Custom Class: post-landing-hero

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

Junior Elisabeth Bocock Nominated to 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

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Rowland Hall's class of 2022 throw their caps into the air following their graduation

Rowland Hall’s class of 2022 is a group of 80 hardworking, resilient, and kind individuals who have inspired those privileged to teach, learn with, and know them.

Like the two classes that came before them, their high school experience occurred during a time of unprecedented challenges, which they not only faced but deeply examined to better understand themselves, others, and the world around them. There is no doubt, based on their achievements, drive toward lifelong learning, and demonstrated care for one another, that this class will use the knowledge built during these years to truly become people our world needs.

There is no doubt, based on their achievements, drive toward lifelong learning, and demonstrated care for one another, that this class will use the knowledge built during these years to truly become people our world needs.

The class of 2022 has amassed an impressive list of academic achievements. The group includes a winner, two honorable mention recipients, and a Utah finalist of the National Center for Women in Information and Technology awards, a winner of the University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair, and several top-tier debaters, including six individual state champions, four national qualifiers, two Academic All-Americans, and the captains who led the team to its second straight overall 3A state title. They enrolled in extracurricular studies, in subjects from calculus and digital media arts to comparative religions and Arabic. They dove into chemistry, physics, and fiction writing at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and artificial intelligence with Inspirit AI. Some pursued summer studies at schools like Harvard, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, or in programs offered by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the School of the New York Times, and the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Through internships, members of the class of 2022 explored fields from health care to auto repair to production accounting. Organizations that supported our seniors in building real-world knowledge included Huntsman Cancer Institute, McNeill Von Maack, the Submarine Force Museum, Survivor Healthcare, the University of Utah, the Utah House of Representatives majority staff, Utah Spine Medicine, and the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

The class includes various creators, from a University of Utah Youth Theatre's Conservatory actor to several musicians—a pianist recognized as superior by the National Federation of Music Clubs, several members of local jazz bands, two violinists for the 2022 Utah All-State Orchestra, and a trumpeter, and former first chair, for the 2021 and 2022 Utah All-State Band.

Winged Lion seniors led our athletics program to top-five finishes in the Deseret News 2A All-Sports Awards each year of their careers. They were instrumental in the capture of 26 region and eight state titles as teams, and also earned several individual region and state championships. Twelve seniors were named All-State, 13 earned All-Region honors, two were selected to play in postseason All-Star games, and five signed athletic commitments with NCAA Division 1 colleges. Seventeen Academic All-State and 29 Academic All-Region honorees led their teams to top-three GPA rankings among 2A schools over the past four years. Rowmark Ski Academy's eight graduating seniors achieved career-best performances this winter, including 25 top-10 finishes, 11 top-five finishes, and five podium finishes in Fédération Internationale de Ski races. The class also boasts a three-time state wrestling champion, a member of the US Ski Team, a dual-sport athlete who competes in the Enduro World Series, and a member of the Utah Girls Tackle Football League, as well as rock climbers, club lacrosse and soccer players, and local crew, water polo, water skiing, and hockey team members.

The class of 2022 created welcoming spaces, and their care for each other is apparent.

The class of 2022 created welcoming spaces, and their care for each other is apparent. They honored varied lived experiences by leading affinity groups and Dinner & Dialogue conversations, and represented Rowland Hall at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference. They normalized mental wellness discussions as founders and members of the Mental Health Educators group, as well as served as tutors, Zoom buddies, and writing consultants. Most importantly, they worked to build back community after remote learning, connecting as teams, friends, and supporters, and cheering on one another’s achievements, big and small.

They also gave back to the wider community, donating hundreds of hours to organizations like the Alta Environmental Center, Crossroads Urban Center, the DIVAS Mentoring Program, Grassroots Law Project, Guadalupe School, Huntsman Mental Health Institute, the National Ability Center, the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, the Park City Police Department, Salt Lake Community Mutual Aid, the Utah Food Bank, and Utah Refugee Goats. Two members traveled to Washington, DC, to further causes they believe in, one as a delegate for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, another to lobby for the protection of LGBTQ+ housing and employment rights. A member of Salt Lake’s YouthCity Government spoke on a panel discussing the importance of teaching Black history in schools, while a Decoding Dyslexia advocate discussed hybrid-learning challenges on Good Things Utah and a mental health educator talked about attending high school during a pandemic on the Utah House of Representatives Podcast.

Congratulations on your graduation—just the beginning of the next chapter of your extraordinary lives.

This class earned admission to 128 colleges and universities, with 58 percent of them receiving at least one merit scholarship. A few have chosen to take a gap year to work or pursue interests. Whatever comes next, we know their lives will be filled with purpose. Congratulations, class of 2022, on your graduation—a major achievement, and just the beginning of the next chapter of your extraordinary lives.

Students

Rowland Hall kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins speaks with a student.

