Developing Strengths

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Middle School: Grades 6–8

Welcome to Rowland Hall's independent private Middle School, where we recognize and honor the growth and discovery that happen during this unique transitional period, when students move from the creativity and imagination of childhood to the abstract thinking and global perspectives of young adulthood.

In the Middle School, we provide an educational program that holistically supports early adolescent students in achieving academic success and positive personal growth. Rowland Hall's dedicated faculty create a supportive, caring environment that motivates and challenges students. The teachers are as knowledgeable in their subject matter as they are in understanding students’ unique needs, whether they're cognitive, emotional, or physical.

Our curriculum is relevant, challenging, and exploratory. Teachers use a variety of instructional and assessment methods grounded in research and best practices. We empower our students to be well-rounded, inspired, and compassionate individuals.


Pam Smith 
Middle School Principal

Independent Private Middle School Principal - Pam Smith - Salt Lake City, Utah

Pam Smith
Middle School Principalget to know Pam

Contact the Middle School

970 East 800 South
Salt Lake City, Utah 84102

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Middle School Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Rowland Hall eighth grader Sophia Z., a Time for Kids reporter.

Time magazine is one of the oldest and most respected publications in the United States. The 101-year-old periodical has published interviews with presidents and kings. It has covered thousands of stories, publishing the work of thousands of journalists. For the past year, a Rowland Hall student has been among them.

Eighth grader Sophia Z. is one of eight students from across the country who was selected this year to be a reporter for Time for Kids (TFK), an offshoot of Time magazine aimed at young readers. She caught the eye of the selection committee with an article asking, and answering, an intriguing question: Would an epic winter with a historical snowpack in 2023 save the Great Salt Lake from dying? This piece of investigative journalism was inspired by Rowland Hall’s seventh-grade Great Salt Lake project, where Sophia was introduced to the issue of ecological crisis facing the Great Salt Lake, and previously presented to the United Nations’ 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

“This is a critical crisis to Utah because if the Great Salt Lake dries up, there will be toxins in the air and our snow-based tourism industry will decline because of the lake effect on snow,” said Sophia about some of the many negative impacts of a drying Great Salt Lake. “We cannot rest upon wet winters; taking actions to conserve water and shepherd water to the lake is the key to save the lake,” she emphasized.

In her role as a TFK reporter, Sophia has interviewed a wide array of people, from the stars of movies like The Tiger’s Apprentice and Avatar: The Last Airbender to Maurice Ashley, the first Black chess grandmaster and author of many books on the sport. One of her favorite stories, though, was the one closest to home: an interview with a Utah teen working to make robotics more accessible to underrepresented communities.

“I really hoped sharing this story would not only inspire kids in STEM, but inspire them to inspire others,” Sophia said. “They can help expand STEM education just by doing STEM activities that they really, really enjoy.”

While Sophia is used to being the interviewer, we thought it would be fun to ask her a few questions about being a TFK reporter. The following interview has been lightly edited.

What was the best part of being a journalist for Time for Kids?

I’ve realized that I really enjoy talking to people about their interesting experiences and inspiring opinions. I also really enjoy retelling those stories in my words and further passing those messages onto my readers. Meeting amazing people and listening to their inspiring stories do not only enrich my own life but also help me to convey my interviewees’ wisdom to my readers and enrich their lives.

Meeting amazing people and listening to their inspiring stories do not only enrich my own life but also help me to convey my interviewees’ wisdom to my readers and enrich their lives.—Sophia Z., class of 2028

How did this experience help you become a better journalist and writer?

I learned to write for certain audiences. Writing for the second graders is so different from writing for the fifth and sixth graders. My mentor at TFK taught me to know my readers, keep their interests in mind, adjust my writing style accordingly, and deliver the story in the language that they would understand and relate to.

