Custom Class: post-landing-hero

As an eighth-grade gymnast and tumbler, Sophia Cutrubus dreamt of cheerleading for a high school football team. She lived in Ogden, an hour north of Salt Lake City. So when her parents broached the idea of applying to Rowland Hall, she balked.

I immediately understood why I should be here.—Sophia Cutrubus, Class of 2018, after visiting Rowland Hall

"I didn't know what the school was like at all," she said. To appease her folks, she attended an Upper School open house, where she chatted with English teacher Dr. Carolyn Hickman and history teacher Dr. Fiona Halloran. Then, she spent a day shadowing a student—Sophia still remembers Rob Wilson's biology lecture about the human heart. Her interactions with students and faculty revealed a community that cared deeply about education, she said. "I immediately understood why I should be here."

So her mom helped her complete school and scholarship applications, including one for a Malone Family Foundation Scholarship. Then, one evening in early 2014, the eighth grader visited her grandparents' house, and walked into a deluge of confetti and silly string—her mom had planned a surprise party with family and a few friends. She opened her Rowland Hall admission letter, and then a separate scholarship letter. She still remembers reading it line by and line, and seeing the grand total and how the Malone Scholarship covered most of her family's costs. "It was just a really emotional thing," she said. She was moved that Rowland Hall wanted her to attend and financially empowered her to do so.

Back in spring 2011, a similar celebration transpired at Rowland Hall when administrators learned the Malone Family Foundation—after a rigorous evaluation process including an on-site visit—had deemed us one of their 50 scholarship schools, and the only in Utah. "We were jumping up and down and giving people high-fives," Head of School Alan Sparrow said. "It was a great honor to be selected as a Malone Family Foundation school."

Media executive and philanthropist Dr. John C. Malone and his family started the foundation in 1997 to enable motivated students to attain scholarships to top independent schools, according to the foundation. These students must also demonstrate financial need—without the Malone Scholarship, they'd lack the resources to attend an independent school.

At Rowland Hall, the $2 million endowment each year provides a total of $100,000 in scholarships for six students in grades seven through twelve. Once a student earns a Malone Scholarship, it follows them through their Rowland Hall career. Since 2011, the program has helped 12 Winged Lions attend our institution.

Being a Malone School offers advantages beyond the endowment, according to Alan. Every June, he and other Malone School heads gather at Stanford University to share ideas. They also benefit from the college's many resources and speakers—this past summer, for instance, they heard from the director of Stanford's artificial intelligence lab.

Here at Rowland Hall, our head of school applauds the Malone Scholarship for attracting students whose perspectives enhance the community. "They're all motivated to get as much as possible out of the education we offer," Alan said of our scholars. "At the same time, they give back to the community through their participation—whether in classes, or on sports teams, or in the arts—and fully immerse themselves in the school community and beyond."

Sophomore and Malone Scholar Andres Torres came here as a seventh grader, and like Sophia, found Rowland Hall to be a natural fit from his first interview with our Admission Office. The debater and track athlete especially enjoys his history and science classes, and excitedly shows off his smart-phone case adorned with the Voyager spacecrafts' Golden Record design. He might want to be an engineer one day, he said, and appreciates how Rowland Hall has expanded his knowledge. "Academically, it's a great fit for me," he said. "I like the workload, and the amount of things I learn is pretty vast."

Before I came to Rowland Hall, I didn't really know what it meant to push myself and to expect the best of myself. It really woke me up.—Sophia Cutrubus

Being a Malone Scholar simply means valuing your education, Sophia echoed, and it's changed the way she approaches school. "Before I came to Rowland Hall, I didn't really know what it meant to push myself and to expect the best of myself," she said. "It really woke me up." She embraced the challenge and flourished in the community. "I had to start thinking about ethics and morality, and pushing myself not to just get that A, but to really feel proud of the work I was doing," said Sophia, who's also expanded her cultural horizons here: she sits on the Inclusion and Equity Committee, and spent her Project 11 teaching dance to middle schoolers in the Navajo Nation.

Since her freshman year, Sophia has tackled an ambitious roster of classes and learned to reach out to teachers for help. Faculty, in turn, have encouraged her. "They're really invested in who you are as a person," she said. "To them, you're not just another person sitting in a desk."

The respect is mutual; Sophia's instructors commend her intellectual curiosity. In January, history teachers Dr. Nate Kogan and Dr. Fiona Halloran took the then-junior and five other students to the American Historical Association's Annual Meeting—read about the trip. According to Fiona, Sophi (as she's often called) happily attended sessions on all kinds of obscure topics, and on various peoples of the past: "North Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America—she was interested in everyone," the teacher said.

