A Community of Lifelong Learners

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

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.”


Matthew Collins teaching by computer.

As we wrap up the third week of distance learning and head into a well-deserved April break, one thing is clear: the Rowland Hall community is strong, resourceful, and resilient.

From gathering online via Zoom to posting words of encouragement on a new gratitude wall, Winged Lions have come together in the early days of this new normal to learn from, lean on, and support one another. And even in the midst of uncertainty, the best of Rowland Hall is on display. With each passing day, the community finds new ways to support others, like our youngest learners and the elderly, as part of an ongoing goal to help students thrive.

“All this leads back to what we as a school value: relationships matter and learn for life,” said Associate Head of School Jennifer Blake. “Those are still the tenets of the way in which we're operating now.”

All this leads back to what we as a school value: relationships matter and learn for life. Those are still the tenets of the way in which we're operating now.—Associate Head of School Jennifer Blake

In fact, the school’s commitment to relationships seems to be strengthening through distance learning. For parent Ben Lieberman, who has two daughters at Rowland Hall, this focus has had a positive impact on his family during the COVID-19 crisis. He explained that our investment in building relationships has helped his daughters still feel connected to teachers and classmates, as well as kept consistency in their daily routines so they can focus on learning.

“My concern was that the kids were just going to be running amok, and that has not been the case,” he said. “Our kids have been focused and attentive to school matters.”

Ben has also found that distance learning provides ready-made opportunities for his children to discover their own abilities. “I think this has been a really positive exercise in independence,” he said. Speaking specifically of his seventh grader, Ashlyn, he noted, “She has really appreciated the time to do work independently, and she has actually thrived. I think she’s really enjoying that.”

Launching distance learning—and maintaining connections and engagement already in place—was the result of the significant commitment of all members of the Rowland Hall team. Preparations began as early as February, when Rowland Hall started learning how COVID-19 was impacting peer schools in Seattle, Washington.

“We realized, ‘OK, this is going to come to Utah and we need to be prepared,’” Jennifer remembered.

Wanting to give faculty and staff as much time as possible to plan, the administrative team made the decision to shift the focus of a March 9 in-service day—one of three professional-development days scheduled each year—to distance-learning preparation. Jennifer believes the work done that day was critical in ironing out many of the early challenges posed by distance learning.

“The fact that we have a whole day set aside three times a year to do this kind of work makes it possible for us to pivot when we need to,” she said.

Looking back, the benefits of that day are apparent: while many other schools were building in time for necessary planning as social distancing measures were announced across the country, Rowland Hall was fortunate to have in place a framework of what would become a distance-learning plan. And by the time remote classes began on March 17, there was a basic structure in place to support families.

“It felt like immediately there was a plan and I thought it was very well communicated to everybody,” said Ben. “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t hiccups along the way, but from day one I thought it was well organized and well communicated.”

In addition to preparing for regular communication with families, Rowland Hall also devoted these early weeks to ensuring that our technology—crucial to distance-learning success—was able to support students, faculty, and staff. The school began in a favorable position, as we had in place many of the items students would need to learn fully from home.

“The benefit of our technology program is that we’re a one-to-one school from first grade up, meaning each student has a device assigned to them,” said Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey. Devices were already going home with students in fifth grade and above each night, and those that usually remained at school were set up to be taken home by remaining lower schoolers.

I’ve been really impressed with our parents’ willingness to say, 'OK, this is a new environment—let’s embrace it and see what we can do to support our kids. No one knows what the future will bring, but we’re going to make the best of the situation.'—Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey

Rowland Hall’s Technology Team has also been available over extended hours to give students and families support, both during the transition to distance learning and as issues continue to come up. From joining iPads to home networks, to arranging special screentime privileges, to providing cellular access points for students without internet connectivity at home, “we’ve done everything we can possibly do to make it easy for parents,” said Patrick. Additionally, his staff is staying agile and responding to ongoing student needs: the team is continuously keeping track of the best tools that support learning and using the management tool Jamf to push apps, web clips, and other items to students remotely.

