A Community of Lifelong Learners

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

team in park

Carson Burian led a young cross-country team to a Region 17 title last fall, and he's not slowing down. Read about his training methods, goals, and why he thinks 2019 will be his best year yet.

Running can be a lonely sport, particularly for high school athletes pursuing an advanced career. Rowland Hall's cross-country and track and field coach Mark Oftedal knows the situation all too well, having watched his son Eli—a 2015 alum and elite runner who now races for Colorado State University—endure many solitary training sessions. So when he met Carson Burian last fall, Mark recognized what the talented young runner was facing. "I told him, 'You're in a difficult situation, at a small school with a small team, training at your level.' I knew he would be off on his own quite frequently."

Indeed, Carson has experienced just that: long miles on the road alone, when he focuses on long-term goals—such as running in college—to stay motivated. This past summer, he logged between 60 and 65 miles most weeks, often training in Park City to escape the heat and ozone in the valley. The sophomore, who individually placed first at this year's Region Championship and third at the 2A state meet, used to play up to six sports. He didn't take running all that seriously when he joined the Middle School cross-country team, but after winning every race in his eighth-grade division, he realized that the sport might hold a future for him. Now, he trains year-round for races, competes in cross country and track, and supplements his running with weight lifting—and the occasional ski day, like many Utahns.

Mark described Carson as an intense, determined young athlete who does his research before races and sets realistic goals for himself. While he's competitive, Carson will never bad-mouth his competition—in fact, he wants to race against the best in the field, making a potential victory that much sweeter.

Mark described Carson as an intense, determined young athlete who does his research before races and sets realistic goals for himself. While he's competitive, Carson will never bad-mouth his competition—in fact, he wants to race against the best in the field, making a potential victory that much sweeter. "He wants to bring himself to and beyond the level of the people in front of him," Mark said. And since he's racing against juniors and seniors, he oftentimes has to be patient with himself. Carson can be philosophical about his performance, especially if he's not feeling in peak physical or mental condition on race day. "I still try to run the best race I can," he said, "and though I may be disappointed with my time, I'll usually understand why."

For a young runner, Carson has already developed a balanced regimen of nutrition, sleep, hydration, and workouts. He's learned to listen to his body, and knows that adjusting his pace by five seconds will allow him to push through several more miles instead of hitting a wall. Much of his growth stems from intense training and research, both at Rowland Hall and elsewhere—he attended a running camp at Northern Arizona University this summer, which he credited with giving him an extra boost of motivation during the hottest months of the year. But Carson has also been forced to adapt at times due to injury: last December, he strained ligaments in his foot two days before a race, and then batted through ongoing pain at the start of the track season because he hadn't healed properly. Thankfully, he's stayed healthy since, and says he's hoping to shave another 20 to 25 seconds off his mile next spring.

Carson's talent and mindset are only part of what makes him a special athlete. His individual performances certainly help the team at race time, but his sportsmanship and leadership help everyone persevere through tough practices. He understands the importance of being a good teammate, and said he'll give others encouragement when they might be struggling, sometimes simply by running alongside them. "It's all about trying to create positivity within the group," he said.

That's a strategy Mark and his assistant coaches, Dr. Laura Johnson and Giselle Slotboom, often employ during races too. "We try to give runners cues, and so if someone is having a rough time we'll ask their peer to join up with them and give them a boost." In fact, the camaraderie Mark saw in this fall's cross-country team is one of the things that pleased him most: even with varying levels of ability and experience among the group, they were often running together at practice and training together outside of school.

Carson's dedicated approach to conditioning and wellness has rubbed off on his peers, according to Mark. "Anytime you've got kids that are pushing at the top, it's going to positively influence others." He noticed students comparing their patterns and choices to Carson's, and then emulating his habits or characteristics. "They realize it's not just about showing up for practice and putting in the miles. It's a lifestyle decision."

Mark was quick to add, "It's a gain for Carson too," as he can find inspiration watching his teammates make huge improvements, and they encourage his growth in return.

A successful season for me is when I meet these kids years down the line and they're still running—still finding joy in competing, or just running for themselves. —Coach Mark Oftedal

This year's cross-country team was a young group, led by sophomores and juniors, which Mark and Carson find exciting. Their achievements included Region 17 titles for both the girls and boys teams, and a third-place finish for the boys at the 2A State Championship—only one point behind the second-place team. With no one on the boys varsity team graduating in 2019, Carson believes the top spot in the state will soon be within reach.

