Daily Life in the Middle School

Middle school student with teacher in art class at Rowland Hall, an independent private school in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Middle School Sample Schedule
School Starts/Block 1 8:30 am
Block 2 9:50 am
Staggered Lunch 11:10 am
Block 3 12:35 pm
Block 4 1:55 pm
School Ends 3:15 pm
students doing math at board

Curriculum

art teacher with student

Meet the faculty

Middle School Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Rowland Hall Middle School dancers perform an original piece in the Platform dance concert.

The middle school years can be tough. Emotions can be sweeping and relationships can be tentative. It’s a time when students are feeling more grown up, but also are still firmly in childhood. Finding a place of refuge can be difficult. At Rowland Hall, many students are finding that island of confidence in the dance program.

“Middle schoolers are looking for a way to express themselves and to learn more about their own identities,” said Middle School Social-Emotional Counselor Leslie Czerwinski. “Dance is a space where you can show up, be yourself, and process thoughts through movement.” 

Students are not only learning how to move, but how to find their voice through movement.

Dance is the largest Arts & Ensembles class in the Middle School. Some students take more than one section of dance each semester because the program is unique and the community is so important to them. While most dance programs start with a foundation in ballet and other Eurocentric traditions, students coming into the Rowland Hall dance program begin with break dancing. Instead of focusing on a straight spine or the proper turnout, students learn how to use gravity and shift their weight. They are not only learning how to move, but how to find their voice through movement. And once students find their voice, explained Co-Director of Dance Sofia Gorder, training becomes fun.

“They are using rhythm and music. It’s a language they understand,” said Sofia. “Then, later, they can go on and learn ballet and other techniques so that they have their voice but also the training to support that voice.” 

Students take part in every aspect of creating dance pieces: they help in picking the music and costumes, they choreograph the movements, and they work together to compose the message and mood they want to convey. “Sofia gives us a lot of freedom with choreography,” said dance student Gabrielle H. “For Platform [the 2022 dance concert] we did an ocean dance as a group and we all got to contribute in some way.”

Rowland Hall Middle School dancers perform an ocean-inspired original dance.

 

Collaboration helps build a strong interpersonal community among the dancers. The studio becomes a place where they can express themselves without fear of judgment and know their ideas will be taken seriously.

That collaboration helps build a strong interpersonal community among the dancers. The studio becomes a place where they can express themselves without fear of judgment and know their ideas will be taken seriously. “It’s a time to not really worry about things and just do what I love,” said dancer Meg H. “I like how everyone has their own style and has different movements that they like to do depending on their personalities.”

Discovering these differences and how to make them work together is another important aspect of the program. Sofia explained that part of the process is discovering how the same movement looks different when done by different people, and that can change the meaning. “Dance is just the platform we use to do the important work of understanding ourselves and the people around us,” she said. 

While the artistic and personal discoveries are essential, some students enjoy the dance program simply for its physicality—and because it’s fun. It’s a time to move and share energy with others in a welcoming environment. “It’s a strong physical space to express yourself,” said dancer Jack G. “You feel amazing when you finally master something and when you finish a show you feel relief.” 

No matter what they are seeking, Middle School students appear to be finding it in dance. “Regardless of one’s background, everyone can find joy in moving to music,” said Middle School Principal Pam Smith. “Our program can help students find joy, build their self-confidence, and connect with other members of our community.”

Dance

Photo Gallery: Grandparents Day 2022
Grandparents Day Photo Gallery

 

On March 18, Rowland Hall was thrilled to welcome grandparents and other special friends to our campuses for our first Grandparents Day since November 2019.

A cherished school event, Grandparents Day provides students’ most beloved adults the opportunity to enjoy short programs and tour the school. This year’s event kicked off on the McCarthey Campus, home to students in 3PreK through fifth grade. Grandparents enjoyed a performance featuring music, singing, and dancing by ‚Äčkindergartners and fifth graders, followed by classroom visits. Visitors were then welcomed to the Lincoln Street Campus, home to students in sixth through 12th grades, where they were treated to a performance by members of the chamber orchestra and a student-led tour of campus.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this year’s Grandparents Day. We look forward to welcoming you back next year.

