Studies in the field begin as early as 3PreK and continue through high school with trips to theaters, science and art museums, governmental landmarks and offices, and—perhaps most notably—the natural wonders of Utah and the Intermountain West. Students from grades one through eight enjoy a variety of sports experiences for five weeks every winter through the Winter Sports program. Overnight trips, beginning in Middle School, take our students on fall excursions that include curricular themes, welcome new friends into each grade level, and strengthen the bonds between teachers and students.
Rowmark Ski Academy, athletic teams, debate, chess club, the World Language Department, and the service-learning program also take advantage, when appropriate, of state-wide, regional, national, and global opportunities for competition, service, or connection to academic studies.
Experiential Learning defined
Experiential learning is the process of learning by doing—when students see the relevance of what they learn, they're more engaged. It develops new ways of thinking, persistence, and autonomous learning. It’s distinct from rote learning where students are passive in the learning process.
Sixth Grade: Weeklong Wasatch adventure filled with paddling, rafting, climbing, and exploring in and around the Wasatch Front with local organizations.
Seventh Grade: Weeklong adventure with four nights at the Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Eighth Grade: Nearly a week in Washington, D.C., exploring the rich experiences of our nation’s capital.
To kick off their high school career, ninth graders spend four days at YMCA Camp Roger in the Uinta Mountains for class bonding and interdisciplinary studies, from botany and geology to history and art.
Ninth through eleventh graders enjoy Interim, a weeklong exploratory program unique among Utah schools. Students have the option of participating in a variety of in-town and out-of-town experiences such as film studies and videography, hiking in Moab, and world-language immersion.
When kindergarten lead teacher Margaret Chapman learned she would be taking a two-month leave of absence in early 2020 for heart surgery, she knew that she—along with assistant kindergarten teacher Bethany Stephensen—would have many tasks to complete to keep their classroom running smoothly. At the top of the list? Making sure students had a safe place to think about this major change to their school days.
“This is a big event the children will be processing in the coming weeks,” said Bethany.
Dramatic play: A type of play where students assign, take on, and act out different roles.
To support students, Bethany and Margaret set up a special dramatic play area known as the kinder-cardiology unit. There, the children can try on the role of cardiologists who fix hearts—just like the doctors who will be fixing Margaret’s. Complete with white coats, medical masks and hats, exam and x-ray rooms, a file for records and prescription orders, and instruments like stethoscopes and thermometers, the area is the perfect place for kindergarteners to try out procedures on one another, as well as on the classroom’s many stuffed animals.
Margaret intentionally sits near kinder-cardiology as the children play so they can ask her questions about her surgery and what school will be like while she is away. This is important, Bethany explained, because dramatic play provides more than simple amusement for children—it also helps them sort out the big, and sometimes scary, things happening around them that they don’t fully understand and can’t control.
Dramatic play is a fundamental component of learning and development, helping children to work through their lived experiences and cope with emotions.—Bethany Stephensen, kindergarten assistant teacher
“Dramatic play is a fundamental component of learning and development, helping children to work through their lived experiences and cope with emotions,” said Bethany. “It is an opportunity for children—whose lives are largely controlled by adults—to feel powerful and capable.”
Gail Rose, 3PreK lead teacher, and Mary Swaminathan, 3PreK assistant teacher, agreed. “Dramatic play allows children to act out their stories and gives them the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective,” they explained.
Knowing the importance of this type of play during early childhood, “we are always on the lookout for themes that are naturally coming up in children’s play or experiences in their lives that are impacting their experiences at school,” Bethany said. “We then develop emergent curriculum to scaffold children’s learning through play opportunities based on our observations.”
And while adult involvement can be beneficial in certain types of dramatic play, Rowland Hall’s Beginning School teachers are also clear that children need access to unstructured, or open-ended, play.
“We strive to find a balance between structured and unstructured play experiences,” said Bethany. “It's important to us to be mindful of when children should be left to their play and when adult involvement and encouragement of specific types of play or skill practice is beneficial.”
Unstructured play among children helps them develop important social skills they’ll need for life, like teamwork, confidence, problem-solving, language development, self-control, and emotional regulation. Best of all, children don’t need much to make it happen: dramatic play requires minimal props and only a bit of space, whether it’s in a classroom or in an open area like a playground.
Dramatic play can also be encouraged in home spaces, further benefiting children. For parents and caregivers wishing to continue this kind of play outside of school hours, Gail and Mary gave the following tips:
Be a good listener to find out what interests your child.
