Rowland Hall juniors identify and research a global, local, or internal issue they feel strongly about, then volunteer for an organization associated with their topic. Dubbed Project 11, this experience entails more than clocking service hours. Rowland Hall supports juniors with the resources to design and implement a solution to the problem they’ve chosen to explore.
Faculty designed Project 11 to be experiential rather than cerebral, and personal yet communally relevant. It provides a platform for individuals to hone personal voice and identity and creates a workplace for students to build, reflect, and respond to community issues. It’s a place for students to develop love and respect for themselves and the people in their communities, and to access a deeper sense of place. It’s also a culminating and potentially formative experience for juniors preparing to apply to college.
Several years ago, a team of Upper School teachers assembled to develop a learning program to reach beyond the classroom. The team met and brainstormed for a year before launching Project 11, a real-world community-building experience for Rowland Hall juniors. Associate Director of Community Partnerships and Chair of the Arts Department Sofia Gorder, Physical Education teacher Mark Oftedal, and former Director of Service Learning Liz Paige founded the program. Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund currently oversees it.
Rowland Hall’s service-learning program was originally built around volunteering in local nonprofits. But seven years ago, as Utah grew and changed, the program took on a global perspective. Rowland Hall has always been open to everyone—those inside and outside the prescribed societal, racial, religious, socioeconomic, and familial structural norms. Local growth and increased diversity spurred Project 11 to tackle community partnerships in new and inclusive ways, thus bringing students and teachers together as partners in the evolving culture of education.
Project 11 has gained momentum over the years and has carved a lasting space in our students’ lives. Often, students graduate with hundreds of hours beyond the volunteer requirements. Those who invest wholeheartedly in projects hand them off to up-and-coming community student-activists to ensure their projects endure.
Global Education and the Navajo Nation as a part of Project 11
After solidifying a number of partnerships with Navajo people in 2016, the Navajo Project is considered to be the “Advanced Placement” equivalent of community building for juniors. Students interested in community engagement, activism, research, developing solutions, and meeting people of another nation can apply to the Navajo Project during their junior year.
Project 11 students have gone on to reframe the assignment as a global education initiative. The Navajo Nation and its people represent a community that is accessible, already part of our curriculum and community, yet invisible in many ways. To learn more, a selected group of 20 students and four faculty worked in Salt Lake City and on the reservation throughout 2015–2016 on a cultural exchange and community-building project. The biggest takeaway was that we had a great deal to learn from a population of 200,000 people, a mere six hours away. We discovered that environmental sustainability is a huge Native concern; that indigenous languages are a fading link to heritage; art is sacred; heart-wrenching racism is systemic in our state; poor healthcare on Native lands leads to new and alarming diseases; public education on the Navajo Nation is not taken seriously; and that regressive federal and state policies create impassable roadblocks for Native people at nearly every level.
Project 11 Grows Toward the Whole Community
As Project 11 continues to grow, we plan to make all projects visible and accessible enough to involve our entire community. This spring marks our first-ever Community Project Presentation. It will include a student-led fair with all projects and agencies present to share experiences, and to mobilize and motivate our community to get involved. Read on to learn more about recent projects and their impacts.
Rubbish Redemption: This Project Isn’t Trash
- Team: Alicia Lu, Cindy Shen, and 13 Middle School students
- Challenge: Confront the issue of waste at our school by entering the Shane McConkey EcoChallenge, a national sustainability competition established in memory of McConkey, a professional skier and base jumper.
- Process: Ran a waste-collection competition in the Middle School, stuffed plastic bottles with the collected 1,500 liters of non-recyclable trash to make eco-bricks, named and marketed the project, and used the bricks to install a usable bench on the west side of campus.
- Solution: The McConkey Foundation awarded “Rubbish Redemption: This Project Isn’t Trash” the $6,000 first-place prize. Winnings will be used to endow future student-led sustainability projects at Rowland Hall. Read more about this project in another Fine Print story.
