Open Hearts & Open Minds

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Ethical Education at Rowland Hall

Our actions affect others. Ethics create community. Ethics guide civic engagement.In 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.

Explore Ethical Education at Each Level

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 passions 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 continues through high school, and offers each student 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, which helps to improve the community and the larger world.

Teaching Ethics in the Classroom: Community, Inclusion, and Sustainability

Related Programs

Ryan Hoglund with beginning schooler.

Ryan Hoglund
Director of Ethical Educationget to know Ryan

Jeremy Innis leading a song at Convocation.

Jeremy Innis
Interfaith Chaplain, Music Teacherget to know Jeremy

Ethical Education in Action

Author Rio Cortez and youth climate activist Aniya Butler join Rowland Hall's Afrofuturism event in January 2023.

By Dr. Chandani Patel, Director of Equity and Inclusion

My second year in the inaugural director of equity and inclusion role was an opportunity to build capacity across the school so that more individuals share the responsibility for advancing an equitable and inclusive school community. One key addition this year was the Divisional Equity and Inclusion Coordinators program, through which one faculty member in each division coordinated learning and action centered on equity and inclusion. These coordinators now help make up the Office of Equity and Inclusion, which brings together key partners across the school to collaborate on equity and inclusion initiatives, including the committees listed below. This year in review highlights programs and initiatives we led this year to cultivate a community where each member thrives. 

This year in review highlights programs and initiatives we led this year to cultivate a community where each member thrives.

We want to thank the students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and parents/caregivers who have contributed to this work this year. We look forward to working with many more of you in the years to come.

New Faculty Support for 2022–2023

During the 2022–2023 school year, divisional equity and inclusion coordinators collaborated with and provided support to faculty colleagues to advance equity and inclusion in classrooms and divisions. Coordinators worked closely with Dr. Patel and division principals to identify key needs, design resources, and facilitate learning opportunities. The coordinators were Quincy Jackson (Beginning School), Abigail Bacon (Lower School), Susan Phillips (Middle School), and Dr. Kate Taylor (Upper School).

We also hosted a national Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity seminar, led by fifth-grade teacher Jen Bourque, where participants considered how they can use their classrooms, communities, or workplaces to create a more equitable environment for all.

2022–2023 DEI Committees and Affinity Groups

  • JEDI Committee: This faculty and staff committee focused on four main areas this year: community education, inclusive and accessible practices, curriculum, and making our core values actionable.
  • Student JEDI leaders: This group of Upper School students developed and facilitated learning opportunities for peers, including on topics like microaggressions and recognizing and respecting differences.
  • Affinity groups: Affinity groups—spaces that bring together people with common identifiers or life experiences—in the lower, middle, and upper schools built relationships and engaged in shared learning (see list of groups below). A faculty and staff BIPOC affinity group, for those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, gathered to recognize cultural heritage months and build community. The White Antiracist Educators group met to discuss key readings related to equity and inclusion and ways to activate allyship.
  • Inclusion, Outreach, and Equity (IEO) Committee: This committee of board members and administrators worked to identify and support strategic alignment centered on Rowland Hall’s priority to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion across the school community.

Student Affinity Groups

Sixteen affinity groups supported lower, middle, and upper schoolers this year:

  • Banana Splits, Lower School*
  • Kids of Color, Lower School*
  • Rainbow Club, Lower School*
  • Neurodivergent and Allies Affinity Group, Middle School*
  • Sexuality and Gender Alliance, Middle School
  • Students of Color, Middle School*
  • Asian Affinity Group, Upper School
  • Black Student Union, Upper School*
  • Girls of Color, Upper School
  • Infinity: Neurodivergent and Allies Affinity Group, Upper School*
  • Jewish Affinity Group, Upper School
  • Latine Affinity Group, Upper School
  • Multiracial Affinity Group, Upper School*
  • Muslim Affinity Group, Upper School
  • Pagan Affinity Group, Upper School*
  • Queer Straight Alliance, Upper School

*New in 2022–2023

Affinity groups in the Lower School are requested by families, led by faculty mentors, and provide space to build community and support. Affinity groups in the middle and upper schools are requested by students and are student-led in terms of topics and activities. Those interested in forming affinity groups should speak to their principal (Ingrid Gustavson, Upper School, or Pam Smith, Middle School) or Dr. Patel.