Be open to joining dramatic play in a supportive role, but don’t direct it.
Remember that dramatic play only requires some space and minimal props—use what is available.
Read quality children’s literature to help give kids ideas.
Above all, they said, remember that children are natural storytellers—you can support them by simply being a good listener, and, most of all, by having fun.
On a Thursday in November, Susanna Mellor’s first-grade class was seated in a circle, ready to begin their morning meeting. That day, they started with a pinky greeting: everyone hooked fingers, forming a chain, and then Susanna turned to one of the students next to her. “Good morning, Thomas,” she began. The salutation passed around the circle, ending with a hearty, full-group welcome: “Good morning!”
Morning meeting is one of several practices recommended by Responsive Classroom, a student-centered approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) and effective classroom management. Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus explained that the division started utilizing Responsive Classroom in 2016 as a way to support Rowland Hall’s long-standing commitment to SEL, which is associated with higher academic achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher-quality instruction.
Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms. More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning.—Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus
“Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms that help our students thrive,” he said. “More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning with their classmates.”
Morning meeting achieves this by engaging young learners in a welcoming atmosphere at the start of each school day. In addition to an inclusive greeting, the meeting includes a moment of sharing, a group activity, and a daily message. Whatever the day’s focus, teachers use the meeting to make sure each child is recognized and participating in the class.
“Responsive Classroom practices help build confidence and ease anxiety by fostering a sense of belonging and significance,” Susanna said. And, she added, as the school year progresses, its rewards multiply. “When they listen to each other, students feel that they matter. I see new friendships begin to bud, classmates work comfortably and easily together, and students take risks as they share ideas in class discussions.”
The Responsive Classroom Approach
Responsive Classroom, first developed by the Center for Responsive Schools in 1981, creates safe, nurturing learning environments through four key domains: engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmentally responsive teaching. Because Rowland Hall is focused on integrating SEL into our academic and co-curricular programs (we formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018), incorporating Responsive Classroom into the Lower School curriculum was a logical choice. And it has made a difference.
“It's given our teachers more clarity and alignment when they consider how best to support students, structure learning activities, and promote positive behavior expectations,” Jij said. “Students, in turn, experience more consistency and are clear on why their actions matter for their own learning and for the learning of others.”
Rowland Hall is focused on integrating social and emotional learning into our academic and co-curricular programs; we even formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018.
To drive student success, Responsive Classroom also emphasizes interactive modeling to teach the skills, strategies, and procedures that help kids thrive at school.
“Interactive modeling has made my classroom a more calm, efficient, and productive learning environment,” Susanna said. “When students watch and comment on what I do as I role-play a procedure, they actively deduce the steps by verbalizing them and listening to peers do the same. As a result, they have a firm and clear understanding when it comes time for them to begin the task at hand.”
Integrating Responsive Classroom into Established Practices
Responsive Classroom has helped Rowland Hall refocus many classroom practices toward the school’s overarching SEL goals. One example occurs at the beginning of each school year: developing classroom agreements. Unlike traditional lists of rules, classroom agreements are created in partnership, giving teachers and students buy-in on how their classrooms will run. While the agreements have been a part of the Lower School for many years, Responsive Classroom added another layer to the process.
“Using the Responsive Classroom approach has allowed my students to delve deeper into the process of exploring their own hopes and dreams, and how we can work as a group to help each other achieve our goals,” Susanna said. She explained that students become engaged, thoughtful, and passionate as they determine what will help them do things like learn how to read, try harder math problems, or even score soccer goals. “I notice students putting much more thought and reflection into this process, making it more meaningful and effective,” she said.
Collaborating on classroom agreements also makes it more likely that children will follow, and reference, those agreements during the school year.
“Students refer back to these agreements when obstacles arise and really demonstrate ownership of them,” said Susanna. “For example, when having a class discussion about erasers being damaged intentionally, several children commented, ‘That’s not following our agreement. We said we’d take care of our materials this year so that we could become better writers.’”
Classroom agreements are referenced regularly by instructors too. In Susanna’s morning meeting, for instance, students are asked which agreements they want to focus on and what actions they can take to make sure those agreements are honored. One student reminded classmates that they can meet their goal to keep calm in the classroom by walking; another observed that they can fulfill the agreement to try harder math problems by listening respectfully during instruction.
