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Rowland Hall’s winter sports program introduced now-junior Samantha Paisley to backcountry skiing in eighth grade. Now, she’s in Lausanne, Switzerland, representing the United States in ski mountaineering—what she describes as “backcountry ski racing”—at the Youth Olympic Games.

This is the first year that ski mountaineering—known as SkiMo—will be included in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), and the sport may be added to the Winter Olympics in 2026. In Lausanne, Samantha is one of only two US girls and one of 48 total international athletes competing in SkiMo. She’ll race in all three events: the individual on January 10, the sprint on January 13, and the mixed-nations relay—featuring randomly grouped teams of two boys and two girls—on January 14.

A description of the SkiMo events, according to olympic.org:

"Individual races are similar to a marathon, with athletes setting off in a mass start over a course with at least three ascents and descents and up to 1,900m of elevation gain. Races typically last between one-and-a-half and two hours, with at least one ascent where athletes need to remove their skis and climb on foot. As the name suggests, sprint races are much shorter and faster than individual races. The total ascent and descent is usually around 100m, with the fastest athletes completing the course in approximately three minutes. Relay races, meanwhile, feature a team of three or four athletes, with each member of the team completing a short circuit one after the other. Like the sprint, the relay is quite a fast event, with each circuit lasting about 15 minutes and including two ascents and descents."

Samantha Paisley skis uphill with competitors in background.

Samantha Paisley at the 2019 SkiMo World Championships.

Join us in supporting Samantha and Team USA: Rowland Hall is throwing a YOG SkiMo viewing party (event TBD) at noon on Monday, January 13, in the Larimer Center. We’ll also share Samantha’s results on Twitter as we hear them. A TeamUSA.org article details more ways to keep track of the YOG: check TeamUSA.org/Lausanne2020 or Team USA’s social channels; sign up for the Team USA Daily newsletter; download the Team USA app; or check the Olympic Channel or their app.

We chatted with Samantha before she traveled to Lausanne on January 6, the same day school started up after winter break. She’ll miss two weeks of class to compete in the YOG, but thanks in part to Rowmark Ski Academy, Rowland Hall’s teachers and staff already have the infrastructure to help elite student-athletes succeed.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length, style, and context.

How do you explain SkiMo to people who’ve never heard of it?

I usually describe it as backcountry ski racing. You start at the bottom of the mountain with skins on the bottom of your skis, race to the top, take the skins off, ski down, put the skins back on, and race right back up.

How did you get into this sport?

I found it in 2017, the winter of my eighth-grade year. I picked backcountry skiing (chaperoned by teachers Bill Shann and Molly Lewis) for my winter sport and had so much fun! Then my mom—a Snowbird ski-patroller/physician who’d been backcountry skiing for years—took me touring a few more times, and the skiing was incredible. Later that season I saw a flier for the Wasatch Powder Keg, a race at Brighton that covers the entire resort and the backcountry (i.e., Snake Creek and Guardsman Pass). So the next weekend I showed up to the race and got fourth place.

I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.—Junior Samantha Paisley

In March you competed in the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland. How did that go?

I finished as the 12th woman under age 17. It was such a neat experience. I learned so much about racing, balancing my school work, and standing up for myself. I became friends with the junior overall world champion, Katia from Russia, and we’re now pen pals. I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.

How did you qualify for the YOG?

The only race we’ve had this season was the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Eldora, Colorado, where I ranked second overall (I got third in the individual and first in the sprint). My time in the sprint ranked me as the second-fastest woman of that day—the same day as the national championships for the elite men and women. So there was some pretty tough competition.

Samantha Paisley on top of SkiMo podium.

Samantha Paisley in the top podium spot for the sprint at the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Colorado.

How does it feel to be representing your country in the YOG? And doing so during SkiMo’s debut?

It’s crazy! I can’t believe that out of all the youth athletes, I get to go. This sport is becoming more and more competitive and it feels surreal to be a part of such a monumental moment in SkiMo history. I’m also excited to meet people from other countries and watch some events. I’m very excited to see figure skating. 

When you get into the right headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world.

SkiMo is known as a grueling sport—is that true? Why have you continued to compete at such an advanced level? What drives you?

