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The student experience at Rowland Hall is still outstanding. My children are excited about school and are actively engaged in their learning. —Lower School parent
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Each year at division commencement ceremonies, Rowland Hall proudly honors faculty who have demonstrated exceptional teaching and mentoring.
The Sumner/Larsen Excellence in Teaching Faculty Awards
The Sumner/Larsen Excellence in Teaching Faculty Awards are given each year to outstanding faculty members in each division who have demonstrated a love for teaching and excellence in their fields. This award was established in 1985 by Kit Sumner and family, who have shown an unparalleled commitment to Rowland Hall for three generations. In 2022, Kurt Larsen, who shares the Sumners’ high regard for Rowland Hall’s faculty and dedication to the school, joined Kit Sumner in funding this award to increase its impact. The renamed Sumner/Larsen Excellence in Teaching Faculty Award is one of the highest recognitions of excellence in teaching at Rowland Hall. Congratulations to the following recipients.
Beginning School: Collin Wolfe, McCarthey Campus physical education teacher
Collin Wolfe is universally beloved by the children in the Beginning School. He has a warm and encouraging demeanor and an endearing silly sense of humor, which ingratiates him to Rowland Hall’s youngest learners nearly instantly. He is also a well-respected and appreciated colleague—open, flexible, and kind. Collin takes time to check in with individual grown-ups, just as he checks in with individual kids each day, and is a great collaborator and creative contributor. Collin also does an exemplary job in partnering with families, reaching out proactively to share highlights and expertly engaging them when there have been bumps in the road. He takes advantage of these opportunities to build relationships and, despite teaching so many students, somehow knows the names not only of those students but also of their parents. It’s no surprise that by October or November, gaggles of Beginning Schoolers shout “Wolfie!” from across the playground or the opposite end of the hallway upon sighting him. Thank you, Collin, for the marvelous work you do as an early childhood PE teacher.
Lower School: Marianne Love, fourth-grade teacher
Marianne Love is an expert in her craft, and her passion and skill result in a classroom community that’s joyful, safe, hardworking, and just the right amount of silly. Families love Marianne because she shares so authentically in their delight about their children’s growth and accomplishments; she helps nervous parents keep perspective, serving as a source of wisdom and modeling an even-keeled approach. Colleagues love Marianne because she is a great listener, a compassionate and supportive mentor, lots of fun to be around, and can be counted on to get the party started. Students love Marianne because she loves them, through thick and thin, and because she has high expectations of them. She knows just what to say to kids when they’re in the throes of a social dilemma or disappointed in their academic performance. She knows how to help them be brave and try something new: a tricky mental math problem, a dance move, or spending their first night away from their families. Once you’ve been a student of hers, you’re hers forever. We’re grateful to Marianne for giving so much of herself to us all, every day.
Middle School: Jill Gerber, seventh-grade English teacher
Jill Gerber is beloved by students, present and past. She understands the importance of building relationships, taking time to know each student as an individual. In her relatively short tenure at Rowland Hall, Jill has had a profound impact on students and the Middle School community. She has a passion for collaboration and professional growth, and has pushed for a culture and love of reading while also helping to articulate key skills and ideas in the curriculum. She embraces interdisciplinary learning, creating connections and partnerships. Modeling a love of reading she nurtures in students, she constantly reads and stays up to date with best practices in teaching, then eagerly shares her learning with colleagues and takes on new curricular projects. She’s served on numerous hiring committees and the Admissions Committee, and is helping to bring the strategic priority work to life. Jill believes in every student and will work tirelessly to get to know and bring out the best in them—her bottomless energy is only matched by her dedication and commitment to our students.