Community

An eighth-grade Rowland Hall student in science class.

Teacher Sara Donnelly knows that the best way to help her eighth graders grasp scientific concepts is to connect their studies to authentic learning experiences. As a result, she’s always on the lookout for projects that transform science topics into “aha!” moments for students.

“I want them to see science as something that’s familiar, part of their lives, and useful—and not intimidating,” she said.

This year, she kicked off this approach by introducing students to the study of waves, or transfers of energy. An essential component of the study of physics, waves help scientists understand physical phenomena, and they can be found in many forms in our everyday lives, from the sounds we use to communicate to the lights we use to see.

“One of the reasons I start with waves is they offer a more qualitative experience and are more visual,” said Sara. This makes them especially useful for building scientific understanding and skills in middle schoolers: depending on students’ abilities, they can observe waves in a variety of ways, such as by listening to music or by observing colors made by light. These real-world practices, explained Sara, also help them learn to apply knowledge through unbiased observations, as well as practicing accurately recording data.

Eighth-grade science teacher Sara Donnelly with students in classroom.

Sara Donnelly with eighth-grade students in her classroom science lab.


The eighth-grade waves study is divided into three subunits (wave properties, sound waves, and light waves), and examines what waves are, the types of waves, how waves travel, and how, with different materials, waves can be sped up, slowed down, or amplified. The kids quickly picked up on the concept: during a Middle School dance that took place during the unit, Sara said students were commenting on the need for more absorbent walls in the gym. Students also discovered that waves were the reason behind some of their day-to-day experiences—eighth grader Sophia H., for instance, noted that the unit helped explain odd noises she’d heard: “I found out that sound waves traveled through vibrating particles, which definitely explained some of the weird sound phenomena that I have experienced in the past,” she said.

I want [students] to see science as something that’s familiar, part of their lives, and useful—and not intimidating.—Sara Donnelly, eighth-grade science teacher

The students also enjoyed opportunities to set waves’ paths in order to better understand them. In November, they demonstrated light behavior and the law of reflection via mirror mazes. And in December, in culmination of all they learned in the first unit of the year, they designed models of their ideal concert experiences, a project centered around how both light and sound waves can affect how a person experiences an arts event.

“They were really excited about it,” said Sara. “Eighth grade is a great opportunity for students to use their creativity, apply their understanding of something, and take it to a more abstract way of showing their understanding.”

For the project, students were divided into teams and tasked with designing 3D models of concert venues, complete with speakers and lights marked with the directions of their waves. Students had to think through how the movement of sound and light would affect the audience’s experience: Where should speakers be placed for optimal sound quality? How will sound travel around the venue? How does the shape of the stage, or the seating, affect sound? How do light and color mix? What building materials will produce the best results? How do you manage accessibility for all attendees? In addition to a writing papers outlining each choice and its scientific justification, students presented their models to their peers, incorporating 30-second clips of songs that complemented their venue designs—choices varied and included Offenbach’s “Can-Can,” 21 Pilots’ “Stressed Out,” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” It was a unique, and fun, way to tie together what they had learned.

View of "Thunderstruck" eighth-grade waves project.

Students illustrated directions of both sound and light waves in their venue models.


“It was an interesting unit and I expanded upon my knowledge of waves quite a bit,” commented student Kendra L.

The project was a great way to build students’ confidence as scientists while also preparing them for new challenges: since returning from winter break, the eighth graders have been immersed in a new unit around forces in motion—a more challenging topic that’s stretching their learning through studies around acceleration, friction, and inertia. And just like in the waves unit, Sara is incorporating activities—including one titled “How Slow Can You Roll?” in which students work to slow the movement of a ball—that bring learning to life while building skills like how to communicate effectively, how to work well with others, and how to use sound data to solve problems.

“I want them to be able to reason through different theories as to what a possible solution might be, and to avoid jumping to conclusions,” said Sara. “The unit is building up their skills to be good scientists and good observers who ask questions and design solutions.”

We can’t wait to see what they come up with.

STEM

Rowland Hall middle schoolers with their original mural on the Salt Lake City Lincoln Street Campus.

