Custom Class: post-landing-hero

Rowland Hall is centered around the student experience. But the school community is so much bigger than the students and even the teachers who interact with them in classrooms every day. There is a whole system of people working to keep people safe and fed, keep the grounds and buildings clean, and literally keep traffic moving. Then there are others who work not just to support the current students on campus, but students for years to come, through business functions, development, alumni, and community outreach.

It was a shape walk in January that piqued the curiosity of the school’s first graders about the variety of people on campus and created a project involving the whole grade. Going into one unfamiliar area of campus, a student was heard to exclaim, “Who are these people?” The students decided to create their own newspapers—the Rowland Hall Star JournalThe Winged Lion Press, and The Rowland Hall Times—to look at who are members of our community and how they help our school. 

First-grade teachers Susanna Mellor, April Nielsen, and Galen McCallum loved seeing the excitement of their students to take on a new (and rather arduous) project. The students would have to use a number of skills—some they had learned before, and some that were new. Reading and writing were obviously going to be employed. But they also had to learn how to come up with interview questions, and how to overcome nerves to conduct an interview. Photography became very important. One student took more than 75 photos for his piece. 

“I learned that you have to videotape your interview,” said first grader Harper Y., who interviewed Digital Communications Associate Robert Lainhart ’11. “That helped me remember what Robert had said and what to write.”

Rowland Hall Head of School Mick Gee chats with students who wrote about his role at the school.

Several first graders enjoyed interviewing Head of School Mick Gee. Left: Mick chats with writer Sophie S. and videographer Henry B. about their story. Right: A close-up of Arlo D.'s profile on Mick. 


“There was no lack of confidence from the students during the interviews,” said Head of School (and interview subject) Mick Gee. “I think that came from the amount of preparation they did. They were ready with questions and even asked follow-up questions. They were pretty sophisticated.”

Buddy pairs worked to hone their skills with each other before sending letters requesting interviews to their intended subjects. The letters were an important part of the process since no journalist simply “gets” a big interview; some finesse has to be involved. Many of the students were unfamiliar with the proper format of a letter, so this was another learning opportunity. The teachers worked with them on how to make a proper introduction and explained that the interviews were about more than learning about work—they were also about the people behind that work. “We are all part of this community,” said first-grade teacher Susanna. “It’s important to be known as humans and not just defined by our jobs.”

The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects.—Galen McCallum, first-grade teacher

“They went into areas of the school where they normally never go and practiced speaking to other grown-ups,” said April. “They were picked up by their interview subjects and walked to the interview and back to their classrooms. And the students in my class insisted on wearing their special press badges so everyone would know they’re reporters.”

All of the kids were asked who they would want to interview. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest in the school’s kitchen. Two teams of intrepid reporters were dispatched to interview Director of Food Services Julia Simonsen and one of the chefs, Ben.

“The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects,” said Galen. “The students invited Ben and Julia down to see the finished articles when they were done. There is something beautiful about helping them make these connections.”

Rowland Hall first-grade students' stories about staff members.

Bulletin boards outside first-grade classrooms proudly display the students' hard work.

Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall.—Mary Anne Wetzel '01, director of financial aid

And those connections are what every student mentions when you ask them about the project. Briar C. sat down with Zenon Bulka in operations to learn more about him. She reported back that Zenon is from Poland, has two boys, and babysits a dog. “My favorite part of interviewing Zenon was getting to sit with him,” she said.

The interview subjects valued the experience as well. Director of Financial Aid Mary Anne Wetzel ’01 loves passing her new press contacts during the day. “Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall,” she said. “I hope they learned a little bit about what I do in the Admission Office, and I got to make two new first-grade friends.” 

It's a sentiment echoed from others involved as well. “I was thanking someone for taking part in the project, for giving their time,” said April. “They responded, ‘Thanks for spreading joy around the school.’”


The first-grade team wishes to extend special thanks to fifth-grade teacher Jen Bourque for her support and guidance in crafting this project, which was initially used in the first-grade curriculum in the 2019–2020 school year.

Academics

First Graders Take on Publishing—and Get to Know Staff—with Class Newspapers

Rowland Hall is centered around the student experience. But the school community is so much bigger than the students and even the teachers who interact with them in classrooms every day. There is a whole system of people working to keep people safe and fed, keep the grounds and buildings clean, and literally keep traffic moving. Then there are others who work not just to support the current students on campus, but students for years to come, through business functions, development, alumni, and community outreach.

