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Will our youngest learners wear masks? This question was on many early educators’ minds this summer as schools considered how to return to in-person learning—which experts agree is best for children—in the fall.

Rowland Hall Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman on Park City Television's November 17 Mountain Connections, discussing how adults can teach mask wearing to young children.

At Rowland Hall, administrators began working toward this goal in the spring, closely monitoring scientific data and the most current recommendations from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as consulting with local medical experts. Since then, the school has put into place many guidelines and procedures to allow for in-person learning, including requiring all students and adults on our campuses to wear face coverings.

In Rowland Hall’s Beginning School—which serves students in 3PreK, 4PreK, and kindergarten—teachers spent the summer consulting resources and considering how they would approach mask wearing with the school’s youngest learners. They ultimately decided to teach this new life skill like they would any other—using the positive, supportive approach that the Beginning School is known for. But unlike washing hands, tying shoelaces, or zipping coats, mask wearing has an added layer of the unknown, plus built-in anxiety tied to the pandemic behind the requirement. As summer drew to a close, the teachers wondered: Would kids actually wear masks? And how much time would adults have to spend managing them? 

They didn’t have to wait long for an answer, which became clear the very first week of school: not only are Rowland Hall’s youngest students willing to wear masks, but they’re wearing them without complaint and with minimal reminders.

“They’re doing awesome,” said Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher. “It’s amazing what kids can do.”

They really respond to keeping each other safe.—Gail Rose, 3PreK lead teacher

In fact, wearing masks alongside their peers at school is proving to be a powerful way to help normalize this behavior in children. Teachers are also keeping discussions about masks positive, focusing on community benefits to appeal to young children’s natural empathy. In Gail Rose’s 3PreK class, for instance, she and assistant teacher Kirsten White explain that each child plays a role in keeping the class, and the larger school community, safe and healthy. As a result, instead of thinking about masks as a hindrance, kids view them as a way to care for their friends.

“They really respond to keeping each other safe,” said Gail.

And while educators, parents, and caregivers were understandably worried that masks would affect children’s school experience—with concerns varying from whether they would alter their ability to socialize normally to whether kids could breathe comfortably—the Beginning School teachers are happy to report that this hasn’t been the case at Rowland Hall.

“After a few days, it seemed like the kids forgot they had a mask,” said Isabelle. Gail added, “It is not interfering with their ability to have fun at school at all.”

Katie Williams with kindergarten students (and the class' masked mascots).

Katie Williams playing a game with three of her kindergartners. Masked mascots Roary and Mabel are also pictured.

The teachers often hear children kindly reminding one another to pull up masks that have slipped beneath noses, and they marvel at how children have embraced new rules, like sitting six feet apart, without a problem. Lead kindergarten teacher Katie Williams recalled an early experience that illustrated to her how quickly students accepted mask wearing: after she and assistant teacher Beth Ott discussed masks on the first day of school, students pointed out that Mabel, the stuffed elephant from their phonics unit, wasn’t masked. Katie remembered thinking, “Whoa, this is so normal for them.” Since then, all of the class’s stuffed animals have been given masks (the teachers even use Roary, Rowland Hall’s mascot, to drive home skills by bringing him to morning circle with his mask on wrong so the kids can correct him). It was a powerful reminder of how resilient little people are—and how they can surprise adults when given the chance.

“They can do anything, those kids,” said Isabelle. “They’re unbelievable.”


Encouraging Mask Wearing: Our Teachers’ Top Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Downloadable Tips: Encouraging Mask Wearing Among Young Children

   ↪ Download our tips (PDF)

At Rowland Hall’s Beginning School, mask wearing is viewed and taught as a life skill—and like any other life skill, practice makes perfect. Below, teachers share their top tips for parents and caregivers who want to continue building mask-wearing skills outside of school.

  • Model mask wearing. Continue to normalize mask wearing by letting your children see you putting on your mask whenever possible.

  • Let children be the teachers. Give children opportunities to teach the mask-wearing skills they are learning at school. Ask them to remind you of the proper way to put on a mask, for example, or to show you on a favorite stuffed animal (this is especially helpful for kids who need to practice the fine-motor skills required for putting on masks).