Research is clear: Investing in early childhood education is a smart move. Not only is it one of the surest ways to set students on paths of lifelong curiosity and well-being, but it’s also been proven to enhance both individual lives and society at large. At Rowland Hall, thanks to a focus on evidence-based education, we have long been crafting a top-tier early childhood program centered around best practices for young learners during crucial years of their development. As a result, students leave the Beginning School viewing themselves as capable knowledge-makers, ready to thrive in the next stage of their joyful educational journeys.

In Melanie Robbins and Mary Grace Ellison’s kindergarten classroom, a small sign hangs over a row of student cubbies. It’s inconspicuous, but, once noticed, seems to summarize the day-to-day happenings of the energetic and vibrant room.

“Play,” it states, “is the work of childhood.”

This Jean Piaget quote, beautifully succinct, is a reminder that the activities that take place in Melanie and Mary Grace’s room, and in all Rowland Hall Beginning School classrooms, are not just fun—they’re incredibly meaningful, and essential to children’s development. By tapping into the most natural and essential of early childhood activities—play—educators are building crucial connections in young brains and setting a joyful foundation for discovering, exploring, embracing, and creating knowledge.

On a Thursday morning in February, the Piaget quote kept watch over a bustle of activity among the kindergartners. Walking by, a casual observer may have thought the activity was free play, but there was a thoughtful academic purpose behind the fun: the five- and six-year-olds were busy making their way through an array of learning centers designed for their Animals in Winter unit, a study of how animals hibernate, migrate, and adapt during the coldest months.

It was a time of play—and yet it was about so much more than the play. The longer the class was observed, the more apparent it became that a trove of educational and developmental benefits were taking shape just below the surface.

At one table, two girls bent over the covers of the animal reports they were creating for the unit; using library books as guides, they illustrated their chosen animals, a chipmunk and a fox, on the report covers. Nearby, a group of students, sprawled across cushions, worked on core literacy skills on iPads, while another, more rowdy, group rolled an oversized die and moved animal figurines across a homemade playing board. On the far side of the room, students looked through a pile of materials—empty oatmeal canisters, bits of cardboard, string—to be crafted into an animal habitat. In between these stations, children sorted animal pictures into groups or practiced writing letters, some with crayons on paper, others with fingers in sand. For an hour, the students enjoyed the freedom to sample whatever most appealed to them at any given moment, and to take from the group what they needed—for a few, it was a time to step back to reflect and quietly work on activities alone; for others, to engage with peers.

It was a time of play—and yet it was about so much more than the play. Like taking a cursory glance at a frozen winter landscape, which doesn’t reveal the rabbit blending into the snow or the entry to an animal den, just glancing at the fun would have limited the viewer’s understanding of what was occurring in the classroom. The longer the class was observed, the more apparent it became that a trove of educational and developmental benefits were taking shape just below the surface: Students cutting materials for the animal habitat or practicing writing the letter S with stumpy crayons were honing fine-motor skills. Those at the game board were mastering math by matching the number of dots on the die to the number of spaces they had to move. And all around the room, students were building social skills, whether while waiting for a turn or while navigating a disagreement.

“This is the power of early childhood,” said Melanie.

A Solid Foundation

At Rowland Hall’s Beginning School, an emphasis on well-grounded early childhood research, such as that around the benefits of purposeful play, is at the heart of the student experience—and for good reason. Between the ages of three and six, the time during which they begin to attend school, children’s brains are in the midst of a tremendous evolution that educators need to understand to fully support.

Rowland Hall students enjoying outdoor classroom.

It's important that early childhood teachers understand young children's brain development to effectively encourage early learning. One best practice for this age group is to move outside—research shows that being in a natural environment heightens young learners' cognition.


“The three-to-six age range is marked by huge transformation in the architecture of the brain, and the structures that get laid down during that time will persist,” said Principal Emma Wellman, who has led the Beginning School since 2018, and, in the 2021–2022 school year, took on the expanded role of Beginning School and Lower School principal. During the preschool and kindergarten years, Emma explained, foundational behaviors, aptitudes, skills, and values are ingrained in the brain, so it’s essential that children’s first teachers know how to positively impact this development.

“Early childhood teachers are laying the foundation for lifelong learning in terms of how students relate to school and to one another, and to themselves as learners and workers,” said Emma.

During the preschool and kindergarten years, foundational behaviors, aptitudes, skills, and values are ingrained in the brain, so it’s essential that children’s first teachers know how to positively impact this development.

Through thoughtful play and other proven early education tactics, educators can boost brain-building in ways that last: studies show that students who attend early childhood programs are more likely to later demonstrate high-functioning skills, such as strong emotional and social intelligence, curiosity, and discipline, and more likely to report high rates of fulfilling relationships and fulfilling careers. And it’s not just individual lives that benefit; there are also economic advantages to investing in early childhood education. Dr. James J. Heckman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago and an expert in the economics of human development, has found that investments in early childhood education result in the highest rates of economic returns, both for individuals and society at large. Simply put: investing in early childhood education is one of the best ways to greatly impact lives.

