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Custom Class: post-landing-hero

On a Thursday in November, Susanna Mellor’s first-grade class was seated in a circle, ready to begin their morning meeting. That day, they started with a pinky greeting: everyone hooked fingers, forming a chain, and then Susanna turned to one of the students next to her. “Good morning, Thomas,” she began. The salutation passed around the circle, ending with a hearty, full-group welcome: “Good morning!”


Morning meeting is one of several practices recommended by Responsive Classroom, a student-centered approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) and effective classroom management. Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus explained that the division started utilizing Responsive Classroom in 2016 as a way to support Rowland Hall’s long-standing commitment to SEL, which is associated with higher academic achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher-quality instruction.

Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms. More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning.—Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus

“Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms that help our students thrive,” he said. “More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning with their classmates.”

Morning meeting achieves this by engaging young learners in a welcoming atmosphere at the start of each school day. In addition to an inclusive greeting, the meeting includes a moment of sharing, a group activity, and a daily message. Whatever the day’s focus, teachers use the meeting to make sure each child is recognized and participating in the class.

“Responsive Classroom practices help build confidence and ease anxiety by fostering a sense of belonging and significance,” Susanna said. And, she added, as the school year progresses, its rewards multiply. “When they listen to each other, students feel that they matter. I see new friendships begin to bud, classmates work comfortably and easily together, and students take risks as they share ideas in class discussions.”

The Responsive Classroom Approach

Responsive Classroom, first developed by the Center for Responsive Schools in 1981, creates safe, nurturing learning environments through four key domains: engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmentally responsive teaching. Because Rowland Hall is focused on integrating SEL into our academic and co-curricular programs (we formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018), incorporating Responsive Classroom into the Lower School curriculum was a logical choice. And it has made a difference.

“It's given our teachers more clarity and alignment when they consider how best to support students, structure learning activities, and promote positive behavior expectations,” Jij said. “Students, in turn, experience more consistency and are clear on why their actions matter for their own learning and for the learning of others.”

Rowland Hall is focused on integrating social and emotional learning into our academic and co-curricular programs; we even formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018.

To drive student success, Responsive Classroom also emphasizes interactive modeling to teach the skills, strategies, and procedures that help kids thrive at school.

“Interactive modeling has made my classroom a more calm, efficient, and productive learning environment,” Susanna said. “When students watch and comment on what I do as I role-play a procedure, they actively deduce the steps by verbalizing them and listening to peers do the same. As a result, they have a firm and clear understanding when it comes time for them to begin the task at hand.”

Integrating Responsive Classroom into Established Practices

Responsive Classroom has helped Rowland Hall refocus many classroom practices toward the school’s overarching SEL goals. One example occurs at the beginning of each school year: developing classroom agreements. Unlike traditional lists of rules, classroom agreements are created in partnership, giving teachers and students buy-in on how their classrooms will run. While the agreements have been a part of the Lower School for many years, Responsive Classroom added another layer to the process.

“Using the Responsive Classroom approach has allowed my students to delve deeper into the process of exploring their own hopes and dreams, and how we can work as a group to help each other achieve our goals,” Susanna said. She explained that students become engaged, thoughtful, and passionate as they determine what will help them do things like learn how to read, try harder math problems, or even score soccer goals. “I notice students putting much more thought and reflection into this process, making it more meaningful and effective,” she said.

Collaborating on classroom agreements also makes it more likely that children will follow, and reference, those agreements during the school year.

“Students refer back to these agreements when obstacles arise and really demonstrate ownership of them,” said Susanna. “For example, when having a class discussion about erasers being damaged intentionally, several children commented, ‘That’s not following our agreement. We said we’d take care of our materials this year so that we could become better writers.’”

Susanna Mellor's class reads the morning message.

Morning meeting gives students an opportunity to revisit class agreements and reflect on how they can work together in support of classroom goals.

Classroom agreements are referenced regularly by instructors too. In Susanna’s morning meeting, for instance, students are asked which agreements they want to focus on and what actions they can take to make sure those agreements are honored. One student reminded classmates that they can meet their goal to keep calm in the classroom by walking; another observed that they can fulfill the agreement to try harder math problems by listening respectfully during instruction.

