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Rowland Hall’s winter sports program introduced now-junior Samantha Paisley to backcountry skiing in eighth grade. Now, she’s in Lausanne, Switzerland, representing the United States in ski mountaineering—what she describes as “backcountry ski racing”—at the Youth Olympic Games.

This is the first year that ski mountaineering—known as SkiMo—will be included in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), and the sport may be added to the Winter Olympics in 2026. In Lausanne, Samantha is one of only two US girls and one of 48 total international athletes competing in SkiMo. She’ll race in all three events: the individual on January 10, the sprint on January 13, and the mixed-nations relay—featuring randomly grouped teams of two boys and two girls—on January 14.

A description of the SkiMo events, according to olympic.org:

"Individual races are similar to a marathon, with athletes setting off in a mass start over a course with at least three ascents and descents and up to 1,900m of elevation gain. Races typically last between one-and-a-half and two hours, with at least one ascent where athletes need to remove their skis and climb on foot. As the name suggests, sprint races are much shorter and faster than individual races. The total ascent and descent is usually around 100m, with the fastest athletes completing the course in approximately three minutes. Relay races, meanwhile, feature a team of three or four athletes, with each member of the team completing a short circuit one after the other. Like the sprint, the relay is quite a fast event, with each circuit lasting about 15 minutes and including two ascents and descents."

Samantha Paisley skis uphill with competitors in background.

Samantha Paisley at the 2019 SkiMo World Championships.

Join us in supporting Samantha and Team USA: Rowland Hall is throwing a YOG SkiMo viewing party (event TBD) at noon on Monday, January 13, in the Larimer Center. We’ll also share Samantha’s results on Twitter as we hear them. A TeamUSA.org article details more ways to keep track of the YOG: check TeamUSA.org/Lausanne2020 or Team USA’s social channels; sign up for the Team USA Daily newsletter; download the Team USA app; or check the Olympic Channel or their app.

We chatted with Samantha before she traveled to Lausanne on January 6, the same day school started up after winter break. She’ll miss two weeks of class to compete in the YOG, but thanks in part to Rowmark Ski Academy, Rowland Hall’s teachers and staff already have the infrastructure to help elite student-athletes succeed.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length, style, and context.

How do you explain SkiMo to people who’ve never heard of it?

I usually describe it as backcountry ski racing. You start at the bottom of the mountain with skins on the bottom of your skis, race to the top, take the skins off, ski down, put the skins back on, and race right back up.

How did you get into this sport?

I found it in 2017, the winter of my eighth-grade year. I picked backcountry skiing (chaperoned by teachers Bill Shann and Molly Lewis) for my winter sport and had so much fun! Then my mom—a Snowbird ski-patroller/physician who’d been backcountry skiing for years—took me touring a few more times, and the skiing was incredible. Later that season I saw a flier for the Wasatch Powder Keg, a race at Brighton that covers the entire resort and the backcountry (i.e., Snake Creek and Guardsman Pass). So the next weekend I showed up to the race and got fourth place.

I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.—Junior Samantha Paisley

In March you competed in the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland. How did that go?

I finished as the 12th woman under age 17. It was such a neat experience. I learned so much about racing, balancing my school work, and standing up for myself. I became friends with the junior overall world champion, Katia from Russia, and we’re now pen pals. I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.

How did you qualify for the YOG?

The only race we’ve had this season was the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Eldora, Colorado, where I ranked second overall (I got third in the individual and first in the sprint). My time in the sprint ranked me as the second-fastest woman of that day—the same day as the national championships for the elite men and women. So there was some pretty tough competition.

Samantha Paisley on top of SkiMo podium.

Samantha Paisley in the top podium spot for the sprint at the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Colorado.

How does it feel to be representing your country in the YOG? And doing so during SkiMo’s debut?

It’s crazy! I can’t believe that out of all the youth athletes, I get to go. This sport is becoming more and more competitive and it feels surreal to be a part of such a monumental moment in SkiMo history. I’m also excited to meet people from other countries and watch some events. I’m very excited to see figure skating. 

When you get into the right headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world.

SkiMo is known as a grueling sport—is that true? Why have you continued to compete at such an advanced level? What drives you?

Honestly, the sport is very, very physically intense, but the hardest part is the mental component. It’s easy to give up quickly and it’s also easy to give up when you get passed by someone. Because of the length of the courses, you don’t move as quickly as if you were running or biking, and that can get frustrating. Therefore, no matter your physical fitness, if you aren’t in the right headspace it’s hard to do well. On the flip side, when you get into that headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world. 

