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.
As red and blue maps and graphs coated the screens of news websites Tuesday, the Upper School used their virtual monthly chapel to share hopeful, nonpartisan research and reflections about election day.
The speakers—several upper schoolers, Harvard senior and Rowland Hall alum Will Matheson ’17, and Interfaith Chaplain Jeremy Innis—also encouraged students to participate in our democracy by, for instance, voting when they turn 18. And throughout the heartening half hour, Jeremy, Will, and the student presenters touched on a central idea: especially when tensions are high, remain kind and respectful, and work to build trust and dialogue with others.
“I hope that you can find some wisdom here, some hope and compassion, and that we can think as a community about how to move through this week gracefully and thoughtfully,” Jeremy said as he kicked off the virtual event.
Scrutinize the information you see on social media and the news. There will be competing media narratives about what's happening and who won. Your job is to educate yourself.—Senior Alex Hodson
Seniors Augustus Hickman, Alex Hodson, and Katie Kern presented first. As students in Mike Shackelford’s political science class, they’re learning about the societal and institutional forces—as opposed to the individual candidates or choices—that affect election results. Drawing from that practical foundation, they offered level-headed insights: “Brace yourself. It's OK that we don't know immediately,” Alex said, referring to the election results. Let the system run its course, she added. “Second, scrutinize the information you see on social media and the news. There will be competing media narratives about what's happening and who won. Your job is to educate yourself.”
Next, alum Will Matheson—a Harvard senior studying government with a secondary concentration in economics—presented an overview of his work as a research team lead working on the Harvard Youth Poll. Will reassured upper schoolers that Americans aged 18–29 are more alike than it might seem: a majority of the young Democrats and Republicans surveyed, for example, want the government to do more to address health care issues, mental health services, and the economic consequences of the pandemic. Young Americans are also highly engaged right now and may have voted at record levels in this election.
Previous generations that rose to the challenges that faced them did so not by pointing a finger, but by extending an open hand, and Rowland Hall actually does a great job at instilling these qualities and skills involved.—Alum Will Matheson ’17
So what can Rowland Hall students do with this information, especially considering most can’t vote yet? Will—who fittingly co-wrote a CNN op-ed back in June entitled “Dear Gen Z, don't give up on America just yet”—encouraged students to vote in every election they can, from age 18 onwards. “The system has to be impacted by youth over time to make progress on those issues,” he said, referring to the shared priorities revealed in the Harvard Youth Poll, “so turning out in every election at every level of government matters.”
Second—less concrete but no less important, Will said—he asked students to become the best citizens they can be. “Previous generations that rose to the challenges that faced them did so not by pointing a finger, but by extending an open hand, and Rowland Hall actually does a great job at instilling these qualities and skills involved,” he said. “We need to embody qualities like curiosity, empathy, and humility to admit when we are wrong...It requires hard skills like being a smart media consumer, but also soft skills like being able to talk to people that you might not agree with. Once we've done that, only then can we begin to really heal our civic culture.” Only in trial is progress possible, Will closed. “It requires all of us, with big hearts and open minds.”
At Rowland Hall’s September 4 all-school Convocation, alumna Charis Benjamin ’12 reminded students, “How you engage with others and interact with your peers matters.”
“We’re not only building our own confidence in our lives, but we also have an opportunity to help build the confidence of our peers,” she told them. “The gift that we give each other is the chance to interact with others and help each other be our best selves.”
We’re not only building our own confidence in our lives, but we also have an opportunity to help build the confidence of our peers.—Charis Benjamin ’12
As the 2020 alumni speaker for Convocation, Charis was asked to join other speakers—including Head of School Mick Gee, Chaplain Jeremy Innis, and Student Body President Maddy Frech—to reflect on the theme Welcome Everyone. She used this opportunity to think back on her nine years at Rowland Hall, weaving stories of her own experience into her speech to illustrate the power of relationship and spoken words in a learning community.
“Our interactions matter—we’re constantly learning from each other,” Charis said when asked about why she chose to focus her speech on peer-driven confidence-building. She wanted to show students of all ages that they have the power to encourage others simply by being a friend—something that everyone can relate to. “Building elements of confidence or using your words kindly is universal for young or older learners,” she said.