Using Responsive Classroom in New Ways
Responsive Classroom also inspires new methods to empower students. This fall, the Lower School used the foundation of classroom agreements in a new way: to create school-wide Winged Lion Agreements.
On September 6, 17 student delegates from grades one through five—one from each class—gathered in the McCarthey Campus parlor for the first-ever student constitutional convention. Delegates shared their classes’ newly developed classroom agreements with the group before beginning a discussion on agreements that could be applied to the whole school.
When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone.—Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer
Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer—who has completed all Responsive Classroom courses, including the Responsive Classroom for Leadership conference—led the discussion and was impressed by how the process unfolded. “When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone,” she said. “And because each student was a stakeholder in the convention’s outcome, they were serious about identifying meaningful goals.” She was also thrilled by the inclusion she saw in the room, especially by the way fifth graders mentored the first graders. “They really made connections and made them feel valued,” Linda said.
After thoughtful discussion, the group decided on five agreements for the year:
• Be kind
• Work hard and never give up
• Be safe
• Have fun
Each item was purposefully selected, down to exact words—for instance, the delegates chose the word “respect” because of its ability to encompass a wide range of areas, from personal behavior to how students should treat their surroundings.
Designing Better School Days with Responsive Classroom
Responsive Classroom further helps the Lower School team continuously reevaluate how to best meet students’ needs. One recent change to the school day occurred as a result of a February 2019 meeting with a Responsive Classroom consultant, who was sent to observe a full day at the school after Linda completed her training in the approach.
“One thing the consultant noticed was that our dining hall is very noisy,” Linda remembered. The consultant recommended a proven solution she thought would benefit the division: moving recess before lunch, an idea that the Lower School student support team had been considering for two years prior to the visit.
“The change would have numerous benefits,” said Linda. “Children could focus on eating, noise would go down, and no one would be racing to get outside.” After presenting the idea to an enthusiastic Lower School faculty in the spring, Jij and Linda began working on making the change for the fall. When it was time to introduce the schedule adjustment to students during the second chapel of the year, Jij, Linda, and Chuck White, the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor, were thoughtful in their approach, using a similar style students had already experienced in the classroom.
“We asked, ‘What should lunch feel and sound like?’” Linda said. The team also emphasized the why behind the discussion so students would understand both the reason for change and its related benefits. “We talked about how we can all follow agreements to make school more enjoyable for everyone,” Linda said.
Using a dining table that had been brought into the chapel, Jij, Linda, and Chuck then modeled for students proper lunch behavior: entering the dining hall respectfully, staying seated facing the table, and talking at an appropriate volume. Each child was also given the chance to practice at the table.
Children have adjusted well to the change, Linda said. It was, she explained, an extension of the discussions students have become accustomed to—and, importantly, it reminded them that they each play a part in creating a respectful, safe, and joyful school for all.
“I’m really proud of them,” she said.
Responsive Classroom Resources for Parents and Caregivers
Responsive Classroom has been an influential tool in helping Rowland Hall meet SEL goals in the Lower School. Because we are committed to partnering with parents and caregivers in their children’s education, we have made many Responsive Classroom materials available in the parent section of the McCarthey Campus’ Steiner Library for those who are interested in more information about the approach.
Paper rockets whizzed through the air. Hot-air balloons fashioned out of fruit containers and plastic bags spiraled up a wind tunnel. Light from popsicle-stick flashlights and homemade circuits flared. And the sound of laughter—from both kids and adults—filled the room.
Rowland Hall’s first Maker Night, which attracted more than 140 people, was a success.
The event, held in the McCarthey Campus Field House on November 7, was inspired by the Lower School’s Maker Day, where kids explore a variety of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) activities. Maker Night built on this event by including Beginning School and Lower School families in the hands-on learning experiences.
As Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus surveyed the activity around the room, he couldn’t help but grin. “We love the fact that families can experience what kids experience in the classroom,” he said.
Maker Night attendees traveled among stations, engaging a variety of skills as mini scientists and engineers. As the night progressed, parents like Jenna Pagoaga, mother of second grader William and preschooler Ollie, found themselves managing a small cache of completed experiments. “It’s a great community event,” she said as she watched William run to the Sky Floaters table to design a blimp for a Lego passenger. “It’s fun to see them be creative and use what they learn in class.”
Slideshow: Images from Rowland Hall's first Maker Night.
