Ethical Education at Rowland Hall
Our actions affect others • Ethics create community • Ethics guide civic engagementIn 1867, our founders built Rowland Hall on ethical and spiritual principles and the clear expectation that every child should strive for personal excellence. Character has been nurtured and expected from our students long before character education became a trend at peer schools, locally and nationally.
No education is complete without a commitment to a worthy purpose and passion for making the world a better place. Therefore, Rowland Hall students are taught in a thoughtful, age-appropriate, sequential thread from preschool through high school to identify ethical themes, recognize actions that build community, practice decision making, and live a meaningful, ethical life. All students learn that character includes the development of self-discipline, drive, and grit, as well as the universal values embodied by the ethical principles of fairness, empathy, integrity, and altruism.
More important than core classes, exams, grades, or graduation requirements, are the people with whom students spend their days. Our teachers are insightful individuals who share their passion and dedication for knowledge, while also serving as role models in their communities.
You'll find few rivals to Rowland Hall’s community-engagement program, in the Intermountain West or nationally. Participation in community engagement, whether expanding on curricular themes or through stellar stand-alone projects, starts in the Beginning School and offers each student through high school a deep sense of personal responsibility and belonging.
Our school-wide chapel program encourages students to reflect on the values of honesty, compassion, altruism, and community engagement, and offers insights into the traditions of varied cultures and beliefs. Whether focusing on a Virtue of the Month in St. Margaret’s Chapel on the McCarthey Campus or hearing from a guest speaker on the Lincoln Street Campus, our students are immersed in concepts that lead to a life of honor and engagement with others to improve the community and larger world.
- Beginning School Students Identify
- Lower School Students Recognize
- Middle School Students Practice
- Upper School Student Live
- Embracing Inclusion & Equity in Our Community
- Guest Speakers
- Our Sustainable School
The Beginning School promotes children’s social-emotional competency by equipping them with the necessary, age-appropriate tools to enable them to make informed, responsible, and empathetic choices and decisions. Teachers weave ethics throughout their curricula, classroom management, and student problem-solving. Kindergarten and 4PreK students are introduced to Second Step, a research-based social skills curriculum. Weekly lessons teach students skills for identifying emotions in themselves and others, labeling these emotions, and understanding the perspectives of others. In addition, students learn skills to manage strong emotions and to solve interpersonal conflicts with peers in a peaceful manner.
Students begin to learn cross-cultural competence: they celebrate the array of family histories and cultures they represent by bringing photos from home, and parents are invited to come into classrooms to share different faith traditions and cultural practices. In chapel, kindergarteners are introduced to music, prayers, stories, and teachings from a variety of faith traditions to explore empathy, kindness, caring for our world, and generosity.
The Second Step curriculum continues in first through fifth grades to help students recognize and empathize with others’ feelings, practice peaceful problem-solving strategies, and manage strong emotions. The curriculum emphasizes inclusivity and friendship building. Through these lessons, students also develop the skills to recognize, refuse, and report bullying behavior.
Bi-monthly chapel gatherings use music, character-education lessons, mindfulness activities, and teachings of multiple traditions to explore topics such as caring for our environment, and to reinforce virtues such as kindness and generosity. Chapels typically highlight a Virtue of the Month—students recognize and practice a range of virtues that reflect core values of the school. Students are also encouraged to engage in the classroom exercise of Bucket Filling, which makes kind words and actions visible when students recognize peers who have filled their bucket.
The Lower School empowers children to put their ethical education into action: they participate in an array of service-learning projects focusing on the local community and the wider world.
Middle School students learn to practice ethical decision-making and behaviors in the classroom, on athletic fields, and in the larger community. Encouraging students to take responsibility for their behaviors is at the heart of the Middle School’s philosophy.
A monthly chapel gathering broadens students’ understanding of world religions by introducing specific practices, philosophies, beliefs, and observances. Students are also grouped in supportive grade-level advisories, where they build on social and emotional competencies by delving into common ethical dilemmas and hands-on activities that allow them to practice ethical decision-making. During these three years, our goal is for each middle schooler to develop a strong ethical and personal identity.
Students act to address larger community issues through integrated community engagement with organizations such as the Sunnyvale Community Center. Week-long class trips put students in situations where they must take responsibility for their own well-being as well as that of a larger group.
Ethical literacy means understanding that one’s actions affect others and that, while deeply held personal values may differ, we are each committed to the ethics that create our community: respect, integrity, and empathy. In the Upper School, students broaden their understanding of the historical arc of ethical paradigms in order to internalize thoughtful decision making.
Contributions to the community, whether integrated in dance, science, or ethics class, address issues as diverse as poverty, hunger, autism, wildlife habitat, domestic violence, and racism. Juniors, through Project Action, identify a local need for which they feel passion, then devote time to one organization whose mission is to address that need. Students also participate in community-engagement activities that encourage them to live the mission of the school, such as October's Half Day/Whole Heart, the International Rescue Committee's Light One Candle project, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas food giveaways.
