Explore Topics

Custom Class: post-landing-hero

With over two decades of experience as a middle school teacher and administrator, including 19 years at institutions across Asia and Europe, Principal Pam Smith has seen the awkwardness of early adolescence shared across cultures—but she has also seen how educators can play a pivotal role in easing growing pains and creating joy.

“Middle school is about developing the whole person,” Pam said. “Many people don’t have positive memories of middle school, and that’s unfortunate because it should be an opportunity to build relationships, explore interests, and, above all, have fun.”

Educators can support this development in two ways, Pam said: by giving students tools to discover their interests and by teaching skills that help students pursue their passions. Together, these practices empower students to trust themselves and take ownership of their choices.

At the top of Pam's first-year priorities was learning from groups within the school—especially students. She listened to middle schoolers talk about their educational values and ideal experiences, and gave them ownership of assemblies, where they are free to emcee, perform, and present their work.

Pam’s firm belief in this approach to student development was apparent in her first-year priorities. At the top of the list was learning from groups within the school, such as teachers and parents, but especially students. She listened to students talk about their educational values and ideal experiences, and gave them ownership of areas like assemblies, where they are free to emcee, perform, and present their work.

“One of the first things we did this year was ask the student council to come in and speak at our new-student orientation,” she said. Because this was also her first time meeting the group, Pam asked each council member to state their name and grade, and to share something they like about Rowland Hall. “By and large, the students were talking about their teachers,” she remembered. “That comes through loud and clear: they care so much about their teachers.”

Experiences like this are a testament to the positive student-teacher relationships at the Middle School, a Rowland Hall strength that Pam could sense even during the interview process. “This is easily one of the best faculties that I’ve had the experience to work with,” she said. “The teachers really know and care about their kids. They understand what kids at this age are going through.”

This understanding is crucial to earning the trust necessary to guide students in self-discovery, particularly as they experiment with making choices. Pam explained that each student is on a personal journey, which they need to walk in their own way, at their own pace—mistakes and all. While giving them freedom to make mistakes can seem frightening, it is a crucial component of healthy development and essential at Rowland Hall, where there is a focus on teaching ethical decision-making, guiding students to take responsibility for learning, and developing student strengths.

The Middle School provides a safety net, Pam said, that helps catch students as they make mistakes and ultimately develop resilience and perseverance. “They can fall and get maybe a little scratched or bumped and bruised, but they’re going to be OK,” she said. “They’re going to learn.”

And as students become more experienced at healthy decision-making alongside discovering their passions, Pam said, they blossom. They start to understand that they have influence—what she calls their “powers for good”—over their lives and the world around them, and that they can engage their interests, skills, and talents in new ways. “There’s so much that students can do to be creative and to connect,” she said, citing examples of Rowland Hall students engaging those powers for good—from the seventh graders who started a campaign to remove straws from and limit single-use plastics in the cafeteria, to the eighth graders who led a clothing drive for Salt Lake City’s refugee community. She wants to continue to cultivate these opportunities next year to get more students engaged with the wider school and city communities, which can unlock passions they may not have yet discovered.

“School doesn’t have to just take place within the walls of the classroom,” Pam said. “This is a rich city with a lot to offer, so I want our students to be able to take advantage of that.”

Moving forward, Pam will continue to ensure that middle schoolers have the support they need to develop skills that will prepare them for the Upper School, and then college and life beyond.

“Our students really transform over three years,” she said. “By the end of eighth grade, they stand confidently, having found their voice, and are excited to continue learning and pursuing their passions. There’s this feeling that they can take on the world.”

People

Pam Smith Looks Back on Her First Year as Middle School Principal

With over two decades of experience as a middle school teacher and administrator, including 19 years at institutions across Asia and Europe, Principal Pam Smith has seen the awkwardness of early adolescence shared across cultures—but she has also seen how educators can play a pivotal role in easing growing pains and creating joy.

“Middle school is about developing the whole person,” Pam said. “Many people don’t have positive memories of middle school, and that’s unfortunate because it should be an opportunity to build relationships, explore interests, and, above all, have fun.”

Educators can support this development in two ways, Pam said: by giving students tools to discover their interests and by teaching skills that help students pursue their passions. Together, these practices empower students to trust themselves and take ownership of their choices.

At the top of Pam's first-year priorities was learning from groups within the school—especially students. She listened to middle schoolers talk about their educational values and ideal experiences, and gave them ownership of assemblies, where they are free to emcee, perform, and present their work.

Pam’s firm belief in this approach to student development was apparent in her first-year priorities. At the top of the list was learning from groups within the school, such as teachers and parents, but especially students. She listened to students talk about their educational values and ideal experiences, and gave them ownership of areas like assemblies, where they are free to emcee, perform, and present their work.

“One of the first things we did this year was ask the student council to come in and speak at our new-student orientation,” she said. Because this was also her first time meeting the group, Pam asked each council member to state their name and grade, and to share something they like about Rowland Hall. “By and large, the students were talking about their teachers,” she remembered. “That comes through loud and clear: they care so much about their teachers.”

Experiences like this are a testament to the positive student-teacher relationships at the Middle School, a Rowland Hall strength that Pam could sense even during the interview process. “This is easily one of the best faculties that I’ve had the experience to work with,” she said. “The teachers really know and care about their kids. They understand what kids at this age are going through.”

This understanding is crucial to earning the trust necessary to guide students in self-discovery, particularly as they experiment with making choices. Pam explained that each student is on a personal journey, which they need to walk in their own way, at their own pace—mistakes and all. While giving them freedom to make mistakes can seem frightening, it is a crucial component of healthy development and essential at Rowland Hall, where there is a focus on teaching ethical decision-making, guiding students to take responsibility for learning, and developing student strengths.

The Middle School provides a safety net, Pam said, that helps catch students as they make mistakes and ultimately develop resilience and perseverance. “They can fall and get maybe a little scratched or bumped and bruised, but they’re going to be OK,” she said. “They’re going to learn.”

And as students become more experienced at healthy decision-making alongside discovering their passions, Pam said, they blossom. They start to understand that they have influence—what she calls their “powers for good”—over their lives and the world around them, and that they can engage their interests, skills, and talents in new ways. “There’s so much that students can do to be creative and to connect,” she said, citing examples of Rowland Hall students engaging those powers for good—from the seventh graders who started a campaign to remove straws from and limit single-use plastics in the cafeteria, to the eighth graders who led a clothing drive for Salt Lake City’s refugee community. She wants to continue to cultivate these opportunities next year to get more students engaged with the wider school and city communities, which can unlock passions they may not have yet discovered.

“School doesn’t have to just take place within the walls of the classroom,” Pam said. “This is a rich city with a lot to offer, so I want our students to be able to take advantage of that.”

Moving forward, Pam will continue to ensure that middle schoolers have the support they need to develop skills that will prepare them for the Upper School, and then college and life beyond.

“Our students really transform over three years,” she said. “By the end of eighth grade, they stand confidently, having found their voice, and are excited to continue learning and pursuing their passions. There’s this feeling that they can take on the world.”

People

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

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

You Belong at Rowland Hall