Images from Rowland Hall's 2023 STEM Symposium.

Images from The Future of STEM symposium.

2022–2023 Programming

  • MLK Week 2023: Afrofuturism: Building a Beloved Future: This year’s MLK week theme, Afrofuturism, invited us to imagine more inclusive futures and featured two prominent guest speakers: New York Times bestselling author Rio Cortez and youth climate activist Aniya Butler. Rio Cortez’s community poetry reading, “Afrofuturism, Frontiers, and Pioneers,” drew over 100 audience members from the broader community. The daylong student program featured dance, poetry readings, discussion, and artifact creation, all centered on building a future in which all individuals are celebrated.
  • The Future of STEM: A Symposium With Local Innovators: This inaugural program was designed to offer our middle and upper school students an opportunity to learn from innovators in STEM about the state of their fields and about their journeys to their current roles. The program was also a recognition of Women’s History Month, highlighting prominent women leaders in STEM and providing allies with some tools to support underrepresented folks in STEM.
  • Pride Parade 2023: More than 100 participants from the Rowland Hall community marched in the Utah Pride Parade this year. The group was led by student members of the Upper School’s Queer Straight Alliance and Middle School’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance. 

Community Education

Deliberate Dialogue Series

  • Practice the Unpracticed: A Deliberate Dialogue On Racism (November) was an opportunity for the community to practice unpracticed conversations together around topics of race and racism.
  • Making the Invisible Visible: A Deliberate Dialogue on Neurodiversity (March) was a forum for the community to learn about neurodiversity and how it impacts all types of learners, including the challenges and opportunities they encounter in educational settings.
  • Celebrating Our Stories: A Deliberate Dialogue on Storytelling (May) allowed participants to explore how different ways of storytelling can help us connect to others' stories as windows or mirrors to our own experiences.

Have You Been Wondering About… Resource Series

Images from Rowland Hall Deliberate Dialogue events, 2022–2023.

Images from this year's Deliberate Dialogue events.

Banner photo: Aniya Butler and Rio Cortez join Dr. Chandani Patel for Rowland Hall's Afrofuturism event in January 2023.


Rowland Hall Upper School members of the original cast of The Great Salt Film, a one-act play.

Can art save the Great Salt Lake?

It’s a question that students have been asking all year at Rowland Hall through dance, visual arts, and other mediums. In May, the question was laid out in black and white with the production of The Great Salt Film, a one-act play commissioned by theatre teacher Matt Sincell and Upper School students that examines the issues of the lake, and how, or even if, the artistic pursuits of teenagers could have an impact on a looming environmental crisis.

I wanted to empower them to have a voice in the creative process ... to see how art can impact people.—Matt Sincell, theatre teacher

“The play centers on a group of teenagers in a short-film competition to bring awareness to saving the Great Salt Lake,” said Matt. “We start to understand what their frustrations are with feeling powerless, and being asked to solve these problems but feeling like they have no voice and no vote.”

These are feelings the young actors in the play related to and were able to work through by helping create a new piece of art. Playwright Rachel Bublitz brought drafts of the play to the students and allowed them to contribute to not only the semantics of the work, but also to its overall structure and theme. “I wanted to empower them to have a voice in the creative process,” said Matt. “This was a way for them to see how art can impact people.”

The impact is already being felt in small ways. More than $500 was raised through the world premiere of the play, all of which went to FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake. This may not seem like much, but that is a key message of the play: every bit matters. The character of Truth, played by ninth grader Anaïs Bray, makes that point by emptying one bucket of water at a time into the dying lake. “It’s all about the small steps,” she said. “Truth’s mindset is: ‘It’s the best I can do and I need to do what I can do.’”

Student actress Anaïs Bray in the one-act play The Great Salt Film.

Anaïs Bray as Truth in The Great Salt Film.

The bigger impact will be putting the play out into the world. Now that it has premiered at Rowland Hall, it is eligible for publication and subsequent production at schools and theaters all over the world. People who have never even heard of the Great Salt Lake will be able to learn more about its shrinking, and the environmental impact. They will also learn the names of the first cast to perform the play, as they will be printed on every future edition. “It’s fun to know that I’m the first person to do this role,” said ninth grader Henry Olsen.

