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Welcome, Parents of Alumni!

You're valued members of our community, and we hope you enjoy a rewarding association with the school even after your students graduate. You're invited to attend community events, join volunteer committees, and remain connected with other Rowland Hall families!

We hope you will join us for our annual Parents of Alumni gathering this spring.

Resources & Important Links

Parents of Alumni Co-Chairs

Greg and Anne Elliott, parents of alumni Keith '99, Michael '01, and Elizabeth '07.

Marty and Krista Kern, parents of alum Katie ’21.

School Stories from Fine Print Magazine

Rowland Hall Advanced Research Chemistry students presented original research at the American Chemical Society conference.

People don’t often associate high school with opportunities to develop an original thesis or conduct research alongside an expert. But at Rowland Hall, we're working to change that.

Rowland Hall has a long and proud history of preparing students to thrive not only in college, but in career and life. As a leader in education, we know this begins with ongoing opportunities to build student confidence, whether that’s by climbing a tree or testing a new invasive insect trap. As a result of our approach, many students enter the Upper School with an understanding of their own interests and passions. They’re ready to grow the knowledge and skills they’ll need after graduation, as well as to embrace new, self-directed learning opportunities that allow them to address real-world questions, including some of the toughest we’re facing today.

To ensure that students are well prepared for what lies ahead, the Upper School offers a wide array of advanced courses that build knowledge as well as provide opportunities to practice skills. These include Advanced Placement classes and faculty-designed Advanced Topics courses, which deeply dive into their subjects and offer more opportunities for lab, hands-on, and project-based work.

I'm not sure many other high schools can or do offer the opportunity to do such in-depth research on a topic of your choice. These classes were incredibly fulfilling for me because they were more independent, and I could dictate what I wanted to research based on my own interests.—Sophie Baker, class of 2024

An increased focus on research-based courses, particularly over the last four years, is further setting apart Rowland Hall’s program. Classes including Research Science, unveiled in fall 2020, and authentic learning opportunities such as collaborating on peer-reviewed journal articles have helped prove that high school students can help find solutions to real-world problems and create impactful knowledge—a key focus of Rowland Hall’s strategic vision. To further this important work, the Upper School recently took steps to formalize and expand research classes. The result? A new class designation, Advanced Research (AR), which was applied to four areas of study—chemistry, biology, humanities, and debate—in its first year, 2023–2024.

“Advanced Research is a program across different disciplines that allows students with significant interest, and some advanced coursework already under their belts, to go deep in an area of study with the goal of a college-level, real-world application to their work,” explained Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson. To be designated AR, a class must allow students to develop original theses and/or conduct research under the guidance of an expert, offer some student choice in what is studied, and provide opportunities to present original work or compete for an external audience. And because AR classes are so advanced, they tend to be more intimate (even for a school with an already impressive nine-to-one faculty-to-student ratio), providing more opportunities for one-on-one mentoring and bonding with peers.

“I'm not sure many other high schools can or do offer the opportunity to do such in-depth research on a topic of your choice,” said senior Sophie Baker, who took AR Biology and AR Humanities this year. “These classes were incredibly fulfilling for me because they were more independent, and I could dictate what I wanted to research based on my own interests.”

Below, we provide a glimpse at each of the four AR classes offered in the program’s inaugural year. You can also check out each section individually: AR Chemistry, AR Biology, AR Humanities, and AR Debate.


AR Chemistry and the Promise of Algae

For most, the word algae calls to mind a carpet of green scum atop a body of water. But to this year’s AR Chemistry students, the word holds the promise of a more sustainable world.

“There are many unique ways algae can be used,” said science teacher Tascha Knowlton—from biofuel to biodegradable plastic to medicine. And because algae also captures large amounts of carbon, it’s becoming an important tool for a greener future.

Algae first captured upper schoolers’ attention last spring, when Tascha asked her students, including those enrolled in her upcoming AR Chemistry class, to research the organism for an end-of-term project. The students were so excited by what they found, they asked if they could make algae the focus of their AR Chemistry research. While Tascha had been planning to continue the graphite research started in Research Chemistry (the original name of AR Chemistry), she was happy to change course to follow the students’ interest.

And though there were several directions the students could take their research, the six seniors in this year’s class decided to focus on two: the use of algae as a wastewater treatment and as a substitute for limestone in cement, both of which contribute to a more sustainable world. As a wastewater treatment, algae provides a more effective alternative to the chemicals and bacteria that remove pollutants in water; the byproducts of this process can also be used to create bioproducts. In cement, the calcium carbonate byproduct of algae can take the place of limestone, which lessens the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere during limestone mining.