"She's bright, energetic, critical, observant, and kind," Fiona added. "On top of these gifts, Sophi is a person who wants you to try the amazing lemon tart she's enjoying. She's enthusiastic and eager for others to share her pleasure in every excitement she encounters."

Since Rowland Hall doesn't have football or cheerleading, Sophia turned to the next best thing—our dance program, led by Sofia Gorder. When Sophia nervously auditioned for Dance Ensemble, an older peer, Hannah Riter '15, took the novice under her wing and ushered her through the choreography. With a lift from classmates like Hannah and the passionate, dynamic Sofia, Sophia fell in love with the art form and became a standout performer, now in Dance Ensemble VI.

Rowland Hall has helped Sophia find her niche, and next year, she hopes to attend college for dance and biology. In Fiona's opinion, Sophia is talented enough to do nearly anything. "She's going to sample the world and land somewhere interesting, doing something unexpected," the teacher said. And Sophia credits Rowland Hall for encouraging her self-exploration and self-expression these past four years—it's been worth her hourlong commute.

To learn more about our Malone Family Foundation Scholarship, visit rowlandhall.org/scholarships.

Scholarships

Through Prestigious Malone Scholarships, Bright Students Empowered to Attend Rowland Hall

As an eighth-grade gymnast and tumbler, Sophia Cutrubus dreamt of cheerleading for a high school football team. She lived in Ogden, an hour north of Salt Lake City. So when her parents broached the idea of applying to Rowland Hall, she balked.

I immediately understood why I should be here.—Sophia Cutrubus, Class of 2018, after visiting Rowland Hall

"I didn't know what the school was like at all," she said. To appease her folks, she attended an Upper School open house, where she chatted with English teacher Dr. Carolyn Hickman and history teacher Dr. Fiona Halloran. Then, she spent a day shadowing a student—Sophia still remembers Rob Wilson's biology lecture about the human heart. Her interactions with students and faculty revealed a community that cared deeply about education, she said. "I immediately understood why I should be here."

So her mom helped her complete school and scholarship applications, including one for a Malone Family Foundation Scholarship. Then, one evening in early 2014, the eighth grader visited her grandparents' house, and walked into a deluge of confetti and silly string—her mom had planned a surprise party with family and a few friends. She opened her Rowland Hall admission letter, and then a separate scholarship letter. She still remembers reading it line by and line, and seeing the grand total and how the Malone Scholarship covered most of her family's costs. "It was just a really emotional thing," she said. She was moved that Rowland Hall wanted her to attend and financially empowered her to do so.

Back in spring 2011, a similar celebration transpired at Rowland Hall when administrators learned the Malone Family Foundation—after a rigorous evaluation process including an on-site visit—had deemed us one of their 50 scholarship schools, and the only in Utah. "We were jumping up and down and giving people high-fives," Head of School Alan Sparrow said. "It was a great honor to be selected as a Malone Family Foundation school."

Media executive and philanthropist Dr. John C. Malone and his family started the foundation in 1997 to enable motivated students to attain scholarships to top independent schools, according to the foundation. These students must also demonstrate financial need—without the Malone Scholarship, they'd lack the resources to attend an independent school.

At Rowland Hall, the $2 million endowment each year provides a total of $100,000 in scholarships for six students in grades seven through twelve. Once a student earns a Malone Scholarship, it follows them through their Rowland Hall career. Since 2011, the program has helped 12 Winged Lions attend our institution.

Being a Malone School offers advantages beyond the endowment, according to Alan. Every June, he and other Malone School heads gather at Stanford University to share ideas. They also benefit from the college's many resources and speakers—this past summer, for instance, they heard from the director of Stanford's artificial intelligence lab.

Here at Rowland Hall, our head of school applauds the Malone Scholarship for attracting students whose perspectives enhance the community. "They're all motivated to get as much as possible out of the education we offer," Alan said of our scholars. "At the same time, they give back to the community through their participation—whether in classes, or on sports teams, or in the arts—and fully immerse themselves in the school community and beyond."

Sophomore and Malone Scholar Andres Torres came here as a seventh grader, and like Sophia, found Rowland Hall to be a natural fit from his first interview with our Admission Office. The debater and track athlete especially enjoys his history and science classes, and excitedly shows off his smart-phone case adorned with the Voyager spacecrafts' Golden Record design. He might want to be an engineer one day, he said, and appreciates how Rowland Hall has expanded his knowledge. "Academically, it's a great fit for me," he said. "I like the workload, and the amount of things I learn is pretty vast."