“You’re giving extra support in a time when it matters most,” said Emma.

An Emphasis on Relationship

When it comes to how children relate to school, teachers are often the key factor, and this is especially true in early childhood classrooms, where the trust educators build with young students sets them on paths of learning, curiosity, and self-discovery. In fact, said Emma, because warm, trusting relationships are strongly shown to be vital to early learning, they’re the first thing she recommends people look for when exploring preschool and kindergarten programs.

“The most important thing is the teacher-student relationship, because learning happens in the context of relationship,” she explained. “Everything is built on that.”

In the Beginning School, a focus on relationship, alongside an emphasis on reciprocal respect between teachers and students, guides everything from class sizes to division specialties; as a result, students remain at the center of decision-making. A focus on relationships also encourages more natural student participation in classroom happenings, an essential component to building brain connections in young learners.

PreK teacher Lynelle Stoddard reads to three-year-old preschoolers.

The Beginning School emphasizes relationships as well as mutual respect between teachers and students, alleviating tension around power struggles and showing students that their contributions to the classroom matter. "Children who are respected do amazing things," said Emma. 


“We want to make sure that kids remain in charge of big chunks of their own learning so that they don’t become dependent on the grown-ups to drive it for them,” said Emma.

This ownership over learning expands during children’s time in the Beginning School. As they build strong relationships with their students, teachers can encourage them to work on mastering both early academic skills and self-care activities. Through a process known as scaffolding, teachers support students as they make their way through the zone of proximal development—that is, the difference between what a child can do without help and what they can do with guidance and encouragement from a teacher. It’s a way to meet each learner where they are their own individual development, and it can be applied to both academic subjects, like building foundational skills in number sense and phonological awareness, or life skills, like putting on a coat or a mask.

“School is the perfect place for that practice to happen and to develop those skills, which are critical in other learning,” said Beginning School Assistant Principal Brittney Hansen ’02. “We take our time to let everyone learn that they can do an activity all by themselves and feel that confidence, that sense of pride, and carry themselves a little bit taller because of it.”

A Child-Sized Experience

It’s not difficult to find students owning their learning in the Beginning School: the process can be observed in the 3PreK student working to zip her coat, the kindergartner choosing a quiet-time book from the classroom library, and the 4PreK student sorting a pile of twigs, pine cones, and leaves gathered during outdoor classroom. Active learning is around every corner.

“All of our learning is entirely exploratory and we foster kids’ natural curiosity,” said Kelley Journey, the Beginning School’s experiential learning specialist. “We give kids a lot of authentic opportunities to learn in real-world situations.”

4PreK students peel and cut apples.

Faculty look for a variety of ways to actively engage students in learning, including by giving them access to tools and materials that build life skills.


The design of the building even encourages this exploration; you don’t need to walk far into the Beginning School to realize that the place is built for young learners. Bulletin boards, supplies, and books are set at the children’s eye level. Easy-to-access cubbies provide space for each person’s belongings. Child-sized restrooms are attached to classrooms, encouraging independence (while also providing reassurance that trusted adults are nearby, if needed). Simple decor and minimal reference material leave room for imagination. All of these choices, explained Brittney, are based on sound research and made mindfully and intentionally to encourage natural curiosity and to empower students to move effortlessly among spaces as they follow their interests or learn to manage their personal needs. 

“A key function of early childhood education is for students to learn, to be able to take care of themselves and their belongings, to feel ownership over their space and learning environment, and to feel confident navigating the school,” said Brittney.

Educators in the Beginning School are very intentional about integrating areas of learning in meaningful, authentic ways for children.—Brittney Hansen ’02, Beginning School assistant principal

Beginning School days are also set up to harness the ways in which children learn best: there are moments of active play as well as quiet time, and educators stretch young brains with both structured lessons and space for choice and self-exploration—what Rowland Hall often refers to as choice and voice. This inclusion of choice, explained Kelley, is important for all students, but especially significant to young learners who often don’t feel they have a lot of control over their lives: when much of your day includes being told what to do, and when to do it, by adults, having choice in how you want to learn—alongside access to child-sized structures and materials that allow you to work without a grown-up’s help—you begin to view yourself as a capable knowledge-maker. Students given choice can see themselves as scientists, engineers, or artists, and they believe in their ability to find solutions, improve processes, or add beauty to the world.

And because Rowland Hall is an independent school, Beginning School teachers (like teachers across all of the school’s divisions) have the flexibility to explore the topics that spark their students’ interests. They’re naturals when it comes to identifying subjects that light up students’ eyes, and they enjoy the flexibility to adjust lesson plans in order to follow these paths, weaving foundational academic knowledge into the areas their individual classes wish to explore.