It was a shape walk in January that piqued the curiosity of the school’s first graders about the variety of people on campus and created a project involving the whole grade. Going into one unfamiliar area of campus, a student was heard to exclaim, “Who are these people?” The students decided to create their own newspapers—the Rowland Hall Star JournalThe Winged Lion Press, and The Rowland Hall Times—to look at who are members of our community and how they help our school. 

First-grade teachers Susanna Mellor, April Nielsen, and Galen McCallum loved seeing the excitement of their students to take on a new (and rather arduous) project. The students would have to use a number of skills—some they had learned before, and some that were new. Reading and writing were obviously going to be employed. But they also had to learn how to come up with interview questions, and how to overcome nerves to conduct an interview. Photography became very important. One student took more than 75 photos for his piece. 

“I learned that you have to videotape your interview,” said first grader Harper Y., who interviewed Digital Communications Associate Robert Lainhart ’11. “That helped me remember what Robert had said and what to write.”

Rowland Hall Head of School Mick Gee chats with students who wrote about his role at the school.

Several first graders enjoyed interviewing Head of School Mick Gee. Left: Mick chats with writer Sophie S. and videographer Henry B. about their story. Right: A close-up of Arlo D.'s profile on Mick. 


“There was no lack of confidence from the students during the interviews,” said Head of School (and interview subject) Mick Gee. “I think that came from the amount of preparation they did. They were ready with questions and even asked follow-up questions. They were pretty sophisticated.”

Buddy pairs worked to hone their skills with each other before sending letters requesting interviews to their intended subjects. The letters were an important part of the process since no journalist simply “gets” a big interview; some finesse has to be involved. Many of the students were unfamiliar with the proper format of a letter, so this was another learning opportunity. The teachers worked with them on how to make a proper introduction and explained that the interviews were about more than learning about work—they were also about the people behind that work. “We are all part of this community,” said first-grade teacher Susanna. “It’s important to be known as humans and not just defined by our jobs.”

The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects.—Galen McCallum, first-grade teacher

“They went into areas of the school where they normally never go and practiced speaking to other grown-ups,” said April. “They were picked up by their interview subjects and walked to the interview and back to their classrooms. And the students in my class insisted on wearing their special press badges so everyone would know they’re reporters.”

All of the kids were asked who they would want to interview. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest in the school’s kitchen. Two teams of intrepid reporters were dispatched to interview Director of Food Services Julia Simonsen and one of the chefs, Ben.

“The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects,” said Galen. “The students invited Ben and Julia down to see the finished articles when they were done. There is something beautiful about helping them make these connections.”

Rowland Hall first-grade students' stories about staff members.

Bulletin boards outside first-grade classrooms proudly display the students' hard work.

Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall.—Mary Anne Wetzel '01, director of financial aid

And those connections are what every student mentions when you ask them about the project. Briar C. sat down with Zenon Bulka in operations to learn more about him. She reported back that Zenon is from Poland, has two boys, and babysits a dog. “My favorite part of interviewing Zenon was getting to sit with him,” she said.

The interview subjects valued the experience as well. Director of Financial Aid Mary Anne Wetzel ’01 loves passing her new press contacts during the day. “Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall,” she said. “I hope they learned a little bit about what I do in the Admission Office, and I got to make two new first-grade friends.” 

It's a sentiment echoed from others involved as well. “I was thanking someone for taking part in the project, for giving their time,” said April. “They responded, ‘Thanks for spreading joy around the school.’”


The first-grade team wishes to extend special thanks to fifth-grade teacher Jen Bourque for her support and guidance in crafting this project, which was initially used in the first-grade curriculum in the 2019–2020 school year.

Academics

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Rowland Hall's 2021–2022 debate team after winning their second consecutive 3A state championship.

For this year’s debate team, there may be one thing that feels better than claiming Rowland Hall’s second consecutive region and state titles.

Doing it in person.

After two years of online-only competition, debaters from across the state were able to gather in person once again for the 2022 regional and state tournaments. After numerous Zoom-room competitions, said Mike Shackelford, Rowland Hall debate coach, these in-person gatherings were a welcome change.

"A return to in-person debate was rejuvenating,” said Mike. “Sure, it meant more planning and earlier mornings—but it also meant pep talks and motivational speeches, real-time collaboration, bonding and playing together between rounds, and supporting one another by watching final rounds as a group. It allowed our students to be truly seen and heard by their opponents, judges, and their teammates." And it was especially exciting for the team members who hadn’t yet experienced in-person debate events. “They didn't even know what they were missing,” said Mike.

