Junior Wins National Award for Young Women in Computing, Teacher and Three Other Students Win Regional Accolades
After several years of success in the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing (AiC) awards program, 2020 marks Rowland Hall’s winningest year yet—the capstone of which is our first national winner, junior Katy Dark.
Katy is one of 40 high schoolers tapped from a pool of 4,700 applicants to receive the highest AiC honor this year. She and the other winners will receive cash, prizes, and a trip to the Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, to celebrate and network in early March.
“I’m ecstatic that I’ve gotten the privilege to win the national award,” Katy said, adding the recognition for pursuing her passion has left her stunned. Katy has applied for the AiC awards three times; in 2019, she won an honorable mention from the NCWIT Northern Utah Affiliate.
In addition to Katy’s national win, the NCWIT Northern Utah Affiliate gave senior Ellie Nichols and juniors Maddy Eatchel and Yuchen Yang AiC honorable mentions. Teacher and alum Ben Smith ’89 earned the Educator Award.
In addition to Katy’s distinction, our local affiliate gave senior Ellie Nichols and juniors Maddy Eatchel and Yuchen Yang AiC honorable mentions. And after an honorable mention last year, computer science (CS) teacher and alumnus Ben Smith ’89 secured our affiliate’s Educator Award for his steadfast support of young women in computing.
NCWIT’s Award for AiC honors women, genderqueer, or non-binary high schoolers for their computing-related achievements and interests. Winners are picked for their aptitude and aspirations in tech and CS—as demonstrated by their computing and leadership experience, tenacity in the face of barriers to access, and plans for college.
Not only is Katy committed to pursuing a computing career, she’s already using her knack for the subject to make a difference in her community. She’s been teaching coding to students—primary at-risk Latinx youth—at Salt Lake City’s Dual Immersion Academy since the school lost funding for CS in 2018. Read our story on her President’s Volunteer Service Award. Now, Katy hopes to make her program permanent through a combination of grants and fundraising.
“I’m honored to have Katy as one of my students,” Ben said. “She is deserving of the NCWIT national award because she has taken her interest in and passion for technology, cybersecurity, coding, and computer science and found ways to bring that passion to students who would not ordinarily have the opportunities that she has had. She is selfless and dedicated to making the world a better place.”
Ben started encouraging his students to enter the AiC awards in 2014. Since then, 13 Winged Lions have earned a collective 18 awards, including one win and two honorable mentions at the national level. On top of that, Ben won two educator honors at the affiliate level. Under Ben’s leadership, Rowland Hall has been committed to ensuring all students—especially young women, who are underrepresented in computing careers—feel welcomed and supported in CS. That effort shows in our classes: in January, Rowland Hall earned the College Board's 2019 Advanced Placement (AP) CS Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in our AP CS Principles class. Out of 20,000 institutions that offer AP courses, 818 won the award. We're one of only two in Utah.
Update, May 29, 2020: After the initial round of awards, senior Violette Truong also won an AiC National Certificate of Distinction (CoD). From NCWIT: "National CoDs represent approximately 10% of the application pool. These students are selected from all applicants who were not selected for another award designation. CoDs are selected on the basis of score and experience that indicates that they would benefit from being part of the AiC Community. Most CoD recipients have experience and achievements comparable to Affiliate Honorable Mentions but in many cases were not selected due to capacity limits for the Affiliates that cap the number of recipients that can be selected. This Award is designated by NCWIT." Congrats, Violette!
Top photo: from left, Yuchen Yang, Ben Smith, Maddy Eatchel, and Katy Dark at the NCWIT Utah Affiliate Award Luncheon on March 7.
The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) recently named debate teacher Mike Shackelford the 2019 Speech Educator of the Year—a Distinguished Service Award given primarily for Mike’s work strengthening debate programs not just here at Rowland Hall, but across Utah.
I'm grateful that my job allows me the opportunity to get involved in the larger debate community and make a difference for more kids in the state.—Debate Coach Mike Shackelford
“I'm grateful that my job allows me the opportunity to get involved in the larger debate community and make a difference for more kids in the state,” Mike said. “My mentors—Ryan Hoglund, especially—taught me the importance of giving back early in my career.” Ryan, our former debate coach and current director of ethical education, won this service award in 2007.
Mike explained that school activities like debate depend on countless acts of service, from volunteer judges to late-night transportation and beyond. “Everyone is working so hard that it seems selfish not to do my part,” he said. “I also love matching the passion and work ethic that my students put into the activity.”