I also learned that interviewing isn’t just about asking questions and taking notes of what my interviewees said; it’s a conversation. Conversations are never one-sided. Of course, a reporter always prepares for a set of questions before an interview; however, she does not need to strictly follow those questions. One of my questions could stimulate my interviewee to share a piece of experience, memory, opinion, or suggestion, which could inspire me to ask a follow-up question. Engaging with the conservation is more essential and fun than completing a set of prepared questions.

What was your greatest challenge?

When I started to conduct investigative journalism in the summer of 2023 for the TFK contest, I was nervous. I worried that I would not be able to nail down any interviews with adult professionals, such as scholars and government officials. I doubted whether those busy adults would talk with a seventh-grade kid. Then I feared that I would mess up with those important interviews by missing the key questions or important information. So I prepared a lot by doing more research on the topic of the Great Salt Lake. To my surprise, all of the professionals I talked with were so patient in answering my questions and so nice in recommending other professionals to me. Interviews were carried on and became easier and easier, with each interview adding pieces, helping me to solve the puzzle. Now when I look back at it, there is nothing special about journalism. Curiosity makes one ask meaningful and relevant questions to the right persons. Conversation drives the questioning and answering and drives the direction of the story. It is similar to having a conversation with one’s friends and family. Just get a meaningful conversation starting and going.

What is your dream assignment as a young journalist? 

I have many dream assignments! I would love to go to the Olympic Games and interview the top US swimmers, since I am a swimmer. I would love to go to NASA and interview NASA employees about the Artemis mission, since I really love space and want to be an aerospace engineer when I grow up. I would love to go to the World Chess Championship, interview both the current world champion and his challenger, and record their aspirations, excitement, and stresses.

Great work, Sophia! We can’t wait to see what you do next!

Student Voices

Rowland Hall eighth graders hold a Salt Lake City event to celebrate Black changemakers.

Black History Month is in February, but Black history is being made every day by people taking action and building on the work of their predecessors. Reconciling the two can be a tricky process, but recently eighth graders at Rowland Hall not only made the connections, but were able to bring them to life in an afternoon of art, spoken word, and other expressions.

Resist: An Arts Cafe was a community event where each student presented about two Black activists, one from the past and one from the present. Students were encouraged to find not only what the two had in common, but also where their work or ideas differentiated, and how the idea of resistance may have morphed or changed over time.

With activism in the past, it was more focused on speaking out and protesting. But my present-day changemaker focuses on working on the system and trying to change injustices within the law.—Yara B., eighth grade

“With activism in the past, it was more focused on speaking out and protesting,” said eighth grader Yara B. “But my present-day changemaker focuses on working on the system and trying to change injustices within the law. It gave me different perspectives.”

“This was an amazing opportunity to further our commitment to equity and inclusion,” said Director of Strategic Initiatives Jij de Jesus. “The students were not only talking about what change looked like in the past but what it looks like now in our local community.”

For the project, numerous members of Utah’s Black community were invited to come into the classroom and speak to the students about their work, their influences, and their lives. This was an important element of the project for eighth-grade American Studies teacher Eve Grenlie, who wanted it not only to be about learning but also about creating community.

“This was a way to build authentic relationships with changemakers and activists, and let the students find similar elements of resistance or resilience on different historical timelines to kind of blend together a narrative,” she said. “I don’t think it would have been impactful if we hadn’t had these people get involved.”

Two Rowland Hall eighth graders dance at Resist: Arts Cafe in February 2024.

Eighth graders chose how they wanted to communicate subjects, including through dance.

James Jackson, author and founder of the Utah Black Chamber, welcomed the invitation to meet with the students. He saw this as an opportunity not only to introduce them to activism but also to lift students of color.

“Projects like this are critical, especially for underrepresented students, because they don’t usually see professionals that look like them walking around,” James said. “This was a way to bridge that gap, by inviting community members in to share their backgrounds and their experiences.”

