Principal Jij de Jesus takes you on a tour of the Lower School and shows you why it's an ideal place for young learners.
Lower School: Grades 1–5
It truly is an honor for me to be a member of Rowland Hall's Lower School team. Many factors drew me to Rowland Hall, from a mission that “inspires students” toward discovering a productive and meaningful life of learning, to a beautiful campus staring up at the Wasatch Range. But the thing that most excites and inspires me each day is the community of people that comprise the Lower School: an energetic, talented, and tight-knit faculty and staff; a leadership group that aspires to the highest ideals of teaching and learning; warm and welcoming parents, guardians, and families; and, most endearing of all, a group of eager, joyful, smiling students. Together, we are building the next generation of compassionate, curious, and courageous leaders.
I am proud to be part of the Rowland Hall community. Our community.
Jij (pronounced "jay") de Jesus
Lower School Principal
In the newest episode of Rowland Hall’s award-winning princiPALS podcast, Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus discuss some of the most inspiring things they’ve learned (so far) while educating preschool- and elementary-aged children during the pandemic.
During the first months of in-person instruction since March, the princiPALS have learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community.
Recorded during the 14th week of Rowland Hall’s 2020–2021 school year, Emma and Jij reflect on leading their divisions during the first months of in-person instruction since the school moved to full distance learning in March. During that time, they said, they’ve learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community. And though they’re aware that schools across the country are dealing with different learning models and regional challenges, they believe that their perspectives on in-person learning during the pandemic may help other educators—as well as answer some of the many questions parents and caregivers have as schools readjust learning models in 2021.
“Our hope is that these important things we’ve learned are helpful to anyone out there,” said Jij.
The princiPALS also draw on their top lessons to create tips that will help parents and caregivers continue to support children (and themselves) at this time, with an emphasis on making intentional choices rather than, as Emma noted, “letting the world wash over you.”
Watch our COVID-adjusted music program shine in this year's Lower School virtual holiday program, organized by McCarthey Campus Music Teacher Susan Swidnicki and filmed by videographer and PE teacher Collin Wolfe.
Susan Swidnicki, McCarthey Campus music teacher, is passionate about the power of music—especially during a global pandemic.
There’s perspective in music. People use music both for celebration and for mourning—and for understanding life a little better: love and friendship and what is important.—Susan Swidnicki, McCarthey Campus music teacher
“There’s perspective in music,” she said. “People use music both for celebration and for mourning—and for understanding life a little better: love and friendship and what is important.”
For many, music has been a powerful tool for coping with the emotions that the pandemic has stirred up—and that’s true for all ages, Susan explained. During the early childhood and elementary years, music can help children process and express big emotions, as well as build their confidence. As a longtime music educator, Susan has seen this again and again: how a song can help a child work through a difficult experience, how the discovery of hidden musical talent can awaken a previously unengaged student, or how performing in front of classmates can empower a shy student. It was, therefore, more imperative than ever to safely provide music education this year.
“I needed to figure out a way that kids could have skilled, active music making together in community,” Susan said.
Susan spent the spring and summer immersed in professional development with music educators around the world, trading ideas and best practices for lessons that fit within safety recommendations and school guidelines. She acknowledged that this was tricky: Rowland Hall has a long tradition of active music making, and the Lower School curriculum uses the Orff Schulwerk music-education approach, which emphasizes play, and in which music and movement go hand in hand. But under the school’s health and safety guidelines, activities like singing, playing the recorder, working in small groups, and folk dancing were off the table. Susan didn’t let this discourage her, though. Like many other COVID-related challenges, she said, it just required a new kind of thinking and some creativity.
“We’re all learning that we can adapt and be flexible,” she said, “and that we are more resilient than we thought.”
For Susan, this meant examining the skills that music class has always built, and then finding new ways to teach them. For example, she’s developing students’ notation, rhythm, and patterning skills with sets of non-wind instruments—like ukuleles, bucket drums, glockenspiels, boomwhackers, xylophones, and hand drums—that are rotated among classes monthly. Additionally, she’s helping kids, who tend to think of movement as something that requires their legs, find different ways to express themselves with their bodies. “They’re learning there are other parts to movement to explore,” said Susan, like arms and torsos, and even facial expressions around their masks (she challenges them to do things like share feelings using only their eyes).
And to continue helping students process 2020, Susan is also focusing on ways to further tie music education with school-wide social-emotional learning goals. She plans to expose students to music and expressive movements that don’t always reflect happiness, as well as to continue to introduce them to music from around the globe to illustrate how many cultures use music to make sense of the world. It’s clear that every choice she makes is thoughtful and designed to support students’ overall well-being, whether they are learning in the classroom or from home.
Despite the year’s limitations, Susan says students are still shining in music class, discovering not only their ability to create, but an understanding that they have something to contribute.
“My main goal, of course, is to keep kids healthy, but also to give them some sense of peace and calmness in their day,” Susan said.
And, of course, to empower them. Despite the year’s limitations, Susan says students are still shining in music class, discovering not only their ability to create, but an understanding that they have something to contribute, “which I think is one of the biggest messages we want to give to children right now,” she said.
Susan Swidnicki, formerly our Beginning School music teacher, took over for longtime McCarthey Campus music teacher Cindy Hall after Cindy retired this summer. Susan—also a professional oboist who has played with the Ballet West Orchestra and the Utah Symphony—was a natural choice and Rowland Hall is so grateful to have her. Read more about Susan in this 2018 profile.
The Many Benefits of Music
Rowland Hall has long embraced active music making, and each division offers opportunities for students to build musical artistry. On the McCarthey Campus, explained Susan, music is an integral part of the beginning and lower schools’ curricula for many reasons:
- It builds self-discipline. In music class, students learn to control themselves within a group by listening to and respecting their peers when they perform.
