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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 look forward to seeing you when on-campus gatherings resume. Keep an eye on your inboxes and mailboxes.
Alum Jamie Pierce ’98 thrives in all sorts of spotlights: he’s a classically trained dancer with theatre credits galore, and as a comedian, he was named a Laugh Factory top-10 national emerging comic and has opened for industry legends such as Wanda Sykes and Janeane Garofalo.
Now, Jamie—who honed his performing arts skills on our Larimer Center stage—will grace Rowland Hall’s virtual stage to host our April 17 stand-up comedy auction benefiting school financial aid, faculty professional development, and our ongoing COVID-19 response.
What a thrill to now be master of ceremonies for such a glamorous event! And this year it’s taking place in the most glittering venue of them all—my living room.—Jamie Pierce ’98
“When I was in high school, I remember being jealous of the adults who got to dress up fancy and attend the auction,” Jamie said. “What a thrill to now be master of ceremonies for such a glamorous event! And this year it’s taking place in the most glittering venue of them all—my living room.”
We can’t wait for Jamie—aided by a few other hilarious community members—to crack us up for a good cause. Visit our auction webpage to read more and get ready to STAND UP Rowland Hall on April 17.
Jamie Pierce's Biography
After graduating from Rowland Hall, Jamie began his career as a classically trained dancer (BFA, ballet, University of Utah) performing with the Utah Ballet Company before moving to New York where he appeared in The Music Man and Broadway Dances. Other professional theatre credits include Carousel, Dreamgirls, Urinetown, and The Wild Party, as well as Evita, Phantom,and Peter Pan with Utah’s Pioneer Theatre Company. In 2019, he received an Ovation Award nomination for his performance in the Los Angeles production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and most recently created the role of “Frank” in the world-premier play, Embridge. As a comedian, he was selected as a Laugh Factory top-10 national emerging comic and was featured in the New York Comedy Festival at Caroline’s on Broadway. He has performed as the opening act for notable comedy legends including Wanda Sykes and Janeane Garofalo. On screen, Jamie can be seen as the title role in the film festival favorite Bill (2021) as well as the lead in the music video for “Just Party” by hip-hop artist Supanova Galaxy. He has also appeared in numerous TV commercials. Jamie is host of the top-rated podcast Hello, Gorgeous! (#43 on iTunes). He currently lives in Los Angeles.
March 11, 2021, marked one year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and many people around the globe used the occasion to reflect on how their lives had changed over the previous 12 months.
In Rowland Hall’s Middle School, eighth-grade English teacher Chelsea Vasquez viewed the anniversary as an opportunity to help students process their COVID-19 experiences within the context of other cultural and historical factors featured in the choice novels they’re currently reading in their coming-of-age English unit.
Reading enables us to make sense of our own lived experiences.—Chelsea Vasquez, eighth-grade English teacher
“One of the ideas I'm trying to convey is the universality of themes—the fact that the things characters experience in books happen in the real world,” said Chelsea. This universality of themes extends to non-fiction texts, too, and Chelsea pointed out that guiding students toward making text-to-self and text-to-world connections within a variety of reading materials can be a valuable way to help them understand events happening to and around them.
“Reading enables us to make sense of our own lived experiences,” she explained.
As a way to practice this skill, Chelsea had students read “Coming of Age: Teens on a Year That Changed Everything,” a New York Timesarticle published the week of the pandemic anniversary that showcased teens’ reflections on life during COVID-19. “They could see examples of things other students, some their age, had created, and then consider how these artifacts mirrored or differed from their own experiences,” Chelsea said.
After they read the article, the eighth graders reflected on a list of questions generated by The New York Times’ learning network and wrote responses. Those responses—insightful, thoughtful, and poignant—offer a valuable and touching glimpse into the pandemic experiences of some of our Rowland Hall students. With their permission, we have shared a sampling of excerpts from those reflections below. (Text has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Reflections on What the Collection Says about Coming of Age during a Pandemic
"This collection shows that everyone struggled during quarantine. It got worse before it got better. It also showed that everyone had different ways of coping. Contributor Sunnina Chen talked about how she felt like she was suffocating, but realized she was the one pulling the ‘Saran Wrap’ tighter over her head. I relate to this because, as quarantine went on, I felt like every decision I made made it harder for me to be happy and stay motivated. I, like Sunnina, realized that I was causing my own sadness and decided to let go of everything that wasn’t making me happy. With that, things started looking up again. It got better after it got worse." —Kavitha K.
