On September 21, a line of Rowland Hall buses pulled up to Great Salt Lake State Park and dropped off a group of fourth- and eleventh-graders, who began making their way to the shoreline.
It was a longer walk than it used to be. For years, Great Salt Lake has been shrinking, and in recent months there’s been an increased outcry to protect the lake. And it’s not just adults who want to find solutions to the possible loss of one of the state’s most renowned landmarks. On this sunny fall day, the Rowland Hall students—who had the chance to come together thanks to Beyond the Classroom, an annual Upper School event that engages students with the greater Salt Lake community and its natural surroundings—were focused on taking away inspiration from the lake to power their own Great Salt Lake projects this year.
Kids are really motivated by problems and love to solve them. They think outside the box, they’re creative, they take chances adults won’t.—Tyler Stack, fourth-grade teacher
For the fourth graders, the day was extra special, as it was a chance to get personally familiar with the lake that will play a prominent role in their classrooms this year. While a study of waterways has always been part of Rowland Hall’s Utah studies curriculum, the pressing issues of Great Salt Lake, which many lower schoolers are well aware of, have given the fourth-grade team—Marianne Love, Cheryl Chen, Haas Pectol, and Tyler Stack—a natural opportunity to help students connect classroom learning to real-world conversations, delve into the role we all play in protecting our shared natural resources in the desert we call home, and search for solutions.
“Kids are really motivated by problems and love to solve them, and it’s cool to get their ideas about a bigger issue,” said Tyler. “They think outside the box, they’re creative, they take chances adults won’t. Maybe someone will think of a solution no one has thought of.” And reminding kids that they can make a difference also helps connect them to their community. “It gives them pride in where they live, and ownership and stewardship,” said Marianne.
The trip to Great Salt Lake allowed students to begin to connect to the lake as they discovered what about it most appealed to them and made them excited to learn—like why the lake is salty or what story its exposed waterlines tell. With the support of their Upper School buddies, they were asked to see, think, and wonder about the lake as they explored. “We want them to think about why they think we should save the Great Salt Lake, not just ideas they hear from adults or teachers,” said Tyler.
After visiting the lake, the students, with the help of their buddies, created slideshows that highlighted their areas of interest—the jumping-off point of research projects they will work on over the year. These slideshows also opened the door to another opportunity: the chance to present at Aridity and Great Salt Lake, a community discussion on water in the West held at Rowland Hall on October 12. Three students volunteered to speak, excited to share with a larger audience what they had learned and why it was important.
Everyone can help.—Hadley R., fourth grade
“I wanted them to know about how much the Great Salt Lake was drying up,” said Hadley R., who also wanted to remind attendees that they can make a difference. “Everyone can help,” she added.
These fourth-grade presenters also wanted to remind the group that many lives depend on the lake. Millie C., who is fascinated by Great Salt Lake’s well-known Black Rock and the creatures who call it home, shared, “I wanted them to walk away thinking about things near the Great Salt Lake.”
Fourth graders will continue to build on this early Great Salt Lake work with upcoming projects, including writing persuasive letters about the lake to state representatives (as well as visiting the Utah State Capitol during the General Session in January) and presenting their research to a panel of community experts. It’s certainly an exciting year to be a Rowland Hall fourth grader, and our school community is looking forward to seeing the many ways these students will inspire others, drive important conversations, and contribute to solutions to protect our shared home.
“This is a great place to live, and we want to keep it that way,” said Marianne.