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

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

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

Rowland Hall Upper School students gather for a speaker series on navigating disagreement.

Disagreement is everywhere. At times it feels like it has overtaken discourse and that a civil exchange of ideas is near impossible. How are young people supposed to navigate this world?

When faced with disagreement the natural reaction is to pull back. But it is in those moments when leadership is needed most.—Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

At Rowland Hall, it is with the help of their teachers, administrators, and a bevy of special guests who are part of the recently revived Upper School Speaker Series.

The theme of this year’s series is “Leading with Impact While Navigating Disagreement.” The aim is to help students understand the importance of listening to diverse perspectives when forming opinions and to teach them to become leaders even in the face of contentious arguments.

“When faced with disagreement the natural reaction is to pull back,” said Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education. “But it is in those moments when leadership is needed most. The speakers are helping our students learn how to lead in those moments.”

English teacher Kody Partridge began the speakers series more than a decade ago as part of her 11th-grade rhetorical research project. (As was the case with many programs, the series was shelved last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Series speakers are all considered changemakers—people who recognize when positive change is needed and take action to make a difference—in their respective fields. In their presentations, they lay out for students how they have dealt with disagreements in their professions and how those disagreements have helped them grow their skill sets and reach important goals.

The series kicked off in October with Brittney Cummins, educational advisor to Utah Governor Spencer Cox. Since then, Salt Lake Tribune Executive Editor Lauren Gustus, Millcreek City Council Representative Silvia Catten, alumna and activist Dulce Horn ’20, First District Congressional Representative Blake Moore, Senate Candidate Becky Edwards, Flourish Bakery and Flourish Ventures Executive Director Rev. Aimee Altizer, and Utah Senator Derek L. Kitchen have spoken to students.

I have really enjoyed how the speakers have helped us understand the importance of implementing these dialogue tactics in our day-to-day lives.—Kaitlyn Bates, class of 2022

“Millcreek City Councilwoman Silvia Catten discussed navigating billboard controversies,” said Dr. Carolyn Hickman, English department chair, when asked to share an example of a message from this year’s series that stood out to her. “She vividly illustrated the importance of active listening and empathy building as she spoke to the challenges of building compromise at the local level.”

“She explained how she worked around conflicts to help benefit her own community; I found her tactics about how to approach the more tense situations to be super informative and engaging.” added senior Kaitlyn Bates. “I have really enjoyed how the speakers have helped us understand the importance of implementing these dialogue tactics in our day-to-day lives.”

The speaker series is a companion piece to the Deliberate Dialogue skill set taught throughout the Upper School curriculum. These skills, defined early in the year so that students can develop an awareness of when to use them, include:

  • Open-Mindedness: I am open to learning about the lives, values, and beliefs of others.

  • Listening: I can reflect what the other person is saying.

  • Speaking: I can speak for myself and not on the behalf of others.

  • Responding: I am able to respond empathetically to others.

  • Reflecting: I can find differences as well as similarities between my life, values, and beliefs, and those of others.

“Collaboration is messy. We want students to know that conflict can be productive and when that mess is managed you get the best outcomes,” said Ryan. “This not only helps prepare them for college, but for the world at large.”

Ethical Education

A painting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hangs on a wall in Rowland Hall's Middle School
Beloved Community Photo Gallery

This week, Rowland Hall celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy by focusing on the ways we can build a beloved community—a trusting, loving place where all people feel welcome and where individuals unite across differences.

Because each person in a community plays a role in realizing this vision, Rowland Hall dedicated the week surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Day to a series of events and conversations designed to prompt reflection and foster solidarity towards action. 

"Students across the lower, middle, and upper schools were able to collectively engage in a program called Beloved@RowlandHall,” said Dr. Chandani Patel, director of equity and inclusion. “The interconnected program focused on Dr. King's idea of the beloved community, one that leads with love, understanding, and solidarity. Beloved@RowlandHall helped remind students that each of them holds the potential and responsibility to be a changemaker and that each of them is a valued and integral member of our beloved community."

Beloved@RowlandHall helped remind students that each of them holds the potential and responsibility to be a changemaker and that each of them is a valued and integral member of our beloved community.—Dr. Chandani Patel, director of equity and inclusion

On January 14, middle and upper schoolers had the opportunity to view the Brolly Arts film Beloved Community, a documentary featuring some of Utah’s civil rights leaders, and enjoy a performance by Utah’s Hip Hop Education and Resource Center—activities that, Dr. Patel explained, allowed them “to interrogate the power of storytelling through multiple methods towards a shared goal of recognition—of ourselves, each other, and our community.” Students then created artifacts depicting what they need from one another to feel beloved and how they can help build a community in which each member feels valued, integral, and beloved.

At Lower School’s annual Changemaker Chapel, held on January 18, students continued this practice of creating their own reflective artifacts, as well as learned from dancer and educator Ursula Perry, who performed a piece for students and “elicited their reflections about Dr. King, movement, stories, and each of their hopes for the world,” said Dr. Patel.