“Educators in the Beginning School are very intentional about integrating areas of learning in meaningful, authentic ways for children,” said Brittney. “We are less about saying, for instance, ‘Now is our time for science.’ Instead, we think of something that’s captivating and interesting for the child and then say, ‘It’s my job to figure out how to weave science into this.’”

A Community of Learners

There is a common refrain about Rowland Hall’s Beginning School: “This is a happy place.” Visitors frequently comment on the division’s warm atmosphere and often report feeling a sense of joy during their time there. For Emma and her leadership team, these reactions to the school aren't a coincidence; they’re confirmation that Rowland Hall is providing support exactly where it’s needed—for young learners, as well as for the adults who make their education possible.

Rowland Hall is so special. All faculty members are complete lifelong learners and continually challenge themselves to practice the best theories and pedagogies for children.—Kelley Journey, experiential learning specialist

“One way we show respect to teachers is by giving them opportunities and responsibility to be learners in their own right, to continue their own professional lives,” explained Emma. And this is important because early childhood programs that prioritize the well-being of their educators see numerous benefits—for instance, teachers with supportive administrators spend more of their time focused on students, and they’re more likely to stay with a school for the long haul. Professional development opportunities at Rowland Hall range from growing personal passions or areas of growth, like when kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins helped incorporate outdoor classroom into the division’s curriculum, to exploring ways teachers can support Rowland Hall’s mission and strategic priorities, such as when 4PreK lead teacher Isabelle Buhler studied equity and inclusion in the early childhood programs.

“Rowland Hall is so special,” said Kelley. “All faculty members are complete lifelong learners and continually challenge themselves to practice the best theories and pedagogies for children.”

They challenge each other too: faculty are encouraged to share takeaways from their professional development experiences, a practice that supports one another’s engagement with, and investment in, their essential roles. It’s a practice that also ensures everything they do comes back to students: by staying current with early childhood research findings, the Beginning School team can provide the school’s youngest learners with what they most need, creating a solid educational foundation for those students and, at the same time, illustrating for them the value of learning.

4PreK students inspect a giant sunflower.

Teachers love to bring natural objects into the classroom to engage kids' senses while encouraging exploratory learning. Above, two 4PreK students practice observation and fine-motor skills while studying a sunflower.


And it’s perhaps this practice that best explains why the Beginning School is such a happy place: it’s a place that highlights the thrill of learning, where students see in teachers the lifelong benefits of staying curious, and where, through the eyes of children, adults are continuously reminded of the pure joy of discovery, of allowing curiosity to take you to new places, and of understanding just what you’re capable of.

It’s the magic of early childhood.


Looking for a preschool or kindergarten? Download Rowland Hall's tips for picking a top-tier early childhood program.

Academics

Rowland Hall Upper School students in disguise for the Drag Vs. AI workshop.

Editor's note: This piece is republished from Rowland Hall's 2020–2021 Annual Report.


2021 Inspired Brilliance Awards winner badge

This story won silver in the 2021 InspirED Brilliance Awards (magazine feature article writing category).


Computer science impacts our daily lives, but its workforce falls woefully short when it comes to reflecting national racial, ethnic, and gender demographics. Solving that problem starts with K–12 education. The subject’s proponents at Rowland Hall are ensuring equity is programmed into the curriculum—and the curriculum gets the attention it deserves—building toward a computing-literate society where everyone has a seat at the table.

During hybrid learning one February afternoon, about 40 Rowland Hall faculty, staff, and upper schoolers—some working from home, others from the Lincoln Street Campus—gradually populated a Zoom room. It started off as a standard pandemic-era Upper School class, but 20 minutes later, it looked more like an avant-garde digital dress rehearsal. Students unearthed accessories from family members’ closets and Halloween costumes past: a cowboy hat, a pair of aviation goggles, a leopard-print scarf. They cloaked themselves in masks, feather boas, heavy makeup, and oversized sunglasses.

Director of Arts Sofia Gorder and her dance students comprised half of these creative camouflagers, but despite appearances, it wasn’t prep for one of their performances. It was an open workshop held by teacher Ben Smith ’89 and his Advanced Placement Computer Science (CS) Principles class to show the Upper School community how facial-recognition technologies work and how they can be harmful, particularly for underrepresented groups.

One dance student, Mena Zendejas-Portugal ’21, wore a pink wig with bangs that covered her eyes. She used makeup to draw decoy eyes on her cheeks, below the magenta fringe. Mena and her peers smirked at their laptop cameras as a web-based program used artificial intelligence (AI) to guess their ages and genders. 

Rowland Hall computer science teacher Ben Smith participating in the Upper School's Drag Vs. AI facial-recognition workshop.

Computer science teacher Ben Smith '89 aged himself for the Drag Vs. AI workshop.


Before Mena wore her disguise, the program vacillated between misidentifying her as a 13-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. After Mena changed her appearance, ironically, the program’s guess came closer to the reality: it classified her as a 16-year-old female. 