This project was about expanding the mindsets of all of the students, not only through the subject matter but also in how they would present their projects at the event. Everyone was allowed to decide on how best to communicate the lives of their subjects and their impacts on resistance efforts. Some chose to write, while others composed dances, built art pieces, or even cooked up gumbo.

“It wasn’t about writing an essay. It was about students being able to make connections and create pieces to explain their message and their takeaways,” said Middle School Principal Pam Smith. “The students really had to grapple with different topics and ideas, do personal investigation, and then decide how to display.”

“There were some pretty profound pieces created that showed empathy and understanding and personal connection with both historical and current-day figures,” added Middle School Assistant Principal Charlotte Larsen. “This project pushed and stretched students in some really wonderful ways.”

Rowland Hall eighth graders share art with community members at Resist: Arts Cafe in February 2024..

Students shared their art with Resist attendees.

Many of the people interviewed by the students attended the cafe to view the finished projects—and were blown away by the work the students had done. Melanie D. Davis, Rowland Hall parent and mental health care activist, was amazed that one of the students compared her work helping people carry grief and other emotions with how Harriet Tubman helped people carry themselves as they were escaping enslavement. She also was excited by the possibilities this event created for the future.

It was so inspirational. It gave me a whole new perspective on how I can get involved in the community.—Yara B., eighth grade

“It was pretty cool, not only for the community to realize that this is what’s happening at Rowland Hall, but for the kids to realize that there are these really amazing community organizations that they can be a part of too,” she said. “I think it’s amazing for the kids to meet people of color doing cool stuff and know they are invited to take part.”

The presence of their modern-day mentors at the event was an important part of this project for the students. Having their finished pieces viewed by their subjects gave the work they had done a greater gravitas.

“It was so inspirational,” said Yara. “It gave me a whole new perspective on how I can get involved in the community, talking to these activists and having them see what I think and what I can do.”

Experiences like these are ones Eve hopes will be repeated through a strengthening of community ties. “You don’t want to do a one-off; you hope you are building strong roots within a community so you can continue moving forward and have further depth of knowledge,” she said. “Everything gets hopefully stronger in time.”

Community Engagement

Three Rowland Hall seventh graders work on an invasive species bug trap.

Utah has seen an influx of new residents in recent years—and not all of them have been welcomed with open arms.

Balsam woolly adelgids, fox squirrels, field bindweed, quagga mussels, and other invasive species have found comfortable homes in the state, and in some cases have made life difficult for native species by competing with them for limited resources. It’s a real problem, and it recently presented a perfect project-based learning opportunity for students in the seventh grade. Science teacher Lindsay Mackintosh challenged her students to use skills from across the curriculum to find a solution and put it into action—and maybe even impress scientists working in the field.

“The students designed and built traps to capture invasive insect species, and help ecosystems be more biodiverse by limiting their impact,” said Lindsay. “This required them to explore engineering concepts to research, build, and revise their traps.”

Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically..—Lindsay Mackintosh, seventh-grade science teacher

Engineering may appear to be an advanced topic for seventh graders, but these kids were up to the challenge. It all comes down to problem solving in a methodical way, while at the same time considering numerous possibilities. That’s why increasing engineering opportunities is expressly mentioned in the school’s strategic priorities.

“In making these traps they had to consider some constraints but also had freedom to be creative,” Lindsay said. “Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically.”

Research was the first order of business for the students, as all bugs can’t be caught the same way. “We had to do a lot of research so we could engineer the trap around the bug,” said seventh grader Atticus P., whose group chose the elm seed bug as their target. “We had to figure out, What does it eat? Where does it live?, and other things like that so we could catch it.”

The design and build process came next, with students doing multiple concept sketches and revisions before building their first prototype. There were lots of different factors to consider when coming up with designs. Students only had ten dollars total to spend on materials for their traps, and that wasn’t the only practical concern facing them.

A group of Rowland Hall middle schoolers collaborate on their invasive bug trap project.