The Upper School gathers once a month for chapel, broadening understanding of the practices and philosophies of many world religions. A required world religions and ethics class also explores the history and traditions of faith.
Rowland Hall represents a diverse community that encompasses differences in the human experience including those of ethnicity, race, national origin, family composition, religion, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and learning styles, among others.
Rowland Hall is dedicated to the promise of an environmentally responsible culture within our school and the larger community. We encourage all community members to engage in educational experiences that foster a deep understanding of our interdependent relationships with nature. As a result, we strive to identify, initiate, and implement projects and curriculum to increase environmental awareness and stewardship.
On March 20, seventh graders used illustrations, demos, dioramas, and even virtual reality to transport Rowland Hall community members to a different time and place—the Golden Age of Islam that started in the seventh century and stretched from Spain to China.
According to seventh-grade world studies teacher Margot Miller, last week's exhibition was driven by one question: "How can we showcase the Golden Age of Islam in order to educate our community about Islamic inventions and challenge assumptions and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims?"
The middle schoolers used the book 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilizations and conducted additional research to become experts on their topics. For the main attraction, they transformed the Middle School's upstairs art hallway, adjacent staircase, and the band room hallway into a funnel of knowledge—visitors snaked through topical sections dealing with food, fashion, medicine, school, astronomy, architecture, and more. The seventh graders also prepared oral and written presentations, and eagerly enlightened all who passed through the exhibition.
Earlier this school year, sophomores hit iconic Salt Lake City spots to ask friendly strangers how migration has shaped their families’ stories. English teacher Dr. Kate Taylor masterminded the activity for sophomores' annual Beyond the Classroom day, in connection with their reading of Exit West.
Before they took to the streets, students received a crash course from an expert folklorist, Thomas Richardson, on how to be an ethnographer and conduct interviews. Then during interviews, sophomores asked these questions:
Immigration heavily affected our way of life because we were the first peoples here.—Darren Parry, Chairman of the Shoshone Nation. See his interview in the top-left square.
- What story about your own or your family’s migration or travel can you share?
- Tell me about how migration or travel has shaped your story or your family’s story.
- Our class is reading a book called Exit West by Mohsin Hamid who said, “We are all migrants. All of us. We move through time and space.” How does that quote relate or not relate to your experience?
Students had a simple goal, Dr. Taylor said: listen and bear witness to the many different experiences of people in our city.
View an exhibit of subjects’ photos and quotes just outside the Upper School library. A selection of students’ work is below.
Directions: On a desktop, hover over the audio icons to see pull quotes and hear interview audio. On a mobile device, press the audio icons.
Student Reactions to the Assignment
Lightly edited for style and context.
It was interesting to hear about what people sacrificed and went through to get to the U.S. It makes you better appreciate your country. —Sophomore Cole McCartney
Beyond the Classroom made me realize how diverse Salt Lake City is. I was able to hear about many people’s experiences with migration or travel. I met people from Mexico, El Salvador, and other countries, and they all had very compelling stories. It was interesting to hear about what people sacrificed and went through to get to the U.S. It makes you better appreciate your country. I also found it interesting to hear different opinions on migration; there were some who were strongly for it while others didn't seem to care...I would never have talked to random people about this if it weren't for this project.
It definitely showed me that people are always on the move, and how some don’t have to travel far to experience different things. It gave me more respect for people who do migrate often, or migrate to different countries or places that are vastly different from where they started. I feel more empathetic towards people who are migrating from oppressive countries and are struggling to find a place in this world. Even making the move from Jackson Hole to Salt Lake was difficult and took time, so these people are fighters and deserve happiness in their lives.
At the beginning of the day, I thought it would be really scary because I would be talking with random people I didn't know, something I’ve rarely been comfortable with...I met a woman named Rosa María and asked if I could interview her. She replied, "I don't speak English, only Spanish; I'm on a trip," and I knew it would be a good opportunity to see how immigration had affected people who weren't living in the United States. I conducted the whole interview in Spanish and we laughed and had a good time...Being an immigrant myself, I thought everyone was affected in some way by immigration, but as I interviewed her I knew immigration wasn't all there was. She primarily talked about cross-cultural integration. I knew this was true but it didn't hit me until then: immigration is a big topic all around the world, but you don’t often hear in the media about how it opens people’s minds up to new ideas.
Beyond the Classroom
Rowland Hall Senior Recognized with Excellence in Education Award for Work with Navajo Nation
Oliver Jin '18 can't pass up a good filming opportunity. His sophomore year at Rowland Hall, he signed up for the Highway Hiking 12 Interim trip, but a week before their scheduled departure, his good friend Knox Heslop '17 approached him with a request: come help film their cultural exchange on the Navajo reservation.
