Custom Class: post-landing-hero

Professional Oboist Found 'Joy of Her Life' Teaching Children

Susan Swidnicki is a self-proclaimed evangelist for children's music education. On any given day, you can find her at one of six jobs throughout the Salt Lake Valley, most of which involve teaching children ages three through 18 to express themselves through music, song, and movement. Lucky for Rowland Hall, one of her positions is in our Beginning School, where for the past 16 years she's taught our littlest learners to embrace their natural love—and ability—for music.

Every child should receive a high-quality music education, Susan said. "It's super important." In modern-day society, where students are too frequently staring at screens and passive in their learning, Susan sees music education as a tool to help children learn to be more present. She cited the listening skills, self-control, and confidence students learn through music and movement, emphasizing that these foundational skills must be taught in early childhood.

For three-, four-, and five-year-old budding musicians, Rowland Hall's classes typically focus on finding their singing voices, learning rhythm and rhyme, and learning how to move through space un-self-consciously but with awareness of others. Susan also frequently uses games to enhance music lessons, and over the course of the year, introduces students to different instruments.

"You can learn so much faster, and more joyfully and naturally, when you're a small child. You're wired to be receptive," Susan said. She added that schools or districts that wait until junior high to offer music have it backward. It's one reason she loves being part of the Rowland Hall community, a place where everyone is on the same page, understanding that "children are very capable, and we want to give them the best environment and best-quality materials we can." She added, "There's a real investment in best practices for young children."

For three-, four-, and five-year-old budding musicians, Rowland Hall's classes typically focus on finding their singing voices, learning rhythm and rhyme, and learning how to move through space un-self-consciously but with awareness of others. At that age, Susan joked, "learning not to just smash into everybody is a major skill." She also frequently uses games to enhance music lessons, and over the course of the year, introduces students to different instruments.

"Susan is uniquely talented with young learners," Beginning School Principal Carol Blackwell said. "Her music classes strengthen literacy and math skills while at the same time developing musical skills." Indeed, according to scientific research, musical training in young children benefits the brain in multiple ways, improving memory and overall language skills.

Becoming a music educator wasn't something Susan planned. She grew up in Cache Valley, where she began playing the oboe at age 12 and benefitted from what she described as a "super strong" music program in her school. In ninth grade, she started playing with the Utah State University orchestra. "I had a lot of opportunities to play," she said, "and I loved it." After high school, she earned a BA in oboe from the University of Utah and then a master's degree from the St. Louis Conservatory of Music.

Susan Swidnicki joyfully leading a class.

However, securing a full-time job as a performing musician proved challenging. While working with the Flagstaff Symphony in Sedona, Arizona, Susan picked up a gig teaching at a Montessori school and discovered the joys and rewards of being an educator. Since then, she's worked diligently to develop her teaching craft, training in the Orff Schulwerk approach and the Kodály method. The latter focuses on teaching musical literacy through song—often using folk songs—and provides excellent ear-training for young learners, Susan said.

Cindy Hall, Lower School music teacher and fellow Orff educator, described the benefits of Susan's background and professional training: "Since the Orff approach emphasizes learning through play and sound before symbol, it is a natural fit for this age group and our Beginning School philosophy. Susan is a master teacher who draws in children and nurtures their budding musicianship, and we are so fortunate to have her start our students out on their musical journeys." Susan expressed in-kind admiration and said she's pleased to be handing students off to another highly skilled, passionate music educator in Cindy.

I have a very meticulous performing life, and then I have this kind of joyful improvisatory life with children where I can say, 'Oh, you like this nursery rhyme? Let's go act it out.'—Susan Swidnicki

While Susan described teaching children as "the joy of her life," she still maintains an active performing life. She is the principal oboist with the Ballet West Orchestra and an extra with the Utah Symphony, filling in when other musicians are ill or out of town. Add those two roles to teaching positions at Rowland Hall, Canyon Rim Academy, Westminster College, and the Zion Lutheran Church, along with being a single mother to two teenagers, and Susan's schedule could make your head spin.