Match, he has. Since he joined Rowland Hall in 2007, Mike has taken on an array of leadership roles and accumulated several prestigious awards:
- Utah Debate Coaches Association (UDCA) Chair of the Elementary and Middle School Division (2017–present)
- UDCA Chair of the Novice Policy Committee (2016–present)
- National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) State Educator of the Year for Utah (2017–2018)
- NSDA National District Chair of the Year (2016)
- UDCA Policy Debate Coach of the Year (2014)
- National Debate Coaches Association Executive Board (2013–2015)
- NSDA Chair of the Great Salt Lake District (2011–2016)
- UHSAA Speech and Debate Representative (2009–2015)
Rowland Hall Athletics Director Kendra Tomsic nominated Mike for the award and confirmed his dedication to debate. “Mike’s classes are full of enthusiastic debaters who feed off his energy and knowledge,” Kendra wrote in her recommendation letter. “He loves working with students in a competitive environment and it shows.”
For the Shackelfords, debate—and the friendly competition thereof—is a way of life: Mike's wife, Carol, won this award six years ago while coaching for Bingham High School. "Now I'm even with her, which feels great," Mike joked.
Mike is the eighth Rowland Hall employee to receive one of these awards.
The UHSAA started their Distinguished Service Awards program in 1987 to honor individuals for their contributions to high school activities. Mike is one of 17 Utahns to be honored this year, and he’s the eighth Rowland Hall employee on record to receive one of these awards. View a list of past recipients in our article on band director and music teacher Dr. Bret Jackson, UHSAA’s 2018 Music Educator of the Year.
Rowland Hall is excited to announce the release of our first podcast: princiPALS. Featuring Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus, princiPALS tackles big questions and ideas about how to raise children who thrive, and was created as an educational resource for our community.
When Rowland Hall uses the phrase 'community of learners' to describe our school, we mean it. We strive to offer adults at Rowland Hall, including parents and caretakers, opportunities for growth and development, just as we do for our students.—Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund
“When Rowland Hall uses the phrase community of learners to describe our school, we mean it,” said Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund. “We strive to offer adults at Rowland Hall, including parents and caretakers, opportunities for growth and development, just as we do for our students.” These opportunities—which also include lectures, discussions, readings, student panels, and film screenings—set the stage for school-wide success.
Director of Marketing and Communications Stephanie Orfanakis, who helped produce princiPALS, added, “The more tools we can access together, the better the outcome for children.” Stephanie also noted that a podcast is an ideal tool for those whose schedules may not allow much room for in-person gatherings. “Not all caregiving adults are available to attend education events,” she said. “A podcast is another option for engagement—parents can tune in when it’s convenient.”
PrinciPALS host, alumnus Conor Bentley ’01, agreed. "The work Jij and Emma do at Rowland Hall and the resources the school provides to families are important, and a podcast is an effective way to present that,” he said.
Those who listen to princiPALS can expect to not only benefit from Emma’s and Jij’s expertise, but to walk away with ideas they can immediately implement. The podcast’s first episode focuses on how to build children's resilience—a topic, Emma said, chosen for its continual relevance. "The research is clear: resilience is at least as important as talent in terms of long-term success," she explained. "We see the positive impact of helping kids develop resilience from a young age." Knowing this, she and Jij offer proven methods on building resilience that parents and caregivers can try out. This feature of princiPALS is important to the team, who want to use their positions to help make raising children easier. As Jij stated in the podcast’s introduction: “Parenting is hard. Teaching is hard. But both are a little bit easier when done in partnership.”
Top photo, from left: Emma Wellman, Conor Bentley, and Jij de Jesus recording princiPALS.
Kendra Tomsic fell in love with sports at a young age, but when she was growing up, schools didn’t offer girls’ teams. Instead of deterring her, that early experience sparked a passion that still drives her today.
“As a pre-Title IX athlete who never had a coach or even the chance to compete until college, I vowed to help make certain others would have the opportunities I didn’t,” Kendra told attendees of YWCA Utah’s Leader Luncheon on September 13, as she accepted this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Sports and Athletics.
As a pre-Title IX athlete who never had a coach or even the chance to compete until college, I vowed to help make certain others would have the opportunities I didn’t.—Kendra Tomsic
She continued, “I made a commitment to become a coach and athletic director who would not only teach female athletes skills and strategies, but who would use sports to teach and model leadership, strength, confidence, courage, tenacity, resiliency, and the importance of teamwork.”