The message is one of hope.—Owen Thomas, class of 2023

The impact is also through the students who participated in the creation of the play and its first production. They now possess a sense of agency to pick up and examine complex dilemmas and not shy away from them, no matter how insurmountable they seem. After all, there is a lake to save.

“I think the message is one of hope,” said twelfth grader Owen Thomas. “This isn’t a battle we’ve lost yet, but we still have a long way to go.”


Rowland Hall fifth graders meet with representatives from Ruff Haven while completing community-impact projects.

What do you get when you ask a class of resourceful fifth graders to take the lead on a community-focused project?

An impressive array of impact-making solutions.

That’s a truth that Rowland Hall’s fifth-grade teaching team discovered this year, thanks to a new project-based learning (PBL) opportunity that kicked off in the fall and, after months of dedicated student work, wrapped earlier this month.

The project, the first of its kind for the grade, began taking shape at a summer PBL workshop attended by two of the fifth-grade teachers, Sam Johnson and Colleen Thompson, who brought an idea to fellow teachers Jen Bourque and Dr. Torry Montes, both of whom had PBL experience from previous schools and were excited to bring a new idea to life in their Rowland Hall classrooms. The team wanted to connect their students’ learning with an understanding of their place within community, as well as—thanks to the nature of PBL, which promotes deep learning through student choice and leadership—empower them to take charge of an opportunity to build connections across the larger Salt Lake community. They decided to identify a shared public space that could use improvement, picturing it as a canvas on which students could lead the charge of finding ways to better serve the community, and they chose Bend in the River, a somewhat neglected park along the Jordan River Parkway, as the space for the project. They planned an October field trip to introduce students to the area.

Their discussion focused not on transforming the space they stood in, but on examining larger societal issues that contributed to unmaintained spaces, pollution, and a lack of housing. And since PBL is designed to follow students’ areas of interest, rather than adults’, it quickly became clear that the project was going to shift in unexpected, and exciting, ways.

But when the teachers took the students to Bend in the River, things didn’t unfold quite as expected. Instead of discussing how they wanted to change the area, the kids instead wanted to discuss the why behind what they were seeing: litter, broken structures, water pollution, and unhoused people. Their conversation focused not on transforming the space they stood in, but on examining larger societal issues that contributed to unmaintained spaces, pollution, and a lack of housing. And since PBL is designed to follow students’ areas of interest, rather than adults’, it quickly became clear that the project was going to shift in unexpected, and exciting, ways.

“We had this idea of proposals to change this park, but that didn’t come from the kids,” said Jen. As a result, the role of Bend in the River changed. “It became the place we used to come back to how that place is related to issues that touch the greater Salt Lake community.”

To better support their students’ burgeoning interests, the fifth-grade team refocused the project, moving away from transforming a specific space to answering an essential question: What do communities need to thrive? In November, they relaunched the project with an in-school field trip composed of rotations that would help students answer that question, determine what they were most passionate about, and identify where they wanted to work toward making an impact. “We were embracing the ever-moving target that is project-based learning,” explained Jen.

As part of the in-school field trip, the teachers brought in community members who could speak about creating connections and working toward solutions that benefit a shared community, a choice that was well-received and led to visits from additional representatives who generously shared their knowledge over the coming weeks: Britney Helmers and Josh Schuerman from Little City; Will Wright from the Salt Lake City Office of Economic Development; Tyler Fonarow, recreational trails manager for Salt Lake City Corporation; Ann Wigham (parent), Stan Stensrud, and Kimo Pokini from Ruff Haven; David Garbett (parent) from O2 Utah; Greta Hamilton, stormwater program supervisor for Salt Lake County Public Works & Municipal Services; Brian Tonetti from Seven Canyons Trust; Mat Jones, District 2 supervisor for the Utah Department of Public Lands; and foothill rangers Haley Long and Eric Creel.

As the students learned about and discussed what communities need to thrive, four areas of interest naturally rose to the surface: environment, unhoused community, arts and community spaces, and trails and parks. It was decided that, in place of the original Bend in the River idea, students would find solutions to community problems within the four areas, each of which would be led by a teacher who could provide coaching, feedback, and support. And as an added benefit, the teachers structured the project so that students could work with their peers in other fifth-grade classes, a helpful experience for this group of rising middle schoolers.