- It encourages bravery. Everyone is expected to contribute, which builds students’ confidence and performance skills—and sometimes even taps into undiscovered talent.
- It helps students get comfortable making mistakes. Though all students are expected to contribute in music class, perfection is never expected. “You can still enjoy the process with mistakes,” said Susan.
- It supports math skills. The skills built in music class, like patterning, can help contribute to students’ success in math.
- It supports language skills. Music class helps build language skills in many ways, from exposing students to vocabulary and rhyming words, to helping build fluid reading skills with meter.
- It exposes students to diverse cultures. A culturally inclusive music approach, like Orff Schulwerk, helps students understand and appreciate the diversity of cultures.
I think what we have learned about ourselves and each other throughout our years at Rowland Hall is that we do not give up. When the going gets tough, we get tougher. When life gives us a pandemic, we turn it into an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to connect with each other in spite of the challenges around us.—Adrian Gushin, valedictorian
At this year's fifth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade graduation ceremonies, student speakers shared funny, reflective, and inspiring stories.
Senior Adrian Gushin spoke of the resiliency of the class of 2020, while Leo Smart reflected on the many memories that he and his peers made during their time at Rowland Hall.
Eighth-grade students Marina Peng, Paige Connery, and Lauren Bates shared the events that shaped their collective Middle School memories.
Several fifth-grade students thanked their teachers, family, and friends for helping to create a supportive and engaging learning environment in the Lower School.
We have posted their stories here for you to enjoy.
Top photo: Valedictorian Adrian Gushin recording his speech, which was shared with graduates and their families during the May 30 online commencement.
April Nielsen—better known as Ms. April on the McCarthey Campus—feels like the luckiest woman in the world.
“I literally have been able to create my dream job,” she said.
April is wrapping up her first year as Rowland Hall’s literary and academic support specialist, a role that lets her partner with kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers to ensure that students are reading at grade level. She designed the position in partnership with the beginning and lower school teams as an extra layer of support during the crucial years in which reading skills are built.
Reading is the foundation for everything.
“Reading is the foundation for everything,” April explained. “It’s been shown that when kids fall behind in reading, it’s really hard for them to catch up without extra strategic support.”
With a master’s degree in literacy and diversity—including both Level 1 and Level 2 reading endorsements that qualify her to work as a reading specialist in Utah—and 17 years of experience as a first-grade teacher in the Lower School, April is the ideal person to help Rowland Hall continue to shape our literacy program in ways that meet students’, and their families’, evolving needs. While the school has always had a system in place for students who need extra reading support, April has formalized the approach to assessing students, identifying those who need that support, and keeping teachers and tutors informed of their progress. She has spent the year poring over reading assessment data, creating spreadsheets to individualize class instruction, devoting hours to teacher training, and working with students in small, focused groups.
And while April’s role makes her an asset to faculty, she truly shines with students. She makes it a point to bring classes into her literacy lab at the beginning of the year for a story and to familiarize them with the lab, and she can often be found there doing everything from working with grade-level reading groups to holding monthly check-ins with every first grader (“because first grade is when you put everything together,” she explained). Her warm, approachable demeanor and obvious passion for her work makes students excited to spend time with her.
“The first grade students love working with April,” said teacher Galen McCallum. “When April walks in my classroom, the students moan if they have to wait their turn to go to the literacy lab and repeatedly ask when they will have a turn to read with Ms. April.”
April’s connection to students stems in part from her experience supporting a daughter with learning challenges—in fact, it was this experience that sparked her desire to study literacy. And having successfully guided her own child through those challenges (April’s daughter is now a voracious reader), she understands what children are capable of, and she approaches her work as a partnership with students, teachers, and families—and it’s working.
“The combination of whole class, small groups, and individual instruction have strengthened the overall literacy experience this year,” said Galen.
For someone who understands the many ways that reading opens doors, watching her young students succeed is the ultimate job perk—one that April wants to share as widely as possible.
“The richness and beauty of everything can be in a book,” she said. “I really want to give that gift to everybody.”
We asked Ms. April a few reflection questions about her experiences this year. Here’s what she had to share.
Looking back on your first year as the literacy and academic support specialist, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud that I was able to see a need and then figure out ways to fill it. I wanted to provide extra support to build community and communication with teachers, tutors, and families, and I really wanted to make coming to the literacy lab fun, joyful, and productive. I feel like we’ve been able to accomplish that—when I look at the data, I can see how much kids have grown. It’s kind of mind-boggling when you think about a student who started reading at Level I and is now reading independently at Level M.* That's huge growth! The progress has been exciting.
What are you looking forward to next year?
I’m really excited to continue to build on this work we’ve started to help kids. I’m excited to keep supporting teachers. We’re really moving towards more consistency in our program. We know where we want to go and we know how to get there, and we’re on that path.
What does it feel like to watch a kid break through their reading challenges?
It’s the best feeling of the year. They have such a sense of pride—they’re just beaming. They cracked this code and this whole new world is opening up for them.
What can parents and caregivers do at home to support kids?
The single best thing you can do is read to your child every day.
The single best thing you can do is read to your child every day. It should be fun and joyful, whether it’s sitting in the backyard under a tree or snuggled up in bed. And even after your child can read, it’s really important to continue that family ritual. Not only is it bonding for families, but you have shared stories and things to reference. Those conversations help build children’s listening comprehension, which then can transfer to reading comprehension as they’re reading on their own. Without even realizing it, you are laying this foundation in your child’s brain for not only language, but plots, characters, and vocabulary, and you’re opening windows into other experiences, cultures, and worlds, and building empathy. You’re establishing a love of reading.
*Rowland Hall utilizes the Fountas and Pinnell reading scale in our literacy program. You can learn more about grade-level reading goals here.