I love this sport because all ages usually compete at the same time. It’s awesome because I get to train and race with incredible women and men who’ve not only raced the world circuit and done well, but also maintained full-time careers and balanced their lives well. It’s unreal that I have the mentors I have. And it’s also cool because there are a lot of young kids who look up to me on my Silver Fork SkiMo team, and I can be a role model and mentor to them.

What’s your training like?

I train everywhere I can. The beauty of SkiMo is that as long as you’re traveling uphill, you’re training. So, I spend my days hiking, running, biking, and skiing. I also joined Utah Crew and spend the spring, summer, and fall training with them. 

In the winter, I work out indoors once or twice a week. Cross-training is a big part of my philosophy because doing only one activity intensely can result in injury; it’s important to use muscles other than the ones specific to your sport. My SkiMo practice consists of two or three days of endurance—I often get 4,000 to 5,000 vertical feet in, which is about eight to 10 miles, depending on the location. I do sprint/interval work three times a week, and one of those days I do a crew workout. I take one or two days off to rest, mainly to catch up on sleep, do homework, and study for tests and quizzes.

Where do you hope to go with the sport—can you do it at the college level? Beyond? The 2026 Olympics?

After the YOG my goal is to qualify again for the US National Team and return to Europe to race in the World Championships in 2021. I also hope to ski in college—wherever I go, I want to start a team if there isn’t one. But I haven’t thought about my SkiMo future a lot. I like to live in the moment and set small goals—especially in such an intense sport, it’s hard to have a lot of lofty goals without losing perspective. I do have a national teammate, Grace Staberg, who is a senior in high school and is over in Europe for the rest of the school year racing the World Cup series. I wouldn’t be opposed to that.


Top photo: Samantha Paisley making the first ascent in the individual event at the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland, on March 11.

Students

Rowland Hall Junior and Ski Mountaineer Samantha Paisley Racing for US in Youth Olympic Games

Rowland Hall’s winter sports program introduced now-junior Samantha Paisley to backcountry skiing in eighth grade. Now, she’s in Lausanne, Switzerland, representing the United States in ski mountaineering—what she describes as “backcountry ski racing”—at the Youth Olympic Games.

This is the first year that ski mountaineering—known as SkiMo—will be included in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), and the sport may be added to the Winter Olympics in 2026. In Lausanne, Samantha is one of only two US girls and one of 48 total international athletes competing in SkiMo. She’ll race in all three events: the individual on January 10, the sprint on January 13, and the mixed-nations relay—featuring randomly grouped teams of two boys and two girls—on January 14.

A description of the SkiMo events, according to olympic.org:

"Individual races are similar to a marathon, with athletes setting off in a mass start over a course with at least three ascents and descents and up to 1,900m of elevation gain. Races typically last between one-and-a-half and two hours, with at least one ascent where athletes need to remove their skis and climb on foot. As the name suggests, sprint races are much shorter and faster than individual races. The total ascent and descent is usually around 100m, with the fastest athletes completing the course in approximately three minutes. Relay races, meanwhile, feature a team of three or four athletes, with each member of the team completing a short circuit one after the other. Like the sprint, the relay is quite a fast event, with each circuit lasting about 15 minutes and including two ascents and descents."

Samantha Paisley skis uphill with competitors in background.

Samantha Paisley at the 2019 SkiMo World Championships.

Join us in supporting Samantha and Team USA: Rowland Hall is throwing a YOG SkiMo viewing party (event TBD) at noon on Monday, January 13, in the Larimer Center. We’ll also share Samantha’s results on Twitter as we hear them. A TeamUSA.org article details more ways to keep track of the YOG: check TeamUSA.org/Lausanne2020 or Team USA’s social channels; sign up for the Team USA Daily newsletter; download the Team USA app; or check the Olympic Channel or their app.

We chatted with Samantha before she traveled to Lausanne on January 6, the same day school started up after winter break. She’ll miss two weeks of class to compete in the YOG, but thanks in part to Rowmark Ski Academy, Rowland Hall’s teachers and staff already have the infrastructure to help elite student-athletes succeed.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length, style, and context.

How do you explain SkiMo to people who’ve never heard of it?

I usually describe it as backcountry ski racing. You start at the bottom of the mountain with skins on the bottom of your skis, race to the top, take the skins off, ski down, put the skins back on, and race right back up.

How did you get into this sport?

