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Open Hearts & Open Minds

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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.

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 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.

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

Beginning School Students Identify

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.

Read more: Ethical education in the Beginning School

Lower School Students Recognize

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.

Read more: Ethical education in the Lower School

Middle School Students Practice

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.

Read more: Ethical education in the Middle School

Upper School Students Live

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. Through Project Action, a graduation requirement, upper schoolers become community builders. 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.

Read more: Ethical education in the Upper School

Embracing Inclusion & Equity in Our Community

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.

Read more: Inclusion & Equity

Guest Speakers

A variety of guest speakers visit Rowland Hall to engage students with personal and professional stories of how one lives an ethical life.

Read more: Guest Speakers

Our Sustainable School

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.

Read more: Sustainability

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

At the Intersection of Homelessness, Healthcare, and Humanity

Rowland Hall alumnus Jeff Norris lives his purpose treating and advocating for underserved populations as the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego When Jeff Norris ’03 applied to medical school, the admissions office at the University of Utah called him in for a rare second interview. He had submitted a personal statement focused on the connection between medicine, public health, and social justice, and that intersectional approach raised some eyebrows.
Admissions officers asked Jeff if he was sure he wanted to go to medical school, and not study public health or social work. But he assured them: he knew he wanted to be a clinician who worked with, and advocated for, underserved populations.

Jeff credited Rowland Hall with launching his career trajectory. In high school, under the mentorship of then-faculty member Liz Paige, he volunteered with Amnesty International and prepared and served food at local youth groups. The positive experience of serving others and making an impact—and relevant content in history and psychology courses—got the wheels turning in Jeff’s brain: “I started reflecting on my role in the world and how I could try to do something to make a difference for others. What is my purpose for being here?”

Jeff's self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success.

The service and activism Jeff began at Rowland Hall carried through his years as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as a med student at the University of Utah, and as a family medicine resident at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success: in 2016, Jeff became the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages, an award-winning nonprofit that provides integrated services to people experiencing homelessness in San Diego.
Jeff’s day-to-day work requires a breadth of skill, knowledge, and tenacity: he estimates he spends about 40 percent of his time treating patients and the other 60 percent engaged in clinic administration, fundraising, and advocacy—including ensuring that state and federal legislation supports nonprofits like his. He serves on a number of boards, including a large network of clinics with over 100,000 patients in the San Diego area. For Jeff, it’s about more than staying connected and representing the interests of Father Joe’s Villages. “It is being present in the community to advocate for the needs of not just those experiencing homelessness, but underserved populations more broadly.”

At the clinic he leads—which serves walk-ins along with residents of Father Joe’s Villages and people receiving assistance from other local agencies—Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health. “The challenges our patients face are pretty unique, compared to most patient populations,” he said. “Their lives are very chaotic, and they have a lot going on medically, psychiatrically, behaviorally, socially…in all senses.” A significant portion of his time is spent managing programs to deliver medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD)—drugs such as buprenorphine (suboxone) or naltrexone—and for alcohol abuse. 

At the clinic he leads, Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health.

Among the most recent and cutting-edge programs Jeff and his team at Father Joe’s Villages are running is the Street Health Program, which launched this spring and is already impacting lives for the better. As the name suggests, the initiative involves going out into the streets and providing healthcare directly to people experiencing homelessness. So far, they’ve reached a number of people who’ve avoided or been underserved by traditional healthcare. One example: a man who had been using heroin for 30 years and had never before been interested in treatment. Pending a grant, the street health team hopes to treat patients with OUD at the first point of contact. In the meantime, they wrote a prescription for this particular patient because, as Jeff said, “it was the right thing to do.”
One of the long-term goals of the Street Health Program is to develop rapport with individuals so that they will visit the clinic for treatment. Additionally, the launch has created quite a buzz throughout San Diego, so Jeff hopes other clinics and treatment centers will consider similar programs (which do already exist in other large metropolitan areas like New York and San Francisco). “It can’t just be us,” he said. “There are enough folks experiencing homelessness that we certainly cannot meet the need unilaterally.”
Jeff is rightly proud of his advocacy work and the impact his clinic makes on a daily basis, and he speaks passionately of the need for everyone to recognize the homelessness crisis—not just in San Diego, but also in Salt Lake City and urban areas throughout the country. While rising housing costs and relatively stagnant wages are the two primary drivers of the problem, Jeff doesn’t discount the power of the individual to make a difference, whether through volunteering, donating goods, or elevating the dialogue to fight the stigma against those experiencing homelessness.
When he’s not working, Jeff stays active outdoors, taking advantage of all that San Diego’s famously temperate climate has to offer. He also prioritizes time with his family: two-year-old daughter Alex keeps Jeff and wife Sonia Ponce—a practicing cardiologist—quite busy.
Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion. It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare. —Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund is not at all surprised that Jeff is making a difference in the lives of others. He recalled how, as a high school student, Jeff was always highly engaged and motivated to serve, often being the last to leave a volunteer event. “Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion,” Ryan said. “It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare.”