From the Technology Team’s perspective, Patrick credits all rollout successes, large and small, to relationships and support across our community.

“I’ve been really impressed with our parents’ willingness to say, ‘OK, this is a new environment—let’s embrace it and see what we can do to support our kids. No one knows what the future will bring, but we’re going to make the best of the situation,’” he said.

And whatever that future holds, Rowland Hall will continue to support students and families, remain flexible, and approach challenges in ways that will keep us nimble and responsive to their needs. No matter what lies ahead, we believe this is an opportunity to become stronger—as a school and as a community.

Read More: Learning Continues

Distance Learning

Students and coach cooking at a fundraiser.

When Samuel Rogers was eight years old, civil war forced his family to flee their home of Cotton Tree, Liberia, perched about 11 miles off the Atlantic Coast. Samuel lived in refugee camps for four years and had to switch schools every few months. He turned to a transportable hobby as a mental escape from the turmoil.

“On the refugee camp, I just decided that soccer was something that I liked to do to make me forget about what happened during the war,” Samuel said. “When I focus on soccer, it makes me forget about everything else.”

Samuel and two of his brothers were admitted to a resettlement program and landed in Salt Lake City in 2004. Now, he teaches physical education at Backman Elementary School and coaches soccer for the Utah Development Academy (UDA), a nonprofit that organizes kids’ competitive teams, a recreational league, and free soccer clinics targeted at underserved youth living on Salt Lake City’s west side. Five Rowland Hall eighth-grade boys—Aksel Anderson, Logan Bateman, Jimmy Bocock, Ben Kanter, and Patrick McNally—have played on a UDA competitive team led by Samuel or “Skills,” as the boys affectionately call their coach.

“He gets the point across without ever having to raise his voice, without ever having to punish us for anything,” Patrick said. “We do conditioning...but our team is much stronger mentally than physically. And that’s completely, 100% Skills’ doing, because he trains us in a way where we think about the bigger picture rather than just a soccer game.”

Patrick, 14, started playing soccer under Samuel at age 11. Now, the eighth-grader calls Skills his mentor. UDA, Patrick added, has provided him and his Rowland Hall teammates with a valuable opportunity to get to know kids from all over the world, some of whom are refugees and remind Samuel of his own childhood.

Samuel has stayed in touch with friends and family back in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone, and he planned a trip home in 2014. Then, an Ebola outbreak pummeled West Africa, Samuel canceled his trip. And while the war and epidemic have been calmed in Liberia, difficulties persist, particularly in education.

Samuel’s friend Bernard Quaidoo, a Cotton Tree teacher, complained to the coach about a severe lack of government funding for education. Bernard said that at 44 Junior High School, an elementary and middle school where he teaches, students are without basic school supplies, and his particular school has just four school computers for all students and teachers. Samuel, who’s on track to earn a teaching degree from the University of Utah in a year and half, spread the word to his soccer players. Patrick, Samuel said, took off running with the idea of helping this Liberian school.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Samuel said. “He was so excited.”

Patrick’s French teacher, Christa Brigdon, had asked her students to propose service-learning ideas that could be integrated into the curriculum. In the past, she’d orchestrated volunteer efforts for her students. “This year, I was interested in having the kids be more invested and directing the service, and making it a more personal connection,” Christa said. “So I put it out there.”

Patrick pitched Samuel's idea of helping the Cotton Tree school, and Christa approved it. Liberia isn’t primarily a French-speaking country, but it’s surrounded by them. So Christa built a unit around French-speaking West Africa. Students wrote children’s books in French pertaining to West African culture, created maps for and planned West African villages, and learned about what it’s like to be a teenager in the region.