Kendra’s 42 years of dedication to this work—28 of them at Rowland Hall in roles including director of athletics, PE teacher, and volleyball, softball, and basketball coach—led YWCA Utah to select her as one of five women honored at this year’s luncheon. Award recipients are community leaders who advance the well-being of Utah women and girls, and who exemplify the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. In her roles as an administrator, educator, and coach, Kendra has harnessed her passion for athletics to empower Utah girls and women and to promote high school athletics at the state and national levels.
“It's not possible to overstate her positive impact on athletics in general and girls’ athletics in particular in Utah,” said Head of School Alan Sparrow. “Her commitment to getting women's athletics treated with the same opportunities and respect as men's athletics is inspirational. Through her dedication, diplomacy, and tenacity, girls’ athletics in Utah high schools have improved dramatically. She is universally respected by her peers and they listen to her when she points out inequities.” They’ve also celebrated her: Kendra’s long list of accolades includes a national Distinguished Service Award and state Athletic Director of the Year. But it’s praise from students that best illustrates the importance, and reach, of Kendra’s work. When news of the YWCA award was posted on Rowland Hall’s alumni Facebook page, an outpouring of love quickly followed, resulting in the page’s highest interaction to date.
“I am proud to say I know her.”
“There’s no one more deserving!”
“She’s amazing in every way and her dedication to making young women better athletes and, above that, better people cannot be topped!”
Kacie Tachiki Turcuato ’99 is one alumna who can attest to Kendra’s transformative power. The former volleyball player remembers her coach as a true mentor who believed in her potential, and who had the special ability to bring out and refine her strengths.
“I’m not a natural-born athlete,” Kacie said. “I’m super short and in my first year of high school I was very weak; I couldn’t even get a serve over the net. I just played because it was fun and recreational. But Kendra believed in me, she worked with me, and by the time I left Rowland Hall, I was a stronger athlete: I got the school’s Senior Athlete of the Year, I got Salt Lake Tribune’s Prep Athlete of the Week. I went from feeling like I couldn’t do anything to really feeling accomplished.”
Kacie called Kendra one of the most influential people in her life, and that influence didn’t stop at graduation. Her guidance has inspired Kacie in many ways, from pursuing a career in physical therapy to returning to Rowland Hall as an assistant volleyball coach.
Students have the utmost respect for her, because they just know who she is. When she talks, everyone’s engaged and they trust her.—Kacie Tachiki Turcuato ’99
“I feel so lucky because I honestly think I’d be somewhere totally different without her,” Kacie said. “I’ve had a very fortunate, successful career and life, and I can’t imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t met her. She can really bring out the best in you.”
Alan also spoke of this capability. “Kendra's deep commitment and caring for each and every player and coach she works with is obvious,” he said. “You can hear it in her tone of voice when she speaks to the students. You can see it in the compassion she shows when a player or student is upset or hurt. You notice it when she genuinely shows interest in her students’ lives outside and inside of school.”
Kendra’s compassion comes up again and again when people talk about her; it’s an important factor in how she mentors others. Coupled with an ability to build trust, Kendra successfully models life skills such as confidence, resiliency, and teamwork on the court and field—and students respond to it. “Students have the utmost respect for her, because they just know who she is,” said Kacie. “When she talks, everyone’s engaged and they trust her. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
This is true for Gita Varner ’05, a former volleyball and softball team manager, whose strongest memories of Kendra involve the life lessons she learned from her and now uses every day.
“Kendra was a role model for me on how to be true to yourself and accept everyone as they come,” Gita said. Kendra’s high standards also taught her the importance of hard work. “She helped instill a strong work ethic in me because she always expected me to be doing something.”
Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, and guts—that’s what little girls are made of. To heck with sugar and spice!
And it may be inspiring students to use, and then themselves model, those life skills during and after their time at Rowland Hall that means the most to Kendra. As she closed her remarks at the Leader Luncheon, she shared a quote from professional surfer Bethany Hamilton-Dirks, along with a reminder of the role we all play in female empowerment: “‘Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, and guts—that’s what little girls are made of. To heck with sugar and spice!’ It is my work, and your work, to continue to send that message to young women, the future leaders of tomorrow.”
Thank you, Coach T, for this important lesson, and for the many others you teach student-athletes every day. Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition.