Rowland Hall students learned about algae at Utah's Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility.

Class member Quinn Orgain testing water at the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility.


This fall, the students began diving into current research on these subjects, as well as writing their own proposals and abstracts and conducting lab work. One group studied the effect of two types of algae, chlorella and Scenedesmus, in wastewater, and the other focused on the use of Emiliania huxleyi, a special type of algae that produces a calcium carbonate shell, in biocement. They also spoke with experts, including Dr. Ronald Sims from Utah State University, who took them on a tour of the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, which recently piloted an algae wastewater cleaning program, and biocement specialists. These opportunities to immerse themselves in their chosen areas of research made a big impression on the young scientists.

These classes really provide an outlet to explore personal areas of interest and use your education to make an impact that resonates with you and your values.—Gabriella Miranda, class of 2024

“These classes really provide an outlet to explore personal areas of interest and use your education to make an impact that resonates with you and your values,” said Gabriella Miranda, a member of the wastewater group. “Truly, I think the AR program embodies academic freedom and gives students valuable insight.”

By the spring, the class was ready to take their work on the road. In early March, both groups competed at the University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair, where the wastewater team placed third in the Biology & Microbiology category and the biocement team placed second in the Chemistry & Biochemistry category. Later that month, they traveled to New Orleans for the American Chemical Society spring conference, where they confidently shared their work with attendees from around the world.

“Their posters and how they presented themselves was on par or better than any undergraduate posters, and there are hundreds,” said Tascha. And she wasn’t the only one impressed—many attendees shared their amazement that the Rowland Hall group was still in high school; one undergraduate even said he wished he’d had this type of experience before college. Tascha hoped moments like these provided the students with perspective about their experience, showed them their capabilities, and gave them the confidence they’ll need to hit the ground running as undergraduates. “They’ll be able to jump in and expand opportunities in college, versus having to get familiar with the work later,” said Tascha.

The experience may even inspire careers.

“Prior to taking AR Chemistry, I wasn’t particularly passionate about any given subject. With the pressure of college majors looming, I often dismissed the decision entirely,” said class member Halle Baughman. “Through this in-depth investigation, I was able to explore my passion for sustainability by integrating it with my interest in the sciences. I found a topic with the promise of success and my personal investment.” As a result, Halle changed her indicated major from undecided to sustainability and design.

“My project excited me in ways I couldn’t imagine,” said Halle. “The process was truly life-changing.”

Learn more about the AR Chemistry class’s time in New Orleans.


AR Biology Works to Better Understand and Find Treatments for Aggressive Cancer

To Upper School science teacher Dr. Padmashree Rida, providing students with research opportunities is a no-brainer.

“It’s important to invest in mentoring and guiding high schoolers,” she said. “This is how you’re going to build on the next generation of people who can impact big areas.”

With the introduction of the AR designation, Dr. Rida knew she could further expand student research opportunities in an AR Biology class, opening the door for more students to build strong research, critical-reading, and science-writing skills during school hours and under the guidance of a trusted mentor invested in their growth.

That’s why the former university research scientist and breast cancer researcher, who joined the faculty in 2021, has been on a constant lookout for ways to bring students into the process of research science. In addition to sharing her expertise in class, Dr. Rida has even welcomed students to the teams of researchers she collaborates with on peer-reviewed papers. (Two, now-alums Max Smart ’22 and Tianyi Su ’22, have already been published.) And with the introduction of the AR designation, Dr. Rida knew she could further expand these opportunities in an AR Biology class, opening the door for more students to build strong research, critical-reading, and science-writing skills during school hours and under the guidance of a trusted mentor invested in their growth.

And it all begins, she explained, by deciding what to study.

“Defining the scope of the work is itself a big step,” she said, and one she wanted the three seniors enrolled in her first AR Biology class to experience. Though Dr. Rida did provide some parameters (she encouraged students to choose a topic within her area of expertise, and one that can be done on campus—after all, the school has no biosafety clearance to work with cancer cells), she wanted students to have a say in what they studied. She also wanted them to get familiar with identifying research worth pursuing by learning what kind of questions to ask: What is already known about a topic? What are people not yet asking that is of value to the field? What are some of the gaps in our knowledge that we can help fill?