“It wasn’t a surprise how the AI read me since I have a rounder face along with short hair,” said Mena, one of the leaders of the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee. “It’s just a confirmation for the thought of AI being built around stereotypes and constructed beauty standards that aren’t applicable to everyone.”

Algorithms permeate our daily lives, and flawed coding can have devastating real-world consequences, from wrongful arrests to housing discrimination. Ben educates the Rowland Hall community on these problems, and ensures his CS students are equipped to solve them.

Algorithms permeate our daily lives, and the type of flawed coding that Mena experienced can have devastating real-world consequences, from wrongful arrests to housing discrimination. Ben educates the Rowland Hall community on these problems, and ensures his CS students are equipped to solve them. “If these students are going to become leaders in technology, they need to have this perspective,” Ben said. “You can't ask people to have an interest in a career and not prepare them for the future ramifications of that.” 

Ben has long given students space to discuss JEDI issues but formally added it to his CS curriculum during the 2020–2021 school year. And at Rowland Hall, the marriage of CS and social justice is a natural development: the school prioritized science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the 2014 Strategic Plan, and during the past school year, longtime JEDI work escalated as a priority. 

February’s facial-recognition workshop—Drag Vs. AI by the Algorithmic Justice League, which “combines art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms” of AI—helped a cross section of upper schoolers see firsthand why this work matters: “By just learning CS and not looking behind the scenes, the future could be less inclusive than we envision,” Mena reflected. Indeed, AI researcher Joy Buolamwini, a Black woman, launched the league after personally experiencing algorithmic discrimination in her work. In one project utilizing generic facial-recognition software, the program failed to detect Joy’s face until she wore a white mask. In another, she had to ask a lighter-skinned friend to stand in for her. We can solve these problems, Joy posited in a 2016 TED Talk with over 1.4 million views, by creating more inclusive code. Teams must be diverse and driven to create “a world where technology works for all of us, not just some of us, a world where we value inclusion and center social change.”

This ethos fuels Ben’s work. The Rowland Hall alumnus, now celebrating 20 years as a faculty member at his alma mater, started teaching CS in 2015 and shifted to teaching that subject exclusively two years later. From day one, he’s made it his mission to diversify CS, a field “plagued by stark underrepresentation by gender, race, ethnicity, geography, and family income,” according to CS advocacy nonprofit Code.org. The US needs more—and more diverse—computer scientists, and efforts to broaden that workforce need to start in K–12 schools. Computing jobs are the top source of all new wages in the US and they make up two-thirds of all projected new jobs in STEM fields, Code.org touts, making CS one of the most in-demand college degrees. And exposure before college makes a difference: students who learn CS in high school are six times more likely to major in it. Among traditionally underrepresented groups, the likelihood is even higher: seven times for Black and Latinx students, and 10 times for women.

Ben currently relies on one-to-one recruitment to grow CS enrollment among those underrepresented populations. He read a book around 2014, during graduate school in instructional design and educational technology at the University of Utah, that sparked his professional goals: Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing by Jane Margolis. The book chronicles the lack of access to CS courses for Black and Latinx students—and addresses how to change the system. “It was just one of those eye-opening moments,” he said. “There’s no logical reason—except institutional bias—for why computer science education looks the way it does today … It’s incredibly unjust.” Since then, Ben has prioritized combating what he calls the most glaring equity issue in education today. He collaborates with other schools and organizations that are trying desperately to expand CS opportunities, and works diligently to build an equitable CS program for Rowland Hall. “With Rowland Hall's support, I’m committed to a future where all computer science courses have a student population that mirrors the demographics of the school as a whole.”

Building Curriculum from the Ground Up

Fortunately, Ben isn’t starting from scratch when sixth graders meet him in Foundations of Computer Science, a required class since 2016. Since Christian Waters stepped into the role of director of technology integration in 2013, he has crafted an arsenal of computing lessons to captivate the full spectrum of beginning and lower schoolers. Christian teaches at least one unit of digital citizenship, coding, and robotics to every lower schooler. Kids engage in hands-on activities like programming colorful toy robots and building wearable tech comprised of LED lights affixed to felt. They also get the space to think big and consider computing’s real-world applications, like furthering one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. How might they use computing, for example, to remedy a problem like overcrowding or a lack of affordable and clean energy?

Director of Technology Integration Christian Waters at Lower School Maker Night 2018, on the Salt Lake McCarthey Campus.

Christian Waters with students at the 2018 Lower School Maker Night.


Christian draws curriculum from dozens of expert educational resources, including the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Children’s Innovation Project, and Code.org. “We've built something that is really relevant, and the best combination of the best materials and resources,” Christian said. “It's not a curriculum that is sold in a big box that you wheel into a classroom, and everyone has to do it the exact same way. It's tailored to the needs of Rowland Hall and relevant to our goals and our objectives.” 

