Former 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 is truly an honor for me to be a member of Rowland Hall's Lower School team. Many factors drew me to Rowland Hall, from its mission to inspire students to discover a meaningful life of learning to its beautiful campus that gazes up at the Wasatch Mountain Range. But the thing about Rowland Hall that most excited and inspired me—and still does today—is the community of people: 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 humans.
I am proud to be part of the Rowland Hall community—our community.
Beginning School and Lower School Principal
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.”
On March 18, Rowland Hall was thrilled to welcome grandparents and other special friends to our campuses for our first Grandparents Day since November 2019.
A cherished school event, Grandparents Day provides students’ most beloved adults the opportunity to enjoy short programs and tour the school. This year’s event kicked off on the McCarthey Campus, home to students in 3PreK through fifth grade. Grandparents enjoyed a performance featuring music, singing, and dancing by kindergartners and fifth graders, followed by classroom visits. Visitors were then welcomed to the Lincoln Street Campus, home to students in sixth through 12th grades, where they were treated to a performance by members of the chamber orchestra and a student-led tour of campus.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for this year’s Grandparents Day. We look forward to welcoming you back next year.
Rowland Hall is centered around the student experience. But the school community is so much bigger than the students and even the teachers who interact with them in classrooms every day. There is a whole system of people working to keep people safe and fed, keep the grounds and buildings clean, and literally keep traffic moving. Then there are others who work not just to support the current students on campus, but students for years to come, through business functions, development, alumni, and community outreach.
It was a shape walk in January that piqued the curiosity of the school’s first graders about the variety of people on campus and created a project involving the whole grade. Going into one unfamiliar area of campus, a student was heard to exclaim, “Who are these people?” The students decided to create their own newspapers—the Rowland Hall Star Journal, The Winged Lion Press, and The Rowland Hall Times—to look at who are members of our community and how they help our school.
First-grade teachers Susanna Mellor, April Nielsen, and Galen McCallum loved seeing the excitement of their students to take on a new (and rather arduous) project. The students would have to use a number of skills—some they had learned before, and some that were new. Reading and writing were obviously going to be employed. But they also had to learn how to come up with interview questions, and how to overcome nerves to conduct an interview. Photography became very important. One student took more than 75 photos for his piece.
“I learned that you have to videotape your interview,” said first grader Harper Y., who interviewed Digital Communications Associate Robert Lainhart ’11. “That helped me remember what Robert had said and what to write.”
“There was no lack of confidence from the students during the interviews,” said Head of School (and interview subject) Mick Gee. “I think that came from the amount of preparation they did. They were ready with questions and even asked follow-up questions. They were pretty sophisticated.”
Buddy pairs worked to hone their skills with each other before sending letters requesting interviews to their intended subjects. The letters were an important part of the process since no journalist simply “gets” a big interview; some finesse has to be involved. Many of the students were unfamiliar with the proper format of a letter, so this was another learning opportunity. The teachers worked with them on how to make a proper introduction and explained that the interviews were about more than learning about work—they were also about the people behind that work. “We are all part of this community,” said first-grade teacher Susanna. “It’s important to be known as humans and not just defined by our jobs.”
The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects.—Galen McCallum, first-grade teacher
“They went into areas of the school where they normally never go and practiced speaking to other grown-ups,” said April. “They were picked up by their interview subjects and walked to the interview and back to their classrooms. And the students in my class insisted on wearing their special press badges so everyone would know they’re reporters.”
All of the kids were asked who they would want to interview. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest in the school’s kitchen. Two teams of intrepid reporters were dispatched to interview Director of Food Services Julia Simonsen and one of the chefs, Ben.
“The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects,” said Galen. “The students invited Ben and Julia down to see the finished articles when they were done. There is something beautiful about helping them make these connections.”
Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall.—Mary Anne Wetzel '01, director of financial aid
And those connections are what every student mentions when you ask them about the project. Briar C. sat down with Zenon Bulka in operations to learn more about him. She reported back that Zenon is from Poland, has two boys, and babysits a dog. “My favorite part of interviewing Zenon was getting to sit with him,” she said.
The interview subjects valued the experience as well. Director of Financial Aid Mary Anne Wetzel ’01 loves passing her new press contacts during the day. “Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall,” she said. “I hope they learned a little bit about what I do in the Admission Office, and I got to make two new first-grade friends.”