Armed with this guidance, the students kicked off the year by reading papers and brainstorming subjects that were both manageable and could make a contribution to the research field. By early November, they’d chosen their topic: to uncover more about why androgen receptor-low triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is so lethal. By understanding drivers of the disease, they hoped to help identify novel, actionable treatment targets, as this cancer currently has no approved targeted treatments and, as a result, poor outcomes, particularly in Black women.

“Black women are twice as likely as white women to get TNBC, and within this subgroup Black women are disproportionately afflicted with the androgen receptor-low form of TNBC,” said Dr. Rida. “Identification of potential treatment targets for androgen receptor-low TNBC could therefore help us ameliorate the stark racial disparities observed in breast cancer outcomes.”

To further keep research manageable, the students limited their scope to the centrosome biology that may play a role in this cancer subtype’s deadly impact. Centrosomes, miniscule structures in cells that organize the cell’s cytoskeleton, are critical for cell division; however, excessive centrosomes, which are commonly found in cancer cells (and at a higher level in tumors of Black women), are implicated in the aggressive clinical behavior of TNBC. That’s because cancer cells cluster their extra centrosomes during cell division via a process that increases genomic instability and clonal heterogeneity inside tumors, contributing to treatment resistance and disease progression. Although we have known for a few decades that, to survive, cancer cells must dial up their centrosome-clustering mechanisms as they generate extra centrosomes, exactly how this accompanying upregulation is achieved was undefined.

Rowland Hall students attend the 2024 meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research.

The AR Biology students and Dr. Rida at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research.


In pursuit of answers, the AR Biology students began analyzing publicly available gene expression data to identify the pathways that are in overdrive in androgen receptor-low TNBCs, while keeping their eyes peeled for crucial links that connect centrosome-amplification mechanisms to centrosome-clustering pathways. The students were fortunate to identify oncogenes (genes with the potential to cause a cell to become cancerous) that connect these two pathways, synchronously upregulating both drivers of aggressive disease, said Dr. Rida. This helped identify potential treatment targets for high-risk patients. And the students did all this alongside learning how to navigate databases and perform in silico analyses, wade through dense primary sources, create publication-quality figures, and collaborate with researchers outside Rowland Hall. It could be tough at times, but it was worth it.

We were working on something that actually had real-world value.—Sophie Baker, class of 2024

“We were working on something that actually had real-world value,” said senior Sophie Baker, as well as something that allowed the group to discover their own capabilities. “The most important thing that I learned about myself this year is that I can actually complete research of this scale,” Sophie continued. “It's impossible to know if you're capable of doing something until you try, so it was nice to be given the opportunity to try in a supportive environment.”

Best of all, the students’ potentially life-changing work didn’t stay in the classroom. In April, they traveled to San Diego to present their findings as a poster at the American Association of Cancer Research’s annual meeting. And later this spring, they were part of a group (including City of Hope researchers) that submitted a journal manuscript that’s currently in its first round of peer review. Dr. Rida said both opportunities have brought immense value to the students.

“It helps place work they did in the context of the real world issues—this actually can advance understanding of tumor biology, or guide clinicians or researchers,” she said. And on the flip side, she continued, these opportunities also show clinicians and higher education researchers the benefits of welcoming high school students to the table.

“We’re changing the culture,” said Dr. Rida.

Click the image below to view the poster presented by AR Biology students at the American Association of Cancer Research’s Annual Meeting.


AR Humanities Expands Opportunities for Student Voices

Rowland Hall students are known for their writing. Throughout their time at the school, there is an ongoing emphasis on developing strong writing skills, and faculty members provide expert guidance as students grasp the foundations of language and grammar, then begin to build on their skills, knowledge, and confidence. Year by year, the school graduates exceptional writers, many of whom share their voices, whether that’s through poetry, science, or newspaper op-eds.

With the introduction of AR Humanities, Upper School students can apply and build writing skills on a whole new level: through college-level humanities research.

“Even though I'm a ‘STEM student’ of sorts and really like robotics and whatnot, I was really interested in doing some sort of deep dive into writing and humanities-based research,” said Omar Alsolaiman, one of the six seniors enrolled in AR Humanities in fall 2023. “And I thought the idea of getting to a full paper by the end was super exciting.”