And because she knows that students often hear about people clashing over differences, she also wanted to use her experiences to encourage them to build space for others’ uniqueness—to embrace, rather than fear or avoid discussing, differences. “We have to spend time celebrating differences,” she said. Charis further noted that Rowland Hall’s size benefits kids who are getting comfortable with these skills: “At Rowland Hall, you get a chance to have a smaller group of peers. You can spend time asking unique questions to get to know the people around you.”
Charis knows firsthand the benefits of peer confidence-boosting—how it spreads beyond the individuals who feel safe and welcomed to classrooms, where students take risks and engage in deeper learning. This builds skills they then take into their adult lives. “How engaged you are in the classroom impacts how comfortable you feel to speak up,” she said. “The space that you spend a lot of time in helps cultivate how you move through the world.”
Charis’ experience illustrates just how far this confidence can take students—and how it prepares them to continue living with a community-minded focus. Since graduating from Rowland Hall, Charis has studied how to make individuals and communities healthier, first earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and society from Cornell University in 2016, then a master of public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2019. While earning those degrees, she also worked as a research assistant, a graduate PHASE intern, and a program administrator—opportunities that, she explained, helped her “really understand some of the big-picture issues” around public health. In August, Charis began the newest chapter of her journey, entering the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health as a first-year medical student.
Charis can readily call up memories of Upper School teachers who prepared her to grapple with real-world problems and to think beyond herself: In Doug Wortham’s French class, she learned how to be uncomfortable and to have empathy for others learning a new language. In Carolyn Hickman’s English class, she learned that reading comprehension skills go far beyond texts. And in Ryan Hoglund’s ethical learning class, she took part in life-changing group discussions around ethical dilemmas.
As a physician-in-training with a background in epidemiology during the time of COVID-19, Charis is confronted with challenging questions every day—but she stressed that she feels prepared to take them on, thanks in large part to the confidence she built at Rowland Hall, which she credits for true friendships and her first encounters with “big questions, and how we tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.” Charis can readily call up memories of Upper School teachers who prepared her to grapple with real-world problems and to think beyond herself: In Doug Wortham’s French class, she learned how to be uncomfortable and to have empathy for others learning a new language. In Carolyn Hickman’s English class, she learned that reading comprehension skills go far beyond texts—in her case, preparing her to ask the right questions to diagnose illnesses in patients (“Reading comprehension really is life comprehension,” she pointed out). And in Ryan Hoglund’s ethical learning class, she took part in life-changing group discussions around ethical dilemmas.
“Most prompts did not have one clear, correct answer—and that’s the point,” Charis said. “Getting comfortable with ambiguity at the high school age is important, because in life you’re going to have gray areas.” This is especially true in her line of work. “Right now with coronavirus we have a lot of questions,” she continued. “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” But being comfortable in the gray area keeps scientists like her moving forward, looking for ways to fight the pandemic as well as to protect communities—global examples of the kind of community-building that takes place daily at schools like Rowland Hall.
“Charis is a keen reminder that Rowland Hall graduates are community builders long after they leave this community,” said Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund. “Listening to Charis' inspiring speech, I hope we all can understand the importance of taking care of each other in a community and recognize how interdependent we really are. Her reminder that our sense of self-worth and confidence is co-created by our peers and mentors speaks to the importance of little moments when we can show greater patience, compassion, and curiosity to each other. Taking the time to see ourselves as caretakers for each other is critical to our own well-being and to the well-being of the communities we rely upon.”
Banner photo: Charis on the campus of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. As a first-year medical student, Charis is continuing on her journey to make individuals and communities healthier. Photo courtesy Charis Benjamin.
Since 2016, the schools and families of Utah’s Navajo Nation communities in Bluff and Montezuma Creek have graciously embraced teaching and connecting with Rowland Hall students and faculty during Upper School Interim and beyond.