Upper School: Laura Meyer, science teacher
Laura Meyer has had a transformative impact on the Upper School’s program, students, and faculty in her relatively short tenure. With a broad science background that includes studying and teaching chemistry, earth science, geoscience, environmental science, paleontology, math, and physics, Laura was the right person to lead the science department’s charge to update their curriculum in alignment with our strategic priorities. In collaboration with her colleagues and in her role as department chair, Laura helped research, design, and implement an integrated science sequence that allowed for earlier access to new, innovative, and varied electives across scientific disciplines. She also wrote a significant amount of the curriculum for the introductory chemistry and physics courses. Laura has led the science department with care, compassion, and profound intellect through some of the most challenging times imaginable, nurturing meaningful relationships with students and colleagues since her first days on the job. She is also a beloved advisor to a group of tenth graders and has designed creative Interims that combine science and service with fun and community.
Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award 2023
The Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award is presented to Rowland Hall faculty members who demonstrate excellence in teaching, serve as mentors to others, and contribute to the Rowland Hall community. This award was established through an anonymous gift to the school in honor of Mr. Jones’ dedication to the faculty when he was the chair of the Board of Trustees.
This year’s Cary Jones Faculty Mentor Award has been awarded to Melanie Robbins, kindergarten lead teacher.
When we think of remarkable educators, we often envision those who possess a charismatic presence and a commanding voice. However, Melanie exemplifies a different kind of leadership—a quiet leadership that speaks volumes through actions and inspires those around her. Much like her students, Melanie's curiosity is bottomless. She is dedicated to exploring the world around her and encourages students and colleagues to do the same. And while her eyes are always open to new and unexpected things, she is also, amazingly, always reflecting as well. For she is curious not only about what’s possible, but also about what works and why. She is always absorbing the wisdom and knowledge of those around her, whether they are five or seventy-five years old. She sets a mighty fine example for students in her commitment to learning, growth, and taking risks.
Beyond her role in the classroom, Melanie actively participates in the life and leadership of our school. She serves on committees, contributes her insights to grade level and divisional teams, and works collaboratively with colleagues to improve our program. Her dedication extends beyond the hours of the school day, as she connects with and supports her colleagues before and after school, often within the calm and dimly lit sanctuary of her classroom. Melanie’s soft-spoken approach is coupled with a quick wit and a knack for finding joy in the simplest of moments. She creates an atmosphere of warmth and laughter within her classroom and helps adults who enter her room to slow down and marvel with her at her amazing young learners at work. Finally, Melanie advocates earnestly and patiently for what she knows is right for students, centering their needs and ensuring their voices are heard, no matter how small those voices may be. For more than a decade, she has been a guiding force in the Beginning School, making meaningful changes to our program and leaving an indelible impact on the lives of countless children and their families.
When Rowland Hall debaters gathered to defend their two-time state title at the 2023 3A tournament at Ogden High School in March, they weren’t facing an easy challenge.
First, as title defenders, the team had a target on their backs. They were also up against a formidable 19 schools, all of which are larger than Rowland Hall, as the debate team plays up a classification level (meaning our students compete in 3A, rather than 2A, to access more events, including Policy, the school’s flagship event). However, the team felt confident, not least because of the changes they had put into place in the 2020–2021 season and that continued to guide them over this most recent debate season.
“Three years ago, we expanded our goals and expectations,” explained Mike Shackelford, Rowland Hall’s head debate coach. Mike said that online debate during the pandemic greatly shifted the team’s approach to state. Motivated by the isolation of online competitions and distance learning, they chose to compete as a collective unit, rather than individually, that year. “We had always tried to win individual titles,” said Mike, “but had never set our sights on competing as a 30-person roster across 10 different events.”
And when they did, they claimed the school’s first-ever state debate victory, solidifying the collective-approach strategy, which they’ve continued to hold themselves to, even though it is often more difficult to pull off as it requires a deeper commitment from debaters, who must remain flexible, push the boundaries of their comfort zones, and even take on multiple events to make the Winged Lions competitive. But it works: the strategy paid off again in 2022, and for a third time this spring (complete with a new overall point record).
