging themselves and their teammates, cultivating a positive and fun environment, and building community.

“I am excited for the opportunity that next year's season brings to connect, grow, and improve,” said Aiden.


Rowmark ski racer Elisabeth Bocock is one of the newest members of the US Ski Team.

Congratulations to junior Elisabeth Bocock, who this week was nominated to the US Ski Team.

Rowmark and US Ski Team ski racer Elisabeth Bocock

Elisabeth is one of 42 athletes nominated to the US Alpine Ski Team and one of three athletes who will be joining the women’s Development Team (D-Team) for the first time for the 2022–2023 competition season. (Athletes qualify for the team in the spring based on selection criteria, and the official team is announced in the fall once nominees complete physical fitness testing and medical department clearance.) She is the youngest addition to the D-Team and the only new member from the state of Utah.

“It was unreal,” said Elisabeth of the moment she received the call from US Ski Team Coach Chip Knight congratulating her on her season and confirming her place on the team. “It was what I’ve been hoping for basically my whole life.”

She’s not kidding. Thanks to her family’s love of skiing, Elisabeth has been involved with the sport for as long as she can remember: she clipped into her first pair of skis at age two, and some of her earliest memories include traveling with her family to Colorado to watch the World Cup—an experience that inspired her first dreams of joining the US Ski Team. “Seeing people on the team there was super exciting,” she remembered. “It made me want to be a part of that.”

It was unreal. It was what I’ve been hoping for basically my whole life.—Elisabeth Bocock, class of 2023, on being nominated to the US Ski Team

It also didn’t hurt that Elisabeth has three older siblings—brothers Scottie ’18 and Jimmy, and sister Mary—who were early naturals on the slopes and whose ski racing journeys inspired her own competitive drive. Elisabeth began racing for the Snowbird Ski Team at age six, and she joined Rowmark Ski Academy at age 13—a move she credits for preparing her to excel in both racing and academics, and where she’s had an exceptional career. In the 2021–2022 season alone, Elisabeth had five podium finishes in elite-level FIS races and is currently ranked first for her age in the US in slalom, giant slalom, and super-G, and second in the world in giant slalom.

“What is so impressive about Elisabeth objectively earning a spot on the US Ski Team is that her season was filled with setbacks,” said Foreste Peterson, Rowmark Ski Academy’s head women's FIS coach. “Whether it was having to quarantine from COVID exposures, or the many hard crashes she took that left her concussed, bloody, bruised, and banged up, she was knocked down time and time again. Yet, she bounced back every time, better than before, and always with a smile on her face. It was truly a pleasure to work with Elisabeth this year, and I so look forward to seeing what her future holds.”

And while Elisabeth’s riding the high of simply making the US Ski Team, she’s also enjoying an additional perk not available to every athlete in her position: the knowledge that this new experience will include her older sister (and role model), Mary, who was nominated to the US Ski Team last spring. “I’m super excited to work together in a different atmosphere,” said Elisabeth. “Mary’s been a real inspiration to me and has shown me what it takes to get to where I need to go.”

We can’t wait to see where she goes next. Congratulations, Elisabeth—we’ll be cheering you on!


Jodi Spiro's third graders are making an environmental difference at Salt Lake City private school Rowland Hall.

Change may be slow, but it’s worth the wait.

This life truth was recently made clear to Jodi Spiro’s third graders, a group of students passionate about doing their part to save the earth—particularly when it comes to limiting the amount of garbage that’s dumped into the environment, a topic they’ve discussed often this year.

“We knew there was a problem, then we watched this video of how much trash ends up in rivers and oceans, and we thought it was really sad,” said class member Helena A. “We saw this island made out of trash—it’s bigger than Texas.”

“It feels like people don’t really care about what they’re throwing out,” added classmate Declan M.

And it really bothered the third graders to imagine Rowland Hall contributing to the problem—especially in one specific way: even though the school had returned to a traditional serving line at lunch (during the pandemic, individually packaged meals were delivered to classrooms), the dining hall hadn’t shifted back to using metal cutlery. The students knew the use of plastic utensils had to be creating a lot of waste, so in October they visited the dining hall to get an idea of just how much. The third graders began by counting the number of plastic utensils that fit into the dining hall’s cutlery dispenser, then determined how many times that dispenser was filled. They were shocked to learn that the McCarthey Campus was tossing around 900 plastic forks, knives, and spoons each week.