Before I came to Rowland Hall, I didn't really know what it meant to push myself and to expect the best of myself. It really woke me up.—Sophia Cutrubus

Being a Malone Scholar simply means valuing your education, Sophia echoed, and it's changed the way she approaches school. "Before I came to Rowland Hall, I didn't really know what it meant to push myself and to expect the best of myself," she said. "It really woke me up." She embraced the challenge and flourished in the community. "I had to start thinking about ethics and morality, and pushing myself not to just get that A, but to really feel proud of the work I was doing," said Sophia, who's also expanded her cultural horizons here: she sits on the Inclusion and Equity Committee, and spent her Project 11 teaching dance to middle schoolers in the Navajo Nation.

Since her freshman year, Sophia has tackled an ambitious roster of classes and learned to reach out to teachers for help. Faculty, in turn, have encouraged her. "They're really invested in who you are as a person," she said. "To them, you're not just another person sitting in a desk."

The respect is mutual; Sophia's instructors commend her intellectual curiosity. In January, history teachers Dr. Nate Kogan and Dr. Fiona Halloran took the then-junior and five other students to the American Historical Association's Annual Meeting—read about the trip. According to Fiona, Sophi (as she's often called) happily attended sessions on all kinds of obscure topics, and on various peoples of the past: "North Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America—she was interested in everyone," the teacher said.

"She's bright, energetic, critical, observant, and kind," Fiona added. "On top of these gifts, Sophi is a person who wants you to try the amazing lemon tart she's enjoying. She's enthusiastic and eager for others to share her pleasure in every excitement she encounters."

Since Rowland Hall doesn't have football or cheerleading, Sophia turned to the next best thing—our dance program, led by Sofia Gorder. When Sophia nervously auditioned for Dance Ensemble, an older peer, Hannah Riter '15, took the novice under her wing and ushered her through the choreography. With a lift from classmates like Hannah and the passionate, dynamic Sofia, Sophia fell in love with the art form and became a standout performer, now in Dance Ensemble VI.

Rowland Hall has helped Sophia find her niche, and next year, she hopes to attend college for dance and biology. In Fiona's opinion, Sophia is talented enough to do nearly anything. "She's going to sample the world and land somewhere interesting, doing something unexpected," the teacher said. And Sophia credits Rowland Hall for encouraging her self-exploration and self-expression these past four years—it's been worth her hourlong commute.

To learn more about our Malone Family Foundation Scholarship, visit rowlandhall.org/scholarships.

Scholarships

Explore School Stories

Rowland Hall beginning schoolers tackling mathematical thinking while building with blocks.

Blocks are everywhere in the Beginning School.

Every classroom has shelves full of them, available for students to build whatever their imaginations desire. If you go into a classroom while school is in session, you’ll likely have to step over at least a couple walls or towers as you maneuver the space. In doing so, you are stepping right into the middle of a math lesson.

“We use the blocks to teach math concepts like half and whole and fractions,” said kindergarten lead teacher Melanie Robbins. “We start with a student exploring with blocks and expand that experience by asking questions and exploring new ways to look at things.”

Research shows that an early focus on math helps not only with mathematical cognition later, but also with overall learning throughout a child’s education.

Math isn’t a subject that you normally think of being taught in an early childhood setting. For decades the focus has been on literacy for younger children. Research shows that an early focus on math helps not only with mathematical cognition later, but also with overall learning throughout a child’s education. It’s something kindergartener Aria S. seems to realize, even though she’s only six. “I love math because it helps organize your brain,” she says. “It clears your brain and makes it so you can think easily.”

The ways math is taught in early education don’t look like what you might imagine. Yes, if you ask the students if they are learning math they will say they are, and will tell you all about addition and subtraction, how one plus one equals two, and the differences between working with “big” numbers and “small” numbers. What they won’t mention, though, is that they are being taught that math is all around them, in every part of their daily lives—that’s because it’s so naturally woven through the curriculum.

“We are a math community. We do math workshops, but we also use the language of math when we go on shape walks, or during dramatic play time,” Melanie said. “We do so much of our math through stories. It allows math to fluidly enter their brains.”

A preschool girl playing with building blocks.

Teaching math through storytelling also allows the students to teach each other. In one recent lesson students listened to a story about a baby’s adventure as he explored his backyard. While they listened, they drew maps of where the baby went, how his movement formed shapes, and how far he traveled. Then they compared what they had each drawn.

Teaching math through storytelling also allows the students to teach each other.