It's a sentiment echoed from others involved as well. “I was thanking someone for taking part in the project, for giving their time,” said April. “They responded, ‘Thanks for spreading joy around the school.’”
The first-grade team wishes to extend special thanks to fifth-grade teacher Jen Bourque for her support and guidance in crafting this project, which was initially used in the first-grade curriculum in the 2019–2020 school year.
If you want to get kids in 4PreK talking you need to ask them about their buddies.
“My buddy’s name is Victoria.”
“My buddy’s name is Mateo.”
“I don’t know my buddy’s name, but I like him.”
Immediately the conversation ping pongs from making wreaths with buddies, to drawing with them, to how old their buddies are, to which buddies are too big to swing on the monkey bars. Everyone has something to say about their buddy, and everyone is very enthusiastic about the subject.
Each fall fourth and fifth graders from the Lower School are partnered with a Beginning School buddy to work with throughout the year. It’s a lot of fun. It’s also rooted in sound pedagogy.
The buddy program at Rowland Hall has been in existence for decades. Each fall fourth and fifth graders from the Lower School are partnered with a Beginning School buddy to work with throughout the year. The pair write notes to each other, do projects together, and learn about each other’s interests. It’s a lot of fun. It’s also rooted in sound pedagogy.
“We know from research that kids benefit from mixed aged play and learning opportunities,” said Brittney Hansen, Beginning School assistant principal. “Both the older and younger groups are given ways to grow socially, emotionally, and intellectually.”
Rowland Hall is lucky enough to provide a perfect environment for such learning. Not many schools range in age from preschool to senior high. The fact that students start at such a young age and are part of the community for such a long time allows relationships to form and bonds to build that otherwise are not possible. The buddy program underscores that and starts fostering feelings of community and belonging at the earliest opportunity.
“This program is a great example of how we capitalize on our mixed age community,” said Brittney. “And the buddy relationship doesn’t stop at the end of the year. These are relationships that are sustained and grow and build in time.”
“Most of the kids develop a very strong friendship with their buddies,” said Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher. “And when students who were ‘little’ buddies return in fourth and fifth grade as ‘big’ buddies they are very excited because they remember those relationships. They remember that they had a special connection.”
That feeling of connection and that beginning of community building is the prime focus for the PreK students. They are learning that there is a lot more happening at the school than the daily goings on in their classrooms—and they are learning it in a very personalized way.
“This is a one-on-one interaction,” said Isabelle. “We may have other all-school activities but this is more focused and personal. It’s one of the deeper connections we have.”
While community is the focus for the little buddies, the lessons being learned by the older students are, understandably, more complex. “This is an opportunity for them to begin seeing themselves as mentors and leaders,” said Emma Wellman, principal of the beginning and lower schools. “They have to practice a great deal of patience and empathy and learn to navigate different relationship dynamics.”
This is an opportunity to begin seeing themselves as mentors and leaders. They have to practice a great deal of patience and empathy and learn to navigate different relationship dynamics.”—Emma Wellman, Beginning School and Lower School principal
Anyone who has ever dealt with a high-energy, demanding preschooler knows just how challenging those dynamics can be. But the Lower School students are up to the task and greet the opportunity with gusto. “Sometimes they can be a little hard to be around,” said fourth grader Jack G. “But they can also be really fun and energetic.”
“My buddy decides what we play,” said fifth grader Viviene D. “I ask if she wants to do and then she takes me somewhere random and we play.”
The big buddy/little buddy dynamic isn’t the only one for the older kids to examine. Being in a leadership role gives them a new view of the responsibilities and issues their teachers may face. “They learn a lot of empathy for adults,” said Jen Bourque, fifth-grade teacher. “They also start using language they have learned and stored away. I’ll hear students saying things like ‘We didn’t clean up. We moved on, but we didn’t clean up,’ when interacting with their buddies.”
Those types of interactions were absent last year as we locked down and worked through the uncertain days of the pandemic. The absence of the buddy program was acutely felt among both students and teachers in a time already filled with losses. “The buddy program is something students ask about each year before it even starts,” said Brittney. “When we were able to reintroduce it there was a lot of excitement and a feeling of relief.”
4PreK student Mille P. may sum up everyone’s feelings best. “When the big buddies come I’m really excited,” she said. “I just want to run to them but I know I have to wait. I just want to run because I love my big buddy.”