“We had to think about where we would put it,” said seventh grader Ben D. “We had to think about how it would be sustainable so the wind or rain wouldn’t destroy it. We had to think about so many different things when creating a good and effective trap.”

Once the first prototypes were built most students found themselves going back to the drawing board. While that may have been frustrating for some, it was a valuable lesson that engineering is not a linear process. “Some groups had to make drastic changes when they saw their first prototype,” said Lindsay. “It was interesting to see them walk through this process and decide what changes they want to make.”

We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.—Harper J., class of 2029

“Our prototype was trash. It was really bad,” said seventh grader Harper J., who was in a group chasing down Japanese beetles. “We used Saran wrap to keep them from getting out, but it was too sticky, so we switched that out to mesh. We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.”

Students started their bug studies at the beginning of the school year, perfecting them by mid-November. Then it was time to present their inventions to scientists from the University of Utah who study invasive species. This is when they learned that you can have a great idea, but that might not matter if you don’t know how to communicate it. Presentation preparation built upon lessons the students had already learned as part of their writing curriculum, and seventh-grade English teacher Jill Gerber helped them apply those skills to the science realm.“We talk a lot about task, audience, and purpose in class,” said Jill. “That’s what they had to do here. Identify their key points and have a clear idea and message going into the presentations so their audience would come away understanding their content.”

This shift from focusing on their content to focusing on how the audience received it meant the students had to change the way they viewed the project. While they had a wealth of information about their bugs, the invasive species problem, and their design and construction process, all of that data could now be a hindrance to clearly and succinctly communicating their message.

“Our goal was to tell everyone how the trap worked, and what the purpose of the trap was, and how we would get the bugs to the trap,” said seventh grader Stella O. “We had to take a lot of information about the bugs out because the main purpose of the presentation was talking about the trap.”

In the end the presentations were successful, and the students not only got to show off their work, but also interact with working scientists. Additionally, they got a deeper understanding of how all learning is connected and, when used together, is greater than the sum of its parts: problem-solving skills learned in the science classroom can be applied to other subjects, and communication skills from English can be used to get messages across in any field. It’s a kind of understanding that’s already gone far beyond this fall project, continuing to benefit students in the second half of the year—and will undoubtedly continue to do so beyond seventh grade.

“Layering skills and concepts is something I know we all try to do,” said Lindsay. “That way we are giving students skills that are transferable and can be used across the curriculum and outside the classroom.”

It all adds up to creating people the world needs, whether they are building bug traps to combat invasive species or shaping solutions to the world’s hardest problems.

Authentic Learning

Students Reflect on Creation of AI-Inspired Dance Concert, ‘Integrated’

In preparation for this year’s dance concert, Integrated, middle and upper school students researched topics related to technology, AI, and how we as humans relate to these machines in our everyday lives. Students thought critically about their personal experiences with tech and created pieces inspired by their findings and curiosities. Their works explore how we can utilize AI as a resource moving forward, while also giving space to the many moral and existential questions that come along with developing non-human intelligence. Two Upper School students, Hayley Trockman and Mattie Sulivan, reflected on their own processes and interviewed peers to give the audience an inside look into the complex questions underlying this year’s concert.

Reflecting on Process: Dance Students’ Voices on Integrated

By Hayley Trockman, Class of 2024, and Mattie Sullivan, Class of 2025

During the summer workshop our dance teachers, Sophia Cutrubus ’18 and Grace Riter ’18, presented us with the question: how can we express our thoughts about the advancement of technology through dance? At first, we were unaware of just how many different paths we could take to explore this growing industry. But as we dove deeper, we discovered that this topic left us with endless questions and conversations to have. Both our Intermediate and Advanced Dance Ensembles classes endeavored to answer these questions with open minds and a willingness to delve into our movement explorations.

How can we express our thoughts about the advancement of technology through dance?

Junior Mattie Sullivan decided to ruminate on their individual relationship to transforming technologies, using their piece to uncover a duality that often comes with spending huge amounts of time online.

