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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People

Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman Reflects With Gratitude on First Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People

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Alex Lee and Chris Lee filming in downtown Salt Lake City

For Rowland Hall alumni and brothers Chris Lee ’93 and Alex Lee ’03, a day at the office can be anywhere: a bluff in the Southern Utah desert, the shore of a mountain lake, the Rotunda of the Utah State Capitol, or even in front of a giant, white infinity stage in their downtown Salt Lake studio.

Chris and Alex are the founders and owners of TWIG Media Lab, an independent film production company/agency based in Salt Lake City. Established in 2011, TWIG has become a successful business in under a decade: last year alone, the brothers produced more than 50 short films, including a national commercial.

While TWIG’s impressive portfolio includes clients in a variety of industries, Chris and Alex have set themselves apart through powerful social advocacy narratives, which they are now known for. Today, they are a go-to resource in the Salt Lake community for organizations—such as Equality Utah, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and even Rowland Hall—that want to share their missions and stories through film. 

Working for companies and organizations that have a bigger purpose—they want to make the world a better place—is so critical for us. It's so much easier to sleep well at night when you feel like what you've done is to really help people.

“Working for companies and organizations that have a bigger purpose—they want to make the world a better place—is so critical for us,” Chris explained. “It's so much easier to sleep well at night when you feel like what you've done is to really help people.”

The brothers began working on social advocacy films during the early days of their business, when many of the projects they took on—often through contacts within their social networks—were in that vein. They found that the work spoke to them, and that they had a talent for bringing clients’ passions and visions to life through film. Slowly, through word of mouth, more opportunities began to come their way.

“In a community like this, once you start producing work of a certain flavor, it promotes other work of a similar nature to find you,” said Alex.

It also helped that Chris and Alex, who view themselves as artists and their work as a reflection of their artistry, have always held themselves to a high standard. Additionally, each brother brought to the company a background that made it possible to offer clients a full-service experience: Chris, who taught dance and drama prior to earning a master’s degree in film, views TWIG’s work through an academic lens in the producer role, while Alex, who worked in video playback and lighting on movie sets, knows what it takes to get the right shot.

TWIG Media Lab studio

Chris and Alex (pictured at computer desks at the back of the room) and their team working in TWIG's Salt Lake studio.

Today, TWIG works on six to ten projects at any given time, and though they do produce longer films and documentaries, the brothers estimate that 95% of their projects are three- to five-minute pieces. To ensure that their work is effective—that the films successfully tell their clients’ stories within that short amount of time—Chris and Alex explained that it’s imperative to connect with clients during early creative planning.

“It comes down to your ability to understand what their vision is, and to make that happen requires the ability to communicate with them in a very specific way,” said Alex. He and Chris are so committed to this skill, in fact, that even the name of their business reflects it: when used as a verb, “to twig,” the word means to understand or realize something—to find meaning.

“We like to think we engage in deep listening to what people are really trying to say, what they're trying to get across,” said Chris. They also liked the organic picture that comes to mind when one thinks of a twig: the roots of a network and community, the potential growth of an idea.

The brothers credit Rowland Hall for preparing them to connect with clients by equipping them with what Alex called “an incredibly well-rounded skill set.” “We draw on a lot of different aspects of our education,” he said.

The brothers credit Rowland Hall for preparing them to connect with clients by equipping them with what Alex called "an incredibly well-rounded skill set."

“We draw on a lot of different aspects of our education,” he said. “Coming from a role where I was doing one very specific thing—being a lighting designer—it’s very much like you’re a cog in this much bigger machine. When we created the company, suddenly we had to draw upon all these skills from other parts of life, like the ability to write, to correspond with the client.”

Rowland Hall helped the brothers discover their passions and begin developing their strengths. Chris, for instance, credits Carol Cranes for his love of writing and Tony Larimer for his love of theater and storytelling. “That was always where my strengths were—in literature and the arts,” he said. And he believes in the close relationships cultivated at Rowland Hall: “That kind of personal relationship really makes you feel special. It makes you feel like what you create is special, and what you do with your life is important.”

Chris and Alex don’t take for granted their ability to create meaningful work for a living. They keep things in perspective by remembering the early years, before they had the freedom to choose the purposeful projects they’re known for. They’ve also built in a safeguard to protect what drives them: passion projects, which keep them challenged and inspired. For the past three years, for example, they used free time to chip away at Traverse, an art-house-style film that mixes dance and documentary. It involved six days of driving a group of modern dancers and their choreographer to iconic Utah locations. At each site, the group created a new dance, which the brothers then filmed.

“It was intense,” Alex remembered. “You'd show up to a location, shoot like crazy, get in a van, drive another five hours, sleep for six hours, and then wake up and do it again the next day.”

The final film is made up of five polished vignettes of each dance, interspersed with a reality-show-style documentary of the time the group spent traveling between sites. It will be screened at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on June 13 (more details can be found on TWIG’s Facebook page).

TWIG filming their passion project Traverse in the Southern Utah desert

Capturing an original dance for Traverse, TWIG's art-house-style passion project.

Whatever Chris and Alex create, they’re proud to have built a company that not only fulfills and challenges them, but, importantly, supports necessary work happening across communities and inspires viewers.

“Film is such a powerful medium,” said Chris. “It’s this amazing, ephemeral thing: you create it, it helps make the world a better place, and then it's gone. You made something that affected people's hearts.”


Photos courtesy TWIG Media Lab

Alumni

Mick Gee visiting Ben Smith's class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

STEM

Students at the 2020 Changemaker Chapel

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

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

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

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

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

Ethical Education

A Rowland Hall Lower School class

The princiPALS are back.

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

What exactly is it?

Is it a good thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community

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