They’ve invited us into their homes, shared their traditions, and even traveled to our school for race-relations workshops, strengthening our nation-to-nation ties. In the wake of COVID-19, Rowland Hall finally had a chance to give back. Our students, families, and dozens of alumni affiliated with Navajo Nation projects in past years rallied to collect three truckloads of resources for hard-hit Navajo families and schools.
Donations included 68 art kits for elementary-aged kids, enough art supplies to cover curriculum needs for all Whitehorse middle and high schoolers, 52 gift certificates, 200 homemade masks, five donation checks, and various household items—from toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, to cleaning supplies and pet food.
In mid-May, a small-but-mighty contingency of Rowland Hall folks made the trek down to Bluff: Director of Arts Sofa Gorder and her children, Jules Framme (fourth grade) and Solenne Framme (kindergarten); Director of Community Programs Allison Spehar and her daughter, Chiyoko Spehar (eighth grade); and alum Yuan Oliver Jin ’18. The group met administrators from local schools and the executive director of We Are Navajo, and they worked together to sort through every single donation and help get it to the best place. Donations included 68 art kits for elementary-aged kids, enough art supplies to cover curriculum needs for all Whitehorse middle and high schoolers, 52 gift certificates, 200 homemade masks, five donation checks, and various household items—from toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, to cleaning supplies and pet food. In addition to We Are Navajo and the White Horse students, donations went to the Rural Utah Project and to emergency medical technicians volunteering in Bluff.
Junior Elena Barker had been eager to visit the Navajo Nation for Interim this spring—she would’ve worked on art projects with kindergarteners. After the pandemic hit, she and her family sprang into action, donating art supplies for kids and gift cards to help Navajo seniors attend summer programs at a college in Price. “I wanted whatever we did to make kids smile,” Elena said, “or allow kids to explore different aspects of education that they are interested in.”
Sofia and Allison gave a sincere shoutout to the approximately 100 community members like Elena who put hard and fast work into making this happen. “Our effort does not go unnoticed,” Allison said. “There is so much gratitude from our partners on the Navajo Nation. And, in reality, it barely scratches the surface of the kind of support this community deserves as a part of our state and country.” The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and magnified institutional inequities, Sofia explained. “While there is so much more work to be done, this very moment is one that shows the true utility in authentic partnerships between communities that are vastly different, but that share boundaries.”
While there is so much more work to be done, this very moment is one that shows the true utility in authentic partnerships between communities that are vastly different, but that share boundaries.—Director of Arts Sofa Gorder
Junior Katie Kern—who visited the Navajo Nation for Interim in 2019 and would’ve gone again this year—echoed Allison and Sofia’s sentiments. “The people that I met in the Navajo Nation are simply good people who don't deserve what is going on right now,” Katie said, recalling how she loved dancing with the middle schoolers there, and meeting fellow high schoolers. “When good people go through something like this and resources become scarce, people need to come together and do what they can to provide some comfort.”
And we were able to provide some comfort, Sofia reiterated, due to our several years spent building trust and relationships. “Without these relationships, I am almost positive we would have seen less effort from our current and past students, and much less efficiency in getting the collected supplies to the right places and to the right people in a timely manner.”
Allison and Sofia gave a special thanks to the following community members who helped to make this happen through work and donations: Middle School Administrative Assistant Andrea Beckman; Brian, Karey, and Elena Barker; Martin, Krista, and Katie Kern; junior Samantha Paisley; parent Jacqueline Wittmeyer; Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson and family; and Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund.
Senior social justice advocate Dulce Maria Horn feels an innate pull to help the Latinx community, and in her stirring words, to ultimately “change the policies which entrap the comunidad I love so dearly.”
This deep passion to spur change has put Dulce on a seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory—and one that’s further bolstered by an impressive series of scholarship awards this spring.
In April, Dulce learned she’d won the Rotary Club of Salt Lake City’s $5,000 scholarship, which Rotarians give to one senior from each Salt Lake City high school. In addition to the Rotary honor, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah announced in May that Dulce (along with senior classmate Ria Agarwal) won a $3,500 Youth Activist Scholarship for 2020. The senior also won a John Greenleaf Whittier Scholarship from Whittier College, where she plans to major in global and cultural studies starting in the fall. Whittier will be a crucial step toward Dulce’s longer-term goal: becoming an immigration lawyer and working with unaccompanied, undocumented minors to provide emotional and legal support.