“When I was presented with the theme of this year's dance concert I felt excited, overwhelmed, and honestly scared,” said Mattie. “Walking into dance class this year, I was full of ideas but really struggling to articulate them. Even a couple of days ago I was reminded of our initial question: can you really express all of these feelings through dance? But in the few weeks leading up to the concert, I feel confident that our relationships with AI and technology have and will continue to be voiced.”

They continued, “The Internet has been my primary form of communication with those I care about and my main source of entertainment. On the flip side, I have observed the detrimental effects an Internet addiction can have on a person. For my piece, I focused on both of these aspects of Internet usage. By manipulating the energy qualities of my movement I was able to portray both loneliness and connection. In our creative processes, we dove into the complexities of using the Internet and AI, and through movement we have been able to tell our unique stories.”

In Mattie’s work with the Iron Lions robotics team captain, junior Evan Weinstein, they discussed how technology has a different kind of intelligence than humans do. Evan highlighted that we don’t need to fear AI; rather, we should focus on how we set boundaries around its use.

He said, “AI is incredibly important because as we learn to harness the power of computing, technological strides become more accessible. When we don’t need to worry about spending time regulating budgets and doing mundane tasks, the future workforce will be able to put our collective energy towards doing new things while AI can maintain what we already know. Additionally, AI will be able to pick up on patterns that humans can’t. This level of pattern recognition can also help us predict and regulate our response to relevant social and environmental issues.”

While neural networks and AI are incredible tools, they are just that—tools. We can learn to use them as innovators and problem solvers, but at the end of the day they can only perform as well as we teach them.

Evan also pointed out, “While neural networks and AI are incredible tools, they are just that—tools. We can learn to use them as innovators and problem solvers, but at the end of the day they can only perform as well as we teach them. AI is an advancement that we need to understand and accept. I urge the support of AI and hope that we can help learn within our communities to set our generation up for success.”

Senior Hayley Trockman gave a look into what her process looked like as she learned about how AI-generated images are created.

“I believe in integrating technology into our lives with human intelligence guiding its role,” said Hayley. “I began the process of choreographing a piece that specifically looked into the ways that AI-produced images are created from our insecurities and unrealistic beauty standards. However, after speaking with Rowland Hall staff member Ashley Atwood, her advice of ‘accepting the new and upcoming’ resonated with me. I realized that we can’t put all of the blame on technology—because we are actually the ones feeding it the ideal body image through our engagement with social media. Whether it be likes and positive reactions, or critical comments, AI recognizes this trend in data and takes that information to generate its own images. My piece is a commentary on that process. The use of mirrors as props represents how AI-generated images become both reflections and distortions of our own insecurities.”

Senior Lauren Bates pivoted the conversation in a new direction, with her inspiration coming from the increase in the use of AI to help process grief.

“My initial idea dealt with how AI does not feel or process grief the same way that we do,” said Lauren. “However, as I did more research, I found a number of articles talking about ‘Grief Tech.’ I learned that there is already technology that allows people to feed information from their loved ones who have passed into AI chatbots. Subsequently, the software can recreate their personality and identity. This has brought up a lot of ethical and psychological concerns, along with questions about if this is a healthy way to process grief. I was initially inspired to create this piece after listening to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘United In Grief’ and applying its meaning to dance. For me, dance has always been a way to express ideas that are too difficult to express with words.”

I hope that our audience will resonate with both our fear and love of technology, and spend a minute thinking about their own relationships, both on and off the screens.

As we have reflected on the past months of choreographing, researching, and critically evaluating our relationship with tech and AI, we hope that the concert encourages our audience to turn inward and think about how they relate to technology in their own lives. As Mattie Sullivan said, “I hope that our audience will resonate with both our fear and love of technology, and spend a minute thinking about their own relationships, both on and off the screens.”  We want this moment in time to allow viewers to take pause and evaluate where we are and how we want to move forward.

Student Voices

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