Using Responsive Classroom in New Ways

Responsive Classroom also inspires new methods to empower students. This fall, the Lower School used the foundation of classroom agreements in a new way: to create school-wide Winged Lion Agreements.

On September 6, 17 student delegates from grades one through five—one from each class—gathered in the McCarthey Campus parlor for the first-ever student constitutional convention. Delegates shared their classes’ newly developed classroom agreements with the group before beginning a discussion on agreements that could be applied to the whole school.

Student delegates created Winged Lion Agreements

Responsive Classroom helps educators look for ways to engage students in their school community. Above, the student delegates who helped craft the Lower School's first Winged Lion Agreements in September.

When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone.—Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer

Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer—who has completed all Responsive Classroom courses, including the Responsive Classroom for Leadership conference—led the discussion and was impressed by how the process unfolded. “When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone,” she said. “And because each student was a stakeholder in the convention’s outcome, they were serious about identifying meaningful goals.” She was also thrilled by the inclusion she saw in the room, especially by the way fifth graders mentored the first graders. “They really made connections and made them feel valued,” Linda said.

After thoughtful discussion, the group decided on five agreements for the year: 
    •    Be kind

    •    Respect

    •    Work hard and never give up

    •    Be safe

    •    Have fun


Each item was purposefully selected, down to exact words—for instance, the delegates chose the word “respect” because of its ability to encompass a wide range of areas, from personal behavior to how students should treat their surroundings.

Designing Better School Days with Responsive Classroom

Responsive Classroom further helps the Lower School team continuously reevaluate how to best meet students’ needs. One recent change to the school day occurred as a result of a February 2019 meeting with a Responsive Classroom consultant, who was sent to observe a full day at the school after Linda completed her training in the approach.

“One thing the consultant noticed was that our dining hall is very noisy,” Linda remembered. The consultant recommended a proven solution she thought would benefit the division: moving recess before lunch, an idea that the Lower School student support team had been considering for two years prior to the visit.

Lower School students on the playground.

In 2019, the Lower School moved recess from after to before lunch, resulting in school-wide behavior improvements.

“The change would have numerous benefits,” said Linda. “Children could focus on eating, noise would go down, and no one would be racing to get outside.” After presenting the idea to an enthusiastic Lower School faculty in the spring, Jij and Linda began working on making the change for the fall. When it was time to introduce the schedule adjustment to students during the second chapel of the year, Jij, Linda, and Chuck White, the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor, were thoughtful in their approach, using a similar style students had already experienced in the classroom.

“We asked, ‘What should lunch feel and sound like?’” Linda said. The team also emphasized the why behind the discussion so students would understand both the reason for change and its related benefits. “We talked about how we can all follow agreements to make school more enjoyable for everyone,” Linda said.

Using a dining table that had been brought into the chapel, Jij, Linda, and Chuck then modeled for students proper lunch behavior: entering the dining hall respectfully, staying seated facing the table, and talking at an appropriate volume. Each child was also given the chance to practice at the table.

Children have adjusted well to the change, Linda said. It was, she explained, an extension of the discussions students have become accustomed to—and, importantly, it reminded them that they each play a part in creating a respectful, safe, and joyful school for all.

“I’m really proud of them,” she said.

Responsive Classroom Resources for Parents and Caregivers

Responsive Classroom has been an influential tool in helping Rowland Hall meet SEL goals in the Lower School. Because we are committed to partnering with parents and caregivers in their children’s education, we have made many Responsive Classroom materials available in the parent section of the McCarthey Campus’ Steiner Library for those who are interested in more information about the approach.

Academics

Three Years In, Responsive Classroom is Supporting Social and Emotional Learning in the Lower School

On a Thursday in November, Susanna Mellor’s first-grade class was seated in a circle, ready to begin their morning meeting. That day, they started with a pinky greeting: everyone hooked fingers, forming a chain, and then Susanna turned to one of the students next to her. “Good morning, Thomas,” she began. The salutation passed around the circle, ending with a hearty, full-group welcome: “Good morning!”


