A Community of Lifelong Learners

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

2021 Sumner Award winner Sara Yoon.

Each year at division commencement ceremonies, Rowland Hall proudly honors faculty who have demonstrated exceptional teaching and mentoring.

Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award 2021

The Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award is presented to Rowland Hall faculty members who demonstrate excellence in teaching, serve as mentors to others, and contribute to the Rowland Hall community. This award was established through an anonymous gift to the school in honor of Mr. Jones' dedication to the faculty when he was the chair of the Board of Trustees.

2021 Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award winners Mary Jo Marker and Chelsea Vasquez.

Though traditionally given to one faculty member each year, this year’s Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award has been awarded to two: Mary Jo Marker, eighth-grade American studies teacher, and Chelsea Vasquez, eighth-grade English teacher. Dedicated to teamwork, Mary Jo and Chelsea are a dynamic duo in the Middle School, where they have redefined and re-energized their grade-level programs, creating English and American Studies curricula that are challenging and relevant, that set up students for success in Upper School, and that help students become creative, critical thinkers. Mary Jo and Chelsea have also greatly contributed to the school community as colleagues, whether by participating in the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee, leading a Critical Friends Group, mentoring or coaching faculty, covering classes, or helping to organize eighth-grade graduation events. And in a year where time was an incredibly precious resource, they have dedicated a great deal of it to meeting with Upper School teachers to support the transition to ninth grade, continuing to strengthen curriculum alignment between the Middle School and Upper School.

For their dedication to teamwork, particularly in ways that define the values at Rowland Hall—especially relationships matter, welcome everyone, and learn for life—Rowland Hall proudly honors Mary Jo Marker and Chelsea Vasquez with the 2021 Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award.

Sumner Family Excellence in Teaching Awards

The Sumner Family Excellence in Teaching Award is given each year to an outstanding faculty member in each division who has demonstrated a love for teaching and excellence in their field. The award symbolizes the Sumner family's high regard for Rowland Hall's faculty. Congratulations to the following recipients.

Beginning School: Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher

Isabelle Buhler, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Isabelle Buhler exhibits total commitment to her teaching, colleagues, and school—a fact that is no less true today than it was 18 years ago. Her love of her work is infectious. She cherishes each of her students, thoughtfully adjusting her pedagogy, communication style, and curriculum to meet their needs, and delights in building classroom communities of mutual respect, unending curiosity, and collective responsibility. Though she is an accomplished, highly effective educator, Isabelle epitomizes a growth mindset, actively seeking opportunities to improve her work and committing to generously offering kind, clear, and actionable feedback to colleagues. She also serves the wider Rowland Hall community in myriad ways: on committees, as a mentor, as an ombudsperson, and more. During this especially challenging and wild school year, her meaningful contributions and support have kept teammates and families afloat.

Lower School: Abby Bacon, Spanish teacher

Abby Bacon, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Since 2008, Abby Bacon has created a classroom environment of respect and positive rapport, where she keeps students motivated, excited, and engaged, and where they know their feedback and opinions are valued. In addition to teaching Spanish to several Lower School grade levels over the years, Abby has served as yearbook coordinator, co-chaired the Lower School Caring Committee, and acted as one of the fifth-grade advisors for the 2020–2021 school year. She’s also an incredible colleague and collaborator who shares her organization skills, energy, and magnetic personality in caring and dynamic ways, including partnering with colleagues as co-coordinator for the school’s Northwest Association of Independent Schools accreditation self-study and harnessing her passion for inclusivity as co-chair of the faculty and staff JEDI Committee for the past two years.

Middle School: Sarah Yoon, orchestra director

Sara Yoon, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Sarah Yoon is a highly respected and beloved teacher within the Middle School community.  Full of energy and positivity, she sets the bar high for herself and her students, while also building trust in the classroom, on the basketball and volleyball courts, and on the stage. She has single-handedly built an award-winning orchestra program at Rowland Hall, where she regularly brings in guest performers and, this year, helped to organize a very successful and popular Zoom presentation for the eighth grade. She also goes above and beyond in supporting her students, whether that means visiting one of her advisee’s homes if they fall behind with their school work, cooking with students over Zoom, or cheering for student-athletes on the slopes or the sidelines.