“We continued to demand the most from each other, working hard and flexing our skills across different topics and formats,” said Mike; these topics included immigration, universal healthcare, artificial intelligence, high-speed rail, the Supreme Court, and global security strategy (not to mention the impromptu topics and legislative proposals from Student Congress simulations). “Now we enjoy knowing that we have the depth, consistency, and talent to always be in a position to win,” said Mike.
Our third state victory solidifies the school as a premier program in the eyes of the larger debate community. Winning state one year is an achievement, but winning it three years in a row is a trend. It builds a narrative that Rowland Hall and debate success are synonymous.—Mike Shackelford, head debate coach
Senior Layla Hijjawi agrees with her beloved coach. As a five-year Rowland Hall debater (who will go on to debate for Harvard in fall 2023), Layla has had a front-row seat to the team’s incredible growth, and it’s clear she has a deep respect of her fellow debaters and the work they put in to hold onto the state title for three consecutive years.
“It’s easy to say, but it’s harder to actually comprehend how much work this team puts in to consistently remain nationally competitive and locally dominant,” said Layla. “These students are completing thesis-level research annually on unbelievably complex contemporary political issues. They’re spending upwards of 20 hours at tournaments on weekends, not to mention the hours of practice that lead up to those competitions. And they’re committing to an activity where they’re repeatedly told they’re wrong … for fun! That’s difficult, and it necessitates maturity and tenacity you wouldn’t generally expect from teenagers.”
And as a result of their hard work, the team has built on the name of Rowland Hall Debate, which is becoming more broadly known. While the school has long been known as a place to be if you want to go far in debate, the team’s third consecutive state victory is making more people in the debate world pay attention.
“Our third state victory solidifies the school as a premier program in the eyes of the larger debate community,” said Mike. “Winning state one year is an achievement, but winning it three years in a row is a trend. It builds a narrative that Rowland Hall and debate success are synonymous.”
This narrative definitely shapes how students view the program. Ninth grader Zion Wirthlin-Ngugi, who impressed in their first year on the team by competing in different events with different partners, and finishing in the top five in Student Congress at state, said they knew the reputation of Rowland Hall Debate before enrolling at the school last year, and that reputation played a major role in their choice to attend Rowland Hall. In their first year, Zion was determined to soak in as much knowledge as possible from their more experienced peers, citing an opportunity to debrief with seniors Anna Hull and Zachary Klein after Zion’s first national tournament at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, among their top memories of the year.
Looking back, Zion is grateful to have played a role in this year’s state victory. “I feel accomplished to have assisted the team by making it to finals,” they said, adding that they are impressed by the skill level of the nation’s top debaters and, as they move through the program, determined to be among those ranks. “It was a shocking experience to truly apprehend the depth and scope of the skilled debater realm, both from national competitors and in Rowland Hall,” said Zion. “I am looking forward to being amongst them in the future.”
For Layla, the Tournament of Champions—or TOC, to debaters—was a top memory of the year. (The team attended TOC in person this year for the first time since 2019. TOC was held online in 2020 and 2021, and the team didn't qualify in 2022.) It was a chance to, as Layla shared, “compete with some of the best debaters in the country and to join the legacy of Rowland Hall debaters who have attended the TOC,” and to enjoy the camaraderie built among teammates during these experiences—on planes, at dinner, or during late-night research sessions. These “little moments,” as Layla calls them, are a major part of what she will miss after graduation.
“It’s hard to find a group of kids where someone can make a joke about the state of political affairs in Croatia, and the entire room bursts into laughter,” she said. “We often jokingly call ourselves ‘the most distractible debate team in the nation,’ and I think that’s a testament to how well we get along and how many things we want to share with each other—albeit unrelated to the actual task at hand. I’ll miss that companionship dearly.”
Layla and her fellow seniors will also miss their coaches, Mike Shackelford and new recruit Zach Thiede. In fact, the entire team is quick to point out how the coaching staff’s support and dedication to the debate program has been absolutely essential to establishing Rowland Hall Debate as a premier program in the larger debate community. They especially recognize how Mike, who has coached the team since fall 2007, has created an environment that allowed the program to grow to its current level, and whose dedication to each debater has shaped them into, in Layla’s words, “the competitors, students, and people we are today.”