"Because we are coming of age during difficult times, we have learned to be more resilient and resourceful. We have been separated from many of those who make us happy, and that has taught us to find happiness around us and within us. I can 100% relate to feeling isolated and lonely, which has shaped me to be a (hopefully) more gracious and kind person.” —Rebecca M.
Reflections on the Themes, Words, Images, and Ideas That Spoke to Them
"The idea that seems to cover almost every entry was loneliness. The type of loneliness felt in the pandemic was not ordinary. It required learning how to not be lonely when you don’t have social interaction. Learning how to be friends with yourself. From my perspective, when you can do that, you are never lonely, even in a pandemic. I think being friends with yourself is coming-of-age at its finest (and I think this applies to every generation, as we are constantly evolving humans).” —Adara S.
"Two themes especially stood out to me. The first was participating in change. Whether it was fighting for racial justice or LGBTQ+ rights, many submissions showed teenagers working to change their communities for the better. The second was hardship and isolation. Many pieces illustrated self-doubt, depression, anxiety, and pure boredom. While it is true that people of all ages experienced these feelings, I think it hit teenagers especially hard. Social interaction, movement, and change are things that many teenagers cherish and—to some extent—need. The pandemic has deprived many teenagers of these things.” —Aiden G.
Reflections on What’s Missing from the Collection
"The collection didn't address sibling bonding during COVID. I got to play with my brother more than I've done since we were toddlers. Though this started with simply having nothing else to do, I soon realized it's nice to talk to a sibling. A lot of brothers and sisters did. This collection also missed how grandparents suddenly became so important. I didn't see my paternal grandma until around summertime, as she lives in a memory care center and those were locked down." —Sophia L.
"I feel that the collection seems to miss how masks affected us socially. Personally, I had such a difficult time with masks—facial expressions are the key to my socialization. I had to adjust with only reading the upper half of people’s faces, and it is much harder to understand body language when you're six feet apart and banned from the language of touch." —Dylan B.
"What’s missing from this collection—or at least not strongly highlighted—are the benefits of the powerful emotions felt throughout the pandemic. These emotions were what allowed us to create some of our strongest pieces of art, poetry, or whatever we enjoy doing with a deeper sense of passion—a passion that one will still be able to feel after looking at the piece years and years later. This can help others understand and connect with you in a way that would have never been expressed through just having a conversation." —Erika P.
Following a four-month national search, Rowland Hall is excited to announce that Dr. Chandani Patel will take the reins on July 1 as our first director of equity and inclusion.
Chandani (pronounced ChAHn-dhuh-nee) has spent the last 10 years advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives across a number of institutions. For the past 18 months, she has served as the director for global diversity education for New York University (NYU), where she provides strategic direction and works with faculty on curriculum and instruction that is centered in DEI. Before that, she was senior assistant director at Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, where she developed pedagogical workshops and online resources to support instructors in creating inclusive classroom spaces.
“I believe deeply in relationship building across a community,” Chandani said. “I look forward to being part of a community where all voices are represented so that we can work towards building an inclusive teaching and learning environment for all students, faculty, staff, and families.”
Chandani has taught and written extensively on how concepts of race, identity, and belonging shift across places, languages, and cultures. She holds a PhD from the University of Chicago, where she studied comparative literature with a focus on South Asian and African literatures. She also holds a BA in comparative literature and an MA in humanities and social thought, both from NYU.
Our search for a director of equity and inclusion began in mid-November, following the announcement of a $2.4 million donation from the Cumming Family Foundation to create the first endowed position in school history. Former head of school Alan Sparrow, who retired last June, worked closely with the Cumming family to articulate our DEI vision and secure the gift, which ensures we have a permanent, full-time leader to guide us in this important work. At a time when pivotal conversations about racial justice are occurring across the nation, we’re so grateful to the Cummings for their generosity and leadership. Their gift supports our core value of welcoming everyone, elevates our institutional commitment to DEI, and sets a precedent for schools in Utah and beyond.