Upper School: Doug Wortham, French teacher

Doug Wortham, winner of the 2021 Sumner Family Faculty Award.

Doug Wortham epitomizes what is best about Rowland Hall teachers: a tireless dedication to coaching students to actively engage with their learning and to grow beyond what they thought possible. He has taught all levels of Upper School French, guiding students to mastery and fluency with high standards, hard work, and relationships built on trust and encouragement. Even more than 40 years into his Rowland Hall adventure, Doug possesses a work ethic and nonstop energy that are truly impressive. When the pandemic hit and scrambled teachers’ plans, he continued to learn and adapt, engaging in new ways. In addition to his educator role, Doug is a coach and mentor to colleagues, serving as a sounding board and a wise, impartial mentor, and he is held in the highest esteem by the entire community.


Masked Beginning School students play outside on the McCarthey Campus.

Will our youngest learners wear masks? This question was on many early educators’ minds this summer as schools considered how to return to in-person learning—which experts agree is best for children—in the fall.

Rowland Hall Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman on Park City Television's November 17 Mountain Connections, discussing how adults can teach mask wearing to young children.

At Rowland Hall, administrators began working toward this goal in the spring, closely monitoring scientific data and the most current recommendations from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as consulting with local medical experts. Since then, the school has put into place many guidelines and procedures to allow for in-person learning, including requiring all students and adults on our campuses to wear face coverings.

In Rowland Hall’s Beginning School—which serves students in 3PreK, 4PreK, and kindergarten—teachers spent the summer consulting resources and considering how they would approach mask wearing with the school’s youngest learners. They ultimately decided to teach this new life skill like they would any other—using the positive, supportive approach that the Beginning School is known for. But unlike washing hands, tying shoelaces, or zipping coats, mask wearing has an added layer of the unknown, plus built-in anxiety tied to the pandemic behind the requirement. As summer drew to a close, the teachers wondered: Would kids actually wear masks? And how much time would adults have to spend managing them? 

They didn’t have to wait long for an answer, which became clear the very first week of school: not only are Rowland Hall’s youngest students willing to wear masks, but they’re wearing them without complaint and with minimal reminders.

“They’re doing awesome,” said Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher. “It’s amazing what kids can do.”

They really respond to keeping each other safe.—Gail Rose, 3PreK lead teacher

In fact, wearing masks alongside their peers at school is proving to be a powerful way to help normalize this behavior in children. Teachers are also keeping discussions about masks positive, focusing on community benefits to appeal to young children’s natural empathy. In Gail Rose’s 3PreK class, for instance, she and assistant teacher Kirsten White explain that each child plays a role in keeping the class, and the larger school community, safe and healthy. As a result, instead of thinking about masks as a hindrance, kids view them as a way to care for their friends.

“They really respond to keeping each other safe,” said Gail.

And while educators, parents, and caregivers were understandably worried that masks would affect children’s school experience—with concerns varying from whether they would alter their ability to socialize normally to whether kids could breathe comfortably—the Beginning School teachers are happy to report that this hasn’t been the case at Rowland Hall.

“After a few days, it seemed like the kids forgot they had a mask,” said Isabelle. Gail added, “It is not interfering with their ability to have fun at school at all.”

Katie Williams with kindergarten students (and the class' masked mascots).

Katie Williams playing a game with three of her kindergartners. Masked mascots Roary and Mabel are also pictured.

The teachers often hear children kindly reminding one another to pull up masks that have slipped beneath noses, and they marvel at how children have embraced new rules, like sitting six feet apart, without a problem. Lead kindergarten teacher Katie Williams recalled an early experience that illustrated to her how quickly students accepted mask wearing: after she and assistant teacher Beth Ott discussed masks on the first day of school, students pointed out that Mabel, the stuffed elephant from their phonics unit, wasn’t masked. Katie remembered thinking, “Whoa, this is so normal for them.” Since then, all of the class’s stuffed animals have been given masks (the teachers even use Roary, Rowland Hall’s mascot, to drive home skills by bringing him to morning circle with his mask on wrong so the kids can correct him). It was a powerful reminder of how resilient little people are—and how they can surprise adults when given the chance.