Thanks to ongoing collaboration between Christian and Ben, Rowland Hall’s CS curriculum is also vertically aligned: “We're preparing students for Advanced Placement Computer Science A Java in a way they never were before. Students in the Middle School are learning about objects, classes, functions, and variables,” Christian explained. “It's thanks in part to how we're building up from the Beginning School.”

One example of vertical alignment and mission-centric curriculum: Christian uses a Code.org activity where lower schoolers train a computer to recognize facial expressions—broaching some of the same issues upper schoolers examined in their February workshop. The crux of the Lower School lesson, according to the educator: “How do we distinguish between facial features and whether someone is happy or sad or excited, and is that even ethical to do that?” Students exercise their critical-thinking skills and confront questions involving how these programs work, and how to ensure they’re as ethical and unbiased as possible. “Ultimately what students get is that there is a lot of subjectivity in how we humans train computers,” Christian said. 

A Group Effort

Part of attracting younger and more diverse students to CS—and, down the road, reducing bias in code—entails continual, widespread exposure. Christian has not only integrated CS into classrooms, he’s also created community-wide opportunities to rally around computing and engineering. He organizes three annual events that are now synonymous with STEM culture on the McCarthey Campus: the beginning and lower school Family Maker Night in the fall, the school-wide Hour of Code in the winter, and Lower School Maker Day in the spring. “These events are designed to demystify technology and making,” Christian said. “All students can see themselves as computer scientists, coders, makers, roboticists, engineers.”

These events and the school’s CS curriculum as a whole are dominated by collaborative group work that occasionally reaches across subjects and divisions. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ben Smith's Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles students collaborated annually with Tyler Stack's fourth graders to make an app that helps young students learn math. Upper schoolers worked in groups to devise and test app concepts on the lower schoolers and use their feedback to improve app design. For Katy Dark ’21, it was a highlight of Rowland Hall’s CS program: “The thing that will stick with me the most is using new interfaces to help people.” It’s a fitting favorite memory for Katy, who in 2020 became the first Rowland Hall student to win the top national award from the Aspirations in Computing program, sponsored by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). She won, in part, for her efforts tutoring students and developing a coding club at Salt Lake City’s Dual Immersion Academy, a bilingual Spanish-English charter school she attended during her elementary years.

Two Rowland Hall computer science students learning how to program a robot to write on a white board.

Two CS students learning how to program a robot to write on a white board.


The app project is a prime example of group work that can encourage underrepresented populations to pursue CS, according to Dr. Helen Hu, a Westminster College computer science professor whose work examines how educators can improve diversity in CS. “In industry there's something called agile co-programming, which is people working in groups,” said Dr. Hu, also the parent of a Rowland Hall ninth grader and seventh grader. “This is actually an important skill in computing—being able to work with others.” While some students love computing for computing, she added, a lot of others love it because of what it can do, “because of the problems you can solve, because of the impact you can have,” she said. “By doing both, by emphasizing these other parts of computing, you're helping both types of students. The students who love to code, still get to code. The students who love coding to solve problems are getting to do that. We know that students aren't going to learn it as well when you just teach it at the level of, ‘Where does the semicolon go and where do parentheses go?’”

Alex Armknecht ’20, a 2019 Aspirations in Computing regional award winner who’s now a CS major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), appreciated learning CS at a more holistic level. “I loved the CS classes at Rowland Hall and they were consistently my favorite classes throughout high school,” she said. “I loved the way Mr. Smith taught and allowed us creative freedom … his class is the main reason I am majoring in CS. I learned the importance of asking for help, creativity, and collaboration, which all have been helpful to me in my college CS classes.”

During her senior year, Alex also participated in another shining example of collaborative group work in CS: the Upper School’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge Robotics team. The team started off strong in its inaugural 2019–2020 year and has continued to evolve, Ben said: “It’s expanded the opportunities for young women to become leaders, compete, and see how other girls across the state are involved with technology and engineering.” 

During the 2020–2021 school year, juniors Irenka Saffarian and Tina Su stepped into unofficial leadership roles that bode well for the near future. Both have taken Advanced Placement CS A and are great coders, Ben said, and they pushed hard for the team to make it to the national semifinals in the FIRST Global Innovation Awards. Rowland Hall was the only team from Utah and one of only 60 teams internationally to make it that far. “Our theme right now is take it to the next level,” Ben said. “We realize we are right on the verge of getting to that level where we’re really competitive—where we actually compete with the best teams in the state.” And Irenka and Tina, Ben said, are committed to getting the team there. They embody the enthusiasm that Ben and Christian hope to cultivate across the school. “I hope that the future of taking computer science courses at Rowland Hall is increasingly coming from a place of excitement and interest and, ‘I cannot wait to use this skill in anything that interests me,’” Ben said. “It's not about a kid sitting in a basement all alone typing on their computer. This is about groups of people making exciting and interesting and really impactful decisions, and everyone needs to be at the table.”