Morning meeting is one of several practices recommended by Responsive Classroom, a student-centered approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) and effective classroom management. Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus explained that the division started utilizing Responsive Classroom in 2016 as a way to support Rowland Hall’s long-standing commitment to SEL, which is associated with higher academic achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher-quality instruction.

Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms. More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning.—Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus

“Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms that help our students thrive,” he said. “More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning with their classmates.”

Morning meeting achieves this by engaging young learners in a welcoming atmosphere at the start of each school day. In addition to an inclusive greeting, the meeting includes a moment of sharing, a group activity, and a daily message. Whatever the day’s focus, teachers use the meeting to make sure each child is recognized and participating in the class.

“Responsive Classroom practices help build confidence and ease anxiety by fostering a sense of belonging and significance,” Susanna said. And, she added, as the school year progresses, its rewards multiply. “When they listen to each other, students feel that they matter. I see new friendships begin to bud, classmates work comfortably and easily together, and students take risks as they share ideas in class discussions.”

The Responsive Classroom Approach

Responsive Classroom, first developed by the Center for Responsive Schools in 1981, creates safe, nurturing learning environments through four key domains: engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmentally responsive teaching. Because Rowland Hall is focused on integrating SEL into our academic and co-curricular programs (we formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018), incorporating Responsive Classroom into the Lower School curriculum was a logical choice. And it has made a difference.

“It's given our teachers more clarity and alignment when they consider how best to support students, structure learning activities, and promote positive behavior expectations,” Jij said. “Students, in turn, experience more consistency and are clear on why their actions matter for their own learning and for the learning of others.”

Rowland Hall is focused on integrating social and emotional learning into our academic and co-curricular programs; we even formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018.

To drive student success, Responsive Classroom also emphasizes interactive modeling to teach the skills, strategies, and procedures that help kids thrive at school.

“Interactive modeling has made my classroom a more calm, efficient, and productive learning environment,” Susanna said. “When students watch and comment on what I do as I role-play a procedure, they actively deduce the steps by verbalizing them and listening to peers do the same. As a result, they have a firm and clear understanding when it comes time for them to begin the task at hand.”

Integrating Responsive Classroom into Established Practices

Responsive Classroom has helped Rowland Hall refocus many classroom practices toward the school’s overarching SEL goals. One example occurs at the beginning of each school year: developing classroom agreements. Unlike traditional lists of rules, classroom agreements are created in partnership, giving teachers and students buy-in on how their classrooms will run. While the agreements have been a part of the Lower School for many years, Responsive Classroom added another layer to the process.

“Using the Responsive Classroom approach has allowed my students to delve deeper into the process of exploring their own hopes and dreams, and how we can work as a group to help each other achieve our goals,” Susanna said. She explained that students become engaged, thoughtful, and passionate as they determine what will help them do things like learn how to read, try harder math problems, or even score soccer goals. “I notice students putting much more thought and reflection into this process, making it more meaningful and effective,” she said.

Collaborating on classroom agreements also makes it more likely that children will follow, and reference, those agreements during the school year.

“Students refer back to these agreements when obstacles arise and really demonstrate ownership of them,” said Susanna. “For example, when having a class discussion about erasers being damaged intentionally, several children commented, ‘That’s not following our agreement. We said we’d take care of our materials this year so that we could become better writers.’”

Susanna Mellor's class reads the morning message.

Morning meeting gives students an opportunity to revisit class agreements and reflect on how they can work together in support of classroom goals.

Classroom agreements are referenced regularly by instructors too. In Susanna’s morning meeting, for instance, students are asked which agreements they want to focus on and what actions they can take to make sure those agreements are honored. One student reminded classmates that they can meet their goal to keep calm in the classroom by walking; another observed that they can fulfill the agreement to try harder math problems by listening respectfully during instruction.

Using Responsive Classroom in New Ways

Responsive Classroom also inspires new methods to empower students. This fall, the Lower School used the foundation of classroom agreements in a new way: to create school-wide Winged Lion Agreements.

