Custom Class: post-landing-hero

At the start of each new school year, Rowland Hall holds a Convocation ceremony. The 2021 event, held on Friday, August 27, centered around the theme (and school value) Relationships Matter.

Every year, Rowland Hall’s student body president is invited to address the group of students, faculty and staff, trustees, alumni, and families gathered for Convocation. (Check out the 2020 speech here.) This year’s president, Samantha Lehman—who recently wrote a reflection for Fine Print about appearing on the Utah House of Representatives podcast to discuss the toll the pandemic is taking on students' mental well-being—used the event to inspire students to find ways to tap into their own superpowers, even amidst personal and global challenges, to achieve their goals. Her speech—lightly edited here for style and context—appears below.


By Samantha Lehman, student body president

Most people would describe me as a nerd.

You may think the term nerd has a negative connotation, but I take it as a compliment. And part of what makes me a nerd is that I am a very avid reader. If someone gave me a book for my birthday, I would actually read it. If I tell my parents I’m going for a hike, I’m probably just going to Barnes and Noble in my workout clothes. However, when I got to high school, work and extracurriculars just sort of piled up. I didn’t have time to read anymore, so I preferred watching a show to reading because it was easier.

But my New Year’s resolution last year was to read 20 minutes of a non-school book a day, and I’ve ended up getting back into reading as a result. Now, I don’t mean reading Shakespeare, War and Peace, or Grapes of Wrath. I mean traditional, fun, not-really-brain-intensive young adult fantasy. Think Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Shadow and Bone, etc. I read these types of books because they allowed me to escape from my daily life into an epic fantasy world filled with dragons, and knights, and magic, and demigods.

Rowland Hall Student Body President Samantha Lehman speaking at Convocation 2021.


And as I read more and more of these types of books, I realized that most of them follow a general formula for how they’re constructed. It goes as follows:



  1. Main character is facing some struggle at home.

  2. Main character finds out they have magical powers.

  3. Main character goes to a special place for people with magical powers.

  4. Main character is involved in a conflict, but ends up defeating the villain, usually with the help of teammates.


There I was, struggling to deal with real life, thinking about this formula and wishing that some big dude with an umbrella would bust down my door and tell me that I was actually a wizard and offer me an escape from reality ... and I would feel sad and disappointed that that probably wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to change my mindset. I started to compare this formula to my everyday life, and—while I know this might sound a little crazy—I realized that they’re not so different.

I thought back to first grade, when I didn't really like school and was struggling to find my place. It wasn’t until my teacher, Susanna, told us about a story-writing project that I discovered my love for writing and storytelling. Writing was my magical power, and it was just my luck that I was in a special place that fostered that power: school. Writing helped me slay the first-grade dragon, and has helped me ever since, by serving as a stress reliever, a way to express my voice, and a way to connect with others.

I thought back to Middle School, when I was unsure whether or not I could be a scientist. It wasn’t until I earned my first exceeding on a science test that I realized, “Hey, I could actually do this stuff.” Realizing that I could do anything I set my mind to, including science, was a magical power.

Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

I thought back to all the instances when I found new abilities through trying new things—and the times when I’d failed and fallen. And I’m still here. I defeated all of those challenges, I’ve grown, and I did it with the help of new friends, teammates, and abilities I didn’t even know I possessed.

These past two years have been tough. We’ve lost friends, family, and time. We’ve been alone, limited, and angry at the world. But you are all still here. You’ve made it through years of hardship and school. You’ve climbed barriers, faced the odds, suffered through ERBs—and yet you’re still standing.

So this year, I challenge each of you to live your life like you are in a young adult fantasy book. Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow. You are warriors, and knights, and scientists, and writers, and historians, and mathematicians, and debaters, and artists, and athletes, and computer geniuses. You are strong, smart, and unique. So use those powers to live your own fantasy, because even though the real world is no magical school, summer camp, or palace, you are brave enough to face it.

Thank you.


Banner photo: Members of the class of 2022 wave to this year's first graders in a COVID-adjusted version of the high-fives usually given at Convocation.

Student Voices

Find Your Superpower, Achieve Your Goals, Live Your Fantasy

At the start of each new school year, Rowland Hall holds a Convocation ceremony. The 2021 event, held on Friday, August 27, centered around the theme (and school value) Relationships Matter.