Honestly, the sport is very, very physically intense, but the hardest part is the mental component. It’s easy to give up quickly and it’s also easy to give up when you get passed by someone. Because of the length of the courses, you don’t move as quickly as if you were running or biking, and that can get frustrating. Therefore, no matter your physical fitness, if you aren’t in the right headspace it’s hard to do well. On the flip side, when you get into that headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world. 

I love this sport because all ages usually compete at the same time. It’s awesome because I get to train and race with incredible women and men who’ve not only raced the world circuit and done well, but also maintained full-time careers and balanced their lives well. It’s unreal that I have the mentors I have. And it’s also cool because there are a lot of young kids who look up to me on my Silver Fork SkiMo team, and I can be a role model and mentor to them.

What’s your training like?

I train everywhere I can. The beauty of SkiMo is that as long as you’re traveling uphill, you’re training. So, I spend my days hiking, running, biking, and skiing. I also joined Utah Crew and spend the spring, summer, and fall training with them. 

In the winter, I work out indoors once or twice a week. Cross-training is a big part of my philosophy because doing only one activity intensely can result in injury; it’s important to use muscles other than the ones specific to your sport. My SkiMo practice consists of two or three days of endurance—I often get 4,000 to 5,000 vertical feet in, which is about eight to 10 miles, depending on the location. I do sprint/interval work three times a week, and one of those days I do a crew workout. I take one or two days off to rest, mainly to catch up on sleep, do homework, and study for tests and quizzes.

Where do you hope to go with the sport—can you do it at the college level? Beyond? The 2026 Olympics?

After the YOG my goal is to qualify again for the US National Team and return to Europe to race in the World Championships in 2021. I also hope to ski in college—wherever I go, I want to start a team if there isn’t one. But I haven’t thought about my SkiMo future a lot. I like to live in the moment and set small goals—especially in such an intense sport, it’s hard to have a lot of lofty goals without losing perspective. I do have a national teammate, Grace Staberg, who is a senior in high school and is over in Europe for the rest of the school year racing the World Cup series. I wouldn’t be opposed to that.


Top photo: Samantha Paisley making the first ascent in the individual event at the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland, on March 11.

Students

Rowland Hall Junior and Ski Mountaineer Samantha Paisley Racing for US in Youth Olympic Games

Rowland Hall’s winter sports program introduced now-junior Samantha Paisley to backcountry skiing in eighth grade. Now, she’s in Lausanne, Switzerland, representing the United States in ski mountaineering—what she describes as “backcountry ski racing”—at the Youth Olympic Games.

This is the first year that ski mountaineering—known as SkiMo—will be included in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), and the sport may be added to the Winter Olympics in 2026. In Lausanne, Samantha is one of only two US girls and one of 48 total international athletes competing in SkiMo. She’ll race in all three events: the individual on January 10, the sprint on January 13, and the mixed-nations relay—featuring randomly grouped teams of two boys and two girls—on January 14.

A description of the SkiMo events, according to olympic.org:

"Individual races are similar to a marathon, with athletes setting off in a mass start over a course with at least three ascents and descents and up to 1,900m of elevation gain. Races typically last between one-and-a-half and two hours, with at least one ascent where athletes need to remove their skis and climb on foot. As the name suggests, sprint races are much shorter and faster than individual races. The total ascent and descent is usually around 100m, with the fastest athletes completing the course in approximately three minutes. Relay races, meanwhile, feature a team of three or four athletes, with each member of the team completing a short circuit one after the other. Like the sprint, the relay is quite a fast event, with each circuit lasting about 15 minutes and including two ascents and descents."

Samantha Paisley skis uphill with competitors in background.

Samantha Paisley at the 2019 SkiMo World Championships.

Join us in supporting Samantha and Team USA: Rowland Hall is throwing a YOG SkiMo viewing party (event TBD) at noon on Monday, January 13, in the Larimer Center. We’ll also share Samantha’s results on Twitter as we hear them. A TeamUSA.org article details more ways to keep track of the YOG: check TeamUSA.org/Lausanne2020 or Team USA’s social channels; sign up for the Team USA Daily newsletter; download the Team USA app; or check the Olympic Channel or their app.

We chatted with Samantha before she traveled to Lausanne on January 6, the same day school started up after winter break. She’ll miss two weeks of class to compete in the YOG, but thanks in part to Rowmark Ski Academy, Rowland Hall’s teachers and staff already have the infrastructure to help elite student-athletes succeed.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length, style, and context.