On September 6, 17 student delegates from grades one through five—one from each class—gathered in the McCarthey Campus parlor for the first-ever student constitutional convention. Delegates shared their classes’ newly developed classroom agreements with the group before beginning a discussion on agreements that could be applied to the whole school.

Student delegates created Winged Lion Agreements

Responsive Classroom helps educators look for ways to engage students in their school community. Above, the student delegates who helped craft the Lower School's first Winged Lion Agreements in September.

When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone.—Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer

Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer—who has completed all Responsive Classroom courses, including the Responsive Classroom for Leadership conference—led the discussion and was impressed by how the process unfolded. “When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone,” she said. “And because each student was a stakeholder in the convention’s outcome, they were serious about identifying meaningful goals.” She was also thrilled by the inclusion she saw in the room, especially by the way fifth graders mentored the first graders. “They really made connections and made them feel valued,” Linda said.

After thoughtful discussion, the group decided on five agreements for the year: 
    •    Be kind

    •    Respect

    •    Work hard and never give up

    •    Be safe

    •    Have fun


Each item was purposefully selected, down to exact words—for instance, the delegates chose the word “respect” because of its ability to encompass a wide range of areas, from personal behavior to how students should treat their surroundings.

Designing Better School Days with Responsive Classroom

Responsive Classroom further helps the Lower School team continuously reevaluate how to best meet students’ needs. One recent change to the school day occurred as a result of a February 2019 meeting with a Responsive Classroom consultant, who was sent to observe a full day at the school after Linda completed her training in the approach.

“One thing the consultant noticed was that our dining hall is very noisy,” Linda remembered. The consultant recommended a proven solution she thought would benefit the division: moving recess before lunch, an idea that the Lower School student support team had been considering for two years prior to the visit.

Lower School students on the playground.

In 2019, the Lower School moved recess from after to before lunch, resulting in school-wide behavior improvements.

“The change would have numerous benefits,” said Linda. “Children could focus on eating, noise would go down, and no one would be racing to get outside.” After presenting the idea to an enthusiastic Lower School faculty in the spring, Jij and Linda began working on making the change for the fall. When it was time to introduce the schedule adjustment to students during the second chapel of the year, Jij, Linda, and Chuck White, the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor, were thoughtful in their approach, using a similar style students had already experienced in the classroom.

“We asked, ‘What should lunch feel and sound like?’” Linda said. The team also emphasized the why behind the discussion so students would understand both the reason for change and its related benefits. “We talked about how we can all follow agreements to make school more enjoyable for everyone,” Linda said.

Using a dining table that had been brought into the chapel, Jij, Linda, and Chuck then modeled for students proper lunch behavior: entering the dining hall respectfully, staying seated facing the table, and talking at an appropriate volume. Each child was also given the chance to practice at the table.

Children have adjusted well to the change, Linda said. It was, she explained, an extension of the discussions students have become accustomed to—and, importantly, it reminded them that they each play a part in creating a respectful, safe, and joyful school for all.

“I’m really proud of them,” she said.

Responsive Classroom Resources for Parents and Caregivers

Responsive Classroom has been an influential tool in helping Rowland Hall meet SEL goals in the Lower School. Because we are committed to partnering with parents and caregivers in their children’s education, we have made many Responsive Classroom materials available in the parent section of the McCarthey Campus’ Steiner Library for those who are interested in more information about the approach.

Academics

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

Rowland Hall teachers kick off distance learning with a virtual roller-coaster ride.

We're in awe of how our entire community has embraced distance learning this week. From our creative teachers to our agile students, and from our multitasking parents/caregivers to our intrepid Technology team, our learning continues. We're proud to be Winged Lions.

We'll post more stories of distance learning in the coming weeks. For now, enjoy this gallery of week one, featuring photos of teachers flying solo in classrooms on day one, Zoom screenshots, videos of teachers connecting with students, and more. Remember to tag Rowland Hall in your posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or email photos and videos to Kelly Hermans.

distance learning

Sarah Button with students

The annual Marquardt Award enables one or more members of Rowland Hall's faculty to pursue an in-depth professional development experience. The Marquardt Award was established in 2011 through a generous gift from Bob Marquardt, father of three Rowland Hall alumni and a former long-time trustee and board chair. This annual gift funds extraordinary professional development opportunities or learning experiences, proposed by faculty members, that will benefit the school as a whole. Recipients are chosen by school administrators.