Every year, Rowland Hall’s student body president is invited to address the group of students, faculty and staff, trustees, alumni, and families gathered for Convocation. (Check out the 2020 speech here.) This year’s president, Samantha Lehman—who recently wrote a reflection for Fine Print about appearing on the Utah House of Representatives podcast to discuss the toll the pandemic is taking on students' mental well-being—used the event to inspire students to find ways to tap into their own superpowers, even amidst personal and global challenges, to achieve their goals. Her speech—lightly edited here for style and context—appears below.


By Samantha Lehman, student body president

Most people would describe me as a nerd.

You may think the term nerd has a negative connotation, but I take it as a compliment. And part of what makes me a nerd is that I am a very avid reader. If someone gave me a book for my birthday, I would actually read it. If I tell my parents I’m going for a hike, I’m probably just going to Barnes and Noble in my workout clothes. However, when I got to high school, work and extracurriculars just sort of piled up. I didn’t have time to read anymore, so I preferred watching a show to reading because it was easier.

But my New Year’s resolution last year was to read 20 minutes of a non-school book a day, and I’ve ended up getting back into reading as a result. Now, I don’t mean reading Shakespeare, War and Peace, or Grapes of Wrath. I mean traditional, fun, not-really-brain-intensive young adult fantasy. Think Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Shadow and Bone, etc. I read these types of books because they allowed me to escape from my daily life into an epic fantasy world filled with dragons, and knights, and magic, and demigods.

Rowland Hall Student Body President Samantha Lehman speaking at Convocation 2021.


And as I read more and more of these types of books, I realized that most of them follow a general formula for how they’re constructed. It goes as follows:



  1. Main character is facing some struggle at home.

  2. Main character finds out they have magical powers.

  3. Main character goes to a special place for people with magical powers.

  4. Main character is involved in a conflict, but ends up defeating the villain, usually with the help of teammates.


There I was, struggling to deal with real life, thinking about this formula and wishing that some big dude with an umbrella would bust down my door and tell me that I was actually a wizard and offer me an escape from reality ... and I would feel sad and disappointed that that probably wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to change my mindset. I started to compare this formula to my everyday life, and—while I know this might sound a little crazy—I realized that they’re not so different.

I thought back to first grade, when I didn't really like school and was struggling to find my place. It wasn’t until my teacher, Susanna, told us about a story-writing project that I discovered my love for writing and storytelling. Writing was my magical power, and it was just my luck that I was in a special place that fostered that power: school. Writing helped me slay the first-grade dragon, and has helped me ever since, by serving as a stress reliever, a way to express my voice, and a way to connect with others.

I thought back to Middle School, when I was unsure whether or not I could be a scientist. It wasn’t until I earned my first exceeding on a science test that I realized, “Hey, I could actually do this stuff.” Realizing that I could do anything I set my mind to, including science, was a magical power.

Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

I thought back to all the instances when I found new abilities through trying new things—and the times when I’d failed and fallen. And I’m still here. I defeated all of those challenges, I’ve grown, and I did it with the help of new friends, teammates, and abilities I didn’t even know I possessed.

These past two years have been tough. We’ve lost friends, family, and time. We’ve been alone, limited, and angry at the world. But you are all still here. You’ve made it through years of hardship and school. You’ve climbed barriers, faced the odds, suffered through ERBs—and yet you’re still standing.

So this year, I challenge each of you to live your life like you are in a young adult fantasy book. Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow. You are warriors, and knights, and scientists, and writers, and historians, and mathematicians, and debaters, and artists, and athletes, and computer geniuses. You are strong, smart, and unique. So use those powers to live your own fantasy, because even though the real world is no magical school, summer camp, or palace, you are brave enough to face it.

Thank you.


Banner photo: Members of the class of 2022 wave to this year's first graders in a COVID-adjusted version of the high-fives usually given at Convocation.

Student Voices

Explore More People Stories

Rowland Hall alum (and YWCA Utah Leader of Tomorrow Award winner) Katie Kern at graduation.

In early September, only days into her first semester at New York University, Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern ’21 was already busy.

Head shot of Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21.

Like other first-year students across the country, Katie had been navigating the numerous tasks involved with starting college, from exploring campus and starting classes (she’s currently studying politics) to settling into dorm life and meeting new people—all while adapting to the evolving safety measures of the pandemic, and even dodging severe weather: some of her first days in the city included record-breaking rainfall caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

“The unprecedented hurricane that occurred within my first week of moving in was definitely a little shocking,” said Katie.

Starting college against a backdrop of flooded subways and sidewalks, as well as surging cases of COVID-19, isn’t the preference of any new college student. But instead of giving into what she calls the “heaviness” of global issues like these, Katie has been leaning on her well-established activism experience to look for solutions. Only days after arriving at NYU, whether on coffee dates with new friends or in class lectures, she’s been involved in plenty of conversations aimed at solving tough problems.