Just as Jeff credited Rowland Hall for sparking his interest in a life of service to others, Mr. Hoglund credited Jeff for setting an example of genuine student leadership at the school. And, to the student leaders today, Jeff sent these words of encouragement: “Figure out what gives you energy and makes you feel like you're contributing to the world in some positive way, then grab that bull by the horns and don’t let go of it. That’s where you're going to be able to make a difference, to be satisfied with who you are and what you're doing in this world.”

All photos courtesy of Father Joe's Villages.


Student leans on lockers in hallway.

Sophomore Katy Dark’s family immigrated to Salt Lake City from Argentina when she was a toddler, but the bilingual student still seamlessly slides into her first language on a dime—like when she greets her abuela visiting Rowland Hall for Grandparents Day, or when she volunteers for the after-school coding club she founded at Dual Immersion Academy (DIA).

In February, Katy won a President's Volunteer Service Award for her work at DIA, among other efforts. The sophomore earned the gold-level award for 2018, meaning she volunteered over 250 hours in one year. She’s the first Rowland Hall student to win this national award in over a decade, according to Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund.

Katy was surprised by the distinction but grateful to Rowland Hall—her invaluable experiences here inspired her to help DIA after they lost funding for computer science this school year. “Rowland Hall opened up a lot of possibilities for me,” Katy said, “and I know that coding can give DIA students new opportunities.”

Katy has accomplished much in the past few years, with help from the Rowland Hall community. That's part of why she’s now paying it forward to DIA students. “As a Latina, I don’t get all these opportunities normally,” she said. “I wanted to be able to even the playing field.”

Katy, a Patricia C. Brim Memorial Scholar who’s been here since sixth grade, has had an especially remarkable few years. In March, she won an Aspirations in Computing regional honorable mention. She’s only a sophomore, and she said she already has a scholarship offer from a local college. Also this year, she traveled to Costa Rica for interim and to Southern Utah, Nashville, and Portland for student diversity and leadership retreats. Last summer, she interned with the National Security Agency, and the summer before that she studied criminology and computer science at the University of Cambridge in England. She did all these things, she said, with help from the Rowland Hall community, which is part of why she’s now paying it forward to DIA students. “As a Latina, I don’t get all these opportunities normally,” Katy said. “I wanted to be able to even the playing field.” The DIA coding club has taken a lot of work, she said, but she’s invested in the community and up for the challenge.

The sophomore has remained fluent in Spanish thanks in part to attending DIA for elementary school. Her mom, Patricia Dark—one of DIA’s co-founders—enrolled Katy and older sister Elli (now a Rowland Hall senior) in the bilingual academy to keep their language skills sharp. When Katy left DIA she kept close ties, volunteering after school and on weekdays when Rowland Hall wasn’t in session.

DIA has about 500 students total in kindergarten through eighth grade, and they take classes in English and Spanish: the academy prepares students to become “bilingual, bi-literate, and bicultural while developing the tools to be successful in higher education, the workforce and in life,” according to their mission. It’s a Title One school where about 98% of students (compared to about 57% of Salt Lake City School District students) come from economically disadvantaged families and qualify for free or discounted school lunch.

After hearing about DIA’s funding cuts, Katy—a passionate computer science student who’s already laser-focused on pursuing a career in the field—sprang into action and started the coding club. She spends her weekends planning lessons, which she delivers Tuesdays from 3 to 5:30 pm—except in spring when she golfs for Rowland Hall and friend Alex Armknecht, a junior, subs for her. Katy has taught her 22 club members about programming basics using kid-friendly sources such as Hour of Code and Scratch. She’s also gotten to know the kids, tailored her approach based on their levels of comfort with the material, invited them to community coding events, helped them with non-computing schoolwork, and served as a mentor. “These kids are incredible,” Katy wrote in an essay about her volunteerism, “and they can do so much more than most people realize.” She said she hopes the club encourages DIA students to take computer science in high school, and ultimately, college.