In the above ACLU Utah video, Dulce explains what being a civil liberties activist means to her: using the power that we have "to fight for all rights, for all humans, regardless of any barriers."
The work that I do helps me to feel that I am actualizing the justice immigrants deserve, due to the fact that we are a historically and continually marginalized community.
Dulce is Latina and bilingual, and her life story is central to her work: she was adopted and came to Salt Lake City from Guatemala at six months old. She grew up in what she called a predominantly White, upper-middle-class world, and from a young age, she’s used her advantages to help others: “Due to my relative privilege and outlook on life, I pressure myself to support my family and community,” Dulce wrote in her Rotary essay. “The work that I do helps me to feel that I am actualizing the justice immigrants deserve, due to the fact that we are a historically and continually marginalized community.”
The Rowland Hall lifer developed an activist mindset early on: she was only eight years old when she started volunteering for Safe Passage, a nonprofit that aids families who are making a living from Guatemala City’s garbage dump. In eighth grade she volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, helping Spanish-speaking adults learn English. And in 2018, she began volunteering for immigrant rights nonprofit Comunidades Unidas (CU), where she’s worked on Latinx community empowerment—including voter registration—and accrued several awards for her efforts. Accolades aside, Dulce finds the greatest rewards in the work itself: in the people she meets, and the progress she makes.
Through her work, Dulce met Vicky Chavez—an undocumented mother entering sanctuary with her two daughters. An unbreakable bond ensued. “Vicky’s daughters are no longer clients or friends; they are my sisters."
One anecdote is particularly emblematic of what drives Dulce. In 2018, through her work on deportation cases with the SLC Sanctuary Network, Dulce met Vicky Chavez—an undocumented mother entering sanctuary with her two daughters. Since Dulce is especially interested in helping children, she opted to work with Vicky’s kids. An unbreakable bond ensued. “Vicky’s daughters are no longer clients or friends; they are my sisters,” Dulce wrote in her Rotary essay. “Immigrants deserve fair and just laws and regulations that uplift rather than harm. No Ban. No Wall. No Remain in Mexico. No Separación.”
Rowland Hall Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund praised Dulce’s breadth of work and, in the case of the Rotary scholarship, explained what gave her an edge in an impressive applicant pool. “Dulce's engagement with the asylum-seeking community in Salt Lake expands the definition of service to include community activism. The Rotarians were so impressed by Dulce embracing an ethic of inclusion and working tirelessly on an issue from many angles,” Ryan said. The senior, he added, embodies a genuine concern for humanity and the conditions faced by the most vulnerable among us. “For those not even recognized legally to request a redress of grievance, Dulce is a powerful and compassionate voice.”
Thanks to Rowland Hall, I am one of the only people (and most certainly the youngest) to have roles in public speaking in my activist circle.
Though Rowland Hall had little to no impact on Dulce’s unique and extensive activism journey, she credits her school for giving her a solid foundation in public speaking. Through her work at CU and beyond, Dulce has made speeches galore, spoken at press conferences and on radio shows, and led workshops and classes. “I have no fear of public speaking, whether it be in front of the press or a tiny workshop. Rowland Hall helped greatly with this,” she said, adding she still remembers reciting poetry in second grade and giving a speech about a famous role model in third grade. “Thanks to Rowland Hall, I am one of the only people (and most certainly the youngest) to have roles in public speaking in my activist circle.”
For now, Dulce looks forward to continuing to fight for immigrant rights during her college years, and she’s happy that her scholarships will help her pay for Whittier. But true to her personality, Dulce is quick to shift the focus off of her as an individual, and onto the greater struggle: activists often work in silence and with little recognition, she said, trying to keep immigrants healthy and their families united. There are many others who are equally worthy: “Thousands of people deserve a scholarship for their hard work to keep immigrants safe.”