Rowland Hall is forever grateful for the Cumming Family Foundation's $2.4 million gift to create the school's first endowed role, ensuring we have a permanent leader to guide us in this important work.
To ensure an effective search, Rowland Hall partnered with StratéGenius, a Berkeley-based firm with extensive experience cultivating, recruiting, and placing educators in DEI leadership positions at independent schools. Indeed, the process moved along efficiently and transparently: by the first week of March, school community members had a chance to virtually chat with and provide feedback on three finalists. According to our search committee—co-chaired by Head of School Mick Gee and Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman—Chandani rose to the top for our community due to her expertise, professionalism, sincere approachability, and willingness to dig deep in this important role.
“The search committee was drawn to Chandani’s focus on building communities of belonging where members feel safe to learn and grow together,” Mick said. Chandani, in turn, said she’s excited to discover areas of growth within Rowland Hall where she can center equity in conversations and support inclusive dialogue.
Chandani will relocate to Salt Lake City this summer with husband Brady, daughter Aashna (age 4), and dog Maddy. Chandani’s parents, Vaishali and Sanjay, will also be relocating to the area. Please join us in welcoming Chandani and her family to Rowland Hall!
Once upon a time in a middle school, an entire class was lost in the pages of other worlds…
In the front row, one student hunched over a glossy magazine, while another sat immersed in the thrills of a YA, or young adult, novel. Another, eyes closed and headphones in, listened to a rich voice narrate an audiobook bestseller. There were few sounds in the room: whispers of pages turning, the hum of a fan, the shuffle of getting comfortable in a chair. At that moment, thanks to the magic of reading, the students were both present and not—while in their chairs on the Lincoln Street Campus, they were also, somehow, far away, exploring new places, trying on new identities: Detective. Basketball star. Dragon tamer. Field biologist.
“Reading is often described as the keys to the kingdom of learning,” seventh-grade English teacher Jill Gerber recently wrote in an article for Middle School families. “Once someone falls in love with reading, they can go anywhere and be anyone.”
The benefits of reading are well-known. Independent readers are more successful across the academic spectrum—in arts and humanities as well as sciences and mathematics—and enjoy higher levels of empathy, reduced stress, and mental stimulation through their lives. But helping students discover a love of reading, and an internal drive toward it, isn’t always easy, especially once students enter middle school, a phase of life in which many stop reading for pleasure.
Choice empowers middle schoolers: it allows for autonomy, builds engagement, and develops students' interests and skills. When teachers give students choice, they allow a variety of perspectives, interests, and increased enthusiasm into the classroom.—Pam Smith, Middle School principal
Knowing this, Rowland Hall’s Middle School English teachers have long focused on methods that help students rediscover the joy of reading, with one rising to the top: giving them more choice in what they read for school. With choice, teachers introduce students to a wide variety of genres, perspectives, and topics, and then let them pick what they want to read. Supported by research by teachers like Nancie Atwell and Penny Kittle, choice has become a popular approach because it works: by offering students a variety of texts, they’re more likely to find something they like, encouraging them to continue to seek out books that meet their interests.
“It’s so simple to give choice, and the benefits are so profound,” said sixth-grade English teacher Mary Lawlor. In fact, the benefits of choice are so powerful at this developmental stage that the approach is utilized across the Middle School, from student-led project collaboration in social studies to self-pacing opportunities in math and world languages classes.
“Choice empowers middle schoolers: it allows for autonomy, builds engagement, and develops students' interests and skills,” explained Middle School Principal Pam Smith. “When teachers give students choice, they allow a variety of perspectives, interests, and increased enthusiasm into the classroom.”
Chapter 1: A Seat at the Table
Student choice takes different forms within an English class, from the almost limitless options available for independent reading to the extension texts teachers pair with the all-class novels that headline their learning units. Whatever the form, choice provides teachers a way to support students wherever they are as readers.
“Kids are on a journey; they're not all at the same place,” said Jill. This means that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reading—while some students are ready for advanced texts early in the year, others are challenged by the first all-class novel.