I found it in 2017, the winter of my eighth-grade year. I picked backcountry skiing (chaperoned by teachers Bill Shann and Molly Lewis) for my winter sport and had so much fun! Then my mom—a Snowbird ski-patroller/physician who’d been backcountry skiing for years—took me touring a few more times, and the skiing was incredible. Later that season I saw a flier for the Wasatch Powder Keg, a race at Brighton that covers the entire resort and the backcountry (i.e., Snake Creek and Guardsman Pass). So the next weekend I showed up to the race and got fourth place.

I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.—Junior Samantha Paisley

In March you competed in the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland. How did that go?

I finished as the 12th woman under age 17. It was such a neat experience. I learned so much about racing, balancing my school work, and standing up for myself. I became friends with the junior overall world champion, Katia from Russia, and we’re now pen pals. I even had a chance to use my Chinese mid-race—as I passed the athlete from China, I said some words of encouragement. After the race, she came up to me and we had a whole conversation in Chinese.

How did you qualify for the YOG?

The only race we’ve had this season was the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Eldora, Colorado, where I ranked second overall (I got third in the individual and first in the sprint). My time in the sprint ranked me as the second-fastest woman of that day—the same day as the national championships for the elite men and women. So there was some pretty tough competition.

Samantha Paisley on top of SkiMo podium.

Samantha Paisley in the top podium spot for the sprint at the Youth Olympic Qualifiers in Colorado.

How does it feel to be representing your country in the YOG? And doing so during SkiMo’s debut?

It’s crazy! I can’t believe that out of all the youth athletes, I get to go. This sport is becoming more and more competitive and it feels surreal to be a part of such a monumental moment in SkiMo history. I’m also excited to meet people from other countries and watch some events. I’m very excited to see figure skating. 

When you get into the right headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world.

SkiMo is known as a grueling sport—is that true? Why have you continued to compete at such an advanced level? What drives you?

Honestly, the sport is very, very physically intense, but the hardest part is the mental component. It’s easy to give up quickly and it’s also easy to give up when you get passed by someone. Because of the length of the courses, you don’t move as quickly as if you were running or biking, and that can get frustrating. Therefore, no matter your physical fitness, if you aren’t in the right headspace it’s hard to do well. On the flip side, when you get into that headspace and feel confident, ignore everything else, and push yourself to go as fast as you can, it’s the best feeling in the world. 

I love this sport because all ages usually compete at the same time. It’s awesome because I get to train and race with incredible women and men who’ve not only raced the world circuit and done well, but also maintained full-time careers and balanced their lives well. It’s unreal that I have the mentors I have. And it’s also cool because there are a lot of young kids who look up to me on my Silver Fork SkiMo team, and I can be a role model and mentor to them.

What’s your training like?

I train everywhere I can. The beauty of SkiMo is that as long as you’re traveling uphill, you’re training. So, I spend my days hiking, running, biking, and skiing. I also joined Utah Crew and spend the spring, summer, and fall training with them. 

In the winter, I work out indoors once or twice a week. Cross-training is a big part of my philosophy because doing only one activity intensely can result in injury; it’s important to use muscles other than the ones specific to your sport. My SkiMo practice consists of two or three days of endurance—I often get 4,000 to 5,000 vertical feet in, which is about eight to 10 miles, depending on the location. I do sprint/interval work three times a week, and one of those days I do a crew workout. I take one or two days off to rest, mainly to catch up on sleep, do homework, and study for tests and quizzes.

Where do you hope to go with the sport—can you do it at the college level? Beyond? The 2026 Olympics?

After the YOG my goal is to qualify again for the US National Team and return to Europe to race in the World Championships in 2021. I also hope to ski in college—wherever I go, I want to start a team if there isn’t one. But I haven’t thought about my SkiMo future a lot. I like to live in the moment and set small goals—especially in such an intense sport, it’s hard to have a lot of lofty goals without losing perspective. I do have a national teammate, Grace Staberg, who is a senior in high school and is over in Europe for the rest of the school year racing the World Cup series. I wouldn’t be opposed to that.


Top photo: Samantha Paisley making the first ascent in the individual event at the World Championships in Villars, Switzerland, on March 11.

Students

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

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 following 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

Sixth graders at 2019 UN Civil Society Conference

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.

Samira Eller presenting to fourth graders

Samira Eller presenting her findings on monocropping to Rowland Hall's fourth graders.

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.

Ethical Education

You Belong at Rowland Hall