When Rowland Hall’s youngest students face academic or social-emotional challenges, Chuck White and Lori Miller are there to lift them up.
What strategies will help a third-grade student stay focused during class? How can a group of children on the playground resolve a conflict? How do you support the emotional needs of a first grader who has just lost a pet? What are the best ways to challenge a nine-year-old reading at a middle school level?
In Rowland Hall’s beginning and lower schools, we encourage a growth mindset with an intentionally crafted student-support program to evaluate and nurture each child’s development.
If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you’ve grappled with questions like these. As children develop throughout their preschool and elementary years, unexpected challenges often arise—and those challenges can turn into learning opportunities and positive outcomes for students. In Rowland Hall’s beginning and lower schools, we encourage a growth mindset with an intentionally crafted student-support program to evaluate and nurture each child’s development. If you haven’t already, you should get to know the powerhouse duo leading this effort: Chuck White and Lori Miller.
Lori Miller has always loved reading. She grew up in a small town without a public library, so when the bookmobile came by every two weeks, Lori and her sister would check out seven books apiece—the maximum allowed—and each read one book per day until the bookmobile came again. During a visit to her college’s career center, Lori watched a short film of a teacher helping children learn to read and knew immediately: that’s what she wanted to do. Lori recalled thinking, “I love to read so much, and if I can give that gift to other kids, that’s exactly what I want to do.” And for the next 15 years, she taught first grade—the age at which most children learn to read.
Throughout her career, Lori has worn a variety of educational hats: elementary school principal, literacy-intervention specialist, and director of curriculum and instruction. She earned a master’s degree in gifted education from Utah State University and an administrative certificate from the University of Utah. When the position of academic support counselor at Rowland Hall opened up in 2007, Lori jumped at the chance to join a community she’d always admired. “I knew it was an amazing place,” Lori said, “and I really felt I could make a difference here.”
Lori spends her days on the McCarthey Campus serving three core constituencies: students, teachers, and parents. She oversees reading assessments and helps teachers ensure that all students are meeting benchmarks in reading, writing, and math. If there are any red flags for learning differences, she can observe the student, offer strategies to differentiate instruction, and develop a support plan, which may include tutoring. “I feel like a shepherd, with my little flock,” Lori said. “I’m just making sure they are all heading in the right direction.”
I feel like a shepherd, with my little flock. I’m just making sure they are all heading in the right direction. —Lori Miller
The joy Lori derives from her job is most evident when she speaks about visiting the kindergarten writer’s workshop. “It’s like a watching a miracle, to see how they’re figuring it out,” she said. “They have something they are excited about, and they want to put their ideas into words, and they have to think: How do I do that?” It’s a vital step in literacy development, Lori explained, since writing and reading work as opposite processes in a young brain: the former involves encoding one’s own thoughts into sounds and symbols, and the latter is a decoding process that starts with symbols on the page. “It’s really awesome,” she said.
In Chuck White’s office, one bookshelf is full of small figurines, dolls, and gadgets that, he explains, are part of an engagement strategy. Students can bring in a small toy from home and exchange it for something off his shelves. “It’s about making them feel welcome and comfortable in the counselor’s office,” he said.
Chuck joined the Rowland Hall community in 2008, one year after Lori arrived. School counseling is a second act for him, having spent 25 years working for Information and Referral Center—now 211 Utah—a private nonprofit that connects people who need help with the appropriate programs and agencies. Seeking more face-to-face interaction, and citing his love of education, Chuck earned his master’s degree in school counseling from Utah State University, then spent a few years working in the Salt Lake City School District before landing at Rowland Hall.
A significant portion of Chuck’s time is spent in the Lower School classrooms, teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) through the Second Step curriculum. “We teach skills,” Chuck explained, “such as how to look at and understand another person’s feelings, or how to control strong emotions, or how to be an effective problem-solver.” These lessons begin in 4PreK—where they are delivered by assistant teachers, under Chuck’s tutelage—and continue all the way through fifth grade. The language and approach evolve as children age, but the concepts remain the same.
Chuck reaches every Lower School student through chapel service as well, where he introduces a virtue of the month such as kindness, service, and respect—all to reinforce core values and encourage good behavior. Those virtues can be individualized, too: “We try and find various ways of helping kids own that virtue, understanding that it may mean something different for one student than another,” Chuck said. He and Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund also recently created the Kindness Club, a voluntary opportunity for Lower School students to practice kind acts, often anonymously.
Like Lori, Chuck is always a resource anytime a student needs individual support. “I can provide a listening ear, help set goals or strategize, or just check in on them,” he said. He loves being able to witness the growth of students during their Lower School years. “It’s a real privilege, and an honor.”
The Whole Child
As the two faculty members devoted full time to student support in the beginning and lower schools, Chuck and Lori think often about a core component of Rowland Hall’s mission: educating the whole child. For Lori, that means considering the social, emotional, and academic components of being part of a learning community, and how they must effectively combine in order for a student to succeed. Chuck agrees: “A child cannot do well academically if they are not doing well emotionally or socially.”
Chuck and Lori often work as a team—along with division principals, teachers, and parents—to support a student in need. Chuck’s SEL curriculum teaches resilience and strategies to deal with academic challenges, too. He gave an example of how he might approach a struggling student: “If you’re at your desk feeling super frustrated because you’re not understanding the math piece in front of you, what do you with that frustration? You can give up, which is one strategy, which is not good learning. Or you can flip the script and say, ‘Yeah, I am feeling frustrated. Maybe I need to get some help.’ That’s controlling your strong emotions. That’s you being in control.”
Chuck and Lori focus on the whole child, for each individual child—which means everything from identifying early signs of dyslexia to running a support group for children of divorced parents to helping classroom teachers recommend books to foster a love of reading.
Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman joined the Rowland Hall community last summer, and she already marvels at the work Chuck and Lori do for students and faculty—particularly how they problem solve. “There’s love and respect for children at the foundation, always,” she said. “It’s really about figuring out what does this individual person need to be his or her best learning self, and how can we match what we're doing with what that learner needs.”
Chuck and Lori focus on the whole child, for each individual child—which means everything from identifying early signs of dyslexia to running a support group for children of divorced parents to helping classroom teachers recommend books to foster a love of reading. Working with a diverse group of children with different academic, social, and emotional needs is part of what makes the job so rewarding, though. “Kids with all kinds of learning differences thrive at our school,” Lori said.
The Big Picture
Ryan is passionate about SEL, citing the many benefits to student performance and long-term success, including a significant economic impact that extends far beyond the field of education. Furthermore, research has shown that every minute spent on the social-emotional development of children translates to increased instructional time.
We’re in an environment where you have these two amazing individuals who get kids off the sidelines and back in the game. —Ryan Hoglund
Rowland Hall recently solidified its long-term commitment to SEL, adding a bullet point to the strategic plan about integrating social-emotional learning in support of Goal 1, enhancing the student learning experience. For Ryan, having the resources to keep children on track when they face inevitable challenges—at any point in their education—is part of what differentiates independent schools. "We’re in an environment where you have these two amazing individuals who get kids off the sidelines and back in the game,” he said.
Chuck said he’s grateful to be in a place where it’s part of the culture to talk about supporting the whole child, and where there’s a robust professional-development program to keep staff and teachers at the top of their game. When it comes down to it, the daily motivation is simple for Chuck, Lori, and most educators: they hope to impact children’s lives for the better.
“We want each of our kids to maximize their potential and their skills,” Lori said, “because that will unlock a lot of doors for them.”