In addition to student events, Rowland Hall celebrated Dr. King’s legacy with a virtual evening of dialogue for all members of the school community. After viewing Beloved Community, participants had the chance to engage in a Q&A session featuring the Rev. France Davis, pastor emeritus, Calvary Baptist Church; Marian D. Howe-Taylor, communication and media outreach manager, Salt Lake Community College, and co-creator, Black Social Change Utah; Ursula Perry, dancer, Repertory Dance Theatre; and Amy MacDonald, director and founder, Brolly Arts.

Thank you to all members of the Rowland Hall community for your thoughtful participation this week and for the steps you are taking to shape our beloved community. As you continue on your own personal journey, we invite you to view educational material related to Brolly Arts’ current project, Black Social Change Utah 2.0. Also, keep an eye on our diversity, equity, and inclusion web page, where we’ll continue to announce upcoming evenings of dialogue.

Equity & Inclusion

Rowland Hall Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Chandani Patel with students in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Chandani Patel wasn’t looking for a new job when she learned that Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City was searching for its first director of equity and inclusion. But when a recruiter sent her the posting, she found her interest piqued.

At the time, Dr. Patel was director for global diversity education at New York University, a challenging and rewarding role that she had no immediate plans to vacate. However, as she read Rowland Hall’s position statement, Dr. Patel was surprised to find herself contemplating a move: not only did Rowland Hall demonstrate a long-term commitment to the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work she’s dedicated her career to, but the school greatly emphasized community—a value that had risen in importance to her family after nearly a year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the New Jersey/New York area, we did not have much community at all, really, because we were far from our workplaces—everyone commutes,” explained Dr. Patel. “The pandemic really shifted our priorities. We didn't feel embedded in a community, and we really wanted that.”

As Dr. Patel and her husband, English teacher Dr. Brady Smith, discussed the Rowland Hall opportunity, they realized that Salt Lake City may be just the place to grow the community connections they craved, both for themselves and for their young daughter, Aashna, then four years old. The location worked both personally—Dr. Patel already had a sister in Salt Lake, her parents were willing to relocate, and Brady’s parents live in nearby Colorado—and professionally: Salt Lake’s size and growth opportunities, including the ability to build partnerships in the DEI space, greatly appealed to the two academics-turned-educators. Furthermore, Rowland Hall serves a student population that, after more than a decade in higher education, Dr. Patel felt pulled toward.

“I had been thinking about transitioning to PreK–12 education for a couple of years,” she said, “because I was starting to see key challenges in higher education: a lot of the unlearning that folks were engaged in as adult learners needed to have happened a little earlier in their lives.” In other words, Dr. Patel had been observing students entering college classrooms with little to no experience engaging with those whose backgrounds or beliefs differ from their own, and it had become clear to her that students need earlier opportunities to practice navigating conflict and building trust across their differences.

“The world is, in many ways, super interconnected, yet we continue to be siloed; we continue to see patterns of kids only hanging out with kids who look like them or like the same things,” explained Dr. Patel. “Research backs this up, even from—or maybe especially from—a racial identity standpoint.”

School Today: What’s It For?

As Rowland Hall’s inaugural director of equity and inclusion, Dr. Patel is now playing a role in building the collaboration skills that today’s students will need in college classrooms and beyond. But even though preparing students to respectfully handle tough conversations, particularly with those who have differing opinions, in today’s world is of vital importance, she explained, it still often isn’t a priority in PreK–12 schools.

“In many schools, those are not the skills educators are explicitly talking about or helping students learn,” said Dr. Patel, “yet in every single industry, the first thing that any hiring committee will ask about is collaboration skills or a time you encountered and navigated a conflict.”

And employers need staff members who work well with others. Many cite so-called soft skills—such as teamwork and collaboration, leadership, critical thinking, and communication—as areas they most desire in new hires. And it isn’t just day-to-day business tasks that benefit from these skills; the most pressing problems we now face—the ones today’s students will help find solutions to, including inequality, climate change, and a global pandemic—can only be solved by coming together.

“Students have inherited a whole lot of problems that require really creative and out-of-the-box solutions; we have to imagine different possibilities to build a different and better world,” said Dr. Patel. PreK–12 schools offer ideal environments in which students can safely learn how to build relationships, practice collaboration, and navigate conflict—which, Dr. Patel pointed out, is a helpful life tool.

Schools are now the places where students should acquire and practice human-centered skills that machines can’t replicate—like teamwork, curiosity, judgment, and creativity—and where they learn what to do with all the information available at their fingertips.

“We need to help students understand that when conflict arises, you don't back away from it but embrace it, so that you can learn something new—maybe about yourself, maybe about the other person, maybe about that issue, maybe about the world,” she explained. “If that process can happen at a younger age, then we have many more opportunities for students to practice, and to understand how to work across their differences.”