One of the biggest draws of the night was Nerdy Derby, where kids built cars and raced them on one of the three lanes of a tall, curvy track. The evening was punctuated with the cheers of those whose cars made it to the end of the track—and the groans of those whose creations fell apart on descent. Undeterred, those students simply grabbed the debris and ran back to the design table to figure out how to strengthen their vehicles. That is the point of Maker Night.
It's important for parents to see what their kids are capable of. Give them a pile of stuff. Let them explore. The play-based part of it, the creativity part, is very important.—Jodi Spiro, Lower School math specialist
“Kids are learning it’s OK to try things out, mess up, and try again,” Jij explained. He also noted the importance of giving children independence when it comes to exploration. “Often, learning outcomes are decided beforehand; this is more open-ended,” he said. “It’s exciting to think of kids leading their own learning.”
Lower School Math Specialist Jodi Spiro echoed this idea. Maker Night, she said, emphasized to parents and caregivers the scientific process of thinking, planning, testing, and redesigning. And it showed that kids don’t always need formal instruction to learn. “It’s important for parents to see what their kids are capable of,” she said. “Give them a pile of stuff. Let them explore. The play-based part of it, the creativity part, is very important.”
Tasha Hatton, who attended Maker Night with her fifth grader, Gabrielle, is excited by how simple an environment of exploration can be. She remembered how Gabrielle lit up when she saw fourth-grade teacher Haas Pectol’s recycled-plastic station, where children were braiding the plastic from discarded Halloween costumes into ropes that can be turned into things like baskets—or even, as Haas demonstrated, crocheted clutches. Maker Night, Tasha said, stimulated her family’s curiosity. “It’s introduced us to ideas we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.”
Tasha also marveled at how something as simple as recycled plastic can do wonders for a child’s imagination. “They’ll look at the world differently,” she said. “The next time they see something like that, it might spark a new idea.”
Fourth grade is the year of the field trip at Rowland Hall. Each year students head out of the classroom and into some of Utah's most remarkable places. They learn about geology, the water cycle, conservation, and state history. For the first time this year they capped their experiences with an overnight in Mapleton Canyon, where they put their newfound knowledge to the test.
"The concept of an overnight field study just made sense as a culminating experience for students to truly immerse themselves in their home state," said Jij de Jesus, Lower School principal. "It also helped them gain a sense of responsibility and independence as the transition to fifth grade approaches."
Thanks to a generous donation by a Rowland Hall supporter, the school partnered with Find Your Path Utah, a company specializing in experiential education. Founder Tyler Fonarow, a former Rowland Hall administrator and current parent, instantly saw all the marvelous possibilities. And he knew one thing: he didn't want these kids to think of this as just another camping trip.
"We kept it as much like school as possible, as far as the schedule," Tyler said. "We wanted to give them a chance to use the outdoor skills they've built up over the course of the year to understand that learning can happen in any place."
This was about getting our students outside with their classmates to help them see the interconnectedness of the natural and human world around them. —Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus
Our intrepid students faced fun challenges the moment they stepped off the bus in Mapleton: they found out they'd have to hike to their campsite a mile up the canyon while the bus carried their supplies. And it wasn't just a nice stroll up a paved trail—a creek crossing, for one, required creative problem-solving if they wanted to keep their feet dry.
"It was a neat opportunity to have the kids get out of their comfort zone a little bit," Tyler said. "Some kids chose to be carried, some kids chose to put the water shoes on, some kids chose to walk with garbage bags. It's called challenge by choice. It's about pushing the kids to the level where they are comfortable and still challenged."
After the hike in, fourth graders enjoyed activities centered on discovering a sense of place in their environment, studying water science and macroinvertebrates, leaving no trace, and being present.
“This was about getting our students outside with their classmates to help them see the interconnectedness of the natural and human world around them,” Jij said. "The state legislature's recent Utah's Every Kid Outdoors Initiative supports the idea that kids benefit from getting outside, especially with the incredible experiences locally accessible to us."
The lessons stuck with the students. Fourth grader Meg Hoglund said that from now on, whenever she goes fishing with her dad she'll check fishes' mouths for macroinvertebrates. "I also learned that your little piece of trash can contribute to a big problem for the environment later on," she said. "That's why leave no trace means NO trace at all."
At the end of the overnight, the kids wrote poems about the trip. Verses covered an array of memories—from the importance of protecting the watershed, to getting long hair stuck in a zipper. Fourth-grade teacher Matthew Collins said the poems helped students encapsulate their experiences: "With every line, we saw how much they learned and grew and just how much the experiential-education trips of the last year impacted them."