Last summer, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Button was granted the Marquardt Award to attend Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators: An Intensive Residential Institute with Elena Aguilar. In the fall of 2018, Sarah began to lead a professional-development group based on Aguilar’s book Onward, and thus attending the retreat was a prime opportunity for her to advance her ongoing work in this area, which benefits our entire learning community. Read on to learn about how the experience impacted and inspired her.


2019 Marquardt Award Reflection
By Sarah Button

My four days at Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators: An Intensive Residential Institute were, in a word, transformative. Our time was made more intimate by grouping us into what they called home groups. My group consisted of three additional educators: an administrator, an instructional coach, and a specialist. Having home groups allowed the 46 participants—from all over the country—to know each other more deeply, and it enabled all to be vulnerable as we each shared stories, perspectives, and insights.

Building psychological safety happens when people listen, stay curious, are honest, and uphold confidentiality with one another.

I was prepared to be inundated with information, research, findings, and time to plan for the 2019–2020 school year. What I wasn’t prepared for was the gift of time to write, reflect, and truly practice how to bring resilience into daily routines—more specifically, learning and practicing the importance of sharing stories with others. When we build time for storytelling into our faculty meetings (a practice Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus has let me lead for each of our monthly meetings so far), we lay the foundation for building effective teams that contribute to psychological safety. Building psychological safety happens when people listen, stay curious, are honest, and uphold confidentiality with one another. We also learned to understand how the cycle of an emotion can be interrupted, and how when you understand emotions you have empathy for others and it is much less likely for you to oppress another. Lastly, as a participant, we practiced coaching for resilience using several frameworks. 
 
     ACE: a framework for coaching for yourself or others
     A: Acknowledge and accept emotions.
     C: Cultivate compassion.
     E: Expand the story.
 
     RAIN: for dealing with difficult emotions
     R: Recognize what’s going on; name the emotions.
     A: Allow the experience to be there, just as it is.
     I: Investigate with kindness.
     N: Non-identify with whatever is going on. You are not your thoughts, stories, emotions.
 
     REI: for addressing cognitive distortions
     R: Recognize.
     E: Explore the impact.
     I: Interrupt: Is there any other way to look at this? Is there any evidence to suggest that this way
     of thinking isn’t entirely true?
 
Each day at the retreat started with a choice of yoga or meditation under the redwoods. To begin, we each set an intention—a practice I’ve begun this school year with my students—and after each activity, we took time to envision how each practice/idea could be used in our individual places of work. Each day also consisted of must-dos—things we were encouraged to do no matter what during our stay, such as sitting by the fire pit with at least one other person. We were also presented with may-dos each day, such as watching the sunrise through the trees.

The work on how to cultivate emotional resilience in educators was the primary purpose of our time together. Most attendees had not led Onward professional-development sessions at their home institutions, and thus, I was called upon to share how we at Rowland Hall created our group last school year. People were appreciative of how we approached the work.

Ultimately, our hope is that increasing emotional resilience among adults at Rowland Hall will create a stronger learning environment for students, and we can model the skills and behaviors we hope to see from everyone in our community.

The retreat was also an opportunity for me to collaborate with colleague Lori Miller, who was a participant in our Onward professional-development work last year and my fellow ombudsperson for the Lower School faculty. As ombudspersons, we have served in the way the role has been written to be a neutral third party between faculty and/or administration when a problem has risen to a level that needs intervention. Over the years, our work has morphed into serving as a sounding board for faculty to see if they need a formal ombudsperson to sit in on a meeting. As a result, the majority of our work is now facilitating communication between colleagues. When a colleague approaches me regarding an issue, I ask if they just need to vent, want to practice what to say to a colleague, or if they need to have a formal ombudsperson meeting. This is why this retreat was so critical to our work: it gave us the tools to practice facilitating communication and coaching our colleagues around emotions and resilience.