She doesn't seem to mind juggling her professional obligations. "Mostly the challenge is just remembering what day of the week it is, so I can make sure I go to the right place," she laughed. And she's not ready to give anything up—the way she sees it, teaching and performing provide her with balance. While playing classical music requires discipline and exactitude, in the classroom, she thrives with creative freedom.

"I have a very meticulous performing life, and then I have this kind of joyful improvisatory life with children where I can say, 'Oh, you like this nursery rhyme? Let's go act it out.'"

Susan plans to keep adding to her resume, too. This summer, she'll be an instructor with SummerWorks—something she's enjoyed doing for years—and will travel to Seattle for a Smithsonian Folkways course on multicultural music for children. As a long-term project, she wants to develop a website that would provide fourth-grade teachers in Utah a collection of songs, folktales, and dances from the state's indigenous population to integrate into their curriculum.

Susan's goal is to lay the foundation for music to be both a practice and a pleasure that children will have their whole lives, and she loves watching them grow in confidence during the process. "The great moments are when children who have not been singing—who have only been listening—start singing, and then sing by themselves. They find their singing voice," she said. "Is there anything more rewarding than that?"

People

Susan Swidnicki Fosters Lifelong Love of Music in Beginning School Students

Professional Oboist Found 'Joy of Her Life' Teaching Children

Susan Swidnicki is a self-proclaimed evangelist for children's music education. On any given day, you can find her at one of six jobs throughout the Salt Lake Valley, most of which involve teaching children ages three through 18 to express themselves through music, song, and movement. Lucky for Rowland Hall, one of her positions is in our Beginning School, where for the past 16 years she's taught our littlest learners to embrace their natural love—and ability—for music.

Every child should receive a high-quality music education, Susan said. "It's super important." In modern-day society, where students are too frequently staring at screens and passive in their learning, Susan sees music education as a tool to help children learn to be more present. She cited the listening skills, self-control, and confidence students learn through music and movement, emphasizing that these foundational skills must be taught in early childhood.

For three-, four-, and five-year-old budding musicians, Rowland Hall's classes typically focus on finding their singing voices, learning rhythm and rhyme, and learning how to move through space un-self-consciously but with awareness of others. Susan also frequently uses games to enhance music lessons, and over the course of the year, introduces students to different instruments.

"You can learn so much faster, and more joyfully and naturally, when you're a small child. You're wired to be receptive," Susan said. She added that schools or districts that wait until junior high to offer music have it backward. It's one reason she loves being part of the Rowland Hall community, a place where everyone is on the same page, understanding that "children are very capable, and we want to give them the best environment and best-quality materials we can." She added, "There's a real investment in best practices for young children."

For three-, four-, and five-year-old budding musicians, Rowland Hall's classes typically focus on finding their singing voices, learning rhythm and rhyme, and learning how to move through space un-self-consciously but with awareness of others. At that age, Susan joked, "learning not to just smash into everybody is a major skill." She also frequently uses games to enhance music lessons, and over the course of the year, introduces students to different instruments.

"Susan is uniquely talented with young learners," Beginning School Principal Carol Blackwell said. "Her music classes strengthen literacy and math skills while at the same time developing musical skills." Indeed, according to scientific research, musical training in young children benefits the brain in multiple ways, improving memory and overall language skills.

Becoming a music educator wasn't something Susan planned. She grew up in Cache Valley, where she began playing the oboe at age 12 and benefitted from what she described as a "super strong" music program in her school. In ninth grade, she started playing with the Utah State University orchestra. "I had a lot of opportunities to play," she said, "and I loved it." After high school, she earned a BA in oboe from the University of Utah and then a master's degree from the St. Louis Conservatory of Music.

Susan Swidnicki joyfully leading a class.