“We look at how everyone thought about it differently,” Melanie said. “The students explain their thinking, and other students can collaborate and expand on concepts. It brings a joyful energy to math.”

While communal lessons are a cornerstone of teaching, there is also value in the smaller teachable moments. “We as teachers are always looking at how our students are exploring and how we can expand those experiences with questions,” said Melanie. “It’s about giving them choice and voice in how they learn and retain those lessons. We are intentional with our actions, but we are teaching in a way they aren’t thinking, ‘We’re doing math right now.’”

That brings us back to the blocks. As the kids get them out to build the city of the day, they are talking about their design ideas and who or what will live there. But they are also talking about how many blocks they will need to complete the various parts, and how to brace those blocks so they won’t fall down easily. It’s play, but math is also at work.

“The block building piece of the Beginning School is very mathematical,” said Melanie.  “You can always identify Rowland Hall students by their block-building abilities.”

STEM

Rowland Hall's 2021–2022 debate team after winning their second consecutive 3A state championship.

For this year’s debate team, there may be one thing that feels better than claiming Rowland Hall’s second consecutive region and state titles.

Doing it in person.

After two years of online-only competition, debaters from across the state were able to gather in person once again for the 2022 regional and state tournaments. After numerous Zoom-room competitions, said Mike Shackelford, Rowland Hall debate coach, these in-person gatherings were a welcome change.

"A return to in-person debate was rejuvenating,” said Mike. “Sure, it meant more planning and earlier mornings—but it also meant pep talks and motivational speeches, real-time collaboration, bonding and playing together between rounds, and supporting one another by watching final rounds as a group. It allowed our students to be truly seen and heard by their opponents, judges, and their teammates." And it was especially exciting for the team members who hadn’t yet experienced in-person debate events. “They didn't even know what they were missing,” said Mike.

Sophomore Zac Bahna was one of these students: he experienced his first year of competition—where he placed third in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking at state—on Zoom, and now understands the contrast between the two settings.

We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.—Zac Bahna, class of 2024

“The in-person experience is a lot different but more fun,” said Zac, who, with fellow sophomore and partner Harris Matheson, took third place in this year’s Public Forum event. “You get to talk to debaters from other schools and hang out with your teammates between rounds. Although last year’s debate season was still a great experience, the team felt more isolated and disconnected when we were all debating from our own homes. The state tournament was one of the first times that I could really feel the good energy of a team environment.”

That energy makes a difference for Rowland Hall not only because the team plays up a division into the 3A classification, pitting them against larger schools, but also because they had to spend a lot of time preparing for individual speech events—an area they don't practice during the regular season—to be competitive.

“It was so awesome to see so many Rowland Hall debaters come together and push themselves to compete in different events than they normally would and work together to achieve a common goal,” said Zac. “We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.”

As a result, the team walked away from the state tournament with their second consecutive 3A state title (their total score, 108, was 33 points higher than the second-place team) and an impressive list of performances:

  • Senior Samantha Lehman took first place in National Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a domestic affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Senior teammates Ella Houden and Kit Stevens took first place in Public Forum, an event that includes short speeches interspersed with three-minute crossfire sections, on the topic of the pros and cons of organic agriculture. Senior Samantha Lehman and junior Micah Sheinberg as well as sophomores Zac Bahna and Harris Matheson closed out the top three spots, giving them a co-championship.
  • Junior Layla Hijjawi and sophomore Joey Lieskovan took first place in Policy, an event in which teams advocate for or against a policy change resolution, for their take on the best proposals for water resource protection. Juniors Ruchi Agarwal and Julia Summerfield also went undefeated in this event, giving them the co-championship, while senior George Drakos and sophomore Gabe Andrus, as well as sophomores Marina Peng and Logan Fang, tied for third place—a clean sweep of the top four spots! (Learn more about how debaters across the state, including Rowland Hall students, prepared for this topic in The Salt Lake Tribune.)
  • Freshman Aiden Gandhi took fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas, a solo debate event, for his speech on journalistic ethics.
  • Junior Zachary Klein took third place in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a foreign affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Freshman Andrew Murphy took fifth place in Student Congress, a competition in which students lead and participate in a simulation where they debate different pieces of national legislation.
  • Junior Micah Sheinberg took fourth place in Impromptu Speaking, an event in which debaters are required to prepare and deliver speeches on a random topic, with only one to two minutes to prepare.

Samantha Lehman also made school history by being the first Rowland Hall student to win an individual state championship in three different debate events over her high school career. The senior said the accomplishment showed her that she can successfully debate on both national and state levels—and reminded her of what she’s learned over four years.