Sophomore Zac Bahna was one of these students: he experienced his first year of competition—where he placed third in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking at state—on Zoom, and now understands the contrast between the two settings.

We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.—Zac Bahna, class of 2024

“The in-person experience is a lot different but more fun,” said Zac, who, with fellow sophomore and partner Harris Matheson, took third place in this year’s Public Forum event. “You get to talk to debaters from other schools and hang out with your teammates between rounds. Although last year’s debate season was still a great experience, the team felt more isolated and disconnected when we were all debating from our own homes. The state tournament was one of the first times that I could really feel the good energy of a team environment.”

That energy makes a difference for Rowland Hall not only because the team plays up a division into the 3A classification, pitting them against larger schools, but also because they had to spend a lot of time preparing for individual speech events—an area they don't practice during the regular season—to be competitive.

“It was so awesome to see so many Rowland Hall debaters come together and push themselves to compete in different events than they normally would and work together to achieve a common goal,” said Zac. “We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.”

As a result, the team walked away from the state tournament with their second consecutive 3A state title (their total score, 108, was 33 points higher than the second-place team) and an impressive list of performances:

  • Senior Samantha Lehman took first place in National Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a domestic affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Senior teammates Ella Houden and Kit Stevens took first place in Public Forum, an event that includes short speeches interspersed with three-minute crossfire sections, on the topic of the pros and cons of organic agriculture. Senior Samantha Lehman and junior Micah Sheinberg as well as sophomores Zac Bahna and Harris Matheson closed out the top three spots, giving them a co-championship.
  • Junior Layla Hijjawi and sophomore Joey Lieskovan took first place in Policy, an event in which teams advocate for or against a policy change resolution, for their take on the best proposals for water resource protection. Juniors Ruchi Agarwal and Julia Summerfield also went undefeated in this event, giving them the co-championship, while senior George Drakos and sophomore Gabe Andrus, as well as sophomores Marina Peng and Logan Fang, tied for third place—a clean sweep of the top four spots! (Learn more about how debaters across the state, including Rowland Hall students, prepared for this topic in The Salt Lake Tribune.)
  • Freshman Aiden Gandhi took fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas, a solo debate event, for his speech on journalistic ethics.
  • Junior Zachary Klein took third place in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a foreign affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Freshman Andrew Murphy took fifth place in Student Congress, a competition in which students lead and participate in a simulation where they debate different pieces of national legislation.
  • Junior Micah Sheinberg took fourth place in Impromptu Speaking, an event in which debaters are required to prepare and deliver speeches on a random topic, with only one to two minutes to prepare.

Samantha Lehman also made school history by being the first Rowland Hall student to win an individual state championship in three different debate events over her high school career. The senior said the accomplishment showed her that she can successfully debate on both national and state levels—and reminded her of what she’s learned over four years.

Debate has made me more confident in my voice.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

“Debate has made me a more confident person,” said Samantha. “I’ve always been willing to put myself out there, but debate has made me more confident in my voice, in my ability to convey ideas. I know how to speak to a specific audience, to use my research skills and cater arguments to different groups. I know how to speak efficiently and clearly, in a way that’s not pedantic. I know more about the world: criminal justice issues, arms sales, international relations, water, climate change—subjects you would never find out just in school and reading the news.”

This perspective was echoed by ninth grader Aiden Gandhi, who emerged as a team phenom in his novice season, taking fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas at his first state tournament.

“The season allowed me to grow and learn about topics and ideas that I never would have explored otherwise,” said Aiden. And though he is thrilled about the accomplishments of this year, he’s even more excited about his personal growth. “I think I am most proud of achieving the growth that I did this year in debate. It means that I will be better equipped for next year and future debates.”

It’s this kind of attitude, found across the team, that promises continued excellence for Rowland Hall Debate. Even after graduation, said Samantha, she’ll be keeping an eye on the team—she’s that excited about what lies ahead. Zac and Aiden, also looking forward to what's in the team’s future, have already promised to contribute to ongoing success by challenging themselves and their teammates, cultivating a positive and fun environment, and building community.

“I am excited for the opportunity that next year's season brings to connect, grow, and improve,” said Aiden.

Debate

Rowland Hall kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins speaks with a student.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Solid Foundation

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

Rowland Hall students enjoying outdoor classroom.