Katy is self-motivated and didn’t necessarily expect recognition for her service, but teachers agree the national distinction is deserved. “Katy is incredibly dedicated to computer science,” said Ben Smith, her AP Computer Science teacher. The coding club was entirely her idea, he added. “I gave her some advice, but she really took off on her own.”

Katy also runs Rowland Hall’s Latinx affinity group, has volunteered with the Rotary Club, and has been “a tireless contributor to her community,” according to Ryan. “Katy sets a clear bar amongst her peers about the importance of giving back,” the ethical education director said, “and not waiting for an opportunity to arise, but instead creating those opportunities where she sees them.”


Portrait of a Gap Year: Work, Activism, Writing, Self-Care, and Self-Discovery

Editor’s note: Gap years have long been common in Europe, and they’re on the rise in the US. So what happens when a high-achieving Rowland Hall alum takes a break from the classroom? Read on for our 2018 co-valedictorian’s account.

By Allie Zehner ’18

Ever since middle school, I had my life all planned out: graduate from high school, launch straight into college, graduate from college, and immediately enter grad school or a career. Straying from this pin-straight path didn’t seem like an option; however, here I am, writing this piece at the end of my gap year.

At the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging.

Looking back, I don’t remember the exact moment I said, “Hey, mom and dad, I’m taking a year between high school and college.” Because this option did not pop up on my radar until eleventh grade, the only way to describe my decision is as the perfect collision of four distinct circumstances. First: at the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging. Second: in the fall of my senior year, my family hosted two young women, Priya and Winona, who were in the middle of taking gap years to travel the country, interview people about their intersectional identities, and write a book on racial literacy. Third: I met Abby Falik, the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, an organization dedicated to making bridge years between high school and university a socially acceptable norm. Fourth: after continuously pushing myself throughout high school and becoming co-valedictorian, I was afraid of burning out. 

So, I committed to Barnard College of Columbia University in New York last spring and asked for a deferral of admission, elucidating my gap year plans. Barnard approved my request, I filled out a one-page form, and just like that, I was taking a gap year. 

And so the year began.

In the summer, I worked part-time jobs and saved some money.

In the fall, I worked with Sonita Alizadeh (pictured top, right, being interviewed by Allie at a Surefire conference), a young activist who uses music as a tool to catalyze social change, particularly looking to end the detrimental traditional practice of child marriage. Through my work with her and a nonprofit, Strongheart Group, I conducted research, interviewed young activists from around the world, and traveled to the United Nations Foundation’s Social Good Summit in New York City. 

In the winter, I started focusing on curating a book about the next generation of young women. Formatted as a collection of essays, I will write about half of the chapters and other teen girls will write the rest. From omnipresent social media to an extremely divided political climate to gun violence, this book will speak to the most pressing, serious issues my generation is facing on our journey to adulthood. Learning through doing, I taught myself how to write a book proposal, draft a query letter, reach out to agents, and build a website. 

In the spring, I was extremely fortunate to travel to Colombia, where I used my Spanish (gracias, Señor Burnett), attended a women’s conference, and shadowed an incredible nonprofit, Juanfe, that works with teen moms in Cartagena. And, coincidentally, I met another teen who is taking a gap year to live in South American cities, work, become fluent in Spanish, and volunteer. I have also spent the spring loving (pretty much) every second of learning how to write a book. 

The other key aspect of this year is that, having struggled with a chronic illness since the seventh grade, I made time to see doctors and get necessary testing. While I still do not know the root cause of my health issues, I am better equipped to manage my symptoms and look after my own well being: two things I did not prioritize in middle and high school.

And that is my gap year in a nutshell. 

Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

Let me just say that taking this year and venturing from the extremely narrow life path I had envisioned has been one of my best decisions. From around the time I could walk, I was in school five days a week, seven hours a day. For 15 years, being a student was absolutely core to my identity. Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

I will be attending university this fall. Contrary to what is sometimes believed about gap years, I will be going back to school with an immensely stronger sense of self, more direction, and a readiness to return to the classroom. I could not be more ecstatic to finish my book throughout freshman year and continue to grow as a person.

Gap years are not for everyone, but they should be considered a viable alternative to going straight to college. My hope is that society recognizes the immense possibilities bridge years can hold.


Student in traditional Islamic dress gestures toward a pot.

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.

World Studies

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