Meanwhile, Patrick crafted a formal, eloquent email to Rowland Hall Director of Technology Patrick Godfrey requesting 30 laptops no longer in use by the school. These computers, the eighth-grader wrote, would help Cotton Tree teachers plan new lessons and increase student productivity. And the increased internet access could help community members educate themselves on relevant global and local issues, such as the spread of Ebola and how people can protect themselves against the disease.

When Patrick Godfrey read Patrick’s email requesting laptops, the tech director initially thought it was “a big ask.” But after he heard a presentation from the young student, he thought it could work. Patrick’s department wouldn’t be able to donate any of the school’s newer silver MacBooks, but he did have 65 older white MacBooks that had gone through a phase-out process and were ready to be recycled.

“The laptops have literally sat on the shelf for three or four months just waiting for our big recycle at the end of the year,” Patrick Godfrey said. “So it’s a great use for them.”

The donation came with a caveat: these older MacBooks needed new chargers and batteries. But Patrick didn’t bat an eye when Patrick Godfrey said students would have to be responsible for purchasing those supplies. Patrick and Christa decided to fundraise.

Christa, Patrick, and the other French students set their fundraising goal at $1,000 to cover the laptop supplies and shipping expenses. Patrick, who doesn’t eat sweets, didn’t want to hold a typical bake sale. Christa and Patrick brainstormed and decided they wanted a fundraiser with a French theme. “Every year we make crepes in French class, and all the kids just want to eat crepes,” Christa said. “So we decided, ‘Alright, let’s make it a crepe sale and from start to finish.’”

Christa took her students down the street to Smith’s grocery store. They bought the bulk of ingredients required to hold the fundraiser for four consecutive Fridays from April 29 through May 20, culminating in Rowland Hall’s annual All-School Carnival. Christa stresses her role in the process as solely advisory: “The whole thing was figured out by the kids,” she said, from the recipe and serving sizes to the math in the business plan. Some of her students, she added, are now expert crepe-makers.

“We’ve gotten really good at it,” Patrick said enthusiastically, “and we’ve even tried them too.”

“I hope you do,” Samuel said through a laugh.

“Yeah, they’re surprisingly good,” Patrick replied.

Patrick’s target demographic—his fellow students—seem to agree. Students lined up for the French delicacies, and the sales generated the necessary $1,000. The fundraising group plans to send off two trial laptops to the Cotton Tree school before the end of the school year. Students will then format the remaining laptops and ship them over by late 2016 or early 2017.

Samuel hopes to be in Liberia when the computers arrive through a shipping service. This trip also means he’ll get to see his mother, sister, and little brother for the first time in over a decade. “It’s going to be one of those things that puts tears in my eyes,” he said. But his journey won’t be a selfish one: he plans to hand-deliver the computers to 44 Junior High School to ensure their safe arrival. And if school is in session, he wants to volunteer his time to teach while he’s there.

After meeting Samuel, Christa sees how Patrick may have picked up cues from his soccer coach. Christa called Samuel, now 25, respectful, polite, and dignified. His Rowland Hall soccer players were eager to support their coach with a fundraiser. Taking after his coach, Patrick always thanks Christa after French class, is self-motivated, and is loved by his peers—in February, he won the monthly Winged Lion Award for demonstrated respect for others, individual integrity, and personal responsibility.

Like Samuel, Patrick would love to visit West Africa one day, but he’ll settle for a Skype call for now. If all goes well and the laptops reach their destination, Christa and her students hope to video chat with Cotton Tree students on one of their newly acquired laptops.

Ethical Education

Entrepreneur's Circle Encourages Student Involvement

This article is republished from the 2013–2014 Annual Report with additional information that may be of interest.

Upper School Interim is one of Rowland Hall’s longest and most treasured co-curricular programs. It offers students a week of experiential learning that promotes self-reliance, responsibility, and teamwork, as well as an opportunity to build relationships outside school.

Last spring, Upper School Principal Lee Thomsen and Director of Technology Patrick Godfrey headed an interim specializing in the pursuit of innovation and entrepreneurship in which seven students spent three days at the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. “The challenge,” Patrick explained, “was to identify a problem, then design and develop a pitch for a solution.”

