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Rowland Hall’s Beginning School is a cozy, welcoming place buzzing with the distinctive energy of active, engaged students. “One of my very favorite things is that on any given day in the Beginning School you can almost always count on getting to walk around and see young children working together at something they care deeply about,” said Emma Wellman, who just finished her first year as the division’s principal. “They are experimenting and they are failing. They are problem-solving and working through tension and conflict together, and making a mess, and being too loud—and it’s just the best ever.”

They are experimenting and they are failing. They are problem-solving and working through tension and conflict together, and making a mess, and being too loud—and it’s just the best ever.—Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman

Emma joined Rowland Hall from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, known colloquially as Lab, where she most recently served as interim director of the Extended Day Program. After five years at Lab as both a teacher and an administrator, working with hundreds of children from ages three through 13, she was ready for a more intimate experience in the next chapter of her career. “I wanted to work at a place where I could know all the children and the families,” she explained. “And I wanted to work with professional teachers—people who have chosen it for their life’s work and were really committed and dedicated deep thinkers.”

From day one, Emma has been sure of her choice. “Every day this school year, I have woken up and felt huge gratitude that I get to be part of this community,” she said. “There is a deep respect for young children as people and as learners, and that’s really important to me. The teachers are genuinely interested in who these little people are and what is happening in their minds and in their hearts.”

Emma’s own commitment to students and the wider Rowland Hall community meant that the top item on her first-year agenda was connecting with students, parents, faculty, and staff because those relationships would set the foundation for success. She wanted to know the students, and their families, by name. “An early goal for myself was knowing all of the names of the children—and I did that by Back to School Night,” she said.

She went into Beginning School classrooms to discover each team’s curriculum, learning style, and personality, as well as how faculty members like to be supported. A self-described developmentalist, she also engaged her professional background to help provide age-appropriate activities and lessons. “I believe all people are becoming,” she said, stressing the importance of actively engaging children at their level so they discover how to learn—and enjoy the journey.

Emma has seen this approach working in the Beginning School. She described watching a kindergartener experimenting with how to make a ball roll from one end of a complicated ramp structure to the other. “It was really tricky, this route he had made, with lots of hills and so forth,” she explained. The setup required him to continuously step back to examine the design and to make adjustments, from the height of slopes to the size of the ball.

“It went on for a long, long time—and then he got it to work, and that was amazing. So exciting! Then he got it to work another time, and his comment was, ‘After it works it’s boring,’” she laughed. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope you hold onto that for the rest of your life,’ that the process of figuring it out is the good stuff.”

Moving into her second year at Rowland Hall, Emma wants to build upon the work already underway. She’ll enrich the relationships she built this year and continue to give students developmentally appropriate opportunities. Over the summer, she’ll take what she has learned from students, families, and teachers and map out a community-centered plan for 2019–2020 that will include enhancing outdoor play spaces; strengthening the snack policy that prioritizes healthy, nutritious, whole foods; reflecting on the school’s accreditation self-study; thinking deeply about parent communications; and soaking in knowledge from Alan Sparrow—whom Emma describes as “a wise and wonderful leader”—during his final year as head of school.

Whatever the next year holds, it’s clear that Emma will be fully focused on supporting Rowland Hall’s youngest students as they discover their love of learning and start to think critically, take risks, solve problems, and collaborate with others. “This is the stuff of learning,” she said.

People

Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman Reflects With Gratitude on First Year

Rowland Hall’s Beginning School is a cozy, welcoming place buzzing with the distinctive energy of active, engaged students. “One of my very favorite things is that on any given day in the Beginning School you can almost always count on getting to walk around and see young children working together at something they care deeply about,” said Emma Wellman, who just finished her first year as the division’s principal. “They are experimenting and they are failing. They are problem-solving and working through tension and conflict together, and making a mess, and being too loud—and it’s just the best ever.”

They are experimenting and they are failing. They are problem-solving and working through tension and conflict together, and making a mess, and being too loud—and it’s just the best ever.—Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman

Emma joined Rowland Hall from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, known colloquially as Lab, where she most recently served as interim director of the Extended Day Program. After five years at Lab as both a teacher and an administrator, working with hundreds of children from ages three through 13, she was ready for a more intimate experience in the next chapter of her career. “I wanted to work at a place where I could know all the children and the families,” she explained. “And I wanted to work with professional teachers—people who have chosen it for their life’s work and were really committed and dedicated deep thinkers.”