We realized how much we were throwing away and we wanted to know why, and we wanted to change it.—Third grader Declan M.

“We realized how much we were throwing away and we wanted to know why, and we wanted to change it,” said Declan.

And though the students were anxious to make those changes right away, Jodi knew they would need the support of campus partners, including Sage Dining Services, Rowland Hall’s lunch provider, which she knew was probably using plastic cutlery for a reason. Jodi saw the moment as an opportunity for her class to not only understand the reasoning behind that decision, but to learn how to respectfully present their request to reverse it.

“The way you go about something is the way you’ll get lasting change,” she told the class. “You’re going to get better buy-in from everybody if you’re respectful.”

So the class began by writing persuasive letters to explain their concerns and to propose their solution, which they sent to Julia Simonsen, food service director for Sage, in November. They received a prompt response explaining that there was indeed a reason behind the use of plastic cutlery: students had been throwing away the dining hall’s metal cutlery, as well as reusable cups and even lunch trays. This was its own problem—the dining hall simply couldn’t afford to keep replacing these items. The third graders realized that, in order to address their cutlery concerns, they would first have to tackle another waste issue. So they made Julia an offer: they would teach lower schoolers how to properly use lunchroom materials if Sage agreed to bring them back. Julia agreed.

With their end goal in mind, the third graders jumped into making plans for educating fellow students both on the proper use of cafeteria materials and on limiting what they sent to the landfill. They knew they would have to talk to every Lower School class, so they divided into teams, with each team choosing the grades they wanted to present to and the approach they thought best for that age group, such as a slideshow, a game of Kahoot!, or a Book Creator story. They also teamed up with staff and faculty members Emily Clawson, Mary Anne Wetzel, and Collin Wolfe to create a TikTok video demonstrating these skills, which they played for every class.


Jodi Spiro's third-grade class is on a crusade to make our school more environmentally friendly, and their first stop is the dining hall. After seeing how many plastic utensils were being thrown away, the students knew they had to take action. They urged the school to bring back metal cutlery, reusable cups, and compost buckets. Even at such a young age, these students are authentically learning and making a difference not only for our school, but for the world. Great job, third graders!

♬ original sound - Rowland Hall

Rowland Hall third graders demonstrate where to discard leftover milk, how to separate trash from compostable materials (which are then used by the Lower School’s Garden Club), and where to return utensils, cups, and trays.

These class presentations were another chance for the third graders to tap into their respectful dialogue skills: they had to present their material in ways that didn’t place blame on anyone and inspired students to want to help. “We wanted to make sure everyone understood the problem,” explained Helena. “We showed them what’s been happening and what they can do.”

And the presentations made an impact. From first to fifth grade, students expressed a desire to help fix the dining hall’s dual waste problems through their daily actions. “I didn’t really know that I could actually convince people this well of what's been happening in the cafeteria,” said Declan. “It felt really good.” Fellow third graders in Matthew Collins’ and Katie Schwab’s classes even created posters to help remind students to pay attention when disposing of items on their lunch trays, which are helpful resources as students continue to build these habits.

From her perspective, Jodi was thrilled to see not only how other classes responded to her students’ hard work, but how the experience also built the students’ confidence. She said her class loved being seen as experts on a subject and answering their peers’ questions; after each presentation, they returned to the classroom beaming and asking to talk to more people. “I think it brought out parts of themselves that they probably didn’t even expect,” she said.

They learned change is slow, but change is possible, and to be persistent: just because you want something to change doesn’t mean it’s going to follow your timeline.—Jodi Spiro, third-grade teacher

It also showed them that hard work on a cause you believe in is worth it. When the reusable cutlery and cups returned to the dining hall after April break, the moment was more than just the culmination of a nearly school-year-long goal; it was a strong reminder of how young learners can help address problems that seem insurmountable—such as waste in the environment—and truly make a difference.

“It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the bigness of it,” said Jodi, “but the students learned you can start with something small and in your control, like what’s happening in our school. They learned change is slow, but change is possible, and to be persistent: just because you want something to change doesn’t mean it’s going to follow your timeline.”