Progress Made, and the Work Ahead

We are talking more about it, not just because it's zeitgeisty, but because technology has a lot of ground to make up here. We see ourselves as trying to help kids recognize that.—Christian Waters, director of technology integration

While Katy, Alex, Irenka, and Tina are recent success stories, Christian and Ben readily acknowledge that Rowland Hall isn’t exempt from racial and gender disparities. But the school is perpetually working “to change that from the ground up,” Christian said. Thanks in part to schoolwide training, JEDI values are ingrained in how Rowland Hall instructors design and teach tech-related classes. “We are talking more about it, not just because it's zeitgeisty, but because technology has a lot of ground to make up here. We see ourselves as trying to help kids recognize that.” 

Ané Hernandez, a junior who took AP computer science and robotics as a sophomore during the 2020–2021 year, appreciated the heightened JEDI focus. Ané’s parents are both engineers and she’s been interested in CS for as long as she can remember—the winner of a 2021 Aspirations in Computing regional honorable mention loves the art of programming. Ané, who is Mexican American, has also long been interested in JEDI issues and advocating for more equity and representation, including through Rowland Hall’s student JEDI committee. She found it compelling to see how two of her passions, JEDI and CS, are related. "As technology is rising, racial, gender, and socioeconomic problems still exist," Ané said, "so they're just becoming interwoven." 

While she’s grateful for how the JEDI units have furthered her passion for CS, she hopes her school also uses this momentum to self-reflect on, for instance, how to make CS more accessible to lower-income schools and communities. And that sort of community outreach isn’t unprecedented at Rowland Hall. In summer 2015, and in two summers that followed, Rowland Hall hosted a nonprofit Hackathon centered around teacher training. “That was a way that we contributed to a culture of learning and growth in our community,” Christian said. Educators from local public and independent schools convened on the Lincoln Street Campus to learn coding skills and how to use certain tools, like 3D printers and Arduino robots. The technology team helped cover some of the costs, Christian said, and teachers could earn state licensing credit for attending. Ben's resume is also flooded with conferences and workshops where he’s trained his peers. “It’s great for me to show a group of 15 or 20 educators how to teach a curriculum,” he said, “and then I can show them that I have a classroom with a majority of female students, and that I've been able to recruit and build, and that this is possible.”

Rowland Hall computer science teacher Ben Smith with a middle schooler on the Salt Lake City Lincoln Street Campus.

Ben teaching in the Middle School. Computer science is taught in all four Rowland Hall divisions.


These sorts of efforts could expand in the future. Rowland Hall is seriously considering ways to increase CS opportunities and spaces, and plans could solidify as early as the 2021–2022 school year. Christian and Ben are drafting a CS strategic plan that involves integrating CS with other subjects, training teachers, and expanding current classes. And Christian, Ben, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas are starting a CS task force and have asked others to join: one or two teachers from each division, Dr. Hu, and Sunny Washington, a startup COO and CEO who also serves on the board of Equality Utah. One of the task force’s first actions will be to provide feedback on the strategic plan draft.

For now, Christian and Ben’s work to recruit more—and more diverse—CS students is paying off. Since 2014, 19 Winged Lions have earned a collective 25 awards from the Aspirations in Computing program, including one win (Katy’s) and two honorable mentions at the national level. Rowland Hall also won The College Board’s 2019 and 2020 Advanced Placement Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in our AP CS Principles class. Dr. Hu lauded the achievement. “That's pretty impressive," she said—especially for Utah. "There are some states where they have tens of teachers who received this. We have three. I think that speaks to how difficult this is in the state." 

Ben, Christian, and the faculty and staff who support them remain focused on graduating good citizens armed with the tools to make tech work for all of us, not just some of us.

Ben, Christian, and the faculty and staff who support them remain focused on graduating good citizens armed with the tools to make tech work for all of us, not just some of us, as Joy Buolamwini so wisely said. Recent grad Katy is now attending Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and majoring in law—possibly cyber law. Anna Shott ’16 emailed Ben in December 2020 to share that she’d be joining Microsoft as a program manager the following year. “Your class truly influenced the path I chose, and I cannot thank you enough for sparking my interest in computer science,” wrote Anna, a University of Southern California grad who also worked as a K–12 CS camp counselor on her college campus. And current student Ané said what she learned in AP Computer Science Principles—that an algorithm can decide whether someone is granted a loan, for example—was a game-changer for her. “This experience has made me want to not only major in computer science, but a specific realm of computer science that maybe deals with AI and diversifying participants and coders so that there isn't such a large bias.”

Alex also plans on working in CS, another testament to Ben’s teaching: “I decided I wanted to go to my college when I met LMU's chair and professor of computer science and he reminded me of Mr. Smith,” she said. “I would not be a computer science major if it weren't for him. He pushed me to work my hardest, to try new things, and provided me with lots of opportunities.”

This sort of feedback keeps Ben laser-focused on boosting equity in CS at Rowland Hall and beyond. “I won’t pretend that it didn’t bring a tear to my eye,” he said. “It’s certainly fuel for the work that I do and it reminds me that it's worth doing. I could sit back on a curriculum and just deliver, and do fairly well at it. But this is beyond that. The work is more than what I teach—it’s who I’m teaching to.”