  • Talk about the importance of masks, but don’t give too much information. Short, simple answers are best for this age group (“We wear masks to help keep us and our friends safe”). Check out Wearing a Mask, a free Autism Little Learners story, for help guiding conversations (Gail and Kirsten read this story aloud on the first day of school).

  • Help children choose the best masks for them. Like adults, kids want their masks to be comfortable, but you might need to do some searching to find one that fits your child’s face. Look for masks that comfortably cover the nose and mouth but don't move when the child talks. Also check that masks don't pinch or squish ears (consider styles that let you adjust elastic length) and experiment with fabrics—our teachers recommend cotton, but advise against neoprene (it loses its shape over the day).

  • Give children mask-related tasks. Kids want to help keep their families safe, so give them jobs like handing out masks to family members every morning. Also, let your children choose the masks they want to wear each day as a simple, fun way to build their autonomy.

  • Keep extra masks on hand. You never know when a mask will become uncomfortable, dirty, wet, or lost. Keep spares in places like the glovebox or purse, and remember to pack extras in your children’s school bags.

  • Praise children. It can be hard to wear a mask all day. Remind your children how proud you are of them for keeping on their masks and protecting others.


Community

Keeping Each Other Safe: How the Beginning School is Teaching Mask Wearing to Rowland Hall's Youngest Learners

Will our youngest learners wear masks? This question was on many early educators’ minds this summer as schools considered how to return to in-person learning—which experts agree is best for children—in the fall.

Rowland Hall Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman on Park City Television's November 17 Mountain Connections, discussing how adults can teach mask wearing to young children.

At Rowland Hall, administrators began working toward this goal in the spring, closely monitoring scientific data and the most current recommendations from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as consulting with local medical experts. Since then, the school has put into place many guidelines and procedures to allow for in-person learning, including requiring all students and adults on our campuses to wear face coverings.

In Rowland Hall’s Beginning School—which serves students in 3PreK, 4PreK, and kindergarten—teachers spent the summer consulting resources and considering how they would approach mask wearing with the school’s youngest learners. They ultimately decided to teach this new life skill like they would any other—using the positive, supportive approach that the Beginning School is known for. But unlike washing hands, tying shoelaces, or zipping coats, mask wearing has an added layer of the unknown, plus built-in anxiety tied to the pandemic behind the requirement. As summer drew to a close, the teachers wondered: Would kids actually wear masks? And how much time would adults have to spend managing them? 

They didn’t have to wait long for an answer, which became clear the very first week of school: not only are Rowland Hall’s youngest students willing to wear masks, but they’re wearing them without complaint and with minimal reminders.

“They’re doing awesome,” said Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher. “It’s amazing what kids can do.”

They really respond to keeping each other safe.—Gail Rose, 3PreK lead teacher

In fact, wearing masks alongside their peers at school is proving to be a powerful way to help normalize this behavior in children. Teachers are also keeping discussions about masks positive, focusing on community benefits to appeal to young children’s natural empathy. In Gail Rose’s 3PreK class, for instance, she and assistant teacher Kirsten White explain that each child plays a role in keeping the class, and the larger school community, safe and healthy. As a result, instead of thinking about masks as a hindrance, kids view them as a way to care for their friends.

“They really respond to keeping each other safe,” said Gail.

And while educators, parents, and caregivers were understandably worried that masks would affect children’s school experience—with concerns varying from whether they would alter their ability to socialize normally to whether kids could breathe comfortably—the Beginning School teachers are happy to report that this hasn’t been the case at Rowland Hall.

“After a few days, it seemed like the kids forgot they had a mask,” said Isabelle. Gail added, “It is not interfering with their ability to have fun at school at all.”

Katie Williams with kindergarten students (and the class' masked mascots).

Katie Williams playing a game with three of her kindergartners. Masked mascots Roary and Mabel are also pictured.

