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Beginning School: 3PreK, 4PreK, and Kindergarten
Welcome to Rowland Hall's independent private preschool, an exceptional place for young children in Utah to learn. Early childhood is a time of incredible brain development, and you'll find actively engaged learners within our classrooms and outdoor spaces.
When you enter the Beginning School, it’s immediately clear: this is a place tailor-made to amplify the power and magic of young children. The intentional and joyous celebration of Rowland Hall’s youngest learners reverberates in every corner. And in every classroom and play space, you’ll find master teachers who are at the heart of what we do: provide experiences that encourage curiosity, compassion, expression, and deep thinking. In the Beginning School, students learn how to think, not merely what to think.
I am honored to be a part of this special place that fosters such exceptional learning and teaching in a warm and inclusive community. I hope you’ll come for a visit to see what I see, and—more importantly—what our students see.
Beginning School and Lower School Principal
We live in a world filled with screens—they’re a necessary part of how we work and communicate, and even learn and play. They’re also the cause of a lot of family anxiety.
From How much screen time is too much? to Should I let my child watch this movie? the questions around children and screen time can seem endless—and it often feels like you’re doing it wrong.
As parents themselves, Rowland Hall’s princiPALS understand the struggle around screens. That’s why they’re opening the fourth season of the school’s award-winning podcast with an episode on the topic.
Join Emma Wellman and Brittney Hansen ’02, along with host Conor Bentley ’01, for a refreshing conversation on screen time, including discussion about current guidelines (and why it’s understandable if you can’t always adhere to them), what high-quality programming actually is (and how to find it), and the ever-looming question: What about social media? You’ll also learn strategies to build children’s screen literacy, and find out why it’s so important to invest in non-screen time. And, importantly, listeners will discover how they can get the whole family involved in identifying values and boundaries that will guide screen time in their homes.
Listen to “Screen Time”—as well as other episodes of The PrinciPALS Podcast—on Rowland Hall's website and Apple Podcasts.
On a bright fall day, under a canopy of trees at Sunnyside Park, a group of kindergartners turned into a flock of birds.
They had arrived at the park as children do, swinging their backpacks, full of wiggles, and talking to friends. But once in a circle and aware of their surroundings, with the soft grass under their feet, tall trees towering overhead, and a warm breeze fluttering the leaves, they transformed. They quieted, focused, and all took flight, spreading their wings and singing bird songs like a magnificent flock.
“It is the best part of the week for our class,” said kindergarten lead teacher Mary Grace Ellison. “All of the kids love and appreciate the time in the park, and the benefits from it are amazing.”
Each Rowland Hall kindergarten class spends one morning a week at the park as part of outdoor classroom, a project-based learning program developed by the kindergarten team. In outdoor classroom, students spend time both in structured lessons and in free play, and are encouraged at all times to take in their surroundings with all their senses.
“The students are learning from nature, not about nature,” said lead teacher Bethany Stephensen. “It’s just that idea of falling in love with the outdoors so they care about it later. If it happens young, the roots will be there.”
The teachers decided to make trees a focus when they noticed how the children were naturally drawn to them. They want to be near them and touch them, sit beneath them, and climb on them.
A central part of Rowland Hall’s kindergarten outdoor classroom curriculum is the tree study. At the beginning of the year, each student picks a tree friend they will spend time with and study each week. The teachers decided to make trees a focus when they noticed how the children were naturally drawn to them. They want to be near them and touch them, sit beneath them, and climb on them.
Each week, students read to their trees, draw pictures of them in each season, and really get to know them through their powers of observation. For instance, students Anna B. and Jaylen W. excitedly point out that their chosen tree has a butt, or small dimple, that makes it unique and special to them.
“They come to the park and they greet their trees, and when we leave they say goodbye to them. Some of them hug them,” said Bethany. “When they read to their trees they really read to them. They show them the pictures.”
Reading to the trees, a major component of the tree study, not only deepens the students’ bond to nature, but also reinforces literacy and reading comprehension. But this isn’t the only way the trees are used in learning. Students map the park, plotting the locations of their trees and the distances between them, and use geometry to identify the shapes made by their locations and proximity to each other. They learn the scientific names of the various trees and employ scientific methods to identify the parts of their trees and label them on photos and drawings. Trees are also great subjects for math lessons.