The Navajo Project is currently a yearlong civic engagement program for Rowland Hall juniors—often regarded as the advanced version of Project 11—focused on building relationships with members of the Navajo Nation, which culminates in a weeklong trip each May to work with students at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, Bluff Elementary School, and White Horse High School. When Oliver accepted Knox's invitation in the spring of 2016, the project was still evolving, and Oliver didn't know what to expect. As an international student from China who moved to the United States to attend Rowland Hall beginning in ninth grade, he simply wasn't familiar with Native American history and traditions, nor the typical stereotypes about their population. Looking back, he believes that lack of awareness benefited him.
I think the documentary became a central focus because of what documentary filmmaking, at least for me, does to power relationships. —Oliver Jin
"If I were to tell you every single statistic about the Native American population that is bad, you might want to do something about it, but you're terrified," He understands how paralyzing it can be to acknowledge the suffering of the Native American population—especially given how the United States is mostly at fault. Because Oliver didn't have those preconceptions or fears, he found his first-year trip to the reservation eye opening rather than paralyzing. He focused on working with Knox, setting up their cameras and listening to people's stories, eventually producing a documentary called The Common Ground.
"I think the documentary became a central focus because of what documentary filmmaking, at least for me, does to power relationships," Oliver said. Instead of showing up in a new community to help with a project, which suggests inferiority in the recipients, the documentary allowed Oliver to provide a platform to share others' stories. It made him feel like he and the Rowland Hall community could empower people by embracing their stories, Oliver said. And the sharing and cherishing of personal narratives matters deeply to him—he believes it's the way to form the human connections that eventually lead to positive change on substantive issues.
The first year was so powerful that Oliver committed to the program for his junior year, even though he technically completed his Project 11 requirement as a sophomore. Motivated to build stronger connections and help promote the longevity of the program, he produced a second documentary: A Film About Why There Isn't a Film. Oliver described the second film as a reflection on the difficulty of storytelling and service and said the title gestures toward the nuance and complexity of the project. Oliver hopes the two films can serve as a better starting point for future Rowland Hall students who might want to participate in community-building work.
"I can only hope that, as I graduate, ninth graders and tenth graders and eighth graders can see the work that we've done—through my lens—and having that awareness, want to go there," he said. As a senior, he spent many hours collaborating with the juniors who participated in this year's trip to the Navajo Nation, and he plans to maintain his connections with the people at the Navajo reservation for years to come. Additionally, he still has "hundreds, if not thousands" of stories in his notebook or on his computer's hard drive. He just hasn't found the right occasion or composition yet to share them. Currently at work on a portraiture project similarly focused on finding the human element at the center of every situation, he said, "I'm pretty far away from ever calling it done."
Institutionalizing these celebrations is really valuable in that it shows you a fundamental level of respect for this type of work. I don't have to win the award to feel empowered. —Oliver Jin
Oliver's success in building relationships with members of the Navajo Nation was the primary reason Rowland Hall faculty members Ryan Hoglund and Sofia Gorder nominated him for the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs' Excellence in Education Award earlier this year. The award recognizes high school students and educators who facilitate change, embrace intercultural awareness, and advance civic engagement in their communities.
In their nomination letter, Ms. Gorder and Mr. Hoglund also lauded Oliver's work with Rowland Hall's Inclusion and Equity Committee, his contributions to the school's arts department, and his graceful transition to our community as an international student. "Such a rich and evolving cultural identity role modeled openly by Oliver liberates other students to explore conflicting identities and engage with many parts of themselves," they wrote.
When Oliver won the award in March—presented as part of Utah Multicultural Youth Leadership Day—he was unsurprisingly humble about the recognition. Instead, he took great pleasure in the mere existence of the award and the people who coordinate it. "Institutionalizing these celebrations is really valuable in that it shows you a fundamental level of respect for this type of work," he said. "I don't have to win the award to feel empowered."
Oliver wasn't always engaged with initiatives for equity and inclusion. In fact, he credited a conversation with his sister, Jin, an alumna from the class of 2015, with spurring him to action. After she asked him why he didn't participate in a social media trend celebrating the passage of gay marriage legislation in Utah—she is a gay woman—Oliver recognized that his answer wasn't satisfactory. "I told her, 'You know I love you and support you, but I just didn't feel like it,'" he recalled. "I came to realize it's not enough to ideologically align with a tradition or liberal ideal of inclusivity and equality. I really need to do things instead of staying silent, quietly knowing I am a good person."
Over the past three years, Oliver emerged as a leader on the Lincoln Street Campus, frequently advocating for marginalized or underprivileged members of the school community. He recently initiated a dialogue with Upper School leaders about making sure the flag hallway represents the home nations of all students. He also adamantly supported the creation of an all-gender bathroom and regards it as a critical space, even though he identifies as a gender-conforming male. "Having that space to be used by everyone makes those who actually need it more comfortable to use it," he said. "Going to it shouldn't be sending out any message other than that's a convenient bathroom to use when in certain classrooms."