Omar is referring to the 15- to 20-page research paper that is the pinnacle of the AR Humanities experience. Written over the 17 weeks of the fall semester, each student’s paper is the culmination of their time tackling research like professional scholars: by choosing a focused project question, developing unique arguments, and examining primary and secondary sources.

This class is an opportunity for students to craft questions around something that’s meaningful and interesting to them ... and to ultimately make small but meaningful contributions to a larger body of knowledge about whatever topic they want to study.—Dr. Nate Kogan ’00, history teacher

“This class is an opportunity for students to craft questions around something that’s meaningful and interesting to them, and to work to pursue that in the way one would an undergraduate senior thesis,” said history teacher Dr. Nate Kogan ’00. “They’re more independently trying to emulate the methods and practices and scholarship they’ll be more fully immersed in when they go to college, and to ultimately make small but meaningful contributions to a larger body of knowledge about whatever topic they want to study.”

In addition to providing the students with his own support as a historian and academic, Nate uses Wendy Belcher's Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, a workbook for academic publishing, to guide them through the research process. “I try to give the class a well-scaffolded and accessible entry point to the type of work real scholars in the humanities use,” he said. “This book helps plan the course by setting up a practical and accessible framework of steps you have to go through, which can often be opaque and challenging for students.”

And whatever a student’s inquiry, said Nate, they pursue the same process, meaning that over the semester, each class member became familiar with how college-level research unfolds as they pursued individualized research topics:

  • how American media coverage of Haiti employed necropolitical narratives;
  • how the medieval kingdom of Al-Andalus fostered social cohesion amongst a multiethnic and religiously diverse community;
  • how neoliberal economic and regulatory policies toward pharmaceutical companies exacerbated in opioid crisis in Appalachia;
  • how neoliberal economic policies exacerbated the gender wage gap and intensified racially driven critiques of welfare policy;
  • how changing attitudes toward migrant players in the US men’s soccer program limited the competitiveness of the team at international competitions; and
  • how the community-based ideologies and practices of the original Black Panther Party evolved into a more exclusionary form with the New Black Panther Party in the 1980s and 1990s.

“I learned a lot about what college-level writing would be like, and I definitely learned a ton of great formal writing strategies while also researching something I'm really interested in that I hope to continue learning about,” said Omar, who worked on the Al-Andalus project, and credits AR Humanities for building his ability to write efficiently and systematically—a skill he believes will be invaluable in college.

I learned a lot about what college-level writing would be like, and I definitely learned a ton of great formal writing strategies while also researching something I'm really interested in that I hope to continue learning about.—Omar Alsolaiman, class of 2024

And since this is an AR class, the experience also included the chance for the students to share their work. As the semester began to wind down, the group worked to condense their arguments into eight-minute presentations for a mini-conference, held at the Upper School in December. Not only was the conference a chance to share their research with more people, but it also improved their final papers.

“The goal of the presentation is to serve as a testing ground for the clarity of their written arguments: ‘Can I take this stuff I've been mulling over and writing about and communicate it clearly to other people?’” said Nate. “That process of distilling an argument and trying to articulate it in a more condensed format also helps with the final revision stage: ‘Which points landed? Where do I need to play up the evidence more clearly?’”

By the end of the semester, all six students had completed beautifully written research papers that reflected their diverse and wide-ranging interests. (Though it wasn’t required, one student submitted their paper to The Concord Review, a high school history scholarship journal, in addition to Nate.) When asked to reflect on the class experience, Omar said it was valuable in many ways, not least of which was its reminder of the importance of the humanities as well as the ability to write well—areas that can easily be forgotten in the noise of a technology-heavy world.

“This class definitely reminded me how important the humanities are to me, so in college I'm hoping to find some outlet or focus on the humanities, despite my overarching path in engineering and STEM,” he said. “It also recentered my strengths in writing as one of my most important skills for the future.”

Click the video below to listen to this year’s AR Humanities students share their research at their mini-conference.


AR Debate Soars in First International Debate Research Opportunity

Rowland Hall and debate go hand in hand. For nearly 40 years, the school has offered a top debate program—we’ve even been named a Debate School of Excellence by the National Speech and Debate Association, and our debate team has claimed the last four 3A speech and debate state championships (2021–2024).

Needless to say, a lot of exceptional debaters roam the Upper School halls, so when the division’s administrative team was identifying potential areas for AR classes, they knew that a high-level debate-based research class would appeal to and benefit the school’s most advanced debaters. And for debate coach Mike Shackelford, AR Debate offered an ideal space for debaters to not only work on ongoing prep for their Policy and Public Forum competition events, but to harness their knowledge and skills in a new way.