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


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

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

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

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

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

An Emphasis on Relationship

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A Child-Sized Experience

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

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

4PreK students peel and cut apples.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A Community of Learners

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

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

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

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

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

4PreK students inspect a giant sunflower.

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


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

It’s the magic of early childhood.


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

Academics

First grader Drake interviews Assistant Nurse Chelsea Zussman.

Rowland Hall is centered around the student experience. But the school community is so much bigger than the students and even the teachers who interact with them in classrooms every day. There is a whole system of people working to keep people safe and fed, keep the grounds and buildings clean, and literally keep traffic moving. Then there are others who work not just to support the current students on campus, but students for years to come, through business functions, development, alumni, and community outreach.

It was a shape walk in January that piqued the curiosity of the school’s first graders about the variety of people on campus and created a project involving the whole grade. Going into one unfamiliar area of campus, a student was heard to exclaim, “Who are these people?” The students decided to create their own newspapers—the Rowland Hall Star JournalThe Winged Lion Press, and The Rowland Hall Times—to look at who are members of our community and how they help our school. 

First-grade teachers Susanna Mellor, April Nielsen, and Galen McCallum loved seeing the excitement of their students to take on a new (and rather arduous) project. The students would have to use a number of skills—some they had learned before, and some that were new. Reading and writing were obviously going to be employed. But they also had to learn how to come up with interview questions, and how to overcome nerves to conduct an interview. Photography became very important. One student took more than 75 photos for his piece. 

“I learned that you have to videotape your interview,” said first grader Harper Y., who interviewed Digital Communications Associate Robert Lainhart ’11. “That helped me remember what Robert had said and what to write.”

Rowland Hall Head of School Mick Gee chats with students who wrote about his role at the school.

Several first graders enjoyed interviewing Head of School Mick Gee. Left: Mick chats with writer Sophie S. and videographer Henry B. about their story. Right: A close-up of Arlo D.'s profile on Mick. 


“There was no lack of confidence from the students during the interviews,” said Head of School (and interview subject) Mick Gee. “I think that came from the amount of preparation they did. They were ready with questions and even asked follow-up questions. They were pretty sophisticated.”

Buddy pairs worked to hone their skills with each other before sending letters requesting interviews to their intended subjects. The letters were an important part of the process since no journalist simply “gets” a big interview; some finesse has to be involved. Many of the students were unfamiliar with the proper format of a letter, so this was another learning opportunity. The teachers worked with them on how to make a proper introduction and explained that the interviews were about more than learning about work—they were also about the people behind that work. “We are all part of this community,” said first-grade teacher Susanna. “It’s important to be known as humans and not just defined by our jobs.”

The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects.—Galen McCallum, first-grade teacher

“They went into areas of the school where they normally never go and practiced speaking to other grown-ups,” said April. “They were picked up by their interview subjects and walked to the interview and back to their classrooms. And the students in my class insisted on wearing their special press badges so everyone would know they’re reporters.”

All of the kids were asked who they would want to interview. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest in the school’s kitchen. Two teams of intrepid reporters were dispatched to interview Director of Food Services Julia Simonsen and one of the chefs, Ben.

“The importance of voice and choice was key here. We wanted the kids to take an interest in what they were learning and get to know their subjects,” said Galen. “The students invited Ben and Julia down to see the finished articles when they were done. There is something beautiful about helping them make these connections.”

Rowland Hall first-grade students' stories about staff members.

Bulletin boards outside first-grade classrooms proudly display the students' hard work.

Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall.—Mary Anne Wetzel '01, director of financial aid

And those connections are what every student mentions when you ask them about the project. Briar C. sat down with Zenon Bulka in operations to learn more about him. She reported back that Zenon is from Poland, has two boys, and babysits a dog. “My favorite part of interviewing Zenon was getting to sit with him,” she said.

The interview subjects valued the experience as well. Director of Financial Aid Mary Anne Wetzel ’01 loves passing her new press contacts during the day. “Being part of the first-grade interview project combined two of my favorite things: getting to know students and sharing my love of Rowland Hall,” she said. “I hope they learned a little bit about what I do in the Admission Office, and I got to make two new first-grade friends.” 

It's a sentiment echoed from others involved as well. “I was thanking someone for taking part in the project, for giving their time,” said April. “They responded, ‘Thanks for spreading joy around the school.’”


The first-grade team wishes to extend special thanks to fifth-grade teacher Jen Bourque for her support and guidance in crafting this project, which was initially used in the first-grade curriculum in the 2019–2020 school year.