They also learned that making good choices add up and that, often, being the change you wish to see in the world starts by simply making a small decision to do something.

“Don’t be a problem starter,” summarized Jodi. “Be a problem solver.”

Ethical Education

A Rowland Hall Debugging Club member works on a project.

Every day at Rowland Hall, students have their limits tested by a challenging curriculum and by mentors. It helps them grow. But what happens when the curriculum and mentors are pushed by challenging students?

More growth.

At the beginning of the school year, members of Rowland Hall’s technology team were approached by a number of ninth-grade students who had a complaint: they wanted to be able to do more on their school-issued laptops, but the current administrative settings wouldn’t let them. The restrictions were impeding their ability to grow as coders, they said. They didn’t just want more access, they needed it to learn.

The tech team is used to complaints, but not like this. They decided to try something new. They came to the students with an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“They challenged us to hack through the protections,” said Eli Hatton. “They said if we could do it they would let us keep the access instead of revoking it.”

This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity.

This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity. “We are always interested in cybersecurity,” said Alan Jeppson, associate director of technology. “Sometimes the only way to know if our security is working is to try and break it.”

Break it they did: the ninth graders were able to gain the access they desired, and then walked the tech team exactly what they had done so the weakness could be resolved. And thus the Rowland Hall Debugging Club was born.

“First thing we did was have them write a contract for acceptable use with their new machines,” said Alan. “Then we started looking around the school for more projects.”

Members of the Rowland Hall Debugging Club, working on the Lincoln Street Campus in Salt Lake City.

Debugging Club members met in late April to choose upcoming projects.

It didn’t take long to find them. Upper School Assistant Principal Bernard Geoxavier needed a solution for tracking students needing physical education credits while not playing a sport or taking a class. The Debuggers figured out a solution: students needing the credits can now log time in the weight room with just a swipe of their student IDs when they exit and enter. It was a learning experience for the club members they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. “We learned about readying software for very specific hardware and then deploying it,” said Eli. “Then we had to test it and see if it worked.”

Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.

That was the first of many projects. Now the club is working on building a chatbot that will help students with everyday tasks, like navigating schedules, reviewing assignments, and performing other functions they would normally have to log in to the student portal to complete.

The opportunities are multiplying too, for both the benefit of the students and the school. Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.

“We are looking at how we can get more kids involved, and how we could eventually compete in events like hackathons as a school,” said Ben Smith ’89, Upper School computer science teacher. “This would help these kids grow in areas where they could have real professional success in the future.”

Of course, the founding members of the Debuggers may have a future in store that no one has yet imagined. “This is a good group of super smart kids,” said Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey.  “It’s put all of us back on our toes how advanced they are and how they take a project and go after it.”

Added Alan, “These kids are crazy smart and talented. I really am interested in where they go from here.”


Rowland Hall junior Anna Hull, whose essay received an honorable mention in the fifth Westminster Honors College contest.

Ask any American if they think political and cultural polarization is at an all-time high. Chances are, they’ll say yes.

Discussions around polarization are everywhere: at the water cooler, around the dinner table, on social media—and, this year, as the topic for the Westminster Honors College civility essay contest: Political and cultural polarization in the United States seems at an all-time high. Why is that and what can be done specifically to improve the fractured state of our democratic citizenry? Write an essay (600 words or less) that addresses this question.

Now in its fifth year, the Westminster Honors College civility essay contest provides Utah high school students with an annual opportunity to, in the words of the college, “engage in civil conversation about the crucial issues of our day, making arguments about hard topics in a reasonable, evidence-based fashion.” And students rise to that challenge: this year alone, 187 students from 57 high schools across Utah submitted essays.

As a student, you're constantly having to scrutinize your work in order to learn and grow, so I'm overjoyed (and relieved) to know that my writing holds up in a competitive atmosphere.—Anna Hull, class of 2023

"The judges agreed that the overall quality of work submitted in this year’s pool was the strongest in the history of the contest," wrote Dr. Richard Badenhausen, founding dean of the Westminster Honors College, in his email announcement of this year’s winners.