The teachers often hear children kindly reminding one another to pull up masks that have slipped beneath noses, and they marvel at how children have embraced new rules, like sitting six feet apart, without a problem. Lead kindergarten teacher Katie Williams recalled an early experience that illustrated to her how quickly students accepted mask wearing: after she and assistant teacher Beth Ott discussed masks on the first day of school, students pointed out that Mabel, the stuffed elephant from their phonics unit, wasn’t masked. Katie remembered thinking, “Whoa, this is so normal for them.” Since then, all of the class’s stuffed animals have been given masks (the teachers even use Roary, Rowland Hall’s mascot, to drive home skills by bringing him to morning circle with his mask on wrong so the kids can correct him). It was a powerful reminder of how resilient little people are—and how they can surprise adults when given the chance.

“They can do anything, those kids,” said Isabelle. “They’re unbelievable.”


Encouraging Mask Wearing: Our Teachers’ Top Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Downloadable Tips: Encouraging Mask Wearing Among Young Children

   ↪ Download our tips (PDF)

At Rowland Hall’s Beginning School, mask wearing is viewed and taught as a life skill—and like any other life skill, practice makes perfect. Below, teachers share their top tips for parents and caregivers who want to continue building mask-wearing skills outside of school.

  • Model mask wearing. Continue to normalize mask wearing by letting your children see you putting on your mask whenever possible.

  • Let children be the teachers. Give children opportunities to teach the mask-wearing skills they are learning at school. Ask them to remind you of the proper way to put on a mask, for example, or to show you on a favorite stuffed animal (this is especially helpful for kids who need to practice the fine-motor skills required for putting on masks).

  • Talk about the importance of masks, but don’t give too much information. Short, simple answers are best for this age group (“We wear masks to help keep us and our friends safe”). Check out Wearing a Mask, a free Autism Little Learners story, for help guiding conversations (Gail and Kirsten read this story aloud on the first day of school).

  • Help children choose the best masks for them. Like adults, kids want their masks to be comfortable, but you might need to do some searching to find one that fits your child’s face. Look for masks that comfortably cover the nose and mouth but don't move when the child talks. Also check that masks don't pinch or squish ears (consider styles that let you adjust elastic length) and experiment with fabrics—our teachers recommend cotton, but advise against neoprene (it loses its shape over the day).

  • Give children mask-related tasks. Kids want to help keep their families safe, so give them jobs like handing out masks to family members every morning. Also, let your children choose the masks they want to wear each day as a simple, fun way to build their autonomy.

  • Keep extra masks on hand. You never know when a mask will become uncomfortable, dirty, wet, or lost. Keep spares in places like the glovebox or purse, and remember to pack extras in your children’s school bags.

  • Praise children. It can be hard to wear a mask all day. Remind your children how proud you are of them for keeping on their masks and protecting others.


Community

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

Lower School student working on class project

In the newest episode of Rowland Hall’s award-winning princiPALS podcast, Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus discuss some of the most inspiring things they’ve learned (so far) while educating preschool- and elementary-aged children during the pandemic.

During the first months of in-person instruction since March, the princiPALS have learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community.

Recorded during the 14th week of Rowland Hall’s 2020–2021 school year, Emma and Jij reflect on leading their divisions during the first months of in-person instruction since the school moved to full distance learning in March. During that time, they said, they’ve learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community. And though they’re aware that schools across the country are dealing with different learning models and regional challenges, they believe that their perspectives on in-person learning during the pandemic may help other educators—as well as answer some of the many questions parents and caregivers have as schools readjust learning models in 2021.

“Our hope is that these important things we’ve learned are helpful to anyone out there,” said Jij.

The princiPALS also draw on their top lessons to create tips that will help parents and caregivers continue to support children (and themselves) at this time, with an emphasis on making intentional choices rather than, as Emma noted, “letting the world wash over you.”

Listen to “What We’re Learning about Learning during a Pandemic,” along with other episodes of princiPALS, on Rowland Hall's website, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.