Academics

First grade teacher Lizbeth Sorenson chats with a student during writing workshop.

Upon entering first grade, students are just beginning their reading and writing journeys, with varying levels of literacy experience. By the end of the school year, thanks to the guidance of a dedicated team of teachers, these first graders have become confident, age-appropriate readers and writers.

Rowland Hall’s first-grade team—April Nielsen, Galen McCallum, Susanna Mellor, and Lizbeth Sorensen—puts their hearts and souls, and more than 70 combined years of experience, into the art of teaching first graders how to read and write. These teachers are the backbone of Rowland Hall’s uniquely engaging literacy program, a key educational pillar that serves as a launchpad for students’ love of reading and writing, which continues to grow throughout their time at the school. 

Our students leave first grade loving reading and writing. They feel empowered as word professors, readers, writers, and learners.—April Nielsen, first-grade teacher

“Our students leave first grade loving reading and writing,” explained April, lead first-grade teacher. “They feel empowered as word professors, readers, writers, and learners.”

During their first-grade year, students have a variety of opportunities each day to strengthen their skills and foster a foundation of empowerment. They practice reading, writing, and phonics, and learn about different genres and how to use authors’ techniques in their own writing. “Students feel empowered to take control of their own learning,” April said. “They’re excited about their progress as readers and writers.”        

What sets Rowland Hall’s literacy program apart from others? Undoubtedly, it’s the devotion and hard work of the first-grade teachers. The team uses the best research-based practices, as well as their combined years of teaching experience, to create joyful and engaging classroom communities of children who feel safe trying new things while actively learning. “The first-grade literacy program is highly engaging, developmentally appropriate, and thorough,” said Susanna. “It includes explicit, teacher-directed instruction, as well as many components that are discovery-based, requiring students to investigate and explore.”

The program also offers individual support for each student throughout their reading journeys—and this has been especially true during the pandemic. The teachers were proactive following distance learning in spring 2020, identifying students who would benefit from additional support over the summer to ensure they wouldn’t fall behind when they returned to school in the fall. These students were offered a two-week summer learning program where they could focus on reading and writing, as well as mathematics, in ways that would keep them excited about learning. Once students returned to the classroom, the teachers worked tirelessly to offer them individualized literacy instruction, while also being proactive about reaching out to families about progress and how to support children at home. Thanks to Rowland Hall’s small class sizes and administrative support, they used formative assessments to guide their instruction. “We meet with each student individually to find out exactly where they are and what they need instructionally,” explained April. “Then we are able to work with students individually and in small groups to practice the new skills being taught each day.”

Rowland Hall first graders in a writing workshop.

First graders practice reading, writing, and phonics skills during writing workshops throughout the year.

As the year progresses, the teachers use methods that encourage students to examine language and build meaningful literacy knowledge and skills. One of the most impressive aspects of Rowland Hall’s program is how they weave together reading and writing units to optimize student success and retention. “One nice thing about our program is when we’re reading nonfiction books,” April explained. “That’s when we’re learning how to write nonfiction, too, so students are really learning how these books are organized both during reading and writing time.”

The first-grade team is constantly hard at work implementing new and innovative strategies for writing workshops that make learning both inclusive and fun for students so that they want to explore those skills.

The first-grade team is also constantly hard at work implementing new and innovative strategies for writing workshops that make learning both inclusive and fun for students so that they want to explore those skills. (In fact, Galen highlighted how, during choice time, students often choose to do reading and writing activities. “I love writing workshop because I can use my imagination to write my very own books,” commented first grader Scarlett M.) Writing workshops allow the first graders to use a variety of skills to write and illustrate their own stories, building confidence and ownership of their own literacy learning. Students create everything from narratives to persuasive writing to nonfiction stories, and at the end of the year participate in an authors’ celebration where they read a story of their choice to their classmates and parents. This May, for example, student Ozzie S. chose to read his story about a “sushinami”—a tsunami made of sushi.

“It was fun writing my story and I'm excited to read it for the class,” Ozzie said. “I really liked drawing the pictures of the sushinami.”

The literacy program has been a longtime strength at Rowland Hall, and during an unconventional year, the program has been especially beneficial to students. Due to the consistent hard work and dedication of the first-grade team and their students, April is confident this year’s first graders will be well-prepared for second grade.

“I am extremely proud of our first graders and my team,” said April. “All of my students have made great reading and writing progress this year because they received intensive, systematic reading and writing instruction.”

Academics

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