From day one, Emma has been sure of her choice. “Every day this school year, I have woken up and felt huge gratitude that I get to be part of this community,” she said. “There is a deep respect for young children as people and as learners, and that’s really important to me. The teachers are genuinely interested in who these little people are and what is happening in their minds and in their hearts.”

Emma’s own commitment to students and the wider Rowland Hall community meant that the top item on her first-year agenda was connecting with students, parents, faculty, and staff because those relationships would set the foundation for success. She wanted to know the students, and their families, by name. “An early goal for myself was knowing all of the names of the children—and I did that by Back to School Night,” she said.

She went into Beginning School classrooms to discover each team’s curriculum, learning style, and personality, as well as how faculty members like to be supported. A self-described developmentalist, she also engaged her professional background to help provide age-appropriate activities and lessons. “I believe all people are becoming,” she said, stressing the importance of actively engaging children at their level so they discover how to learn—and enjoy the journey.

Emma has seen this approach working in the Beginning School. She described watching a kindergartener experimenting with how to make a ball roll from one end of a complicated ramp structure to the other. “It was really tricky, this route he had made, with lots of hills and so forth,” she explained. The setup required him to continuously step back to examine the design and to make adjustments, from the height of slopes to the size of the ball.

“It went on for a long, long time—and then he got it to work, and that was amazing. So exciting! Then he got it to work another time, and his comment was, ‘After it works it’s boring,’” she laughed. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope you hold onto that for the rest of your life,’ that the process of figuring it out is the good stuff.”

Moving into her second year at Rowland Hall, Emma wants to build upon the work already underway. She’ll enrich the relationships she built this year and continue to give students developmentally appropriate opportunities. Over the summer, she’ll take what she has learned from students, families, and teachers and map out a community-centered plan for 2019–2020 that will include enhancing outdoor play spaces; strengthening the snack policy that prioritizes healthy, nutritious, whole foods; reflecting on the school’s accreditation self-study; thinking deeply about parent communications; and soaking in knowledge from Alan Sparrow—whom Emma describes as “a wise and wonderful leader”—during his final year as head of school.

Whatever the next year holds, it’s clear that Emma will be fully focused on supporting Rowland Hall’s youngest students as they discover their love of learning and start to think critically, take risks, solve problems, and collaborate with others. “This is the stuff of learning,” she said.

People

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Mick Gee visiting Ben Smith's class

As we enter the second half of the academic year, the Rowland Hall team is hard at work preparing for milestone events, including the April 24 all-community celebration honoring beloved Head of School Alan Sparrow, who retires in June. After Alan’s departure, Rowland Hall will begin a new era, with Michael “Mick” Gee installed as our 19th head of school; he begins July 1.

Mick was the natural choice to lead Rowland Hall, and the Head of School Search Committee, formed after Alan announced his retirement in October 2018, was unanimous in recommending him for the job. In her June 2019 email to the Rowland Hall community, Board Chair Jennifer Price-Wallin wrote, “Throughout our comprehensive process, Mick emerged as the educational leader who best embodies the core attributes our school community seeks in our next head.”

Mick’s background—rich in administrative leadership and teaching experience—will be instrumental in building on Alan’s 28-year legacy and the school’s 153-year history. Many in our community are especially excited about how Mick’s science training will help shape the school. Prior to becoming an administrator, Mick taught courses like physics and chemistry, which greatly influenced his approach to education and his beliefs about how students learn and their capacity for knowledge.

“I always say there’s a big difference between teaching science and teaching kids to be scientists,” Mick explained. “We do a lot of the former—we teach a lot of knowledge, and we do labs and things like that. But we don’t often give kids a chance to be real scientists who create knowledge—who actually go into uncharted areas and solve problems by devising their own experiments.”

It’s important for students to feel that the work they’re doing can have an actual impact. That’s an incredibly powerful experience.

This mentality dovetails with the momentum from Rowland Hall's Strategic Plan that is already happening on our campuses: teachers such as Molly Lewis and Alisa Poppen have championed similar ideas around empowering students to become scientists. And this approach is especially appealing to today’s students, Mick said, because they are looking for context and meaning for what they learn in class—and they want to make a tangible difference.