“They can do anything, those kids,” said Isabelle. “They’re unbelievable.”

Encouraging Mask Wearing: Our Teachers’ Top Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Downloadable Tips: Encouraging Mask Wearing Among Young Children

   ↪ Download our tips (PDF)

At Rowland Hall’s Beginning School, mask wearing is viewed and taught as a life skill—and like any other life skill, practice makes perfect. Below, teachers share their top tips for parents and caregivers who want to continue building mask-wearing skills outside of school.

  • Model mask wearing. Continue to normalize mask wearing by letting your children see you putting on your mask whenever possible.

  • Let children be the teachers. Give children opportunities to teach the mask-wearing skills they are learning at school. Ask them to remind you of the proper way to put on a mask, for example, or to show you on a favorite stuffed animal (this is especially helpful for kids who need to practice the fine-motor skills required for putting on masks).

  • Talk about the importance of masks, but don’t give too much information. Short, simple answers are best for this age group (“We wear masks to help keep us and our friends safe”). Check out Wearing a Mask, a free Autism Little Learners story, for help guiding conversations (Gail and Kirsten read this story aloud on the first day of school).

  • Help children choose the best masks for them. Like adults, kids want their masks to be comfortable, but you might need to do some searching to find one that fits your child’s face. Look for masks that comfortably cover the nose and mouth but don't move when the child talks. Also check that masks don't pinch or squish ears (consider styles that let you adjust elastic length) and experiment with fabrics—our teachers recommend cotton, but advise against neoprene (it loses its shape over the day).

  • Give children mask-related tasks. Kids want to help keep their families safe, so give them jobs like handing out masks to family members every morning. Also, let your children choose the masks they want to wear each day as a simple, fun way to build their autonomy.

  • Keep extra masks on hand. You never know when a mask will become uncomfortable, dirty, wet, or lost. Keep spares in places like the glovebox or purse, and remember to pack extras in your children’s school bags.

  • Praise children. It can be hard to wear a mask all day. Remind your children how proud you are of them for keeping on their masks and protecting others.


Budding Scientists in the Beginning School

Some people think of science as memorizing facts and esoteric terminology, but a peek inside a Beginning School 4PreK classroom this spring found children using their five senses to observe, explore, and discover the world around them.

"Never underestimate the abilities of a four-year-old," Beginning School teacher Isabelle Buhler cautioned, "or they will show you a thing or two about dissecting a daffodil."

Throughout the 4PreK curriculum, children investigate many topics using the five senses. When the daffodil is first introduced as a unit, children are encouraged to use their current vocabulary to describe the color, shape, and size—"It's a little yellow flower that smells green."

The budding scientists in 4PreK document their initial observations by making large, representational paintings. Teachers guide them to collect and organize information as the children's natural curiosity compels them onto the next step.

"We tell the children they are scientists and they need to be very careful using the cuticle scissors and other tools to dissect the flower," Isabelle said. "They love being called scientists and you would be surprised at how methodical and careful they are."

We have integrated many things into the study of the daffodil—math, science, art, literacy, and fine motor skills.—Isabelle Buhler, Beginning School teacher

After two weeks of being actively engaged in the practices of reasoning and inquiry, our youngest learners acquire an impressive scientific vocabulary, and respect for the tools and methods. Children label the parts of the daffodil, sort and count the petals, and observe the specimens drying out.

"So you see, we have integrated many things into the study of the daffodil—math, science, art, literacy, and fine motor skills," Isabelle said.

Activities focusing on observation and communication give students ownership of the information, something Isabelle said is demonstrable in children's retention of the vocabulary. "They will correct their parents if they use layman's terms."

Through the process of asking questions, investigating, and constructing explanations, the Beginning School seeks to creates an environment where scientific inquiry becomes a part of everyday life, building foundations for future learning.

Experiential Learning

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