Our team is special because our collaboration is organic and we have many committed members. Mr. Shackelford, Zach Thiede, and upperclassmen to novices prioritize our learning, experience, and understanding of debate conceptually, which in turn improves performance.—Zion Wirthlin-Ngugi, class of 2026
“Mr. Shackelford is an incredible force on this team, and the Rowland Hall debaters and I couldn’t be more grateful for his dedication,” said Layla. “The Rowland Hall Debate team would cease to exist without the overwhelming amount of care and coaching Mr. Shackelford invests in the team. As I’ve mentioned, the debaters are incredible people, but it’s Mr. Shackelford who cultivates their talent and effort into a cohesive team that is capable of achieving results that lead to Tournament of Champions qualifications. It’s an honor and a privilege to be coached by him, and he deserves immense amounts of praise for both the success Rowland Hall has found debating and the truly uplifting and positive environment on the team.”
After all, it’s this uplifting and positive environment that will continue the momentum of this season, and returning members are excited to build on the team’s latest success. They also recognize the exceptional group they are part of.
“Our team is special because our collaboration is organic and we have many committed members,” said Zion. “Mr. Shackelford, Zach Thiede, and upperclassmen to novices prioritize our learning, experience, and understanding of debate conceptually, which in turn improves performance.”
This team-first approach also builds confidence, and while the debaters can’t know for sure what the future holds, their collective experiences over the last three years have shown them that they can believe in themselves and are capable of holding their team to their newest standard of excellence.
“Success breeds expectations, but as an optimist, I've found that expectations dictate outcomes,” said Mike, who knows that the state of Rowland Hall’s debate program is solid—and its future promising. “Our students can compete against anyone, on any topic, in any format. Our program is as strong as ever thanks to great student leaders and mentors who continued the guidance for each new batch of young debaters and reinforced a culture of success.”
Rowland Hall Debate State Performances 2023
Below are Rowland Hall’s top performances at the 2023 state tournament, by debate event.
- Informative Speaking: Senior Angel Wang earned an excellence rating in this event, where debaters present a 10-minute prepared speech that seeks to inform and explain.
- Lincoln-Douglas: Senior Julia Summerfield was Rowland Hall’s top performer in this event, finishing as a quarterfinalist for her solo debate on the Supreme Court.
- Impromptu Speaking: Ninth grader Anya Ellahie was a finalist in this event in which debaters are given a random topic and have one to two minutes to prepare before delivering five-minute speeches.
- Extemporaneous Speaking: Senior Zachary Klein took second place in this event in which debaters are given a current-event question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches. Senior Amelie Corson was also a finalist in the event.
- Student Congress: Sophomore Andrew Murphy took second place in this event where students lead and participate in a simulation where they debate different pieces of national legislation. Ninth grader Zion Wirthlin-Ngugi also finished in the top five of the event.
- Policy: Seniors Ruchi Agarwal and Layla Hijjawi took first place in this event for their debate on the best proposals for NATO security. Juniors Marina Peng and Logan Fang, sophomores Eli Hatton and Aiden Gandhi, and ninth graders Enzo Rust and Baker Campsen all had winning records in Policy, finishing in second, third, and fourth, respectively. That's a clean sweep!
- Public Forum: Senior teammates Micah Sheinberg and Anna Hull took first place in this event for their debate on the pros and cons of India's space program. Junior Sophie Baker and sophomore Elena Owens also made it to finals, giving them the co-championship. Senior teammates Amelie Corson and Iman Ellahie, as well as the team of junior Harris Matheson and ninth grader Harrison Lasater, were quarterfinalists in the event.
This school year may be wrapping, but Rowland Hall’s incoming Home & School Association presidents are already thinking about 2023–2024.