How do you explain SkiMo to people who’ve never heard of it?

I usually describe it as backcountry ski racing. You start at the bottom of the mountain with skins on the bottom of your skis, race to the top, take the skins off, ski down, put the skins back on, and race right back up.

How did you get into this sport?

I found it in 2017, the winter of my eighth-grade year. I picked backcountry skiing (chaperoned by teachers Bill Shann and Molly Lewis) for my winter sport and had so much fun! Then my mom—a Snowbird ski-patroller/physician who’d been backcountry skiing for years—took me touring a few more times, and the skiing was incredible. Later that season I saw a flier for the Wasatch Powder Keg, a race at Brighton that covers the entire resort and the backcountry (i.e., Snake Creek and Guardsman Pass). So the next weekend I showed up to the race and got fourth place.

I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.—Junior Samantha Paisley

In March you competed in the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland. How did that go?

I finished as the 12th woman under age 17. It was such a neat experience. I learned so much about racing, balancing my school work, and standing up for myself. I became friends with the junior overall world champion, Katia from Russia, and we’re now pen pals. I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.

How did you qualify for the YOG?

The only race we’ve had this season was the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Eldora, Colorado, where I ranked second overall (I got third in the individual and first in the sprint). My time in the sprint ranked me as the second-fastest woman of that day—the same day as the national championships for the elite men and women. So there was some pretty tough competition.

Samantha Paisley on top of SkiMo podium.

Samantha Paisley in the top podium spot for the sprint at the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Colorado.

How does it feel to be representing your country in the YOG? And doing so during SkiMo’s debut?

It’s crazy! I can’t believe that out of all the youth athletes, I get to go. This sport is becoming more and more competitive and it feels surreal to be a part of such a monumental moment in SkiMo history. I’m also excited to meet people from other countries and watch some events. I’m very excited to see figure skating. 

When you get into the right headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world.

SkiMo is known as a grueling sport—is that true? Why have you continued to compete at such an advanced level? What drives you?

Honestly, the sport is very, very physically intense, but the hardest part is the mental component. It’s easy to give up quickly and it’s also easy to give up when you get passed by someone. Because of the length of the courses, you don’t move as quickly as if you were running or biking, and that can get frustrating. Therefore, no matter your physical fitness, if you aren’t in the right headspace it’s hard to do well. On the flip side, when you get into that headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world. 

I love this sport because all ages usually compete at the same time. It’s awesome because I get to train and race with incredible women and men who’ve not only raced the world circuit and done well, but also maintained full-time careers and balanced their lives well. It’s unreal that I have the mentors I have. And it’s also cool because there are a lot of young kids who look up to me on my Silver Fork SkiMo team, and I can be a role model and mentor to them.

What’s your training like?

I train everywhere I can. The beauty of SkiMo is that as long as you’re traveling uphill, you’re training. So, I spend my days hiking, running, biking, and skiing. I also joined Utah Crew and spend the spring, summer, and fall training with them. 

In the winter, I work out indoors once or twice a week. Cross-training is a big part of my philosophy because doing only one activity intensely can result in injury; it’s important to use muscles other than the ones specific to your sport. My SkiMo practice consists of two or three days of endurance—I often get 4,000 to 5,000 vertical feet in, which is about eight to 10 miles, depending on the location. I do sprint/interval work three times a week, and one of those days I do a crew workout. I take one or two days off to rest, mainly to catch up on sleep, do homework, and study for tests and quizzes.

Where do you hope to go with the sport—can you do it at the college level? Beyond? The 2026 Olympics?

After the YOG my goal is to qualify again for the US National Team and return to Europe to race in the World Championships in 2021. I also hope to ski in college—wherever I go, I want to start a team if there isn’t one. But I haven’t thought about my SkiMo future a lot. I like to live in the moment and set small goals—especially in such an intense sport, it’s hard to have a lot of lofty goals without losing perspective. I do have a national teammate, Grace Staberg, who is a senior in high school and is over in Europe for the rest of the school year racing the World Cup series. I wouldn’t be opposed to that.


Top photo: Samantha Paisley making the first ascent in the individual event at the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland, on March 11.

Students

Explore More People Stories

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 following 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