“Our kids are really good at research, and it was important to me to give them an opportunity to show off their research skills in a more traditional format,” he said.

And Mike knew just the right outlet: the International Public Policy Forum global essay contest, which he had heard about from some of his national colleagues. Jointly administered by the Brewer Foundation and New York University, this contest “gives high school students around the globe the opportunity to engage in written and oral debates on issues of public policy.”

To participate in the IPPF contest, teams of at least three students from the same school are invited to submit a qualifying essay of no more than 3,000 words on the topic (this year’s was “Resolved: Governments should provide a universal basic income”). Teams can either affirm or negate the topic in qualifying essays. From there, a panel of judges chooses the top 64 schools to advance to a single-elimination, written debate tournament—in other words, teams are invited to engage in a pen pal-style debate competition. During each round, a team receives a competitor school’s latest 3,000-word essay via email, then writes an 1,800-word rebuttal. Judges review both essays and choose the top response from each round. The contest ends with the final eight teams traveling to New York City in early May for IPPF Finals Weekend.

Even with steep odds, the Rowland Hall team stood out. They were selected to move on to the top 64—and called out for their exceptional work on their qualifying essay. "This is a fantastic paper, bordering on brilliant,” one judge wrote. “This paper reflects scholarship rivaling post-graduate work.”

In October, the eight AR Debate students (three seniors, three juniors, and two sophomores) began working on their qualifying round essay. To stand out, the Rowland Hall group decided to write their essay using a critical feminist analysis, affirming universal basic income as a way to reduce domestic violence, reverse the stigma of welfare, and promote a more just concept of work that’s valued in the United States.

"We took this approach because we thought other papers would be written from traditional economic topics, and we didn’t want to silence an important perspective,” said Mike.

The team hoped to qualify to the round of 64, but suspected competition would be stiff. Indeed, this year, 311 teams, representing schools in 26 countries, submitted qualifying essays to the IPPF. But even with these steep odds, the Rowland Hall team stood out. They were selected to move on to the top 64—and called out for their exceptional work on their qualifying essay.

"This is a fantastic paper, bordering on brilliant,” one judge wrote. “This paper reflects scholarship rivaling post-graduate work.”

Buoyed by this feedback, the group jumped into the competition, ultimately submitting and defending seven different essays to and against schools from Texas to Canada. With a trip to New York as their new focus, the AR Debate students remained nimble, switching sides in their essays as required and working closely to write their best responses.

Rowland Hall debaters qualified to the Sweet 16 of the International Public Policy Forum global essay contest.

This year's AR Debate class with their Sweet 16 IPPF Contest medals.


“It’s rare, at least in debate, to have that much of a collaborative research opportunity—to have one product with six cooks in the kitchen, writing, collaborating, and thinking,” said Mike of this new opportunity for debaters. “The competitive debate world is so insulated, so this experience was so valuable in translating the skills they’ve been building. They know intuitively they’re great researchers, but I don't think they ever had practice taking their debate cases and translating them into papers.”

The small nature of the AR Debate class created an environment that facilitated targeted, individual growth in addition to improvement as a team. This meant that each of us got more individual attention in terms of feedback and skill improvement than before.—Eli Hatton, class of 2025

Class members also felt the benefits of stretching their skills. “AR Debate has given us the opportunity to use our research and argumentative skills beyond Policy Debate competition. I am glad I took AR Debate mainly because of the dedicated time and space for focusing on improving debate skills, practicing debates, and building arguments and strategy,” said junior Eli Hatton, who plans to continue debating in college and appreciated how the research-based approach of the class challenged class members, helping them become stronger debaters.

“The small nature of the AR Debate class created an environment that facilitated targeted, individual growth in addition to improvement as a team. This meant that each of us got more individual attention in terms of feedback and skill improvement than before,” Eli continued. “I personally learned quite a lot about the areas where I needed to improve and became a much better debater as a result.”

And though the team didn’t make it to New York City (they were defeated in the Sweet 16 round, in a 2-1 decision, in early April), they are proud of what they accomplished and how far they went in their first IPPF contest. Returning debaters are even looking forward to next year’s competition.

“After the close loss, I was expecting students to be hesitant in making the same investment next year," said Mike. "Instead, they unanimously said it was a positive and fun experience and that they would want to do it again.”