Designing a Meaningful Exchange Between Cultures
- Team: Keelan Kenny and 19 classmates
- Challenge: Educate the public on the Navajo Nation and dispel misunderstandings about its people and their culture. Learn about and understand the challenges of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo people are often incorrectly and often unfairly portrayed. Break down stereotypes, and prioritize solutions to large-scale problems.
- Process: Established a cultural exchange between Rowland Hall and the Navajo Nation. Work included planting gardens, volunteering in clinics, assisting the elderly, and researching water problems.
- Solution: The team created an informative documentary to portray the Nation’s hardships and challenges, as well as the joys of newfound cross-cultural friendships. Keelan also initiated a letter exchange between fourth graders on the Nation and in Salt Lake City, and is now working with five teachers to launch a year-long letter exchange.
Splore’s Rock On Program—Working with Children with Autism
- Team: Catherine Rogers and Kenzo Okazaki (mentors)
- Challenge: Help children on the autism spectrum become comfortable with physical challenges and develop confidence through sport. Aid in the development of emotional, cognitive, and physical skills through eight weeks of rock-climbing sessions at Splore.
- Process: The children climbed and rappelled a 50-foot-tall climbing wall. The mentors served as belayers and respected the children as athletes facing a challenge. By conquering the wall, the children developed increased self-esteem and became confident climbers.
- Solution: Developed a training video for Splore’s future volunteers. The video addresses the physical and psychological aspects of rock climbing, and the life skills of conquering fear and enjoying success.
The Common Ground
- Team: Oliver Jin and Knox Heslop
- Challenge: Give non-Natives a greater understanding of the vibrant Navajo culture as it exists today. Use filmmaking to tell stories, present issues, and light a spark of humanity in our world.
- Process: Documented the beauty of the Navajo land, tradition, and people. Instead of simply operating the camera, Oliver was personally drawn into the story of the Navajo people and culture.
- Solution: Made The Common Ground, a documentary about the Navajo past and present, their interpretation of the world, and their relationship with nature.
Music and Community Building with the Lincoln Street Orchestra
- Team: Will Matheson and the six other members of the Lincoln Street Jazz Company
- Challenge: Play live music to provide a routine source of joy in isolated communities. Use Lincoln Street Jazz Company’s distinctive genre of music to connect with older adults.
- Process: The jazz group sought out opportunities to perform and engage a community isolated from youth yet energized by it, using a playset common to both eras.
- Solution: Gave performances at senior centers and facilities, taking time to involve and interact with residents. Hope to pass idea along to other creative entities to involve an often-forgotten community.
Advocacy and Self-Expression Through Writing
- Team: Isaac Ball
- Challenge: Positively impact on the Navajo Nation through creative writing. Involve and expose students of Montezuma Creek Elementary to basic creative writing concepts that may get left out in favor of traditional composition-class curriculum.
- Process: Used academic experience in Rowland Hall’s creative writing classes and the school’s literary magazine to channel passion and develop writing class for younger Navajo students at Montezuma Creek Elementary.
- Solution: Create a year-long workshop to support personal storytelling through writing. View writing as a creative art form—provide an outlet for personal expression and a group platform for sharing Navajo cultural expression.
Refugee Student Tutoring Program
- Team: Anna Greenberg and Eleanor Mancheski
- Challenge: Meet the needs and struggles faced by refugee youth learning English. Implement a tutoring program at Hartland Partnership Center (HPC).
- Process: Used and improved a space where previous Project 11 students created a makeshift library. Added resources, taught reading skills and problem-solving, and built relationships.
- Solution: Expanded the library with books from Rowland Hall’s upper and middle school libraries. Forged relationships at HPC—encouraging both the students and Project 11 participants to continue building this partnership.
Top photo: A student trip to Bears Ears photographed by teacher Joel Long. For Project 11, Julia Villar and Rachel Morse, now seniors, produced a video to advocate for a Bears Ears national monument. Watch the video on the Utah Diné Bikéyah Facebook page.