Podcast

PrinciPALS Jij de Jesus and Emma Wellman on Rowland Hall's McCarthey Campus

Rowland Hall is pleased to announce that “How to Talk to Kids about Race,” the third episode of the school’s princiPALS podcast, won silver for a single podcast episode in the 2020 InspirED Brilliance Awards. This is Rowland Hall’s fifth Brilliance Award since 2017.

2020 InspirED Brilliance Award Winner badge


The InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Awards is the only international competition that recognizes excellence in private and independent school marketing and communications exclusively. Entries, divided into 30 categories, were judged by a volunteer panel of 69 marketing experts from around the world who are professionals in private schools or businesses that specialize in school marketing, and were scored on creativity, persuasiveness, design, copy, photography, and overall appeal. The judges chose “How to Talk to Kids about Race” for the timeliness of the subject, the strong advice presented to listeners, and the overall branding.

"The topic is timely and I appreciated hearing about the research and action items to take,” said one judge. Another commented, “Really smart advice, well-presented.”

PrinciPALS launched in October 2019 as a resource for parents and caregivers navigating common questions and concerns about the preschool and elementary school years. The podcast features Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus, and is hosted by alumnus Conor Bentley ’01. All episodes of princiPALS are available on Rowland Hall's website, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.

Podcast

Anna Shott receiving her high school diploma at graduation.

Alum Anna Shott ’16 sent the following email to middle and upper school computer science (CS) teacher Ben Smith ’89 on December 3, 2020. Anna graciously agreed to let us republish it here. We last interviewed Anna in 2016 when she was a senior taking her first CS class with Ben and enjoying the collaborative, problem-solving aspects of the field, which often gets falsely stereotyped as an antisocial and rote career choice. Ben has worked hard over nearly a decade to show his students—especially young women, who are underrepresented in the field—the reality: that programmers typically work together in teams to solve real-world problems and ultimately help people. This year, Ben is even weaving in social justice as a theme, using the Algorithmic Justice League as one of his teaching resources. We're grateful for Ben's dedication to CS education and can't wait to see what he and his former students like Anna do in the future. If you're an alum with a story about how a Rowland Hall teacher helped to inspire your career choice, let us know.


Dear Mr. Smith,

Hope you are doing well and enjoying a nice holiday season! I am reaching out with an update and to say thank you. 

After graduating from Rowland Hall in 2016 I took a gap year where I worked at my family's company and traveled. In 2017 I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Southern California studying computer science and business. The last two summers I interned at Microsoft, first as an Explore intern and then as a program management intern. I am now a senior finishing up my last few classes before graduation in May. Next fall I’m heading to Seattle to join Microsoft full-time as a program manager.

I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year.

I’ve spent much of my last four years participating in startup incubators, building companies, and exploring Los Angeles. I've stayed involved in the engineering community as a counselor for an on-campus computer science camp for K–12 students and as a teacher's assistant for one of USC's core software engineering classes. I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year. Your class truly influenced the path I chose, and I cannot thank you enough for sparking my interest in computer science.

I've had so much fun reading the various articles on the Rowland Hall website regarding the incredible computer science program you have built. Congratulations on the numerous accolades you and your students have earned over the years. I hope the program continues to grow and expose students to computer science and engineering, and ultimately inspire many to pursue a career path in those disciplines. 

I wish you and your family all the best and hope you are staying happy and healthy during this time.

Many thanks again, and happy holidays!

Sincerely,
Anna Shott
Class of 2016


Top: Anna Shott ’16 at her graduation, receiving her diploma from now-retired head of school Alan Sparrow.

Alumni

Sixth graders recording the original radio play "The Awakening."
 
Like all educators across the country, Rowland Hall theatre teacher Matt Sincell had to rethink his lesson plans after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed in-person learning in March.
With traditional classes and a spring production off the table, Matt found himself looking for ways to provide theatre experiences for students during quarantine. He decided to introduce them to radio plays, a completely acoustic type of theatre, which could be produced from their homes.