At the conclusion of the retreat, I felt renewed in all aspects of life and prepared to bring this work back to our faculty and staff. Lori and I have collaborated with our third Onward co-leader, Jodi Spiro, to facilitate work during our three professional growth days this school year. In addition, Lori and I are participating in monthly Onward video conference calls with the other participants of the institute to share ideas, strategies, and questions as we each try to transform school culture at our respective places. Ultimately, our hope is that increasing emotional resilience among adults at Rowland Hall will create a stronger learning environment for students, and we can model the skills and behaviors we hope to see from everyone in our community.

People

Alan Sparrow and puppet greeting Lower School students.

By Max Smart, Class of 2022

In fall 2018, then-freshman Max Smart interviewed Head of School Alan Sparrow about his years of service to Rowland Hall for the Upper School’s student newspaper, the Rowland Hall Gazette. As part of our ongoing celebration of Alan, we’re proud to share Max’s piece with our larger community.

On November 27, 2018, I sat down with Alan Sparrow to discuss his upcoming retirement at the end of the 2019–2020 school year and his reflections on 28 years of service to Rowland Hall as the head of school. I wanted to know what words of wisdom Mr. Sparrow had to share. He told me that his real title, the title on the nameplate on his desk, is head learner. Mr. Sparrow recalled, “When I first got here, people asked whether I wanted to be called headmaster or head of school, and I said neither. I told them that I want to be called head learner.”

He explained, “If I’m the number-one learner in the school, then it sets up a model for everyone learning in our school, not just the students. That’s a culture I have supported at the school. It was here when I arrived, but I’ve continued to nurture it . . . and that’s something I’m proud of.”

Mr. Sparrow’s insights into education could be considered surprising because they come from a man who spent part of his youth sporting long hair, surfing, and running rock concerts for headliners including Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, and Taj Mahal, but Mr. Sparrow’s rock-and-roll surfing days and his current position are entirely consistent with one of the fundamental principles he told me he teaches and follows: “Don’t assume things about people.”

Alan Sparrow reading to a Lower School class.

Next, I asked Mr. Sparrow about his puppets, which were a cornerstone of my Lower School experience at Rowland Hall. Mr. Sparrow said he initially decided to greet students on the Lower School campus with a handshake every morning. However, in the winter months, “if 300 kids come in from the playground and shake your hand, guess what happens: your hand gets pretty cold.” When former board chair Peggy Olwell brought about 25 or 30 puppets for a school project, the kids loved the puppets. Mr. Sparrow asked if he could use them to greet the kids. It was great, Mr. Sparrow said. “The kids loved it and my hands were warm!” After returning Ms. Olwell’s puppets, Mr. Sparrow used his own Kermit the Frog and Winnie the Pooh puppets. He explained that this “started a tradition of people going off on spring break and seeing a puppet in the store or at the zoo they liked and bringing it to me.” Mr. Sparrow now has 110 puppets! All but two of them were given to him by students, their parents, or a local bishop. To this day, Mr. Sparrow has “alumni coming back asking, ‘Do you still greet the students with puppets?’”

Mr. Sparrow's top advice for students: live a balanced life and remember to enjoy the moment.

I was personally interested to hear what advice Mr. Sparrow has for students because he knows Rowland Hall better than anyone. So I asked Mr. Sparrow this question, and he said, “To live a balanced life and to remember to enjoy the moment.” Though this may seem surprising coming from the head of a competitive academic school, Mr. Sparrow truly wants students to enjoy their lives and not feel overly stressed by school. He said, “You’re not going to regret not going to one more meeting.” However, Mr. Sparrow said, “you may regret not spending as much time with your family or with your friends.” He believes that although one should “work towards the future,” it’s not good to place too much focus into any one thing, whether it is work or play. Mr. Sparrow believes that focusing on one's family and friends is a necessity for happiness.

Alan Sparrow with Upper School students.