Carson's future, as well as the team's future, is undoubtedly bright, but Mark doesn't necessarily measure success in terms of championships. He recently heard from the parents of a 2012 alum that their son is training for a marathon, and that news is just as satisfying to Mark as any state title. "A successful season for me is when I meet these kids years down the line and they're still running—still finding joy in competing, or just running for themselves," he said.

And if they still hear Coach Oftedal's or a teammate's voice encouraging them to push through training sessions, well, that might just make the runner's life a little less lonely after all.


New Upper School Fitness Program Teaches Wellness and Time Management

Over the past several years, enrollment in physical education (PE) classes steadily declined in the Upper School. Rather than getting discouraged by the lack of participation—and the subsequent lack of course offerings—PE teacher Mark Oftedal embraced a growth mindset. He saw the failures of the existing PE model in the Upper School as an opportunity to try something new: a Personal Fitness program that launched in September and is already creating buzz inside the Lincoln Street Campus hallways.

The program has a simple premise: make fitness fit your schedule. Instead of trimester or yearlong PE courses that meet at regularly scheduled times, students must accrue 25 hours of physical activity over the course of the year to earn one PE credit. Upper schoolers can earn two credits if they accrue 50 hours, but if they don't reach 25 by the end of the year, the hours won't carry forward.

The classes and activities available through the Personal Fitness program—which students were surveyed about, to gauge interest—appeal to a diverse crowd. Early offerings include hiking, yoga, Ultimate Frisbee, and meditation, with plans for kayaking, backcountry skiing, and open gym time underway. Students can attend a fitness class during a free period, after school, or sometimes on weekends, and most classes don't require advance sign-up. To earn credit, students must sign in with the instructor, and then participate to the best of their abilities.

Mark credited visiting colleges with his son Eli Oftedal '15 for inspiring him to look ahead to the fitness opportunities students will encounter after high school. He saw the first-rate recreational centers and facilities available to college students, and started to devise a PE program that would give upper schoolers the chance to try new activities, and require them to use time-management skills. The new program challenges students to figure out how they fit in, Mark said. "When they get to college, they won't have as many easy opportunities for athletics that they had here at Rowland Hall."

Our school's learning environment will help to make the Personal Fitness program a success, Mark said. "We can give students interesting options—maybe things they want to become better at, or things they have never tried before and can do in an environment that will be supportive, whether they succeed or fail."

Students are already embracing the program, according to sophomore Hailey Hauck. Hailey is a member of the Ultimate Frisbee team that plays after school on Mondays and Wednesdays with English teacher Joel Long and math teacher Brian Birchler. Last year Hailey played volleyball to earn PE credit, and while she likes the sport, she found the practice and game schedule a bit too demanding. She's planning to earn credit for the Ultimate Frisbee workouts this year, and feels less stressed without the commitment a team sport requires. She mentioned that her friends are looking forward to earning credit for backcountry skiing, something they already do an average of twice a week.

Ultimate Frisbee has yielded other benefits for Hailey, beyond a simplified way to earn PE credit. "I have been able to meet a lot of new people that I probably wouldn't talk to outside the team," she said. "And it's a great break—you can switch your brain off from school."

Exercise's mental boost plays a significant role in Mark's plan. He cited the latest neuroscientific research on how exercise improves brain activity and believes that students who can fit in a yoga or meditation class midday, or go for a walk during their free period, will perform better academically in the hours that follow. "All the literature shows that when students go out and get moving, and get chemicals flowing through their brains, they will be more apt to learn and remember material," he said. "It all points in that direction." He's also acutely aware of how much studying the average Upper School student does and wants them to find balance in their lives.

Mark hopes to expand the Personal Fitness program in the future to include guest speakers on topics such as nutrition, sleep habits, and sports psychology. He envisions a strong health and wellness curriculum that prepares students for the real-world scenarios they will encounter in college and beyond. The only challenge he currently anticipates is finding adequate space for certain activities, such as open gym time, especially since the Middle School PE program remains robust.

Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson said she's pleased with the rollout of the program so far, especially how it allows for flexibility. She thinks students are excited about the range of classes and curious about the impending experiential offerings. Mark foresees some of the off-campus classes like rock climbing or kayaking eventually turning into interim trips.

Mark also hopes that adults in our community—faculty, staff, or even parents—will join in the fitness activities, and act as positive role models for our students. "I want to create a culture where kids see that faculty and staff enjoy doing these things too, that they're trying to fit them into their lives because they see the benefits and enjoyment they get from exercise."