Over the past three years, Oliver emerged as a leader on the Lincoln Street Campus, frequently advocating for marginalized or underprivileged members of the school community.Oliver will continue to seek out stories to share among people he'll encounter at Sarah Lawrence College next year, where he plans to major in film with a continued focus in philosophy, ethics, and sociology. Regardless of which degree path he chooses, film will remain an essential part of his life and work. At a time when the film industry is embracing stories of inclusion and making blockbuster movies about them—Oliver cited the recent success of Call Me By Your Name and Black Panther—he is optimistic about what he and others can accomplish.
"It's a beautiful thing in our society, where these concepts are becoming accepted, and there's financial incentive to make these films," Oliver said. "And then that reinforces society to be more embracing of these concepts. There's a circle of positive feedback in mainstream culture."
Bogotan exchange student Jero (pronounced "hair-o") is an honorary Utahn. During his eight-day visit to Rowland Hall from his typically spring-like home, he skied twice, and like so many of us local powder hounds, he's hooked.
"I just finished talking to him, and he told me how much he missed skiing," eighth-grader Isabelle Louis said with a smile, a month after her guest returned to Bogotá. Isabelle's family hosted Jero, one of 21 Saint George's School students ages 11 to 14 who visited during the Middle School's Colombian cultural exchange in January. The intercontinental friends still keep in touch via WhatsApp and Instagram, and met thanks to globally minded French and Spanish teacher Campbell Ainsworth. Mr. Ainsworth—who's previously taught in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and Zambia—organized the program, the first of its kind in recent Middle School history.
"It helped to open students' eyes to a different perspective, from a different culture," Mr. Ainsworth said. Accordingly, he emphasized the cross-cultural empathy fostered by the exchange program—a lot of middle schoolers, after all, haven't yet had the chance to travel outside of the U.S. "It gives kids at that age a realization that the way we do things—or the way that one kid does things—is not the only way to do it," he said. "Sometimes we forget that because we're caught up in our own lives."
Colombian students, for example, were surprised by how common it is for Americans to quickly finish a meal and move onto the next activity, Mr. Ainsworth said. In Colombia, he explained, meals give friends and family a chance to spend time together and appreciate their food, bite by bite. Students, however, did discern at least one overlap in our food cultures. During a division-wide presentation at the end of the visit, an exchange student told an auditorium full of our middle schoolers that Colombians love to mix ketchup and mayonnaise to create what they call salsa rosada, or pink sauce. Our students excitedly clapped and called out, "FRY SAUCE!"
That same presentation allowed the St. George's students to practice their second language in a public forum, and gave our students expert insight into the "real" Colombia, including geography, industry, and music. The polished assembly left our community informed and impressed, Mr. Ainsworth said. Indeed, Isabelle praised her Colombian counterparts' English and dancing skills—they demonstrated modern and traditional moves, and at the end of the assembly, invited everyone on stage to learn to "dance salsa." "The fact that they were brave and they showed us what their dances were like—I thought that was really cool," Isabelle said.
Over the past week, our Middle School has been lucky enough to host 21 students and three teachers from Colegio San Jorge de Inglaterra (Saint George's School) in #Bogotá, #Colombia. This group is phenomenal, and yesterday, they gave us a fun, educational presentation about Colombian history and culture—complete with dance moves. They leave tomorrow, and we'll miss them dearly! #adiosamigos 🇨🇴
While here, the St. George's students toured both campuses, shadowed students, and attended a variety of classes in the lower, middle, and upper schools. They took a bus tour of Salt Lake City, went tubing at Gorgoza Park and skiing at Brighton Resort, and joined their 21 welcoming host families in a range of activities—from ice skating, to playing Risk into the wee hours of the morning.
Our students, in turn, enjoyed meeting people from a totally different part of the world and polishing their Spanish. Isabelle said Jero introduced her to some new Spanish words and helped her to better understand pronouns and sentence structure. And even our students who didn't host St. George's visitors reaped the benefits of their presence via language-classroom activities that required the two groups to collaborate.
"The point of learning a language is to speak it—to communicate," Mr. Ainsworth said. "So we always try to find ways to provide meaningful, authentic experiences, and there's no more meaningful, authentic experience than for them to have a conversation with a kid their age who's a native speaker."
The Middle School doesn't have plans to send students to Colombia, but in future years, an Upper School interim trip to St. George's could be an ideal way for the program to evolve into a two-way exchange, Mr. Ainsworth suggested. For now, the teacher aspires to hold the program every other year to keep it special for students. And if it works out, we hope Jero can come back on a powder day.