Virginia Gowski will lead the Lincoln Street Campus Home & School Association, while Aimee Nussbaum, Alexis Swaringer, and Jamie Waters will lead the McCarthey Campus Home & School Association. The four volunteers have eight children at Rowland Hall: Virginia’s sons, Freddy and Jack, are rising tenth and sixth graders, respectively, while daughter Liza is a rising eighth grader. Aimee’s son, Daniel, is a rising ninth grader and daughter, Emily, is a rising fourth grader. Alexis’ two sons, Mason and Connor, are rising second and first graders, respectively. Jamie’s daughter, Alessandra, is a rising second grader.
These four committed volunteers are dedicated to strengthening the Rowland Hall community in the coming school year and looking forward to connecting with families in the coming months. We recently asked Virginia, Aimee, Alexis, and Jamie to share a bit more about their work with Home & School and what they’re looking forward to. Responses have been lightly edited.
How did you first get involved in Home & School?
Virginia: I think I first got involved with Home & School as a room rep when my oldest son, now finishing his freshman year, started at Rowland Hall in kindergarten. His teacher was Kate Nevins, who was one of our favorites.
Aimee: I first became involved in Home & School as a classroom representative when my oldest, Daniel, was in third grade. I really enjoyed it and continued this role throughout the remainder of his time in the Lower School. I also started volunteering as a classroom representative once Emily started Rowland Hall in 4PreK. I found that it was a great way to meet other parents and interact with students in the classroom.
Alexis: I first became aware of the Home & School program through various volunteer opportunities that I participated in the last two years. Two of my favorite events were Teacher Appreciation Week and the Auction. I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering my time interacting with the children, teachers, staff, and parents, while doing my part to enhance the Rowland Hall community.
Jamie: As a new family, we wanted to get involved in the school and meet Rowland Hall families. I volunteered with Home & School as a room representative and in the library. Spending time in the classroom gave me insights into my daughter’s learning, and we love seeing each other at school.
As a Home & School president, what are your goals for the 2023–2024 school year?
I hope we can help all families feel a stronger connection to Rowland Hall and to each other.—Virginia Gowski
Virginia: My priorities as Home & School president this year are to continue Amy Damico’s great work of getting more families involved, and to build an even stronger community with current and new families. COVID took away so many opportunities for us to connect, and got us out of the habit of reaching out of our comfort zones to meet new people, welcome new parents, and really get to know our students’ teachers and administrators. Through the creation of some new roles on the Lincoln Street Campus Home & School Board, including in community outreach and parent socials, I hope we can help all families feel a stronger connection to Rowland Hall and to each other. We have a great team on the Home & School board this year, and I’m so excited for the dedication and enthusiasm around the table.
Aimee: Some of my goals for the 2023–2024 school year are to continue to educate families about the work that Home & School does and inform them about the multitude of ways there are to get involved. I would also love to increase the number of people who volunteer with Home & School, especially encouraging those who have never volunteered before. Volunteer opportunities are always open to all Rowland Hall parents and caregivers and no prior experience is necessary.
Alexis: My goal is to continue to support and advocate for our children by partnering with the faculty to create a safe and inclusive Rowland Hall community where children have a positive learning environment.
Jamie: I would like to help families be engaged and make meaningful connections, foster a community of kindness and treating others with respect, and support our amazing faculty and staff in a positive manner. Together, at both home and school, we can develop our kids into people the world needs.
How do you hope to get more families involved in Home & School, and why do you recommend that they do so?
Virginia: Home & School is the connection point between parents and school. It’s a great way to get to know the community that our children spend so much time with. Home & School’s monthly meetings are always open to anyone, whether or not you have an official role. We’ll publicize those meeting dates, times, and locations in Friday Facts. We’ll have a number of opportunities to volunteer time or bring things (food, supplies, etc.) starting as early as Convocation the first week of school and ending with graduation events for eighth and twelfth graders in June. The best way to stay on top of how to get involved is to read Friday Facts—all the way down to the bottom where the Home & School news is posted—or to visit the Home & School page on the Parent Portal. Middle School parents, keep an eye out for your grade-level e-newsletters launching next school year. Finally, new families will receive an email or phone call from a current parent, who can also be a resource for learning more about Home & School. And always, please reach out with any suggestions or questions.