“I think it’s important for students to feel that the work they’re doing can have an actual impact,” he said. “That’s an incredibly powerful experience.”

One way Mick has supported active learning was through the creation of three Centers for Impact—for STEM and innovation, global engagement, and entrepreneurship—at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York, where he is currently head of school. Today, these centers give students opportunities to apply classroom skills and knowledge in real-world ways—for example, their science research course is designed to allow students to choose their own research thesis, collaborate with an expert in their chosen field, and present their findings to peers. Some students have even been published.

“It sounds like I’m describing PhD research—and some of the students that I’ve seen do this are in third grade,” Mick said. “We used to think students in third, fourth, or fifth grade could only learn knowledge—they couldn’t create knowledge. It’s just not true. Now we see students of all ages engaged in problem solving from a scientific and engineering point of view. They’ve got the skillset, they’re applying the skills, and they’re coming up with solutions that many adults haven’t thought of.”

Importantly, Mick believes that teachers of any subject, not just the sciences, can create active engagement opportunities that prepare students to enjoy pursuing knowledge, helping them thrive in an ever-changing world.

“Schools are where we find the joy in learning,” he said.


Top photo: Mick Gee, center, visiting Ben Smith's classroom on the Lincoln Street Campus.

STEM

Students at the 2020 Changemaker Chapel

Every January, Rowland Hall’s Lower School spends the month celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., culminating in a Changemaker Chapel the week of MLK Day.

In preparation for this year’s Changemaker Chapel on January 21, and in line with Rowland Hall’s focus on inspiring students who make a difference, all Lower School classes read Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds. The book explores the concept of a changemaker: someone who recognizes that a positive change is needed and has the courage to say something to make a difference.

Changemaker: someone who recognizes that a positive change is needed and has the courage to say something to make a difference.

After learning how small changes lead to bigger ones, students were asked to participate in the Changemaker 2020 Challenge, a collection of 20 mini acts of kindness, in the days leading up to chapel. They also created a community art installation made up of messages of changemaking actions, which is displayed outside St. Margaret’s Chapel on the McCarthey Campus.

We invite you to enjoy the above video, which highlights our students’ work and the 2020 Changemaker Chapel.

Ethical Education

A Rowland Hall Lower School class

The princiPALS are back.

In the second episode of Rowland Hall’s new podcast, Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus are tackling the subject of academic rigor.

What exactly is it?

Is it a good thing?

What does it look like for students during their early childhood and elementary school years?

While, for many, the term academic rigor is simply a way to describe curriculum difficulty, the princiPALS show how it encompasses accessing, evaluating, and using knowledge—and what that looks like today, when students can instantly retrieve vast quantities of information on the internet.

In an ever-changing world, it is more important than ever to teach students how to think, not what to think.

In an ever-changing world, the princiPALS explain, it is more important than ever to teach students how to think, not what to think. “We need students who know their academic content, but also can apply it in new and novel ways,” said Jij. In other words: it’s less about what students know, but when and how they use knowledge that will best prepare them for the future. While traditional education methods focused on memorizing and regurgitating facts to display knowledge, today’s students thrive when they joyfully engage in the learning process, successfully evaluate and apply knowledge, and collaborate with others.

We invite you to join Emma and Jij, along with host Conor Bentley ’01, as they discuss the ways educators, parents, and caregivers can help children become engaged, flexible, deep thinkers. Listeners will also enjoy practical tips that will help them raise lifelong learners and future innovators. 

Episode 2 can now be found on Rowland Hall’s website, Stitcher, or Apple Podcasts. And be sure to check out episode 1, “Building Resilience in Children,” if you haven’t already.

Community

Micha Nenbee, Ke'ea Ramirez, and Katy Dark in Seattle

By Ke’ea Ramirez, Class of 2021

In November 2018, then-sophomore Ke’ea Ramirez was one of six Rowland Hall students who traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). The SDLC takes place each year in conjunction with the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) People of Color Conference, the flagship of NAIS’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development. As described on their website, the SDLC gives student leaders in grades nine through twelve opportunities to develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. In addition to large group sessions, students join family groups that allow for smaller unit dialogue and sharing, as well as affinity groups, which gather people with common interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Each participating school is allowed to send up to six students to the SDLC, with conference attendance limited to 1,600 students.