Experiential Learning

Rowland Hall Gets Charged Up

Rowland Hall has again proven its commitment to environmentalism, this time with the installation of electric vehicle (EV) chargers in the parking lot near the Steiner Campus soccer field. Two resourceful Rowland Hall employees, Upper School Head Cross Country Coach Mark Oftedal and Sustainability Coordinator Andrew Hagedorn, worked with local nonprofit Leaders for Clean Air to secure complete funding of equipment and installation.

In a December 1 ceremony at Rowland Hall’s McCarthey Campus, the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development (OED) and Leaders for Clean Air cut the ribbon on the EV charging station. The ribbon cutting marked the completion of nine charger installations at six Salt Lake City nonprofits as part of a $10,000 OED grant awarded to Leaders for Clean Air in July. In addition to Rowland Hall, the grant allowed for charger installations at Envision Utah, Hogle Zoo, Artspace Commons, Wasatch Charter School, and Utah Clean Energy (UCE), which was founded by Mark's wife, Sarah Wright. The event brought together local nonprofit, government, and private industry officials leading the way in EV advocacy—a community Rowland Hall proudly joins.

The new charging station proves the power of collaboration between local organizations, community leaders, and Rowland Hall, Andrew said. “It also gives our school the chance to reaffirm the commitment we made as an institution towards doing the right thing, for the right reasons,” he said. “Being a community leader in sustainability means taking collaborative action, just as we did.”

From concept to completion, the project only took a few months. It started over the summer when Mark attended a UCE event with his wife. There he met Hanko Kiessner, founder and CEO of Packsize, a Utah-based custom packaging company.

Hanko told Mark about a Packsize project he began in 2014. He said that, as a response to Salt Lake’s poor air quality, his company started giving away EV chargers to other businesses. The idea was a pay-it-forward business model, wherein the beneficiaries of the donation today would become the benefactors tomorrow. Soon the program became so popular that Hanko registered it as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Leaders for Clean Air.

Although many Packsize employees volunteer with Leaders for Clean Air, the nonprofit became a separate entity. Hanko’s son Hansi Kiessner, who is on track to earn his a bachelor’s in business administration and entrepreneurship from the University of Utah in spring 2017, heads up the organization.

One of Leaders for Clean Air’s projects, Hanko explained to Mark, would be the perfect fit for Rowland Hall. In fact, the OED had given them a grant for the exclusive purpose of donating chargers to other nonprofits.

From there, Leaders for Clean Air met with Mark and Andrew to hammer out the details. Andrew’s proposal was quickly approved, and within weeks the chargers were installed near the equipment shed. The proud sponsors immediately tweeted, “2 new chargers installed at the impressive @RowlandHall school! Thank you for leading by example!”’

One of the most challenging aspects of owning an EV is the lack of easily accessible charging stations, Andrew said, and providing the school community with the opportunity to plug in boosts our chances of having more EVs on campus in the future. “We are also sending an important message through providing these chargers free of cost: sustainability is an important value here at Rowland Hall, whether it looks like addressing sustainable and affordable transportation, reducing our waste stream, or generating clean energy.”

In addition to sending a bold message about clean energy at Rowland Hall, the chargers offer a financial perk to the community: according to Hanko, the chargers cost the school a maximum of 80 cents per day, yet are equivalent to a $1,000 pay raise for employees with EVs.


Coach Oftedal Named 2A Coach of the Year by UHSAA

The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) has named long-time Rowland Hall cross country and track and field coach Mark Oftedal as the 2A Coach of the Year for 2014, this honor encompassing all sports.

Coach Oftedal has led the Winged Lion boys and girls cross country teams to numerous Region and State team titles, as well as coaching several individuals to top finishes at Region and State over the past several years. An accomplished runner himself, his enthusiasm, knowledge of, and passion for the sport has lit a fire inside many a Rowland Hall athlete, inspiring them to achieve much personal success and a true love for the sport.

Mark will be recognized with a Distinguished Service Award for his achievements at a luncheon to be held on January 14 at the Willow Creek Country Club. This award was established in 1987 to honor individuals for their service and contributions to high school activities and is the UHSAA’s way of saying thank you on behalf of the many whose lives Mark has touched.

We at Rowland Hall appreciate the passion and dedication to our student-athletes that Coach Oftedal has shown, and applaud and salute his accomplishments. Congratulations, Mark!


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