To get a nice summary of Mr. Sparrow’s work at Rowland Hall, I asked him what he believed his greatest accomplishment at the school is. He replied, “A lot of people would see my greatest accomplishment as the building of the McCarthey Campus.” Mr. Sparrow also believes that is one of his greatest accomplishments. He is also very proud that he raised the teacher salary at Rowland Hall from “20% below [that of] the Salt Lake City School District to 100% of the Salt Lake District.” This has certainly helped the school keep its great teachers and get many new talented teachers.

Mr. Sparrow has spent his years at Rowland Hall building and nurturing a strong and kind community where learning flows freely among faculty, staff, and students.

But Mr. Sparrow actually believes his greatest accomplishment is the ombudsperson program. The ombudsperson program was Doug Wortham’s idea and was started by Mr. Wortham and Mr. Sparrow. To this day, it is still overseen by both of them. Mr. Sparrow explained the program as follows: “When a teacher is struggling, it’s a system to help that teacher in a very supportive way.” It is also used to “to help a teacher achieve and be able to become an excellent teacher.” The ombudsperson program helps teachers who may be in an uncomfortable situation by giving them a mediator and a safe space to work out any kinks in their daily life at school.

I’m sad to see Mr. Sparrow go, but I’m happy for him because I’m sure he will enjoy spending more time with his family and being an independent executive coach on the side. Mr. Sparrow has spent his years at Rowland Hall building and nurturing a strong and kind community where learning flows freely among faculty, staff, and students. Mr. Sparrow and his time at Rowland Hall will always be remembered.

People

Death of the American Teenager cast performing

Death of the American Teenager, an original musical about gun violence in schools, opens with some sobering statistics—like that there have been 408 school shootings in the last 10 years, or that in 2017 more school-aged children died from gunshots than did active duty police and military personnel.

For today’s students, gun-violence statistics have become too familiar. In addition to a barrage of news stories about shootings, students are reminded of gun violence during regular lockdown drills (Death of the American Teenager cites an average of 16 per school each year) and are aware of the role guns play in climbing suicide rates—in Utah, for instance, the most recent age-adjusted suicide rate is 22.7 per 100,000 people (compared to a national rate of 14.0 per 100,000). Suicide was also the leading cause of death for Utahns aged 10–17 in 2018.

It’s no surprise that the stress is taking a toll on young Americans.

Gun violence has been affecting my life as long as I can remember.—Noah Schiffman, Class of 2022

“Gun violence has been affecting my life as long as I can remember,” said Rowland Hall sophomore and Death of the American Teenager cast member Noah Schiffman. Junior James Welt, another cast member, added, “It's become a huge part of a lot of my day-to-day experiences. Every time I hear running in the hallways or loud noises, I can't help but fear the worst.” Along with Noah and James, Rowland Hall senior Connor Macintosh and alumna Ella Baker-Smith ’19 were in the musical's original cast. Sophomore Amanda Green joined the cast for the 2019–2020 school year.

In recent years, concerned students have channeled their fears through action—the most famous example is probably the organization of March for Our Lives protests and chapters around the country after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. For the Utah high school actors who make up the Youth Conservatory—a group housed under University of Utah Youth Theatre—that action was researching, writing, and choreographing Death of the American Teenager

Originally created for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, an annual open access arts festival, Death of the American Teenager was written as a reflection of America. Youth Theatre Artistic Director Penny Caywood explained that the Youth Conservatory, which is made up of 20 actors from 10 Utah high schools, chose to write a musical because it’s an American art form—and that they focused the musical on gun violence because of its prevalence in America today.

“It's a topic we've all been exposed to at a super young age, and it's something that is on a lot of our minds at every second,” said James.

Research and writing began in January 2019, only seven months before the show’s summer debut in Scotland. “The writing process was an incredible experience,” said Connor. The actors spent time researching topics like the history of school shootings and lockdowns, as well as suicide statistics in both the United States and the United Kingdom, where they would be performing the musical. The subjects were heavy, and the experience was emotional. But the process was also cathartic, giving the actors the chance to examine, confront, and discuss their fears—and helping them realize they weren’t alone in those fears.

“The most important thing that came out of it was the sense that we were all there for each other and the sense that we’re all fighting this fight together,” Connor said. “We all share the same collective fear, and as scary as that fear is, it’s comforting to know that I have people around me that know exactly what we’re going through.”