Despite initial hesitation, Ke’ea quickly found herself inspired by the multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders and, since then, has sought out opportunities to engage with students from around the country—including by attending another SDLC in November 2019. She shares the story of her first conference experience below.


When my mom told me that she had signed me up for a diversity conference, I was very skeptical and hesitant to go. She told me that it was a good learning opportunity and that I would appreciate the experience. I did not want to do it, and as soon as I looked at the schedule, I decided that the conference would not only be a terrible time, but also that I would have no time for sleep or homework. The schedule was busy and consisted of me waking up at 6 every morning, walking to a conference outside in the freezing cold, getting 45 minutes for lunch, going back to the conference, and then returning to the hotel at 10 pm. Even though it was only a few days, I did not want to go.

On November 28, I got on the plane to Nashville with five other students from Rowland Hall. The next morning, when I got to the conference, we sat in a room with hundreds of other students from all over America. I felt very overwhelmed; I was in a different state on the complete other side of the country, surrounded by so many other kids and adults. I was amazed by how many students actually went to the conference, and, surprisingly, found myself inspired by the speakers. At that moment I remember thinking, “Maybe the conference won’t be as bad as I thought.” After the opening ceremony, my mindset changed a little bit, going from, “This is going to be the worst thing ever,” to, “Maybe I can tolerate this for a few days.”

I felt like I had known these other students my entire life. I made best friends in less than an hour and connected with so many people.

Next, we shuffled into our smaller family groups of around 50 students. If you know me, you know that I am not very outgoing and I tend to be shy. In addition, I was only a sophomore; I thought that I would be trampled by all the other junior and senior students. However, after the first activity (a classic ice-breaker game), I felt like I had known these other students my entire life. I made best friends in less than an hour and connected with so many people from around the country. I felt as though I had actually made a new family, despite my initial reluctance. My thoughts then changed again, from, “Maybe I can tolerate this for a few days,” to, “I am so happy that my mom forced me to go.”

Ke'ea Ramirez with her SDLC family group

Ke'ea's SDLC family group, which met several times throughout the conference to engage in dialogue and sharing.

We spent nearly eight hours in family groups, and then we moved on to affinity groups. I ended up going to the Asian/Pacific Islander affinity group; this group was at least three times as big as my family group. A lot of the students that went to the conference with me from Rowland Hall also attended this affinity group, and some of my new friends from my family group were present. Initially, I thought that affinity groups were where people got together and talked about problems that we could all relate to. However, there was a lot more than I had expected. While we did talk about serious topics, we also had a lot of fun, and, similar to the family group, I connected with people and, again, made best friends fast.

This conference was so important to me because all students were represented, and it is always important to hear the issues of others and to become aware of what is happening around the country.

The first thing we did the next day was to separate into smaller groups and have a singing competition. While it sounds embarrassing and silly, it was actually so much fun, and it allowed us to all come together, gain courage, and laugh. I realized that my preconceived notion of the conference was wrong. What I expected was not what was reality. It was at that moment when my mindset, once again, changed from, “I am so happy that my mom forced me to go,” to, “I never, ever want to leave this conference.”

After we left Nashville and the SDLC behind, I reflected on my experience and realized how much I loved the conference and how glad I was that I went. My favorite session was either family groups or affinity groups because of how many amazing people I met, all the fun activities we did, and how much we ended up feeling like a true family. I made lifelong friends that I am still close to and talk to all the time; I also became even closer to the Rowland Hall students who went to the conference. This conference was so important to me as well because all students were represented, and it is always important to hear the issues of others and to become aware of what is happening around the country.

Even though I wasn’t initially excited to attend, the SDLC turned out to be one of my best experiences in high school—and I immediately signed up for two more conferences when I returned: the 2019 Northwest Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Retreat in Portland, Oregon, and the 2019 SDLC in Seattle, Washington. I will also be returning to Seattle this March in a leadership role: I’m going to help run affinity spaces and mentor middle school students at the 2020 Student Diversity Leadership Retreat. I am excited to be working with younger students and I hope that they will be just as inspired and motivated as I was.


Top photo, from left: Rowland Hall students Micha Nenbee, Ke'ea Ramirez, and Katy Dark took a break from the 2019 SLDC to explore Seattle's famous Pike Place Market. (Photos courtesy Ke'ea Ramirez)

Ethical Education

You Belong at Rowland Hall