“They take yarn and find the circumference of their trees and record it in their nature journals,” said lead teacher Melanie Robbins. “We measure things by pine cones: how many pine cones long is it? Or we use the Unifix cubes. We compare which tree is the biggest and smallest and put them in order.”
Social and emotional learning take place during tree study as well. The trees center conversations about community, belonging, and cooperation. Students talk about the fact that all trees have similarities, but no two trees are the same. They also discuss the roots that may bind the trees together, making them dependent on one another. These conversations, combined with the academic skills the tree study is building, are important for young learners, preparing them not only for higher-level learning but also helping them learn to control their bodies—in fact, studies have shown that learning outside helps students become better at self-regulation and independent learning. It’s something that the teachers often observe during their time at the park.
Beyond academic and social-emotional skills, the tree study is making students stewards of nature by teaching them to appreciate their surroundings. On an ever-changing planet, people like that are needed more than ever.
“Children learn things like the fact they can feel excited and calm at the same time,” said Melanie. “That happened just last week as we were watching a bee on a dandelion. Everyone was just ready to jump out of their skin, but they also wanted to be still because they were watching the bee and not wanting it to leave.”
It’s clear that the kindergarten tree study isn’t just a needed change of scenery for students—it is a transformational experience. Beyond the academic and social-emotional skills it’s building, it is making the students stewards of nature by teaching them to appreciate their surroundings. On an ever-changing planet, people like that are needed more than ever. And it’s a symbiotic relationship. Nature gives back by giving these children opportunities to learn in different ways and to connect to their surroundings. It gives them a sense of self and place not available in any other way.
Learning outside gives them wings and helps them soar.
Rowland Hall is thrilled to welcome students and families to our campuses for the 2023–2024 school year.
The year kicked off on Wednesday, August 23, with smiles, hugs, and excitement. As students and families poured onto campus, they were greeted by an enthusiastic team of faculty and staff, said hello to old friends (and met new ones), and, for many of our youngest learners, gave a hug or a high-five to Roary, our trusty school mascot. And as the week went on, students had even more opportunities to connect, settle in, and prepare for an exceptional year of learning, including by gathering for Convocation and our annual Back to School Bash. Alumni even got in on the fun at the All-Class Reunion.
We invite you to enjoy some of the images captured during the first days of school.
Rowland Hall is excited to introduce two new assistant principals joining the school in the 2023–2024 school year: Josy Alcindor, Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal, and Stacia McFadden, Upper School assistant principal.
Both bring to Rowland Hall a wealth of knowledge as educators and administrators, and we are thrilled to welcome them to our community.
Learn a bit more about Josy and Stacia below.
Meet Josy Alcindor, Beginning School and Lower School Assistant Principal
Since childhood, Josy Alcindor knew she wanted to work in education. She can even recall one of the first times she stepped into the role of teacher: at 10 years old, Josy borrowed her parents’ English learning workbooks to help an older family friend learn the language, a job she took very seriously. The child of Haitian immigrants, Josy was inspired by her parents’ tenacity and dedication to their own learning, and she wanted to help her friend succeed in a new country. It was an experience that helped to spark a love of teaching that she’s carried through her life. Paired with what Josy calls her “mama bear” approach to supporting and advocating for learners from preschool to the brink of adulthood, it’s clear she’s found her sense of purpose in education spaces.
“I’ve always been in the business of children, for their well-being across the board; emotionally, mentally, academically,” said Josy. “My life’s work is for the betterment of children. It’s my motivator.”
FUN FACT: Josy refers to herself as a closet poet (“I love the spoken word,” she said) and enjoys sharing her passion for poetry with others—especially students. At Wildwood School, she even created a fifth-grade activist poetry unit that allowed students to explore causes they care about. Josy said bringing out the poet in a child can help build their confidence and self-understanding.