For those who know Katie, this isn’t surprising. During her four years at Rowland Hall, she was a blur of the same kind of activity. In addition to a full course load, she was a member of the school’s Roots & Shoots club, Navajo Project, mental health educators, and dance company. Off campus, she interned at Alliance for a Better Utah and taught dance to refugees at a 4-H after-school program. And even with all that going on, Katie also volunteered at least eight hours a week for March for Our Lives Utah, the local chapter of the student-led organization that’s helping to drive US gun reform—a commitment so impressive that, as Katie learned in August, it earned her YWCA Utah’s inaugural Leader of Tomorrow Award, an honor designed to highlight the outstanding volunteerism of Utah women under the age of 19.

“YWCA Utah wants to recognize that activists are doing incredible work while young,” said Lisa Brown Miranda, associate director of admission for Rowland Hall’s Lincoln Street Campus and member of the YWCA Utah Board of Directors.

And to the selection committee, Katie’s work most definitely stood out: as an early supporter of the March for Our Lives movement (she joined as a lead ambassador right after its 2018 founding), Katie was able to play a key role in the Utah chapter’s administration, and was ultimately named state co-director her senior year, alongside fellow high school student Tory Peters. In the co-director role, Katie helped lead difficult but necessary conversations about the toll of gun violence, as well as encouraged legislative change.

“Katie wanted to look for practical ways to approach gun safety,” said Ryan Hoglund, Rowland Hall’s director of ethical education, who taught and mentored Katie, giving him a front-row seat to her dedication to March for Our Lives Utah. “She worked with her peers, took to the airways on KRCL's RadioACTive program [in December 2019 and February 2020], lobbied the Utah legislature, and ultimately developed a school curriculum to increase the awareness of gun safety: what to do if you find a gun as a young child, and how to keep a loved one who is struggling with mental illness and is considering self-harm safe.”

Of the many March for Our Lives projects she supported, Katie said she’s especially proud of the group’s legislative work, including her own experience testifying for universal background checks at the state capitol in February 2020. Even though it was scary, she said, because she knew she’d be speaking to a group largely against gun reform, it underscored her commitment to finding a solution to the country’s gun-violence problems. It also taught her to see activism from a big-picture perspective: she might not be part of the group that gets a reform bill passed, but she’s helping to lay the groundwork.

“Every year we make a little bit of progress,” said Katie. “It’s going to be awhile, and understanding that is important. But we have the utmost determination to get it done, and I’m excited for the future.”

Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21 has been active in gun reform in the state of Utah.

"Katie has a sincere love for life and all its challenges and opportunities," said teacher Sofia Gorder. "She believes in action, jumping at the thought of creating change and doing the hard work it takes to actualize vision. She is nothing short of a force." Photos courtesy Krista Kern.


For Lisa, watching Katie receive recognition for her volunteerism is exciting: Lisa first met Katie when she was a prospective ninth grader and remembers being impressed even then by the young student’s early devotion to grassroots work. Knowing Rowland Hall supports, values, and celebrates these kinds of contributions—and works with students to develop their own unique voices—Lisa was thrilled when Katie enrolled in the Upper School, and she spent the next four years enthusiastically watching the young leader do great things, both in the school community and for the state of Utah.

“Katie did everything she thought she was going to do—and more,” said Lisa. “She’s not the kind of person to face a challenge and look for ways to dodge it. She just jumps in, using her gifts to make others’ lives better.”

Katie remembers sharing with Lisa this desire to volunteer at the grassroots level, and noted that she ultimately chose to attend Rowland Hall because she was impressed by our teachers’ obvious passion for their subjects—something she recognized in herself. And Katie credits many Rowland Hall instructors for playing a role in her journey, like history teacher Nate Kogan and English teachers Kody Partridge and Carolyn Hickman for helping her better understand politics and how the legislature works, and Director of Arts and Co-Director of Dance Sofia Gorder for showing her, a longtime and passionate dancer, how arts and activism intersect. She is also grateful to the school for providing safe spaces, whether in classrooms or at the Dinner & Dialogue events Katie helped plan and lead, to practice having the crucial conversations necessary to spark change.

“Rowland Hall gave me a lot of space and independence to do what I wanted, and I did feel supported,” Katie said.