The three A's allow students to be young changemakers in their own communities and prepare them for the challenges of the world they are going to inherit.—Dr. Torry Montes, fifth-grade teacher

The teachers also wanted to use the experience to help students better understand the many ways people can make real-world impact, which they did by introducing them to the three A’s: awareness, action, and advocacy. They explained that each A stood for a way people can make change: generate awareness by bringing attention to a problem, take action by moving forward on a solution, or act as advocates for policies that help people. The three A's, explained Dr. Torry, are often considered the goal of high-quality PBL.

“Educator Tony Wagner states that project-based learning is one of the best ways to meet all of the 21st-century learning goals,” she said. “The three A's allow students to be young changemakers in their own communities and prepare them for the challenges of the world they are going to inherit.”

Inspired by the ways they could make communities better, the students set to work researching causes and solutions, reaching out to groups and organizations, and creating a variety of projects that impressively showcased each of the three A’s, including proposals, petitions, posters, websites, flyers, and even a poem. By early March, when the students shared their final solutions at an open house, they had truly illustrated how young learners, when empowered to lead their learning, can take action, build awareness, and advocate for what they believe in. And as parents and caregivers wandered the fifth-grade wing, examining the projects, they were amazed by what they saw, recognizing how this work would benefit community organizations—including Salt Lake City Corporation, Tiny Village, Family Promise, Crossroads Urban Center, and Rowland Hall, not to mention the community members whose lives would be enhanced through the students’ ideas around clean water, safe shelters, and environmental protections—as well as the students themselves. Through this experience, the students learned life skills that will benefit them long after they leave their fifth-grade classrooms—including leaning on their own thinking to approach real-world problems. It’s a skill that’s essential, and one they’ll be encouraged to build on as they move on to middle school, and beyond.

“This is preparing them for their futures,” said Jen.

Project Galleries

As part of their community project, Rowland Hall’s fifth graders were asked to not only choose the areas of change they wanted to pursue, but also to decide how they wanted to creatively share their work with others. We’re proud to include in this story the students’ choices for the Rowland Hall community’s enjoyment, and have provided examples of the students’ work in the galleries below. We also invite readers to read the students’ reflection essays on the experience, written to be published here in Fine Print.


Students learned that generating awareness is essential to bringing attention to a problem, what needs to be done, and who should be involved. Click below to view the gallery.

Fifth-Grade Awareness Projects


Students learned that action means moving forward on solving a problem they have identified. Click below to view the gallery.

Fifth-Grade Action Projects


Students learned that advocacy is designed to influence policy, helping to mobilize community members toward improvements. Click below to view the gallery.

Fifth-Grade Advocacy Projects

Authentic Learning

Jodi Spiro's third graders are making an environmental difference at Salt Lake City private school Rowland Hall.

Change may be slow, but it’s worth the wait.

This life truth was recently made clear to Jodi Spiro’s third graders, a group of students passionate about doing their part to save the earth—particularly when it comes to limiting the amount of garbage that’s dumped into the environment, a topic they’ve discussed often this year.

“We knew there was a problem, then we watched this video of how much trash ends up in rivers and oceans, and we thought it was really sad,” said class member Helena A. “We saw this island made out of trash—it’s bigger than Texas.”

“It feels like people don’t really care about what they’re throwing out,” added classmate Declan M.

And it really bothered the third graders to imagine Rowland Hall contributing to the problem—especially in one specific way: even though the school had returned to a traditional serving line at lunch (during the pandemic, individually packaged meals were delivered to classrooms), the dining hall hadn’t shifted back to using metal cutlery. The students knew the use of plastic utensils had to be creating a lot of waste, so in October they visited the dining hall to get an idea of just how much. The third graders began by counting the number of plastic utensils that fit into the dining hall’s cutlery dispenser, then determined how many times that dispenser was filled. They were shocked to learn that the McCarthey Campus was tossing around 900 plastic forks, knives, and spoons each week.

We realized how much we were throwing away and we wanted to know why, and we wanted to change it.—Third grader Declan M.