Death of the American Teenager cast in Edinburgh

The musical was cathartic for Fringe audiences too: attendees were so moved by the production that they sought out cast members to thank them and to share their own stories. Other American high school students inquired about performing it in their communities. By creatively addressing their fears through theatre—what Noah called an empathetic art form—the Youth Conservatory found themselves inspiring necessary conversation and action.

“The goal is to tell a story, yes, but also to make those watching believe it to be reality,” Noah said. “Gun violence is some people's reality, and that is not acceptable—but that won't change until everyone understands the extent of the fear those actually affected face.”

Rowland Hall theatre teacher Matt Sincell, who teaches the school’s Youth Conservatory members, agreed.

“Theatre can crack open conversation in a way that no other art form can,” he explained. “There’s something about watching live actors—it somehow becomes easier to put yourself in their place, to empathize, and it affects a person on a very visceral, kinesthetic level.”

Knowing this, Matt wanted to do something in the Youth Conservatory’s home state that would inspire more of the conversations that they started overseas—especially because he knew there was something special about this musical that the local community should experience. “It’s not a piece that’s written by adults trying to imagine what it would be like to be a student—this is written by students who have been born into this culture,” he said. “I really believed the show needed to have a life beyond the Fringe because of its message.”

Matt also felt that offering Rowland Hall’s Larimer Center for the Performing Arts to a community group—particularly one that creatively connected our students with their peers across the Wasatch Front—would be an important step in building other connections across Salt Lake’s vibrant theatre community. In many ways, bringing Death of the American Teenager to the school was a natural fit, as Rowland Hall values deep thinking and seeks to create spaces in which students can examine hard questions and safely express themselves.

Death of the American Teenager cast on stage

“At Rowland Hall, we believe by challenging students to think deeply, they will grapple with complex issues and recognize different points of view,” explained Associate Head of School Jennifer Blake, who was part of the team that welcomed Penny and her students to campus.

On January 29, Death of the American Teenager came to Rowland Hall for two performances in the Larimer Center. Like Fringe audiences, Salt Lake attendees were deeply touched by the musical. “I was blown away by the performance, which was masterfully written with great insight and sensitivity,” said Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson.

The performers were grateful for the chance to revisit the piece and to present it not only to an audience of peers, but to the adults who care about them. Often, they explained, it can be difficult to make adults understand their very real fear around the topic of gun violence and how deeply it affects them.

“I was so glad that my school asked us to share this piece with the public and gave us an opportunity to advocate for ourselves in the most politically unbiased way—just speaking from our emotions and how we feel,” said Amanda. That message was undoubtedly received, with most audience members staying after the performances to participate in talk-backs with the actors, further emphasizing the need for conversation around this difficult subject—something that Matt greatly encourages parents and caregivers to remember when supporting their teenagers through gun-violence anxiety.

Sharing our stories with one another and talking through how we feel is the only way to give people the courage to get involved with this issue.—James Welt, Class of 2021

“Talk at dinner with them, ask them questions, continue the conversation,” he encouraged. “We need to have these direct conversations.”

Above all, the actors want Death of the American Teenager to help spread among their peers the feeling of empowerment the cast experienced when confronting their fears together—and for teenagers to understand that they can help spur change by exercising their voting power.

“Sharing our stories with one another and talking through how we feel is the only way to give people the courage to get involved with this issue,” said James. “I want teenagers who watch the show to know that they have the power to be heard.”

“We can conquer gun violence if we all work together,” added Noah.


Update: Since performing at Rowland Hall, the Youth Conservatory presented a 12-minute version of Death of the American Teenager at the Musical Theatre Competitions of America in California in February 2020. It won first place in its division.

Youth Theatre Artistic Director Penny Caywood has been overwhelmed with positive comments about the show and questions about packaging it for performance at other high schools and venues around the country. She is talking with local theatre organizations about how to make this happen. We will update the Rowland Hall community on any news we receive about the future of Death of the American Teenager.


Top photo: The Death of the American Teenager cast performing on stage. Photos courtesy Connor Macintosh

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