Timeline: Modern Computer Science at Rowland Hall

STEM

Class of 2021 Cap Toss GIF Banner

Though the pandemic affected their plans for events, summer internships, study abroad opportunities, and athletic competitions, these students still found ways to learn, to connect, and to share joy.

The class of 2021 is a diverse and talented group of young adults. During their time at Rowland Hall, they have grown academically and personally by embracing challenges, pursuing their passions, and committing to productive, responsible, and thoughtful lives. They’ve also shown impressive resilience, particularly during their junior and senior years, which were greatly altered by COVID-19. Though the pandemic affected their plans for events, summer internships, study abroad opportunities, and athletic competitions, these students still found ways to learn, to connect, and to share joy.

Members of this class took opportunities to expand their learning. They explored careers through internships—both in person and virtually—at organizations like Better Days 2020, McNeill Von Maack, the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, the University of Utah, and Utah Spine Medicine. They attended programs at The School of the New York Times and the National Security Agency, studied abroad in England and Ireland, and immersed themselves in languages and cultures in China and the Dominican Republic. They expanded their studies at the college level, enrolling in courses like numbers theory, 1700s American civilization, and introduction to architecture, and they partnered with Rowland Hall teachers to craft independent study courses when COVID-19 canceled classes. The class of 2021 also includes several students recognized for their academic prowess. The group boasts several top-tier debaters, including six individual state champions, three national qualifiers, two Academic All-Americans, and the captains who led the team to its first overall 3A State title in school history. Multiple young women in this class received Aspirations in Computing awards from the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Another took home first prize in the Federal Bar Association’s 2020 civics essay contest.

This class has no shortage of artists bringing beauty to the world.

This class has no shortage of artists bringing beauty to the world. Its musicians include a winner of the American Protégé International Competition of Romantic Music, a principal violinist for the Utah All-State Orchestra and the Utah Youth Orchestra, and a pianist who earned several superior rankings from the National Federation of Music Clubs. One actor is a member of University of Utah Youth Theatre’s Conservatory, and one dancer attends Ballet West Academy. A promising writer honed her skills at a Brown University creative nonfiction writing program, while others wrote editorials on topics like homelessness reform, the importance of grieving lives lost to coronavirus, and the number of women in leadership, all of which were published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Winged Lion seniors led our athletics program to top-five finishes in the Deseret News’ 2A All-Sports Awards each year of their Upper School careers. They captured 28 Region and nine State titles as teams, and four individual Region and State championships. Five seniors were named All-State, with one awarded 3A Swimmer of the Year; four earned All-Region honors; and one was selected to play in a postseason All-Star game. Fifteen Academic All-State and 25 Academic All-Region honorees led their teams to top-three GPA rankings among 2A schools over the past four years. All three seniors in Rowmark Ski Academy finished this season with career-best performances, including 10 Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) top-20 and two FIS top-10 finishes. In addition to school sports, this group pursued diverse athletics interests: they participated in rowing, figure skating, and club soccer. One is a national-championship-winning equestrian. Two are ski mountaineers, one of whom competed with the US National Team at the World Championships and Youth Olympic Games, and another who is a member of the Canadian National Ski Mountaineering Team.

This class has left their mark on Rowland Hall: they founded clubs like Mental Health Educators, created safe spaces for peers including the LatinX affinity group and the Queer-Straight Alliance, and helped drive necessary conversations via the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee.

This class has left their mark on Rowland Hall: they founded clubs like Mental Health Educators, created safe spaces for peers including the LatinX affinity group and the Queer-Straight Alliance, and helped drive necessary conversations via the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee. They’ve devoted countless hours to the larger community, supporting causes like Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives, and volunteering for organizations including Circles Salt Lake, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Mission Math, the National Charity League, People's Health Clinic, Salt Lake Peer Court, the Sunnyvale Community Center, YouthCity Government, and YWCA Utah.

Many students held down jobs while in school, working as servers, referees, lifeguards, swim instructors, and babysitters; a couple entrepreneurs even started their own companies. And while balancing school, service, and work, these students spent time on passion projects, whether that meant joining the American Regions Mathematics League, examining area histories and geology with the National Outdoor Leadership School, earning a private pilot's license, or giving a TED Talk on microplastics for TEDxParkCity.

The future is bright for the 65 seniors in this graduating class. Our graduates earned admission to 131 different colleges and universities, and 74 percent of them received at least one merit scholarship to attend college. A few have chosen to take a gap year to work or pursue personal interests. Whatever their next steps, we know these experiences will serve as stepping stones on their journeys to living lives of purpose and impact.

Congratulations to the class of 2021. You have achieved many great things, and we are eager to watch you continue to change the world for the better.

Students

You Belong at Rowland Hall