“We realized how much we were throwing away, and we wanted to know why, and we wanted to change it,” said Declan.

And though the students were anxious to make those changes right away, Jodi knew they would need the support of campus partners, including SAGE Dining Services, Rowland Hall’s lunch provider, which she knew was probably using plastic cutlery for a reason. Jodi saw the moment as an opportunity for her class to not only understand the reasoning behind that decision, but to learn how to respectfully present their request to reverse it.

“The way you go about something is the way you’ll get lasting change,” she told the class. “You’re going to get better buy-in from everybody if you’re respectful.”

So the class began by writing persuasive letters to explain their concerns and to propose their solution, which they sent to Julia Simonsen, food service director for SAGE, in November. They received a prompt response explaining that there was indeed a reason behind the use of plastic cutlery: students had been throwing away the dining hall’s metal cutlery, as well as reusable cups and even lunch trays. This was its own problem—the dining hall simply couldn’t afford to keep replacing these items. The third graders realized that, in order to address their cutlery concerns, they would first have to tackle another waste issue. So they made Julia an offer: they would teach lower schoolers how to properly use lunchroom materials if SAGE agreed to bring them back. Julia agreed.

With their end goal in mind, the third graders jumped into making plans for educating fellow students both on the proper use of cafeteria materials and on limiting what they sent to the landfill. They knew they would have to talk to every Lower School class, so they divided into teams, with each team choosing the grades they wanted to present to and the approach they thought best for that age group, such as a slideshow, a game of Kahoot!, or a Book Creator story. They also teamed up with staff and faculty members Emily Clawson, Mary Anne Wetzel, and Collin Wolfe to create a TikTok video demonstrating these skills, which they played for every class.


Jodi Spiro's third-grade class is on a crusade to make our school more environmentally friendly, and their first stop is the dining hall. After seeing how many plastic utensils were being thrown away, the students knew they had to take action. They urged the school to bring back metal cutlery, reusable cups, and compost buckets. Even at such a young age, these students are authentically learning and making a difference not only for our school, but for the world. Great job, third graders!

♬ original sound - Rowland Hall

Rowland Hall third graders demonstrate where to discard leftover milk, how to separate trash from compostable materials (which are then used by the Lower School’s Garden Club), and where to return utensils, cups, and trays.

These class presentations were another chance for the third graders to tap into their respectful dialogue skills: they had to present their material in ways that didn’t place blame on anyone and inspired students to want to help. “We wanted to make sure everyone understood the problem,” explained Helena. “We showed them what’s been happening and what they can do.”

And the presentations made an impact. From first to fifth grade, students expressed a desire to help fix the dining hall’s dual waste problems through their daily actions. “I didn’t really know that I could actually convince people this well of what's been happening in the cafeteria,” said Declan. “It felt really good.” Fellow third graders in Matthew Collins’ and Katie Schwab’s classes even created posters to help remind students to pay attention when disposing of items on their lunch trays, which are helpful resources as students continue to build these habits.

From her perspective, Jodi was thrilled to see not only how other classes responded to her students’ hard work, but how the experience also built the students’ confidence. She said her class loved being seen as experts on a subject and answering their peers’ questions; after each presentation, they returned to the classroom beaming and asking to talk to more people. “I think it brought out parts of themselves that they probably didn’t even expect,” she said.

They learned change is slow, but change is possible, and to be persistent: just because you want something to change doesn’t mean it’s going to follow your timeline.—Jodi Spiro, third-grade teacher

It also showed them that hard work on a cause you believe in is worth it. When the reusable cutlery and cups returned to the dining hall after April break, the moment was more than just the culmination of a nearly school-year-long goal; it was a strong reminder of how young learners can help address problems that seem insurmountable—such as waste in the environment—and truly make a difference.

“It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the bigness of it,” said Jodi, “but the students learned you can start with something small and in your control, like what’s happening in our school. They learned change is slow, but change is possible, and to be persistent. Just because you want something to change doesn’t mean it’s going to follow your timeline.”

They also learned that making good choices add up and that, often, being the change you wish to see in the world starts by simply making a small decision to do something.

“Don’t be a problem starter,” summarized Jodi. “Be a problem solver.”

Ethical Education

You Belong at Rowland Hall