And as evidenced by how she’s already spending her time at college, Katie isn’t slowing down. She plans to continue to devote herself to a variety of movements because, as she explained, “it feels very heavy, all the problems going on.” And she hopes this involvement—and perhaps even her Leader of Tomorrow Award—will encourage others to take action. After all, after spending so much time at the grassroots level, she’s learned how empowering it is to help chip away at problems that, at first glance, seem too enormous to tackle.

I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together.—Katie Kern ’21

“I hope other young women—or students in general—recognize that they can do something about all these crises, that they can get involved,” she reflected.

And contrary to what some might think, Katie said, it doesn’t take much time to make a difference: she recommends everyone set aside just 10 minutes a day to learn about an issue affecting their community, and then find opportunities to help fix them. This is key, because in a world filled with nonstop news about everything that’s going wrong, having a hand in change is inspiring. In fact, Katie said, it’s these moments—watching communities join together in pursuit of solutions—that make her most optimistic about the future.

“I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together,” she said.


To ensure the health and safety of the community, YWCA Utah announced the postponement of the 2021 LeaderLuncheon—the ceremony at which Outstanding Achievement Awards are presented—until spring 2022. Those in the Rowland Hall community who are interested in this event should visit YWCA Utah’s website for details, as they become available.

Alumni

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.


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 U.S. 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

Ninth-grade students pose for a group photo in the Uinta Mountains during their Beyond the Classroom experience

Beyond the Classroom 2021 was a great success!

"We were so glad to be able to offer our Beyond the Classroom program again this year after taking a break due to COVID in 2020,” said Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson. An Upper School tradition, Beyond the Classroom is a four-year sequence of experiences designed to take students out of the classroom and into the broader community.

We enjoyed a great day of relationship building, exploration, and self-reflection.—Ingrid Gustavson, Upper School principal

“Beyond the Classroom offers an opportunity for students in grades nine through eleven to engage with the greater Salt Lake City community and its natural surroundings to learn leadership skills, identify areas of interest, and develop an understanding about how to have an impact through individual and collective action,” said Ingrid. “Students heard from guest speakers, worked in teams, and explored areas of our own backyard, like the state capitol and Three Creeks Confluence, while also having a chance to go much further afield in the High Uintas. Seniors focused on their college applications, with a full day of workshopping their essays with college counselors and English teachers. The smiles in the photos say it all! We enjoyed a great day (three days for ninth graders) of relationship building, exploration, and self-reflection.”

This year’s event was held on September 21 and included the following experiences.

Ninth Grade

Ninth graders enjoyed activities around the theme Water and the West, first learning about federal water policy—including tension between the federal government and states around managing and conserving water—from the Debate Team. They then worked with the Seven Canyons Trust and Jordan River Commission to understand current efforts to daylight creeks.

Ninth graders continued their Beyond the Classroom experience with learning rotations at Camp Roger, located in Utah’s High Uintas, on Wednesday and Thursday, and meetings with advisors and teachers on Friday.

Tenth Grade

Tenth graders spent the day at Camp Roger, where they enjoyed learning rotations involving watercolors and hiking.

Eleventh Grade

Eleventh graders spent the morning examining climate effects in the West and how they disproportionately impact communities. They then mapped the heat island effect in the Folsom Corridor before traveling to the state capitol to learn from Better Utah about Utah’s climate and air quality issues.

Twelfth Grade

Twelfth graders participated in a college counseling workshop where they received assistance with their college applications from Rowland Hall’s college counselors and senior English teachers.

Experiential Learning

Rowland Hall health and wellness teacher Lauren Carpenter teaching on the Salt Lake City, Utah, Lincoln Street Campus.

When it comes to communication with kids, Rowland Hall Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund’s top piece of advice for parents and caregivers is simple.

“Always assure them that they can come talk to you with any questions, concerns, or experiences,” he said. “And when they do, ensure that your reaction is one of partnership and not judgment.”

At times, this advice can be easy to follow: many adults feel equipped to answer, and even welcome, questions about their children’s friendship woes, school worries, or nighttime fears. But when it comes to tougher conversations, like those around sex and sexuality, many caregivers get nervous—especially if they didn’t grow up having honest conversations about sex, or if they were raised to view sex as shameful or negative.

When [health educator Shafia Zaloom] visited our school, she mentioned how impressed she was with our approach to talking to students about healthy relationships in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental, and caring manner.—Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

A fear of talking to kids about sex is common, and for a recent article for USA TODAY, reporter Alia Dastagir set out to answer why. As part of her reporting, she spoke to Ryan, as well as to Rowland Hall Upper School health and wellness teacher Lauren Carpenter, on the recommendation of health educator Shafia Zaloom, who was also interviewed for the article. Shafia got to know the Rowland Hall community last September when she held virtual workshops on healthy relationships for middle and upper school students and for parents and caregivers—an experience that influenced her decision to recommend our educators as sources to the national publication.