Check out the AR Debate students’ work: view one of the team’s negative essays (submitted during the round of 32) and one of their affirmative essays (submitted during the round of 16).


Editor’s note: In addition to the classes covered in this article, Rowland Hall will expand AR offerings to include AR Computational and Mathematical Sciences in fall 2024. This class will provide a new opportunity for student-driven projects in computer science and math.

Research

Rowland Hall's Open Lab hours give preschool- through elementary-aged children time to experiment.

Since its opening in fall 2022, the McCarthey Campus’s TREC Lab—short for ​​Technology, Robotics, Engineering, and Coding Lab—has been an exciting place for students to explore a variety of STEM projects during their specialty classes. This year, the lab expanded its offerings with a new opportunity: Open Lab.

Offered twice a week and available to all McCarthey Campus students, Open Lab allows classes, small groups, and individual students to access the TREC Lab outside designated class time. Students can use the space—and its tools, technology, and materials—to work on projects, as well as exercise choice and voice as they explore the STEM activities and supplies they’re most interested in, including micro:bits, Scratch coding software, 3D printers, LEGOs, and even craft supplies. 

Open Lab can be an adventure of choice. It’s time to use the lab’s tools, figure out a way to put things together, do collaborative work rooted in play, and explore.—Kaelis Sandstrom, TREC teacher

“Open Lab can be an adventure of choice,” said TREC teacher Kaelis Sandstrom. “It’s time to use the lab’s tools, figure out a way to put things together, do collaborative work rooted in play, and explore.” 

Whatever a child chooses during Open Lab, they’re engaging in active and beneficial learning, getting familiar with STEM thinking in all its forms. That’s because giving children chances to tinker freely helps them get familiar with materials, experiment and explore, problem solve, get resourceful, and engage in design thinking, among other benefits. Fifth-grade classmates Jules O. and Zoe Y., for example, have enjoyed Open Lab this year because it gives them the chance to experiment and build with the TREC Lab’s wooden domino sets. Both girls say the tactile nature of this activity is important to them.

“I think the most fun things in TREC involve building,” explained Zoe. “A robot can be coded for you, but dominoes are something physical. It’s a lot more fun when you can see something physical happen. You can understand how it’s working.”

Both Zoe and Jules became interested in dominoes during a TREC specialty class where they learned about the domino effect—the cumulative effect that’s produced when one event initiates a succession of similar events (such as when a line of dominoes falls). While in class each group had to build in a four-by-four square, the girls love that in Open Lab they can take their domino experimentation to new lengths … literally. “We use, like, half of the room,” laughed Jules.

And the classmates appreciate that Open Lab gives them a say in what they want to learn about and lets them work through any problems they may encounter on their own. “There’s more freedom,” said Zoe, “and when you can be creative and do whatever you want to, it’s a lot more interesting. When things don’t work, it’s not for adults to fix. It’s nice to have that time.”

Importantly, these types of experiences are open to any student on the McCarthey Campus. While the TREC specialty starts in second grade, students from 3PreK through first grade can also take part in Open Lab. Liz Ellison, one of the Beginning School’s 3PreK lead teachers, has enjoyed this new resource and said it’s super beneficial for early childhood learning.

3PreK students enjoy Open Lab hours at independent private school Rowland Hall.

3PreK students dance with a robot during Open Lab.


“Young children are so drawn to building, creating, and making, and this is open space for them to explore and start building the foundation of bigger skills,” she said.

They’re creating that story about themselves: we are coders or creators or builders. It’s ownership and positive labeling. If you tell yourself, ‘I am a mathematician or innovator,’ you become that.—Liz Ellison, 3PreK lead teacher

Liz has signed up her class for Open Lab slots multiple times this year and said students always look forward to walking over to the TREC Lab, where they’ve participated in a variety of activities, including mapping and setting up mazes, creating a market out of cardboard boxes, constructing ice castles with colored cups, and building with a type of block that’s not available in their own classroom. These activities are not only an age-appropriate introduction to the kind of knowledge that will support these students’ future STEM learning, but they’re also helping the students understand their capabilities.

“They’re creating that story about themselves: we are coders or creators or builders,” said Liz. “It’s ownership and positive labeling. If you tell yourself, ‘I am a mathematician or innovator,’ you become that.”

And it’s moments like this that show the magic of Open Lab—a time for pressure-free activities that quietly build students’ self-esteem.