A bipartisan judging panel whittled the 187 essays down to 15 finalists, and from there chose one first-place winner (including a $2,000 cash award) and two honorable mentions (including a $500 cash award for each). The judges awarded Rowland Hall junior Anna Hull and West High School junior Anika Rao the honorable mentions and Copper Hills High School senior Ethan Hepworth the top prize.

“I felt really ecstatic,” said Anna of when she learned her essay had received an honorable mention. “I tried to not become overly hopeful, simply because so many people entered the contest. So when I learned that I was one of the award winners I was just really surprised and happy. I also felt really proud of myself. As a student, you're constantly having to scrutinize your work in order to learn and grow, so I'm overjoyed (and relieved) to know that my writing holds up in a competitive atmosphere.”

Congratulations, Anna!

With Anna’s permission, we have shared her response to this year’s essay question below.

The Cycle and Solution of Political Polarization

By Anna Hull

Political polarization has existed within the United States since its conception. Although divisions existed before the establishment of the two major parties, the animosity between them largely contributes to the polarization of today. George Washington recognized in his farewell address that political parties would divide the nation, but citizens ignored him.1 As a U.S. history student myself, I’ve learned that polarization is cyclical; there are periods of intense disagreement and periods of profound unity. In the election of 1800, for example, Federalists and Democratic Republicans (the two major parties at the time) spoke viciously of one another, labeling presidential candidates as unchristian or authoritarian.2 Nevertheless, the young country’s citizens reveled in their independence and shared a strong sense of national unity. Later, in the mid 1800s, The Civil War tested this national identity. Ironically, Reconstruction was supposed to unify the nation, but it actually witnessed the birth of de jure segregation which intensified existing racial divides. One hundred years later, citizens battled at lunch counters and participated in mass protests during the Civil Rights movement. Simultaneously, the country united around a shared fear and hatred of Communism during the Cold War. Thus, polarization is not new to America, but there are contemporary factors of today’s disconnection.

One social fact of the United States is that Americans affix a high value to membership of political parties, on par with race, gender, or even social status.3 One of our nation’s prominent ideologies is individualism which makes supporting political parties so appealing: citizens choose what organizations represent them.4 Consequently, citizens are incredibly politically impassioned, turning dinner tables hostile. However, partisanship has maintained a constant existence in the United States, meaning the primary cause behind today’s polarization is not the American support of political parties, but rather how newfound societal powers reinforce feelings of division. CNN and FOX news, for example, disgrace each other on air, even attacking individual anchors. Networks sponsor the Presidential debates and transform them into sports events, where journalists, political advisers, and citizens all take their seats awaiting the sparring, predicting the victor, and cheering on their gladiator. Today, partisanship is tied to aspects of identity, such as location or religion, that brands prey upon to increase citizen engagement. Most importantly, political cooperation is no longer a goal.

A monumental experience that best illustrates the extent to which America is divided is the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than drawing the country together for the sake of safety, the disease became politicized; mask mandates, quarantines, school closures, and other measures were not uniformly followed. If division is so ingrained into our country, how do we make change? It’s important to recognize that the current state of polarization is part of an ongoing cycle, meaning there’s no need to catastrophize, and no absolute solution. Conflict is one part of this cycle, but another is unity. Thus, one way to decrease political polarization is to acknowledge the similarities between political enemies. Regardless of party, all citizens of the U.S. witness the same problems, such as homelessness, unaffordable healthcare, and poor education systems. The minimization of political polarization comes when citizens identify that their enemies are not the people opposite them politically, but the systems that created these widespread problems. In order to remove power from these systems, it falls upon Americans to question the information thrown at them, to push against elected officials, and to make themselves uncomfortable. Most importantly, we must engage with political opposites to understand each other’s positions, rather than to prove ourselves victorious.

  1. George Washington, “George Washington’s Farewell Address,” 1796.
  2. “The Election of 1800,” U.S. History, accessed February 10, 2022, https://www.ushistory.org/us/20a.asp.
  3. Thomas B. Edsall, “America Has Split, and It’s Now in ‘Very Dangerous Territory’,” The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/26/opinion/covid-biden-trump-polarization.html.
  4. Milenko Martinovich, “Americans’ partisan identities are stronger than race and ethnicity,” Aug. 31, 2017, https://news.stanford.edu/2017/08/31/political-party-identities-stronger-race-religion/.