While the term radio play might bring to mind radio series from the 1930s and 1940s, this type of production still attracts audiences today—podcasts, for instance, are “sort of the modern-day version of a radio play,” Matt said. Stories told as radio plays also have lasting power: "The War of the Worlds," a Mercury Theatre on the Air radio episode based on the 1898 H.G. Wells novel of the same name, dramatized a Martian invasion and is remembered because of the fear it stirred when it aired in 1938. “It caused a nationwide panic when it was first performed. People actually thought we were being invaded by aliens,” said Matt.

In the early months of distance learning, Rowland Hall students began exploring this theatre form, ultimately creating an adaptation of the popular children’s book The Gruffalo (which was edited by seventh- and eighth-grade Arts & Ensembles theatre teacher Meighan Smith). Their work was shared with families and friends—and, thanks to Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre Company, the wider community when it was featured on The City Library’s BiblioBoard. And as Matt planned for the 2020–2021 year—which he knew would still include distance learning in some form—he decided to continue the study of radio plays. “With students at home, in class, and, for some, distance learning only, it seemed the most likely class project to be able to complete,” he explained.

This fall, Matt assigned his sixth-grade Arts & Ensembles class the task of creating an original radio play. The result, The Awakening, is a 16-minute production written and performed by students Sebby Bamberger, Lila Bates, Josie Fonarow, Elayna Hoglund, Paulina Ize-Cedillo, Emery Lieberman, Elle Prasthofer, Morgan Schmutz, Sophie Smith, Izzy Utgaard, and Kate Weissman. The play, which took about two months to complete, was written in both the horror and comedy genres, explained Elayna.

“The inspiration for it was the story of ‘The Ghost with the Bloody Finger,’” she said, referencing a well-known campfire ghost story designed to make listeners laugh. Elayna said the sixth graders wanted to incorporate humor into their radio play because they knew their audience would be mostly made up of listeners who were middle-school-aged and younger. “We knew that it’d be more fun to have some funny in it.”

All 11 students were invested in the project, getting involved in the brainstorming, writing, and script editing required of a radio play. Although they weren’t able to do the close-contact acting techniques of a stage production, they did get to experience voice acting, with distance learners applying best practices to capture the cleanest sound possible by recording with blankets over their heads or by sitting inside a closet, and in-person learners utilizing a handmade, COVID-approved sound booth made of two stacked desks wrapped with a thick, padded moving blanket. (Blankets were changed and desks and equipment were sanitized between each recording session.)

“There was never a time that a student was directly interacting with another student, but we were able to create the illusion that they were indeed responding to each other,” said Matt, who edited The Awakening.

The students also learned the importance of sound effects in radio plays, which are key to bringing this art form to life. “The tricky thing about a radio play is that there, of course, is no visual to accompany it,” Matt explained, “so it's even more necessary to rely on our sense of sound to tell the story.” He had students experiment with Foley, a sound-making technique pioneered in the 1920s and still used today—Elayna captured the sound of a refrigerator door closing, a microwave beeping, and a candy wrapper crackling, while classmate Sophie recorded a door slamming, feet running on concrete, and her interpretation of a leprechaun laughing. Sophie said it felt good knowing that her sound effects helped make a difference in the finished recording. “It was pretty nice because you knew it was your work,” she said.

Art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.—Matt Sincell, theatre teacher

And that finished recording is impressive indeed. It’s a strong reminder of student creativity and ingenuity, even within a pandemic. “What they have been able to accomplish in the face of such adversity is really quite unique and wonderful,” said Matt.

The theatre teacher is hopeful that the radio play will also bring smiles to the larger community: on December 14, Matt announced that Jerry Rapier, Plan-B Theatre’s artistic director and a dedicated supporter of theatre education in Utah, had offered to again promote the Rowland Hall students’ work by linking The Awakening to The City Library’s BiblioBoard and to Plan-B’s mobile app.

“It's super exciting to once again have Plan-B Theatre support our students' work,” said Matt. “It’s nice to think that they are able to provide a 16-minute gift of joy to other students outside of the Rowland Hall community. It's proof that art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.”


Banner photo: Rowland Hall middle schoolers Lila Bates and Kate Weissman preparing to record lines of The Awakening.

Theatre

You Belong at Rowland Hall