Rowland Hall Middle School’s annex, a blink-and-you-might-miss-it room located just a few steps away from the cafeteria, may seem like it can’t contain much.

But if you happened to walk by the annex this October, when it was serving as a studio for visual art teacher Anne Wolfer’s public art class, the small room appeared to have magically expanded: passersby could catch a glimpse of more than a dozen students, a collection of paints and brushes, and, leaning against the perimeter, sixteen 18-by-48-inch medium density fiberboard panels—the building blocks of a 24-foot-long mural, titled Outer Space, that the students designed for the Lincoln Street Campus.

Public art, a class in which middle schoolers study media created for the general public’s enjoyment, covers everything from murals, sculpture, and architecture to graffiti, environmental art, and digital art. Students learn how to look at public art critically, said Anne, as well as work together on one or two of their own public art pieces each semester, deepening their understanding of what they have been studying. Past classes have created a community tree and wall hanging, but this is the first time a group has taken on a mural.

“The projects are getting bigger,” Anne laughed.

Participating in the behind-the-scenes steps of a large-scale art installation is beneficial to students, as it helps them confidently build artistic, collaborative, and even cross-subject skills.

It’s not just the mural’s dimensions that are large; the process for a project this size is too. But letting students participate in the behind-the-scenes steps of a large-scale art installation is beneficial, as it helps them confidently build artistic, collaborative, and even cross-subject skills. For instance, before ever putting brushes to fiberboard panels, the class collaborated on a theme (nature or space) and then voted on mural designs they each submitted. (The winning design, a colorful take on the solar system, was created by seventh grader Mina G.) The students also tapped into math skills to transfer their chosen design from paper to panels, twice gridding Mina’s drawing to enlarge it to mural size.

And because this project required a balance between individual and group work, students additionally learned how to showcase their own styles while also ensuring cohesion among the mural’s sixteen panels. To help guide the class through this part of the process, Anne enlisted help from her friend Trent Call, a Salt Lake City-based professional artist known for his murals, who joined the class for two periods to share his artistic approach as well as to coach students during their final days of painting.

Rowland Hall public art students hang their original mural, Outer Space.

Public art students hanging their original mural on the east fence of the Lincoln Street Campus.


“It’s fun to see the different styles,” said Trent, as he watched the middle schoolers add color to their boards. Periodically, he would stop next to a young artist to offer a technique for creating texture and movement—then encourage that person to share the knowledge with students next to them.

“Personalize it, make it your own, but collaborate,” said Trent. “Look at the panel on each side and see how you can work together.”

Across the room, the three eighth graders tasked with painting the Saturn panels, Chase D., Kendra L., and Samuel L., were taking Trent’s advice. Standing side by side facing their boards, they discussed the best methods for adding pink, white, and yellow clouds across the surface of the planet—an unplanned addition, they said, but one that made sense after Samuel recommended it.

“They have been working as a unit together,” said Anne of the group, with a smile.

Without [public art], our communities would be dull.—Student Nathan L.

It’s clear that helping students build the kind of collaborative skills that will benefit them not only in art class, but in life, drives Anne, and this type of project, with its intrinsic focus on teamwork—of teaching students to find solutions as a group and to take turns in leadership roles—brings her joy. “I want them to experience what it means to do collaborative work, intentionally and artistically,” she said.

It’s also clear the unique atmosphere of this class—with its focus on the art that injects pride and personality into the places we call home—is providing a special benefit to the community-builders of tomorrow. Eighth grader Nathan L. certainly believes this. As he added yellow and orange paint to the tail of a shooting star, he noted that public art not only makes a statement, but contributes to people’s enjoyment of the places where they live.

"Without it,” he pointed out, “our communities would be dull.”

Outer Space, an original mural by Rowland Hall Middle School public art students.

The Middle School public art students hung their finished mural on the east fence of the Lincoln Street Campus on Wednesday, October 20, where it’s adding a splash of color above the playing fields. The Rowland Hall community is encouraged to enjoy the mural in person—but onlookers may wish to drop by soon, said Anne, as winter weather will take a toll on it. “It’ll stay up as long as it can,” she said.

Visual Arts