However, securing a full-time job as a performing musician proved challenging. While working with the Flagstaff Symphony in Sedona, Arizona, Susan picked up a gig teaching at a Montessori school and discovered the joys and rewards of being an educator. Since then, she's worked diligently to develop her teaching craft, training in the Orff Schulwerk approach and the Kodály method. The latter focuses on teaching musical literacy through song—often using folk songs—and provides excellent ear-training for young learners, Susan said.

Cindy Hall, Lower School music teacher and fellow Orff educator, described the benefits of Susan's background and professional training: "Since the Orff approach emphasizes learning through play and sound before symbol, it is a natural fit for this age group and our Beginning School philosophy. Susan is a master teacher who draws in children and nurtures their budding musicianship, and we are so fortunate to have her start our students out on their musical journeys." Susan expressed in-kind admiration and said she's pleased to be handing students off to another highly skilled, passionate music educator in Cindy.

I have a very meticulous performing life, and then I have this kind of joyful improvisatory life with children where I can say, 'Oh, you like this nursery rhyme? Let's go act it out.'—Susan Swidnicki

While Susan described teaching children as "the joy of her life," she still maintains an active performing life. She is the principal oboist with the Ballet West Orchestra and an extra with the Utah Symphony, filling in when other musicians are ill or out of town. Add those two roles to teaching positions at Rowland Hall, Canyon Rim Academy, Westminster College, and the Zion Lutheran Church, along with being a single mother to two teenagers, and Susan's schedule could make your head spin.

She doesn't seem to mind juggling her professional obligations. "Mostly the challenge is just remembering what day of the week it is, so I can make sure I go to the right place," she laughed. And she's not ready to give anything up—the way she sees it, teaching and performing provide her with balance. While playing classical music requires discipline and exactitude, in the classroom, she thrives with creative freedom.

"I have a very meticulous performing life, and then I have this kind of joyful improvisatory life with children where I can say, 'Oh, you like this nursery rhyme? Let's go act it out.'"

Susan plans to keep adding to her resume, too. This summer, she'll be an instructor with SummerWorks—something she's enjoyed doing for years—and will travel to Seattle for a Smithsonian Folkways course on multicultural music for children. As a long-term project, she wants to develop a website that would provide fourth-grade teachers in Utah a collection of songs, folktales, and dances from the state's indigenous population to integrate into their curriculum.

Susan's goal is to lay the foundation for music to be both a practice and a pleasure that children will have their whole lives, and she loves watching them grow in confidence during the process. "The great moments are when children who have not been singing—who have only been listening—start singing, and then sing by themselves. They find their singing voice," she said. "Is there anything more rewarding than that?"

People

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

Lower School student working on class project

In the newest episode of Rowland Hall’s award-winning princiPALS podcast, Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus discuss some of the most inspiring things they’ve learned (so far) while educating preschool- and elementary-aged children during the pandemic.

During the first months of in-person instruction since March, the princiPALS have learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community.

Recorded during the 14th week of Rowland Hall’s 2020–2021 school year, Emma and Jij reflect on leading their divisions during the first months of in-person instruction since the school moved to full distance learning in March. During that time, they said, they’ve learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community. And though they’re aware that schools across the country are dealing with different learning models and regional challenges, they believe that their perspectives on in-person learning during the pandemic may help other educators—as well as answer some of the many questions parents and caregivers have as schools readjust learning models in 2021.

“Our hope is that these important things we’ve learned are helpful to anyone out there,” said Jij.

The princiPALS also draw on their top lessons to create tips that will help parents and caregivers continue to support children (and themselves) at this time, with an emphasis on making intentional choices rather than, as Emma noted, “letting the world wash over you.”

Listen to “What We’re Learning about Learning during a Pandemic,” along with other episodes of princiPALS, on Rowland Hall's website, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.

Podcast

PrinciPALS Jij de Jesus and Emma Wellman on Rowland Hall's McCarthey Campus

Rowland Hall is pleased to announce that “How to Talk to Kids about Race,” the third episode of the school’s princiPALS podcast, won silver for a single podcast episode in the 2020 InspirED Brilliance Awards. This is Rowland Hall’s fifth Brilliance Award since 2017.