Have you read anything good lately?
Publicly sharing titles we love leads to discussion and learning. After all, the kinds of books we choose often tell a little something about our past, present, interests, values, and perhaps even the way we see and experience the world.—Chelsea Vasquez, seventh grade English teacher
Those looking for book recommendations may find themselves combing social media for positive answers to that question. By searching #shelfie or #buildyourstack, users can find a trove of images celebrating the written word: color-coded shelves, beaming readers holding up their favorite novels, children sprawled on furniture lost in picture books. For Rowland Hall students, inspiration can also be found by wandering the halls of the Lincoln Street Campus.
This year, a new bulletin board in the Middle School is acting as a paper-and-ink version of digital shelfies and stacks, displaying photos of the books, magazines, and newspapers faculty are currently reading. At first glance, the board may simply seem like a place to browse for titles, but it offers the larger benefit of promoting a culture of reading by sparking conversations.
“The idea isn't necessarily for kids to read the same texts as us, but to show them that all of us are readers and we're open to discussions about the texts we engage with,” explained seventh grade English teacher Chelsea Vasquez, who created the board. “Publicly sharing titles we love leads to discussion and learning. After all, the kinds of books we choose often tell a little something about our past, present, interests, values, and perhaps even the way we see and experience the world.”
Upper School English teacher Kate Taylor agrees. In 2017, Kate created “What I’m Reading” signs for faculty and staff to post on doors to model their love of reading. Like the Middle School bulletin board, these signs act as recommendations, but they also convey an important message: that Rowland Hall is a community of diverse readers. By sharing what they enjoy reading for pleasure—even those titles that may not be deemed “serious”—teachers underscore that all reading is beneficial. Furthermore, Kate said, a diet of light and challenging materials is essential to creating strong readers.
By modeling their love of reading, faculty convey an important message: that Rowland Hall is a community of diverse readers.
“I view reading as both a habit and a skill,” she said. “Both are formed and strengthened through repetition. In reading, like weight lifting, challenging reps develop strength while lighter reps develop endurance. Both have benefits. If we want students to be strong readers, they should definitely read texts that push their understanding and vocabulary, but they should also read lighter, more enjoyable works that simply get them reading to improve their endurance.”
Join the conversation! Share a photo of your book recommendations on social media and tag your posts with #RHshelfies. Rowland Hall’s shelfie projects exemplify how educators find creative ways to develop lifelong readers, and we hope these projects inspire ripples through our larger community of diverse readers.
By Alisa Poppen, Upper School science teacher and department chair
Editor's note: Alisa gave the following talk—lightly edited here for style and context—during a September 3 Upper School chapel that explored creativity in academics and life.
If you’re a sophomore in chemistry right now, I wouldn’t fault you for thinking that science is solely about precision. We’ve spent days and days making sure you know how to include the appropriate number of digits in a measurement. Most of you are with one of two women who seem strangely enthusiastic about the difference between 12 and 12.0.
When, in first-period chemistry last year, then-sophomore James Welt said, “In math, those two numbers might be the same, but in science…,” I nearly teared up. And then quoted him at least 25 times. And possibly mentioned it at parent-teacher conferences. And in the first semester comments. And, most importantly, secured his permission to mention it, again, today.
The start of the year has been all about measurement and certainty. And doing it right. And if that was all you learned, you might lose sight of the fact that science is, at its essence, a creative endeavor.
If you’re in Advanced Topics Biology, you’ve been counting and counting, and then carefully making graphs on which you place your error bars correctly to represent the range in which we would expect to find most sample means. In short, the start of the year has been all about measurement and certainty. And doing it right. And if that was all you learned, you might lose sight of the fact that science is, at its essence, a creative endeavor.
An example: In the 19th century, Gregor Mendel bred pea plants. Lots and lots of pea plants. He knew that, like many flowering plants, peas were most likely to self-pollinate, but he asked, “What if I force them to cross-pollinate?” When he finished, he counted pea plants. This many with purple flowers, this many with white…that’s all he had: numbers of purple and numbers of white. But to make sense of those numbers, he imagined. What could be going on, deep inside those pea plants, to explain those numbers? He settled on this: each plant has two factors, pieces of information, only one of which was transferred to offspring. He couldn’t see those factors with the naked eye, but he imagined they must be there. How else would those numbers make sense?
