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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.
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.
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.
In August 2019, when the United Nations (UN) held its 68th Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City, Rowland Hall administrators seized the moment and took the entire sixth grade to the event.
“We wanted the sixth graders to take advantage of this historic opportunity to attend a UN conference for the first time outside of New York and San Francisco,” said Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education. “Because the UN Sustainable Development Goals are a unifying theme in the Middle School sixth- and seventh-grade curriculums, the opportunity was too good to pass up.”
So on August 26, the sixth graders—then in their second week of the school year—traveled to the Salt Palace Convention Center, where they met UN representatives from across the globe and participated in significant conversations around the conference’s theme of building inclusive and sustainable cities and communities. In addition to exposing the students to some of the larger ideas they would be examining over the year, the conference served as an important jumping-off point for an exciting new assignment: empathy-to-impact projects.
Brought to Rowland Hall by sixth-grade social studies teacher Mary Jo Marker, empathy-to-impact is designed to get students to think more deeply about global issues and how they can take steps to make a difference in the world. For its inaugural year at the school, Mary Jo asked students to choose projects that support the second UN Sustainable Development Goal: Zero Hunger. The assignment, she explained, is for each person to pick one action in support of that goal, research it, and then find a way to share their work with the larger community. Though the steps are simple, the project is intended to make a big impact in how students think about the world around them and their place within it.
My goal is that they experience an opportunity to practice their empathy, solidifying social justice work in the future.—Mary Jo Marker, sixth-grade social studies teacher
“My goal is that they experience an opportunity to practice their empathy, solidifying social justice work in the future,” Mary Jo said.
The project is also an exciting chance for the newly minted middle schoolers to take on more autonomy in their learning: they choose their research subjects and community group, as well as set their own timelines (the only requirement is to complete projects before the end of the school year). Mary Jo explained that this freedom empowers students by giving them more opportunity to think deeply about their topics and find creative ways to approach them. It also helps them to understand the power they have to make change, even at a young age—a major goal of a Rowland Hall education.
“We want our students to see themselves as changemakers in their communities,” Ryan said, “and find their voice around issues that give them a sense of purpose and inspire them to learn for life.”
Six months in, students are hard at work researching and presenting on a variety of topics that address the Zero Hunger goal—such as food waste, malnutrition, supporting local farms, and finding ways to provide healthy, safe food to low-income families—and making contacts throughout the community. Some students, like Samira Eller, are also finding ways to make connections between Rowland Hall’s campuses. While researching monocropping, the practice of growing the same crop on a plot of land year after year, she realized that she could educate elementary schoolers on the topic, helping them to not only understand how they can make an impact at a young age, but also closing the circle on one of her biggest takeaways from the Civil Society Conference.
“Hearing from so many young people from different parts of the world showed me that it is always possible to make a difference in the world, no matter your circumstances,” she said.
Samira decided that Rowland Hall’s fourth graders would be at an ideal age to grasp the concept. Plus, she added, “I enjoy enlightening younger kids and getting to see them understand things and learn.” In January, she presented her findings to the entire fourth grade on the McCarthey Campus, emphasizing the importance of diversifying crops and even throwing in some of the surprising facts she discovered in her research—for example, “the Cavendish banana—that yellow one you find in almost all of Utah’s mass groceries—is grown entirely in monoculture, even though it is the least flavorful of many different bananas,” she said.
The fourth graders loved it. Teacher Tyler Stack commented, “The students really enjoy when a peer from the middle or upper school comes to speak to them. They were engaged with the topic and excited to see what they are going to study the next few years.”
I learned that my voice can make a big difference and that making an impact in the world isn’t always about the big things, but more the little ones.Those students can almost certainly look forward to conducting their own empathy-to-impact research one day. Mary Jo is already planning on repeating the assignment next year, and will be opening it up to other Sustainable Development Goals. She is excited to see the kinds of ideas students will continue to come up with—and how it will improve their confidence as global citizens, as it has with Samira.
“I learned that my voice can make a big difference and that making an impact in the world isn’t always about the big things, but more the little ones,” Samira reflected. “Sometimes something might seem impossibly hard and dangerous, but in reality all it takes is a second to tell someone, ‘Hey, did you know…’ to make a pretty big dent.”
Top photo: Rowland Hall sixth graders hold cards displaying the UN's Sustainable Development Goals while attending the 68th Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City in August 2019.