2020 InspirED Brilliance Award Winner badge


The InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Awards is the only international competition that recognizes excellence in private and independent school marketing and communications exclusively. Entries, divided into 30 categories, were judged by a volunteer panel of 69 marketing experts from around the world who are professionals in private schools or businesses that specialize in school marketing, and were scored on creativity, persuasiveness, design, copy, photography, and overall appeal. The judges chose “How to Talk to Kids about Race” for the timeliness of the subject, the strong advice presented to listeners, and the overall branding.

"The topic is timely and I appreciated hearing about the research and action items to take,” said one judge. Another commented, “Really smart advice, well-presented.”

PrinciPALS launched in October 2019 as a resource for parents and caregivers navigating common questions and concerns about the preschool and elementary school years. The podcast features Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus, and is hosted by alumnus Conor Bentley ’01. All episodes of princiPALS are available on Rowland Hall's website, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.

Podcast

Anna Shott receiving her high school diploma at graduation.

Alum Anna Shott ’16 sent the following email to middle and upper school computer science (CS) teacher Ben Smith ’89 on December 3, 2020. Anna graciously agreed to let us republish it here. We last interviewed Anna in 2016 when she was a senior taking her first CS class with Ben and enjoying the collaborative, problem-solving aspects of the field, which often gets falsely stereotyped as an antisocial and rote career choice. Ben has worked hard over nearly a decade to show his students—especially young women, who are underrepresented in the field—the reality: that programmers typically work together in teams to solve real-world problems and ultimately help people. This year, Ben is even weaving in social justice as a theme, using the Algorithmic Justice League as one of his teaching resources. We're grateful for Ben's dedication to CS education and can't wait to see what he and his former students like Anna do in the future. If you're an alum with a story about how a Rowland Hall teacher helped to inspire your career choice, let us know.


Dear Mr. Smith,

Hope you are doing well and enjoying a nice holiday season! I am reaching out with an update and to say thank you. 

After graduating from Rowland Hall in 2016 I took a gap year where I worked at my family's company and traveled. In 2017 I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Southern California studying computer science and business. The last two summers I interned at Microsoft, first as an Explore intern and then as a program management intern. I am now a senior finishing up my last few classes before graduation in May. Next fall I’m heading to Seattle to join Microsoft full-time as a program manager.

I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year.

I’ve spent much of my last four years participating in startup incubators, building companies, and exploring Los Angeles. I've stayed involved in the engineering community as a counselor for an on-campus computer science camp for K–12 students and as a teacher's assistant for one of USC's core software engineering classes. I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year. Your class truly influenced the path I chose, and I cannot thank you enough for sparking my interest in computer science.

I've had so much fun reading the various articles on the Rowland Hall website regarding the incredible computer science program you have built. Congratulations on the numerous accolades you and your students have earned over the years. I hope the program continues to grow and expose students to computer science and engineering, and ultimately inspire many to pursue a career path in those disciplines. 

I wish you and your family all the best and hope you are staying happy and healthy during this time.

Many thanks again, and happy holidays!

Sincerely,
Anna Shott
Class of 2016


Top: Anna Shott ’16 at her graduation, receiving her diploma from now-retired head of school Alan Sparrow.

Alumni

Sixth graders recording the original radio play "The Awakening."
 
Like all educators across the country, Rowland Hall theatre teacher Matt Sincell had to rethink his lesson plans after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed in-person learning in March.
With traditional classes and a spring production off the table, Matt found himself looking for ways to provide theatre experiences for students during quarantine. He decided to introduce them to radio plays, a completely acoustic type of theatre, which could be produced from their homes.

While the term radio play might bring to mind radio series from the 1930s and 1940s, this type of production still attracts audiences today—podcasts, for instance, are “sort of the modern-day version of a radio play,” Matt said. Stories told as radio plays also have lasting power: "The War of the Worlds," a Mercury Theatre on the Air radio episode based on the 1898 H.G. Wells novel of the same name, dramatized a Martian invasion and is remembered because of the fear it stirred when it aired in 1938. “It caused a nationwide panic when it was first performed. People actually thought we were being invaded by aliens,” said Matt.