“When Shafia visited our school, she mentioned how impressed she was with our approach to talking to students about healthy relationships in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental, and caring manner,” said Ryan. “As someone who travels the country talking at schools and colleges, she expressed that she does not always see such a comprehensive wellness model.”

And this kind of model is important, the USA TODAY article stresses, because kids need accurate, honest information about sex more than ever before. In the piece, published September 8 and titled “Why Adults Are So Afraid to Talk to Kids about Sex,” Ryan, Lauren, and Shafia debunk the belief that comprehensive sex education encourages teens to have sex, or even promotes promiscuity. In fact, Lauren pointed out, the opposite is true: accurate, comprehensive information about sex actually protects teens’ health and lives—and this is especially important, added Ryan, because today’s kids live in a sex-saturated media environment that exposes them to sexual messages earlier than ever.

“Talking to your kids about sex and sharing your family’s values with them in an open and curious forum does not mean that you condone them engaging in sexual activity—when we talk to kids about drugs, we don't expect that they'll want to use them because we had that conversation,” said Lauren. “If anything, I think it helps your kids see you as an advocate and strengthens their support system.”

To help get adults comfortable with conversations around sex and sexuality, the educators recommend that they work through personal worries, fears, or hesitations, as well as examine their own sex educations for sources of discomfort. It’s necessary to get comfortable with the subject, they said, because talking to kids about healthy sexuality can’t be accomplished in one big talk: it needs to happen often, and it needs to begin when children are young, as part of an overall approach to helping them feel safe coming to their guardians with any questions. As Ryan shared with USA TODAY, "If you're not having that conversation, the conversation's happening somewhere else—peers, the Internet, or in your first relationship where you're negotiating a power dynamic of one person who knows and the other one who doesn't.”

“Developing all kinds of relationships is part of the natural progression of human life. But navigating those relationships in a positive and responsible way is not innate,” Lauren added. “For adolescents to learn how to navigate the many facets of sexuality and how to make positive, self-affirming choices, it's important to have a parent or guardian's voice leading in an understanding and supportive way.”

It’s okay to not have all the answers, or to return to a conversation later, or to ask your kids for feedback on how they want to approach a subject. It’s also okay to plan what you want to say ahead of time and to lean on resources, including other adults your kids trust.

The educators also offered USA TODAY readers a variety of tips, from teaching kids about consent, empathy, and privacy early, to reminding parents that they don’t have to be perfect when it comes to talking about sex and sexuality: it’s okay to not have all the answers, or to return to a conversation later, or to ask your kids for feedback on how they want to approach a subject. It’s also okay, they said, to plan what you want to say ahead of time and to lean on available resources, including other adults your kids know and trust (see below for a list of Ryan and Lauren’s top resource recommendations). The educators are hopeful that these tips will inspire more honest, trust-building conversations in homes across America.

“I was so happy to see the topic discussed in a national forum, and I appreciated the opportunity to add to the conversation,” said Lauren. “Normalizing the conversation regarding teen sexuality might begin to help diminish cultural stigmas related to it and allow more open conversation—ultimately leading to healthier relationships for teens.”

Resources

There are many resources available to help families navigate conversations about sex and sexuality. Below are some of Ryan and Lauren’s top recommendations.

  • Your child's pediatrician. Not only is your pediatrician a wonderful resource for you, said Ryan, but they’re also a great resource for your child. “Make sure they have a trusting relationship, and that your child has their own set of questions they can ask at annual well-child visits,” he said.

  • Books. Lauren recommends Shafia Zaloom’s Sex, Teens, and Everything in Between, Michael Kimmel’s Guyland, and Al Vernacchio’s For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens about Sexuality, Values, and Health.

  • School counselors and health teachers. Reach out to your child’s school to learn who can support you. For Rowland Hall families, Ryan said, “Leslie Czerwinski and Lauren Carpenter are amazing educators who are so respected in wellness circles for their years of service and expertise. Any opportunity to join them in an important conversation I am going to take, because I know I am going to learn something as a parent and colleague.”

  • Local nonprofits. “My top resources are Planned Parenthood, YWCA Utah, the Rape Recovery Center, UCASA [the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault], and the Utah Pride Center,” said Lauren.

  • Utah Department of Health. The state’s website includes information on a wide variety of topics.


Check out the full USA TODAY article here. (Subscription required.)

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