Student Voices

Rowland Hall Middle School dancers perform an original piece in the Platform dance concert.

The middle school years can be tough. Emotions can be sweeping and relationships can be tentative. It’s a time when students are feeling more grown up, but also are still firmly in childhood. Finding a place of refuge can be difficult. At Rowland Hall, many students are finding that island of confidence in the dance program.

“Middle schoolers are looking for a way to express themselves and to learn more about their own identities,” said Middle School Social-Emotional Counselor Leslie Czerwinski. “Dance is a space where you can show up, be yourself, and process thoughts through movement.” 

Students are not only learning how to move, but how to find their voice through movement.

Dance is the largest Arts & Ensembles class in the Middle School. Some students take more than one section of dance each semester because the program is unique and the community is so important to them. While most dance programs start with a foundation in ballet and other Eurocentric traditions, students coming into the Rowland Hall dance program begin with break dancing. Instead of focusing on a straight spine or the proper turnout, students learn how to use gravity and shift their weight. They are not only learning how to move, but how to find their voice through movement. And once students find their voice, explained Co-Director of Dance Sofia Gorder, training becomes fun.

“They are using rhythm and music. It’s a language they understand,” said Sofia. “Then, later, they can go on and learn ballet and other techniques so that they have their voice but also the training to support that voice.” 

Students take part in every aspect of creating dance pieces: they help in picking the music and costumes, they choreograph the movements, and they work together to compose the message and mood they want to convey. “Sofia gives us a lot of freedom with choreography,” said dance student Gabrielle H. “For Platform [the 2022 dance concert] we did an ocean dance as a group and we all got to contribute in some way.”

Rowland Hall Middle School dancers perform an ocean-inspired original dance.


Collaboration helps build a strong interpersonal community among the dancers. The studio becomes a place where they can express themselves without fear of judgment and know their ideas will be taken seriously.

That collaboration helps build a strong interpersonal community among the dancers. The studio becomes a place where they can express themselves without fear of judgment and know their ideas will be taken seriously. “It’s a time to not really worry about things and just do what I love,” said dancer Meg H. “I like how everyone has their own style and has different movements that they like to do depending on their personalities.”

Discovering these differences and how to make them work together is another important aspect of the program. Sofia explained that part of the process is discovering how the same movement looks different when done by different people, and that can change the meaning. “Dance is just the platform we use to do the important work of understanding ourselves and the people around us,” she said. 

While the artistic and personal discoveries are essential, some students enjoy the dance program simply for its physicality—and because it’s fun. It’s a time to move and share energy with others in a welcoming environment. “It’s a strong physical space to express yourself,” said dancer Jack G. “You feel amazing when you finally master something and when you finish a show you feel relief.” 

No matter what they are seeking, Middle School students appear to be finding it in dance. “Regardless of one’s background, everyone can find joy in moving to music,” said Middle School Principal Pam Smith. “Our program can help students find joy, build their self-confidence, and connect with other members of our community.”


Rowland Hall senior Briggs Ballard '22 playing lacrosse for the prestigious IMG Academy.

Ever since Briggs Ballard learned he could play lacrosse while also studying finance and business development in college, he focused on turning that goal into a reality.

“From the day I realized I could play college lacrosse, it has been my biggest dream,” he said.

That dream came true on March 4, when Briggs committed to play for Texas Christian University (TCU), a Division 1 school with a lacrosse team that competes in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association. It’s an impressive step for the talented young athlete, who has been passionate about lacrosse since the age of three, when a Rowland Hall parent who moved to Utah from the East Coast created a mini lacrosse team for the community as a way to introduce students to the sport.

“I was a little too young to suit up,” Briggs said about the experience. “However, my brother [Boston Ballard ’20] played and I was always there watching and waiting for my turn. As I watched the older kids, I knew I wanted to play, and from that day on lacrosse was my sport. When I got my chance, I hit the ground running.”