In the early months of distance learning, Rowland Hall students began exploring this theatre form, ultimately creating an adaptation of the popular children’s book The Gruffalo (which was edited by seventh- and eighth-grade Arts & Ensembles theatre teacher Meighan Smith). Their work was shared with families and friends—and, thanks to Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre Company, the wider community when it was featured on The City Library’s BiblioBoard. And as Matt planned for the 2020–2021 year—which he knew would still include distance learning in some form—he decided to continue the study of radio plays. “With students at home, in class, and, for some, distance learning only, it seemed the most likely class project to be able to complete,” he explained.

This fall, Matt assigned his sixth-grade Arts & Ensembles class the task of creating an original radio play. The result, The Awakening, is a 16-minute production written and performed by students Sebby Bamberger, Lila Bates, Josie Fonarow, Elayna Hoglund, Paulina Ize-Cedillo, Emery Lieberman, Elle Prasthofer, Morgan Schmutz, Sophie Smith, Izzy Utgaard, and Kate Weissman. The play, which took about two months to complete, was written in both the horror and comedy genres, explained Elayna.

“The inspiration for it was the story of ‘The Ghost with the Bloody Finger,’” she said, referencing a well-known campfire ghost story designed to make listeners laugh. Elayna said the sixth graders wanted to incorporate humor into their radio play because they knew their audience would be mostly made up of listeners who were middle-school-aged and younger. “We knew that it’d be more fun to have some funny in it.”

All 11 students were invested in the project, getting involved in the brainstorming, writing, and script editing required of a radio play. Although they weren’t able to do the close-contact acting techniques of a stage production, they did get to experience voice acting, with distance learners applying best practices to capture the cleanest sound possible by recording with blankets over their heads or by sitting inside a closet, and in-person learners utilizing a handmade, COVID-approved sound booth made of two stacked desks wrapped with a thick, padded moving blanket. (Blankets were changed and desks and equipment were sanitized between each recording session.)

“There was never a time that a student was directly interacting with another student, but we were able to create the illusion that they were indeed responding to each other,” said Matt, who edited The Awakening.

The students also learned the importance of sound effects in radio plays, which are key to bringing this art form to life. “The tricky thing about a radio play is that there, of course, is no visual to accompany it,” Matt explained, “so it's even more necessary to rely on our sense of sound to tell the story.” He had students experiment with Foley, a sound-making technique pioneered in the 1920s and still used today—Elayna captured the sound of a refrigerator door closing, a microwave beeping, and a candy wrapper crackling, while classmate Sophie recorded a door slamming, feet running on concrete, and her interpretation of a leprechaun laughing. Sophie said it felt good knowing that her sound effects helped make a difference in the finished recording. “It was pretty nice because you knew it was your work,” she said.

Art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.—Matt Sincell, theatre teacher

And that finished recording is impressive indeed. It’s a strong reminder of student creativity and ingenuity, even within a pandemic. “What they have been able to accomplish in the face of such adversity is really quite unique and wonderful,” said Matt.

The theatre teacher is hopeful that the radio play will also bring smiles to the larger community: on December 14, Matt announced that Jerry Rapier, Plan-B Theatre’s artistic director and a dedicated supporter of theatre education in Utah, had offered to again promote the Rowland Hall students’ work by linking The Awakening to The City Library’s BiblioBoard and to Plan-B’s mobile app.

“It's super exciting to once again have Plan-B Theatre support our students' work,” said Matt. “It’s nice to think that they are able to provide a 16-minute gift of joy to other students outside of the Rowland Hall community. It's proof that art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.”


Banner photo: Rowland Hall middle schoolers Lila Bates and Kate Weissman preparing to record lines of The Awakening.

Theatre

You Belong at Rowland Hall