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.
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
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.
Humbling, painful, amazing, challenging, rejuvenating, overwhelming—these are just some of the adjectives Rowland Hall educators used to describe the experience of attending the People of Color Conference (PoCC) last fall. While faculty and staff at independent schools regularly attend conferences to learn about trends in education or to network with their peers, those who sign up for the PoCC have at least one additional objective. According to Kate Taylor, Upper School English teacher and co-chair of the school's Inclusion and Equity Committee, "People go to this conference to be vulnerable."
Dr. Taylor was one of six attendees from Rowland Hall who traveled to Anaheim, California, at the end of November for the 30th annual PoCC. At the largest conference organized by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), 6,000 administrators, staff, faculty, and students from predominantly independent schools gathered for three days of stimulating workshops and speakers, and deeply personal inquiry into issues regarding race, identity, and privilege. Joining Dr. Taylor at the conference were her committee co-chair and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus; Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education; Lisa Miranda, assistant director of admission for the Lincoln Street Campus; Robin Hori, Upper School physics teacher; and Anna Ernst, Lower School physical education teacher.
For the Rowland Hall cohort, from first-time attendees like Ms. Miranda to five-time attendee Mr. de Jesus, the conference was a chance to delve deeper into the critical work the Inclusion and Equity Committee—on which they all serve—is undertaking at our school. Along with the institutional lens each educator brought to the conference, they had opportunities to explore and affirm their racial identities through affinity groups. Each day, attendees broke off into sessions with others of their race or ethnicity and connected over shared experiences in closed-door conversations.
"So many people shared so many painful stories," said Ms. Miranda, who attended the affinity group for people who are black or of African heritage. While specific details remained confidential, they discussed everything from bullying in schools to a lack of faculty representation for people of color. Mr. Hori reported that the majority of conversations in the Asian groups he attended centered on how to best support students of color. Although Ms. Ernst initially expressed some skepticism regarding how she would relate to other Latinx educators in this context, she ultimately saw the power of affinity groups.
"We are all educators, whatever roles we have in schools, and we all come from different backgrounds, but we have this connection," she said. She also believes establishing affinity groups for Rowland Hall students and families could be beneficial to our community—which is an explicit goal of the committee this year.
Affinity groups are not just for people of color, either—for Dr. Taylor, the session for white people, or those of European heritage, was of great value. "White people were talking about how to be an ally or an advocate, and their successes or frustrations with this work," she said. "It was a very constructive mindset."
The idea of inclusion and equity work as a mindset—rather than something to be done—is a point of emphasis for conference attendees. Mr. de Jesus framed it as a growth opportunity for the school. "As an organization, we can broaden our understanding of what the work looks like," he explained. "It's not a one-off chapel or some other addition to the schedule. It's a mindset to be fostered, both individually and collectively."
Clockwise from upper left: Lisa Miranda, Ryan Hoglund, Robin Hori, Jij de Jesus, Kate Taylor, Anna Ernst
All six educators returned to Rowland Hall with renewed passion for their work, along with difficult questions regarding how to implement change. While there are plans to build and support affinity groups, and to increase the positive representation of people of color across our curriculum, there are significant roadblocks as well. Ms. Miranda identified inequalities in the admission process—which exist at many schools, not just Rowland Hall—that benefit those who are wealthy or have generational knowledge of independent school education. And along with the limited time and funding that can hamper any school initiative, work surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion doesn't always get buy-in from everyone in a school community, in part because it requires the kind of vulnerability that PoCC encourages.
According to Mr. Hori, some people may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or offending someone. Nevertheless, he remains vocal about the need to have difficult conversations on a regular basis. "We need to be willing to talk about concerns as well as progress, and not feel like if I have something bad to say, there will be consequences," he said. He also identified improved student support—particularly for students of color and females—as a priority.
"I appreciate that we want to open up the community," Mr. Hori said in a nod to the school's goal for an increasingly diverse student body and faculty, "but we have to be careful how we do this, to make sure there is support for the kids." He reflected at length on the exhausting process of assimilation at independent schools, something he engaged in for years out of what he regarded as professional demands. "We have all of these students from different backgrounds, and we just expect them to produce and behave in this white-dominant culture," he said, adding that he's contemplating different ways to reach out to students of color about their experience at Rowland Hall.