The stronger we are as a connected community, the easier it is to support our students.—Jamie Waters
Aimee: I hope to get more families actively involved in Home & School by continuing to provide an open and inclusive environment for any parent or caregiver to participate in. Home & School is also a great way to meet and learn from others who you might not have otherwise interacted with (families with children in different grades or divisions). I would recommend volunteering to anyone interested in meeting more people and to learning more about Rowland Hall.
Alexis: I hope to expand the inclusiveness of the Rowland Hall community that the previous Home & School members developed. It’s important to me that existing and new families feel welcome and know that their ideas are encouraged. By doing so, I believe it will increase volunteer participation.
Jamie: Parental involvement in school boosts student achievement. But sometimes we are reluctant to be involved because of time constraints or unsure of how to proceed. I encourage families to be involved in a manner that works best for their lives and never hesitate to contact us with questions or comments. I would also like to help families, especially new families, feel welcome and connected. The stronger we are as a connected community, the easier it is to support our students.
Kindergarten to First Grade: How Rowland Hall Thoughtfully Prepares Young Learners for a Big Transition
In the education world, June marks a time of transition.
It’s easy to think of major rites of passage—high school and college graduations often first come to mind—but as any parent, teacher, or student will remind you, school life, from preschool to graduate school, is marked by a number of transitions, whether that’s moving up a grade level, attending a new school, or tackling a field of study. Transitions are exciting and scary no matter the age, but are especially important to consider for those experiencing them for the first time.
Rowland Hall’s kindergarten and first-grade teams spend time each year thoughtfully preparing the current class of kindergartners for the next phase of their academic lives.
At Rowland Hall, many students’ first major school transition occurs when they move from the Beginning School, where they attended preschool and kindergarten, to the Lower School for first grade. It’s a change in the physical building, as well as teachers, schedules, and routines, and it’s not uncommon for kids to feel unnerved about the transition. It’s little wonder, then, why Rowland Hall’s kindergarten and first-grade teams spend time each year thoughtfully preparing the current class of kindergartners for this new phase of their academic lives.
On May 18, those passing by the first-grade quad on the McCarthey Campus may have caught a glimpse of one aspect of this work, when teaching team Bethany Stephensen and Quincy Jackson ’16 led their kindergartners to Galen McCallum’s first-grade classroom. This visit was the kindergartners’ fourth trip to the first grade this year, offering them another chance to examine life as a first grader. (Kindergartners visit all four first-grade classes each spring, and prior to these visits, first graders stop by the kindergarten classrooms so the younger learners can meet them in a familiar space.) On this particular Thursday, the kindergartners were invited to sit within a circle of their first-grade friends to further explore what they can look forward to next year.
“We know you’re going to be first graders really soon,” began Galen, “and we want you to know what to expect.”
The first graders opened the discussion by each sharing one thing that’s different about first grade. “We get to use iPads,” was one contribution; another: “We get three recesses.” The group also covered similarities between the grades (for instance, kindergartners can continue to look forward to PE with Collin and Anna Banana, library with Vicki, and music with Susan). Kindergartners were then invited to ask questions, and they inquired whether first graders ever grew plants or cared for a class pet, where they had lunch, if they had homework. Excitement grew as the first graders responded to each query. The group then divided into pairs for story time (with first graders reading to their kindergarten buddies) before heading outside for a shared recess.
Kindergarten lead teacher Bethany said these first-grade visits build on the year-long kindergarten study of community, which includes an emphasis on building relationships with friends across school divisions. Since the fall, kindergartners have had many chances to meet students in the lower, middle and upper schools, as well as to build community among themselves. The kindergarten team has seen much success with what they endearingly call the “kindergarten switcheroo”: mixing students from all three classes into four groups to spend one afternoon a week together, either in a kindergarten classroom or the TREC Lab. “This is an intentional move to build grade-level community and familiarity,” Bethany explained. “That way, when children are placed in new classes for first grade, their classmates will be known to them, for the most part, rather than mostly unknown, which can help to alleviate first-grade anxieties.”