For some, this can be an unfamiliar perspective: we haven’t often thought of PreK–12 schools in that way. But just as twenty-first century employers have been rethinking the skills employees need to succeed, so too should educators be rethinking the role twenty-first century schools play in student success.

“School is no longer a place to just learn facts and information—we have that available to us on the internet,” said Dr. Patel. Instead, she explained, schools are now the places where students should acquire and practice human-centered skills that machines can’t replicate—like teamwork, curiosity, judgment, and creativity—and where they learn what to do with all the information available at their fingertips.

Dr. Chandani Patel with a student in her Salt Lake City Lincoln Street Campus office.

Dr. Patel's role allows her to focus on helping Rowland Hall students learn how to thrive and connect in our rapidly changing and diverse world. “We need to embrace our differences and know that we're not always going to agree exactly on an issue,” she said. “But, together, we can make the world a different place, a better place for all of us.”

Creating Student Leaders

For a DEI professional like Dr. Patel, refocusing the role schools play as we look to the future is important in enhancing students’ learning experiences, especially as they participate in current conversations around equity and inclusion. By emphasizing human-centered skills alongside traditional academic subjects, students are better able to see the humanity behind their studies, building a stronger understanding of our collective history and how it shaped, and shapes, our daily lives. Examining diverse lived experiences in an English class, for instance, or learning about the contributions of historically underrepresented groups to the sciences helps students understand cultural contexts, while engaging in classroom discussions helps students learn to express themselves, make connections, and practice respectful disagreement.

By emphasizing human-centered skills alongside traditional academic subjects, students are better able to see the humanity behind their studies, building a stronger understanding of our collective history and how it shaped, and shapes, our daily lives.

“It’s important for them to recognize that even if we have a lot of shared experiences and shared identities, we're still not going to always agree—and that's not a bad thing: that means you always have something to learn from each other,” said Dr. Patel. This applies to educators, too, who help solidify these skills by modeling what it means to learn from others. “My goal,” said Dr. Patel, “is to help students learn how to facilitate conversations, navigate conflict, and build a collaborative process.”

Importantly, this focus on building human-centered skills in the classroom should be viewed as an enhancement to learning—not something that comes at the expense of the academic rigor we expect from schools—because it enriches learning, helping to develop lifelong thinkers who can ask thoughtful questions to build their understanding of the world, their place in it, and their role in creating knowledge and change.

“Our students want to have hard conversations, and we want them to have the tools to ask questions of the world,” explained Dr. Patel. “We're not in the business of making any student feel bad or responsible for something that's way bigger than them—that is not how learning happens. The goal is to give students tools to ask questions around why things are the way they are and how they might be different in the future so that everyone can thrive.”

These actions benefit students in other ways too: as we emphasize human-centered skills, we show the value of all lived experiences, giving students a deeper sense of belonging to their school communities. And as they feel that belonging—and their confidence grows—students are more likely to speak up, to take action, and to believe in their own ability to make change.

“I'm really invested in the idea that every single one of our students is a leader,” said Dr. Patel. “And we need to cultivate that sense of leadership.”

Dr. Chandani Patel with a group of Salt Lake City high school students.

Dr. Patel's office on the Lincoln Street Campus supports student growth too: she views it as a community space where students can gather to practice connection and leadership skills, or simply hang out or do homework. “Space is really important, especially for students who don't feel well-represented,” she explained. “It's a huge part of how they come to think about school.” 

Looking Ahead

For Dr. Patel, building leaders doesn’t stop at students—in fact, she said, one of the most exciting things about joining Rowland Hall is discovering the community’s collective commitment toward lifelong learning and making the school a welcoming place for all.

Rowland Hall has been doing this for over a decade. This is a community that really does care for each other, that really does want to do the hard work, because everyone is in the space of wanting to learn.—Dr. Chandani Patel, director of equity and inclusion

“Rowland Hall has been doing this for over a decade,” said Dr. Patel. “This is a community that really does care for each other, that really does want to do the hard work, because everyone is in the space of wanting to learn.”

As she continues to settle into the school community—now her family’s community—Dr. Patel is committed to involving all stakeholders, including families, in supporting their students as well as in navigating their own learning journeys, and she’ll be engaging various groups in conversation to identify the top challenges, opportunities, and questions that will inform Rowland Hall’s DEI work in the coming years.

“I'm invested in learning from a diverse array of folks,” she said.

And because Dr. Patel knows that it will take time to get to know the entire community, she’s also committed to providing ongoing updates on what she’s learning and what families can expect from her, beginning with a community forum tentatively scheduled for February.

“I want to talk with the community about what I'm learning, answer questions, and really make sure the work that I'm doing is transparent. This is not work done in secret; it’s shared work that is always going to be important to talk about and make visible,” said Dr. Patel with a smile. “There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, and we have a really great opportunity to build on that momentum.”

Equity & Inclusion

You Belong at Rowland Hall