Whether people have been afraid, uncomfortable, unaware, or unwilling, Ms. Miranda doesn't see inaction as an option for the school. "We are entrusted with children at the most crucial times of their lives. We have them more than their parents do, sometimes," she said. "Are we going to be our best selves and our best educators? And in order to do that, what do we embrace?" She described being part of the Rowland Hall community as a great privilege, and with that privilege comes the responsibility of doing this critical work.
"We expect our kids to be leaders, so we can't talk to them about growth mindset if we don't live it," she added.
The possibility to lead among independent schools on issues of equity and inclusion is something that excites Mr. Hoglund. It was his third time attending PoCC, and part of the reason he keeps returning is that it confirms the importance of this work and that Rowland Hall is on the right track. "This conference is both a self-care moment and an investment in our school's future," he said, adding "Everyone benefits from greater diversity." He found the presentation by Ta-Nehisi Coates, an author and journalist who was one of the conference's general-session speakers, particularly moving. "He reiterated that this work is everyone's work, and we need each other to create inclusive spaces," Mr. Hoglund reflected.
Rowland Hall wanted to send students to PoCC in 2017, but due to the exceptional demand for the conference, they did not make it off the waitlist. Mr. Hoglund and the other attendees expressed hope that some of our students will attend this year and encouraged any interested adults—teachers, staff, or board members, of any race or ethnicity—to join as well. "We need to have more people go," Ms. Ernst said, "to truly see what diversity can add to your school, and to learn how to be allies."
As it did for each member of last year's cohort, the conference will provide future attendees with a unique emotional experience, based on several factors: racial identity, where they are on their identity-development journeys, and their roles within the Rowland Hall community. For Mr. de Jesus, this year was particularly powerful, as it was his first time attending since becoming a principal. "This conference was where I first received mentorship, support, and advocacy on my own leadership journey," he said. "And this time I was in the role of handing out my business card to younger people who are interested in becoming leaders."
What sets PoCC apart from any other professional-development experience? It's the opportunity to be vulnerable, as Dr. Taylor identified, and to use the exploration of one's racial and ethnic identity as a springboard for institutional change. Mr. de Jesus summed it up nicely: "PoCC gives me permission to include who I am—my identity, beyond being an educator—into the work I do as an educator. There's no separation between professional and personal. It's all personal."
When sophomore Hailey Hauck led the female/feminine affinity group at the recent Student Leadership Diversity Retreat (SLDR) in Portland, Oregon, she was amazed at younger attendees' willingness to dive into complex discussions. Middle schoolers dissected the concept of institutional sexism and shared opinions on matters such as equal pay for equal work, stereotypical gender roles, and dress code. "It was truly inspiring to see strong young people ready to lead," Hailey said.
Over 175 students in grades six through twelve attended the February 9-10 SLDR, organized by the Northwest Association of Independent Schools. The annual two-day retreat builds leadership and communication skills with an emphasis on creating more diverse and inclusive school environments. This year's event had a particular focus on affinity groups, which are formed around a shared interest, experience, or goal. At the retreat, affinity groups gave students a space to focus on issues related to a dimension of their identity. Accordingly, the gathering also featured presentations on developing leadership skills, and using social and emotional intelligence to cultivate cross-cultural empathy.
Our student attendees—four upper schoolers and 10 middle schoolers—identified a leadership action plan to bring back to their school. They'll host lunchtime Courageous Conversations, or open-invitation meetings for students and faculty to discuss identity-related topics in a safe place. The students will also work to form affinity groups at our school.
Like Hailey, junior and affinity-group facilitator Claire Hyde was impressed with the maturity middle schoolers displayed at SLDR when discussing controversial topics. "They were able to clearly articulate themselves," Claire said. "I remember my first year attending the retreat, and it makes me happy to see so many students attending the SLDR for the first time and enjoying their experience as much as I did."
Rowland Hall attendees included Upper School students Isaac Ball, Charlotte Orford, Claire, and Hailey; and Middle School students Omar Alsolaiman, Sam Andrew, Mercedes Hinton, Gwenyth Hodson, Samantha Lehman, Rose Mickey Locke, Aileen Robles, Luke Sarin, Zakrie Smith, and Aurelie Wallis. Rowland Hall has attended this annual conference since it started in 2006 and plans to keep the tradition going. Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund credited the retreat with developing the next generation of student leaders on the Inclusion and Equity Committee. "Our attendance at the conference shows our commitment to provide an inclusive and safe environment for all learners," he said.