And Josy has dedicated her career to this work, earning a bachelor’s degree in women and gender studies from Hunter College and a master of science education from the Bank Street College of Education. She’s spent years in the classroom, teaching students in preschool through fifth grade on both coasts: Josy worked at the Dalton School and the Hewitt School, both in New York City, and Wildwood School in Los Angeles, where she was most recently a fifth-grade teacher and diversity division coordinator. She’s also been a dedicated mentor for teens and young adults as a former board chair of Urban Neighborhood Services, and a board member at the YA-YA (Youth Activists-Youth Allies) Network. In all her roles, Josy has built classroom experience and deep administrative knowledge, and has worked to strengthen communities, including by training other teachers and facilitating conversations around DEIBJ or social-emotional learning. She understands that relationships are at the heart of education, a perspective that played a role in her decision to come to Rowland Hall.
“The sheer joy that I experienced when I walked in here—that solidified it for me,” said Josy of her first visit to the McCarthey Campus. She remembers seeing children happily engaged in learning and hearing faculty speak highly of the school, and knew that Rowland Hall was a place that also valued relationships, and where she could help children, as well as families and teachers, thrive. She was further moved by Rowland Hall’s strategic vision and is excited to be part of its continued rollout.
“I love this philosophy. It aligns with my core values: setting children for success, preparing them for tomorrow, for a changing world,” said Josy. “I look forward to being part of the forward-moving thinking and building off the amazing things that have happened.”
Meet Stacia McFadden, Upper School Assistant Principal
It doesn’t take long when chatting with Stacia McFadden to learn just how much she enjoys collaborating with people, as well as bringing others together.
“I’m such a connector,” she said.
Though Stacia’s professional life is filled with opportunities for connection-making in educational spaces, she didn’t start her career in education. Stacia majored in computer science as an undergraduate, earning a full-ride scholarship to Michigan State University to continue her studies. But a month into the graduate program, she realized that the path she was on didn’t feel quite right—she didn’t want a career that comes with a cubicle, a screen, and, often, isolation. She wanted to work closely with others. Heeding this self-understanding, Stacia changed course, moving to New York City to join IBM as a business analyst programmer. It wasn’t her dream job, but it played a pivotal role in her professional journey.
“While I didn’t find true fulfillment in this role,” Stacia explained, “I discovered joy via outreach through one of IBM's diversity networks, Black Network of New York, and my sorority.” Through these opportunities, Stacia mentored college students studying STEM disciplines, taught community technology workshops, and led a mentoring program for middle schoolers, all of which helped her understand that education is within her—and that she could apply her love of computer science to the field, helping students and teachers use technology to strengthen their work. “I got passionate about the integration of technology to enhance, empower, and inspire thinking and learning,” she said.
FUN FACT: Stacia plays tennis and has been to three United States Tennis Association (USTA) state championships and one USTA sectionals championship. She’s also shared her athletic talent in her career—tennis coach is just one of the many hats Stacia has worn as an educator.
Stacia pivoted again, earning a master’s degree in computing in education from Columbia University’s Teachers College, and teaching math, web design, and computer applications at a public charter school in Washington, DC. She then moved to independent schools, and over the years has held both teaching and administrative roles, many of which center around academic technology (she was most recently chief information officer at the Lovett School in Atlanta). Stacia has also accepted chances to build connections among national colleagues: she’s a faculty member for the National Association of Independent Schools’ School Leadership Institute, and facilitated programming at the 2023 Leadership + Design conference at Rowland Hall, an event which led to her accepting the assistant principal job.
No matter her role, Stacia has kept connections at the center of her work, prioritizing community building and empowering others, and has always found the most joy in student support. While interviewing on the Upper School campus, she said she was impressed by Rowland Hall’s bright, passionate students and their enthusiasm for their studies and interests. “You could tell they really care about the community and had ideas of what they wanted to see the next assistant principal do,” she said. She also loved observing how students and teachers were doing powerful work to bring to life Rowland Hall’s vision of what’s possible in education.
“The vision statement spoke to me: developing people the world needs,” said Stacia. “How simple is that, and how powerful is that?”
Stacia is looking forward to being part of this important work, knowing her experiences as an educator (and the mother of a 20-year-old college student) have prepared her to support today’s students as they find their voices, discover their passions, learn to get comfortable with an ambiguous and dynamic world, and make real and lasting change.
“I want kids to not only find their voice, but, if they see something they want to change, learn how to do that,” she said.
Banner photo: Stacia McFadden, third from right, with colleagues at the 2023 Opening Meeting for faculty and staff. Photo courtesy Stacia McFadden.