All of these steps are part of a larger plan to get the kindergartners ready for first grade, but this work, from the students’ perspective, is very quiet, naturally integrated into day-to-day routines—and for good reason. “It can feel really stressful to little kids to talk about a big change too far ahead of time,” said Bethany. “They live in the moment.”
That’s why, even when first-grade visits began in February, the teachers kept the focus on friendship, not on the future change. “They get to play and be together, build relationships,” said first-grade teacher Katie Williams, who taught kindergarten at Rowland Hall for 10 years before joining the first-grade team in 2022–2023. This solid foundation of relationship provides further support when the kindergarten teachers finally begin leading discussions about the upcoming transition near the end of the year—a time where students can ask questions, reflect on personal growth, and explore emotions. “We model that you can feel more than one thing and that’s okay,” said Bethany. “We can feel really excited to be in the Lower School and sad to not be in the Beginning School.”
We spend so much time getting to know these little learners and what works for them.—Bethany Stephensen, kindergarten lead teacher
The teachers also believe it’s okay for parents and caregivers to have big emotions about this change, and hope that they take comfort in knowing that, just as the teachers thoughtfully prepared kindergarteners for first grade over the school year, they will continue to support students and families during the next phase. “We’re all motivated to help bridge that gap,” said Bethany, and many grown-ups—teachers, principals, and support/specialty staff— partner to ensure each student seamlessly receives the support they need to thrive in first grade.
“We spend so much time getting to know these little learners and what works for them, and that doesn’t disappear when they move to the Lower School,” said Bethany.
Supporting Your Rising First Grader: Tips for Parents and Caregivers
- Continue to build your child’s independence over the summer. Kindergarten teachers spend a lot of time building students’ independence, so by continuing this work over summer break, families will help their child be prepared for the responsibilities of first grade, such as managing personal belongings and daily transitions, as well as build their self-confidence. Let your child take on tasks such as preparing a simple meal, dressing themselves, packing their camp bag, and cleaning their room.
- Follow your child’s lead when it comes to talking about first grade. It’s normal for kids to have a wide range of reactions about the transition to first grade. Some may express apprehension over summer break, while others may not bring it up at all. Follow your child’s lead when it comes to discussing the upcoming school year.
- If your child expresses concern about first grade, believe and validate them—but don’t try to fix it. It can be tempting to want to erase your child’s worries about a new experience, but early childhood experts agree that the best approach is to give them a safe place to express what’s on their mind. Start by saying, “Tell me more,” to get a better sense of what the child is worrying about, then follow up with phrases such as, “That’s interesting,” or, “I wonder what you’re thinking about that.” You can follow up by telling your child stories about when you went through new experiences as a child (including your feelings and what helped), as hearing stories from loved ones helps normalize what children are experiencing. (And if your student is having trouble expressing themselves to you, encourage them to share worries with a stuffed friend.)
- Walk nervous children to class during the first week. For those who are especially nervous to start first grade, have a trusted grown-up walk them to class during the first few days of school to provide a layer of comfort and support. (Rowland Hall parents should be clear this is a temporary step while the child gets used to a new school arrival routine.)
- Communicate with your child’s first-grade teacher. First-grade teachers understand that this transition can be hard on kids and parents alike. Know that educators view families as team members and have your child’s best interest at heart. They will share how to reach out to them during the school year and families are encouraged to use those lines of communication when they need support or have questions.
- Take comfort in knowing that your child will be fine—and will grow as a learner. Remember that going through changes and experiencing new challenges are an important and normal part of child development. No matter what emotions may arise for your child (or yourself!) during the transition to first grade, remember this is an exciting step in your child’s learning journey—and that new adventures cultivate growth, self-discovery, and newfound capabilities in children.