Mendel's rudimentary model inspired others—far too many to name—to creatively search for and characterize his factors. Spoiler alert: they’re chromosomes, composed of DNA. Along the way, we’ve realized that Mendel’s factors alone don’t determine how we develop. And so we continue to look. A woman in California, Jennifer Doudna, characterized a protein complex from bacterial cells called CRISPR, and because of her work, we now ask questions like this: what if we could modify our own DNA? And (for Upper School ethics and English teacher Dr. Carolyn Hickman) if we could, should we?
We get to imagine. Anyone who tells you that creativity belongs only to the artists, or the writers, hasn’t been paying attention. Science is, at its core, the act of asking questions—What if? How? Why?—and then creatively designing experiments to test those questions.
The summer before last, I worked in a lab that uses cotton as a model to study how genomes change. I would love to go on and on about the work, but to keep this short, I’ll just say this: the cotton seeds were breathtakingly uncooperative. On Monday they behaved one way, and on Thursday they were completely different. The data were never the same twice. After testing several possible explanations, we were stumped.
Sitting in the lab one afternoon, I threw out a possible explanation that, truth be told, I wasn’t completely sure of. Justin, my grad student/mentor, thought for a moment and then said, “What if that’s it?” and then grabbed three paper towels and a Sharpie. “We could do this,” he said, while sketching out the experiment. “And if we’re right, the results will look like this,” and he quickly drew a graph. We then sat quietly for a minute or so, staring at the paper towels, and then he said this: “This is my favorite part, when we get to imagine what the experiment would look like.”
We get to imagine. Anyone who tells you that creativity belongs only to the artists, or the writers, hasn’t been paying attention. Science is, at its core, the act of asking questions—What if? How? Why?—and then creatively designing experiments to test those questions. Testing a scenario that hasn’t been tested before. Yes, we measure, and yes, we replicate, so that the answers to our questions are supported by evidence. But the measuring and the replicating is always preceded by an act of creativity. And that, for us, is often the favorite part.
Rowland Hall’s Beginning School is a cozy, welcoming place buzzing with the distinctive energy of active, engaged students. “One of my very favorite things is that on any given day in the Beginning School you can almost always count on getting to walk around and see young children working together at something they care deeply about,” said Emma Wellman, who just finished her first year as the division’s principal. “They are experimenting and they are failing. They are problem-solving and working through tension and conflict together, and making a mess, and being too loud—and it’s just the best ever.”
They are experimenting and they are failing. They are problem-solving and working through tension and conflict together, and making a mess, and being too loud—and it’s just the best ever.—Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman
Emma joined Rowland Hall from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, known colloquially as Lab, where she most recently served as interim director of the Extended Day Program. After five years at Lab as both a teacher and an administrator, working with hundreds of children from ages three through 13, she was ready for a more intimate experience in the next chapter of her career. “I wanted to work at a place where I could know all the children and the families,” she explained. “And I wanted to work with professional teachers—people who have chosen it for their life’s work and were really committed and dedicated deep thinkers.”
From day one, Emma has been sure of her choice. “Every day this school year, I have woken up and felt huge gratitude that I get to be part of this community,” she said. “There is a deep respect for young children as people and as learners, and that’s really important to me. The teachers are genuinely interested in who these little people are and what is happening in their minds and in their hearts.”
Emma’s own commitment to students and the wider Rowland Hall community meant that the top item on her first-year agenda was connecting with students, parents, faculty, and staff because those relationships would set the foundation for success. She wanted to know the students, and their families, by name. “An early goal for myself was knowing all of the names of the children—and I did that by Back to School Night,” she said.
She went into Beginning School classrooms to discover each team’s curriculum, learning style, and personality, as well as how faculty members like to be supported. A self-described developmentalist, she also engaged her professional background to help provide age-appropriate activities and lessons. “I believe all people are becoming,” she said, stressing the importance of actively engaging children at their level so they discover how to learn—and enjoy the journey.
Emma has seen this approach working in the Beginning School. She described watching a kindergartener experimenting with how to make a ball roll from one end of a complicated ramp structure to the other. “It was really tricky, this route he had made, with lots of hills and so forth,” she explained. The setup required him to continuously step back to examine the design and to make adjustments, from the height of slopes to the size of the ball.
“It went on for a long, long time—and then he got it to work, and that was amazing. So exciting! Then he got it to work another time, and his comment was, ‘After it works it’s boring,’” she laughed. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope you hold onto that for the rest of your life,’ that the process of figuring it out is the good stuff.”