And he’s excelled: by third grade, Briggs was playing competitive club lacrosse, and by sixth grade, club box lacrosse, and he was a member of youth teams at both Brighton High School and Corner Canyon High School, where his eighth-grade team won the state championship. In ninth grade, after a family move, Briggs began playing for Highland High School, where, as the only freshman on the varsity team, he led in goals, assists, and total points, earning him Freshman of the Year and Most Valuable Player accolades. When COVID-19 canceled his sophomore season, Briggs decided to use the time to think about how to take the skills he’d been building to the next level. “During quarantine, I decided I needed to push myself and play at the highest level of high school lacrosse,” he said. After making the team at IMG Academy, a prestigious sports training facility and boarding school in Florida, Briggs chose to spend his junior year there, where he practiced seven days a week and traveled the country playing top teams.

“It was a difficult decision to move away from my family and to leave Rowland Hall, but I decided to go for it and spent my junior year at IMG,” said Briggs. “The experience was one I will never forget; I learned so much about lacrosse and myself.”

He also learned just how much he appreciates his family and the Rowland Hall community: Briggs returned to Utah for his senior year, where he’s been enjoying time with friends, wrapping up his studies in the Upper School, playing lacrosse (of course!), and preparing for the next chapter of his story.

To celebrate Briggs’ decision to play lacrosse for TCU, we asked him to share more about his athletic journey. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You're a Rowland Hall student who has pursued the sport you love (but one that's not offered by the school) alongside your studies. How have you juggled both responsibilities?

Juggling the rigor of Rowland Hall and the intensity of my lacrosse schedule has been challenging. I've had to learn to manage my time and plan ahead. I've done a lot of homework and studied on planes while flying home from tournaments. Even though Rowland Hall does not have a lacrosse program, the school and teachers have been very supportive and have always worked with me. Along with the challenges, playing for other schools has also been a blessing in many ways. It has enabled me to meet and socialize with kids outside of Rowland Hall and it's really expanded my social circle.

Can you briefly describe how you connected with the TCU team and how you made your decision to join them?

The lacrosse recruiting experience has been both awesome and stressful. I've had to really consider what level of lacrosse I want to play and balance that with the kind of college experience I want. My options were all over the board, from D1 schools to some smaller D3 schools, and several club options. Ultimately, I was heavily recruited by TCU, which happens to be where my brother goes to school. My brother has several friends currently on the TCU lacrosse team and because he knew I would love TCU, he had them reach out to me and from there the coach reached out. I fell in love with everything TCU has to offer, including their D1 lacrosse program. In addition to the lacrosse program, TCU checks all of the academic boxes for me and I can't wait to be a Horned Frog!

Rowland Hall student Briggs Ballard to study at and play lacrosse for Texas Christian University (TCU).

How did you feel when you officially committed to play for TCU?

I felt proud of myself and like all of my hard work paid off. I felt like I had finally done it and was relieved to have made a decision. The feeling of finally committing is a feeling I will never experience again and I am so grateful for how everything worked out.

What are your top memories from your lacrosse career (so far)?

My top memories of my lacrosse career so far are traveling all over the country with my parents and my best friends/teammates. I have played with several of the same kids since we were in the first grade and they have truly become some of my best friends. The summer tournaments are always memories; staying together as a team and playing the sport we love are memories I will never forget. Finally, last year, my IMG team traveled to Indiana, where we played Culver Academy, one of the best teams in the country. While we did not come away with the win, playing in front of so many people, and in a nationally televised game, is a very cool experience and a major memory for me. 

Tell us about the skills you built at Rowland Hall that you'll be taking with you to TCU.

I strongly believe Rowland Hall has set me up to succeed at TCU both academically and socially. Rowland Hall has taught me how to learn, how to be a critical thinker, and how to manage my time. Rowland Hall is a one-of-a-kind school and I cherish my time here and the education I’ve received. I know I will be a strong writer and contribute to the TCU community because of my Rowland Hall experience.

Is there anything else you want our community to know about your athletic and academic journey?

Just that I am beyond grateful for everyone who has supported me and helped me on my journey. My Rowland Hall friends have always been so supportive and encouraged me to keep on with lacrosse. From the teachers and staff to my friends, family, and coaches, I will forever be thankful for all of you. 

Lastly, GO FROGS!


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