Debate has made me more confident in my voice.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

“Debate has made me a more confident person,” said Samantha. “I’ve always been willing to put myself out there, but debate has made me more confident in my voice, in my ability to convey ideas. I know how to speak to a specific audience, to use my research skills and cater arguments to different groups. I know how to speak efficiently and clearly, in a way that’s not pedantic. I know more about the world: criminal justice issues, arms sales, international relations, water, climate change—subjects you would never find out just in school and reading the news.”

This perspective was echoed by ninth grader Aiden Gandhi, who emerged as a team phenom in his novice season, taking fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas at his first state tournament.

“The season allowed me to grow and learn about topics and ideas that I never would have explored otherwise,” said Aiden. And though he is thrilled about the accomplishments of this year, he’s even more excited about his personal growth. “I think I am most proud of achieving the growth that I did this year in debate. It means that I will be better equipped for next year and future debates.”

It’s this kind of attitude, found across the team, that promises continued excellence for Rowland Hall Debate. Even after graduation, said Samantha, she’ll be keeping an eye on the team—she’s that excited about what lies ahead. Zac and Aiden, also looking forward to what's in the team’s future, have already promised to contribute to ongoing success by challenging themselves and their teammates, cultivating a positive and fun environment, and building community.

“I am excited for the opportunity that next year's season brings to connect, grow, and improve,” said Aiden.

Debate

Rowmark ski racer Elisabeth Bocock is one of the newest members of the US Ski Team.

Congratulations to junior Elisabeth Bocock, who this week was nominated to the US Ski Team.

Rowmark and US Ski Team ski racer Elisabeth Bocock

Elisabeth is one of 42 athletes nominated to the US Alpine Ski Team and one of three athletes who will be joining the women’s Development Team (D-Team) for the first time for the 2022–2023 competition season. (Athletes qualify for the team in the spring based on selection criteria, and the official team is announced in the fall once nominees complete physical fitness testing and medical department clearance.) She is the youngest addition to the D-Team and the only new member from the state of Utah.

“It was unreal,” said Elisabeth of the moment she received the call from US Ski Team Coach Chip Knight congratulating her on her season and confirming her place on the team. “It was what I’ve been hoping for basically my whole life.”

She’s not kidding. Thanks to her family’s love of skiing, Elisabeth has been involved with the sport for as long as she can remember: she clipped into her first pair of skis at age two, and some of her earliest memories include traveling with her family to Colorado to watch the World Cup—an experience that inspired her first dreams of joining the US Ski Team. “Seeing people on the team there was super exciting,” she remembered. “It made me want to be a part of that.”

It was unreal. It was what I’ve been hoping for basically my whole life.—Elisabeth Bocock, class of 2023, on being nominated to the US Ski Team

It also didn’t hurt that Elisabeth has three older siblings—brothers Scottie ’18 and Jimmy, and sister Mary—who were early naturals on the slopes and whose ski racing journeys inspired her own competitive drive. Elisabeth began racing for the Snowbird Ski Team at age six, and she joined Rowmark Ski Academy at age 13—a move she credits for preparing her to excel in both racing and academics, and where she’s had an exceptional career. In the 2021–2022 season alone, Elisabeth had five podium finishes in elite-level FIS races and is currently ranked first for her age in the US in slalom, giant slalom, and super-G, and second in the world in giant slalom.

“What is so impressive about Elisabeth objectively earning a spot on the US Ski Team is that her season was filled with setbacks,” said Foreste Peterson, Rowmark Ski Academy’s head women's FIS coach. “Whether it was having to quarantine from COVID exposures, or the many hard crashes she took that left her concussed, bloody, bruised, and banged up, she was knocked down time and time again. Yet, she bounced back every time, better than before, and always with a smile on her face. It was truly a pleasure to work with Elisabeth this year, and I so look forward to seeing what her future holds.”

And while Elisabeth’s riding the high of simply making the US Ski Team, she’s also enjoying an additional perk not available to every athlete in her position: the knowledge that this new experience will include her older sister (and role model), Mary, who was nominated to the US Ski Team last spring. “I’m super excited to work together in a different atmosphere,” said Elisabeth. “Mary’s been a real inspiration to me and has shown me what it takes to get to where I need to go.”

We can’t wait to see where she goes next. Congratulations, Elisabeth—we’ll be cheering you on!

Rowmark

Jodi Spiro's third graders are making an environmental difference at Salt Lake City private school Rowland Hall.

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.

@rowlandhall1867

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.”

Ethical Education

You Belong at Rowland Hall