“It’s low-stakes, high-choice exploration,” said Kaelis. “It’s a time where students can build confidence in skills they may not be as confident in, or explore without the pressure of a final outcome. They can take risks and it’s not as scary.”

STEM

Rowland Hall elementary school students study outside on a sunny day.

In the season four finale of The PrinciPALS Podcast, the pals are tackling more questions submitted by listeners.

Join Emma Wellman and Brittney Hansen ’02, along with alum host Conor Bentley ’01, as they dive into even more questions that listeners have about raising excellent human beings. This episode focuses on teaching kids about finance, how adults can help children understand that their actions impact others, how much support adults should provide when it comes to school assignments and projects, and—as we head into break—how much families should really worry about summer slide.

Listen to “Ask the PrinciPALS, Part II”—as well as other episodes of The PrinciPALS Podcast—on Rowland Hall's website and Apple Podcasts.

Podcast

Rowland Hall seventh graders held their first Belonging Summit in spring 2024.

For Rowland Hall’s seventh graders, a sense of belonging—and finding that in community—has been a top focus this year.

And at the school’s first annual Belonging Summit, held in May, seventh graders were able to examine how refugees and immigrants find their place in a new home through different aspects of their lives, identities, and cultures. They also explored why belonging is so important in the first place, and how a feeling of belonging is the basis of well-being, learning, and growth.

“It feels way better to belong,” said seventh grader Adrian J. “You have a place where you can be and not feel like you have to worry about anything.”

The summit was the culmination of a year of cross-disciplinary studies in English and world studies that included tutoring work with immigrants and refugees from Horizonte and the Asian Association of Utah. In April and May, the students met with kids from Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center for a series of cross-cultural clinics in dance, soccer, and basketball on Fridays after school. They also interviewed adult mentors from community partners like the International Rescue Committee and the English Language Learning Center who directly serve those who resettle in Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities. In the days leading up to the summit, they worked with artists-in-residence to learn folk arts and traditions from other cultures, like Central African dancing and Ukrainian egg painting. 

“This is an opportunity for these students to work closely with people who are in immigrant and refugee populations in terms of the struggles they have to feel belonging and how that matches or doesn’t match our students’ experiences,” said Dr. Chandani Patel, director of equity and inclusion. “I would hope that it will help them understand that every person’s way of being in the world is very unique to who they are, and culture looks like a lot of different things, and belonging looks like a lot of different things, and it all adds up to a community.”

Groups of students at the summit presented ways to further foster belonging and build community. Some kids highlighted the importance of sports when bringing people together. Another group looked at how language barriers can be overcome. Food was a very popular option, with students not only bringing in dishes to share from their backgrounds, but also teaching others how to make things like tamarind candy. 

“I chose music because when you join together to play music you become a community,” said seventh grader Alex P. “In sixth grade, I took an elective that was about jazz, and I learned that jazz had a very big influence on New Orleans creating communities.”

We want people to be curious. A lot of times we’re scared to ask questions because we are scared of coming off a certain way, but when you understand other people’s perspectives and their backgrounds you can create more good.—Vivian L., class of 2029

In addition to their group presentations, each individual student created a zine about their subject and how it contributes to belonging. The idea came from the fact that zines are currently being used in cities like New York and Portland to communicate with transplanted populations because they are easy and inexpensive to produce.
    
“We talked a lot about how the zines would be a good takeaway for people attending the event,” said English teacher Jill Gerber. “Some of the kids even translated them into different languages specific to the populations at Sunnyvale.”

Many of the presentations not only had zines available for community members to take home, but also information about the partner groups and how to support their efforts. The push wasn’t only about telling people about the work they had done as students, but also about the work that still needs to be done. But the students understood there were hurdles to overcome.

“We want people to be curious,” said seventh grader Vivian L. “A lot of times we’re scared to ask questions because we are scared of coming off a certain way, but when you understand other people’s perspectives and their backgrounds you can create more good.”

The Belonging Summit is one part of Rowland Hall’s efforts to engage students in shaping solutions to the world’s hardest problems. The issue of refugee and immigrant resettlement is a demographic reality in Utah and these students could make a real difference in helping those in need.

“I think the incredible piece was their growth in what it means to be a culturally literate person,” said world studies teacher Margot Miller. “You don’t have to travel the world to get this type of experience. It lives in Utah, and it’s only growing.”

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