The group met with the founders of five companies and learned how they started their businesses. The companies’ projects, origins, and objectives ranged widely. For example, Domain Surgical designed a scalpel that both cuts and coagulates tissue, Goal Zero produces personalized solar panel devices, and Creminelli Fine Meats began in the basement of Caputo’s Deli.

The founders or investors of each company are also members of our Entrepreneur’s Circle, a group of business owners from the school community who have pledged a percentage of their earnings to the school when and if their businesses go public. Lee had been looking to “connect our students in a more direct way with the generous and adventurous spirit” of these entrepreneurs.

Gary Evershed (a parent of three alumni) and Damon Kuemmel of Get Ready Room listened to the pitches and offered feedback. Lee said it “was exciting to see our young men and women applying their critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills to persuade business people that their solution was viable.”

According to Lee, this interim is a good example of the Beyond the Classroom concept “where students have opportunities to apply their learning in authentic circumstances. Entrepreneurial skills are at the heart of identifying a problem, generating a solution, collaborating with partners to turn that solution into a reality, and communicating the value of your proposition.”

One of the most valuable lessons students learned was how often first attempts fail. “The entrepreneurs all agreed that the best product designs often come from not getting it right the first time and learning from those mistakes,” Lee said. “This is a hugely important lesson to instill in our young adults.”

Many individuals within the Rowland Hall community, whether alumni, current parents, grandparents, or friends, have made their mark as entrepreneurs. To celebrate and share their knowledge and accomplishments, we formed the Rowland Hall Entrepreneur’s Circle. The idea was sparked by Rowland Hall parent Mike Levinthal who, in volunteer work for Stanford University, participated in a similar effort.

A threefold mission:

  • Networking: The Entrepreneur’s Circle provides an avenue for entrepreneurial-minded people to connect with each other to discuss business ventures, brainstorm ideas, and deepen their ties within the entrepreneurial business community.
  • Opportunities: Circle members are committed to providing current students and alumni, as appropriate, opportunities for professional development, internships, idea sharing, and jobs. Lee Thomsen will be working with numerous Circle members as the school launches a new program called Beyond the Classroom, focused on expanding students’ understanding of professional job opportunities.
  • Giving Back: Entrepreneurs typically recognize that along the path of their success, a plethora of people played a role and offered help. Circle members believe in giving back to Rowland Hall, the school and community that offered them so much. In order to join the Circle, individuals/families must pledge a future gift to the school of a minimum of $50,000. All gifts will support the school’s endowment. Their gift is dependent upon the success of their entrepreneurial venture.

If you want to know more, please contact Robyn Payne, director of institutional advancement.

Beyond the Classroom

Apple Recognizes Rowland Hall as 'Innovative'

Rowland Hall's iPad program (used in grades three through eight) has been recognized by Apple as an "exemplary" model for enhancing teaching and learning.

Here's what Apple had to say: "We are excited to inform you that the 1:1 iPad Program at Rowland Hall has been selected as an Apple Distinguished Program for 2014–2016, a two-year designation. Congratulations on being recognized as an exemplary learning environment for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.”

Let the celebration begin...but not until you take a look at the iBook that Christian Waters, director of technology integration, submitted, which sealed our bid for distinction.

Technology integration shifted fundamentally some years ago when Rowland Hall moved away from a computer lab model, where technology is sequestered in a special room, to an integrated model, where technology is woven into the fabric of learning in classrooms. Due to an influx of devices in classrooms, teachers and parents have asked about the purpose and goals of technology integration. Christian and Director of Technology Patrick Godfrey collaborated and created a document to clarify the purpose of technology use in the classroom. The document is intended to help guide teachers' instruction and educate the community about our priorities with iPads, laptops, robotics, maker spaces, and computer science courses.

Read more about Rowland Hall's philosophy for technology in the classroom and the skills we teach from grades one through five.


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