Moving into her second year at Rowland Hall, Emma wants to build upon the work already underway. She’ll enrich the relationships she built this year and continue to give students developmentally appropriate opportunities. Over the summer, she’ll take what she has learned from students, families, and teachers and map out a community-centered plan for 2019–2020 that will include enhancing outdoor play spaces; strengthening the snack policy that prioritizes healthy, nutritious, whole foods; reflecting on the school’s accreditation self-study; thinking deeply about parent communications; and soaking in knowledge from Alan Sparrow—whom Emma describes as “a wise and wonderful leader”—during his final year as head of school.
Whatever the next year holds, it’s clear that Emma will be fully focused on supporting Rowland Hall’s youngest students as they discover their love of learning and start to think critically, take risks, solve problems, and collaborate with others. “This is the stuff of learning,” she said.
With over two decades of experience as a middle school teacher and administrator, including 19 years at institutions across Asia and Europe, Principal Pam Smith has seen the awkwardness of early adolescence shared across cultures—but she has also seen how educators can play a pivotal role in easing growing pains and creating joy.
“Middle school is about developing the whole person,” Pam said. “Many people don’t have positive memories of middle school, and that’s unfortunate because it should be an opportunity to build relationships, explore interests, and, above all, have fun.”
Educators can support this development in two ways, Pam said: by giving students tools to discover their interests and by teaching skills that help students pursue their passions. Together, these practices empower students to trust themselves and take ownership of their choices.
At the top of Pam's first-year priorities was learning from groups within the school—especially students. She listened to middle schoolers talk about their educational values and ideal experiences, and gave them ownership of assemblies, where they are free to emcee, perform, and present their work.
Pam’s firm belief in this approach to student development was apparent in her first-year priorities. At the top of the list was learning from groups within the school, such as teachers and parents, but especially students. She listened to students talk about their educational values and ideal experiences, and gave them ownership of areas like assemblies, where they are free to emcee, perform, and present their work.
“One of the first things we did this year was ask the student council to come in and speak at our new-student orientation,” she said. Because this was also her first time meeting the group, Pam asked each council member to state their name and grade, and to share something they like about Rowland Hall. “By and large, the students were talking about their teachers,” she remembered. “That comes through loud and clear: they care so much about their teachers.”
Experiences like this are a testament to the positive student-teacher relationships at the Middle School, a Rowland Hall strength that Pam could sense even during the interview process. “This is easily one of the best faculties that I’ve had the experience to work with,” she said. “The teachers really know and care about their kids. They understand what kids at this age are going through.”
This understanding is crucial to earning the trust necessary to guide students in self-discovery, particularly as they experiment with making choices. Pam explained that each student is on a personal journey, which they need to walk in their own way, at their own pace—mistakes and all. While giving them freedom to make mistakes can seem frightening, it is a crucial component of healthy development and essential at Rowland Hall, where there is a focus on teaching ethical decision-making, guiding students to take responsibility for learning, and developing student strengths.
The Middle School provides a safety net, Pam said, that helps catch students as they make mistakes and ultimately develop resilience and perseverance. “They can fall and get maybe a little scratched or bumped and bruised, but they’re going to be OK,” she said. “They’re going to learn.”
And as students become more experienced at healthy decision-making alongside discovering their passions, Pam said, they blossom. They start to understand that they have influence—what she calls their “powers for good”—over their lives and the world around them, and that they can engage their interests, skills, and talents in new ways. “There’s so much that students can do to be creative and to connect,” she said, citing examples of Rowland Hall students engaging those powers for good—from the seventh graders who started a campaign to remove straws from and limit single-use plastics in the cafeteria, to the eighth graders who led a clothing drive for Salt Lake City’s refugee community. She wants to continue to cultivate these opportunities next year to get more students engaged with the wider school and city communities, which can unlock passions they may not have yet discovered.
“School doesn’t have to just take place within the walls of the classroom,” Pam said. “This is a rich city with a lot to offer, so I want our students to be able to take advantage of that.”
Moving forward, Pam will continue to ensure that middle schoolers have the support they need to develop skills that will prepare them for the Upper School, and then college and life beyond.
“Our students really transform over three years,” she said. “By the end of eighth grade, they stand confidently, having found their voice, and are excited to continue learning and pursuing their passions. There’s this feeling that they can take on the world.”