“Choice allows me to target toward reading levels, giving me a lot more flexibility in terms of reaching readers and getting them engaged,” said eighth-grade English teacher Chelsea Vasquez.
For instance, if a student is struggling with an all-class novel, the teacher can balance that challenge with an easier independent read, ensuring that at any given moment the student has access to a book they actually want to read and helping to avoid the frustration or resentment toward reading that can build when a student doesn’t feel connected to the all-class text.
“Having more choice allows kids to really get into a book and enjoy it,” Chelsea explained. “They get excited, and it builds excitement across the class.”
Choice also helps build students’ confidence when it comes to analyzing literature, an important aspect of the English classroom. For instance, graphic literature—including comic books and graphic novels—has become more common in English classes because of its ability to help students better understand literary terms like theme, symbolism, mood, and imagery.
By meeting students where they are using books that are targeted to each person’s reading level, teachers are helping them feel seen and appreciated on their educational journeys. This is important, because when children feel valued, they’re more likely to believe in their own capabilities and engage on a deeper level.
“For a lot of kids, it's easier to identify symbols and mood when it's a graphic image, before they jump to prose,” explained Jill, an authority on graphic literature (she’s been invited to share her expertise at places like the 2020 Comic-Con Books for All panel and co-authored an article about graphic literature in the classroom). “That switch from the concrete to the abstract, that's kind of the nature of middle schoolers—they're starting to be able to get those abstract concepts.”
Benefits like these add up in a powerful way: by meeting students where they are using books that are targeted to each person’s reading level, teachers are helping them feel seen and appreciated on their educational journeys. This is important, because when children feel valued, they’re more likely to believe in their own capabilities and engage on a deeper level.
“Everybody has a right to a seat at the table, and that's important—we're a community of learners,” said Jill. “I want my kids to see themselves as readers, writers, and thinkers, no matter their skill level.”
Chapter 2: Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors
In addition to giving middle schoolers a seat at the table, choice also helps them understand the importance of making room at that table for a variety of human experiences and perspectives. Through choice, teachers can introduce students to a wider range of books and voices, demonstrating to them the value in lived experiences that differ from their own, and helping to build their empathy and understanding of a diverse world.
“We really try intentionally in the Middle School to make sure we are incorporating all kinds of identities, and that includes both authors and characters,” said Chelsea.
Research shows that all students benefit from diverse stories, including both books in which they see themselves and books in which they don’t. Rowland Hall teachers utilize the concept known as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors when determining which texts to teach, focusing on books in which students can find reflections of themselves (mirrors), examine others’ worlds (windows), and step into new worlds (sliding glass doors). This approach has been especially important as students have been learning about racial justice movements and starting to explore how they can help create a more equitable world. Teachers play an essential role in guiding students through this process, and can use texts to help them make sense of current events and learn from the experiences of others.
“I can change my curriculum based on the culture of the time,” said Mary, who this year introduced sixth graders to a new graphic novel unit, Other Voices, that featured Jerry Craft’s New Kid, a contemporary story about a young Black student starting a new school, along with John Lewis’ civil rights trilogy March and George Takei’s World War II internment novel They Called Us Enemy. She, along with her fellow English teachers, said they appreciate the flexibility of working in an independent school, which allows them to more easily adjust reading options to meet students’ needs and to help them explore the top issues of the day. “I have the resources to get those novels to them, and parents really want that to happen,” Mary said.
Choice also helps students make connections across subjects. For instance, this fall eighth graders read the all-class novel All American Boys—which examines the aftermath of an act of extreme police brutality through the eyes of a young Black man and a young White man—while studying slavery and abolitionism in their American studies class, allowing them to examine the history of slavery in America alongside modern-day racism and racial justice movements. To help students further explore and process racial justice activism as they read the novel, Chelsea presented them with a variety of nonfiction texts featuring activism in poetry, sports, and arts and music.
“I wanted them to see that there are movements outside of this novel,” she explained.
This experience not only grew students’ reading skills and knowledge of these areas, but also helped them feel more confident about engaging in some of today’s most important conversations.
“The kids really became able to talk about race and racism in a way that I hadn't seen before in middle schoolers,” Chelsea said.
Chapter 3: Readers, Writers, and Producers
Helping students learn how to have, as well as to lead, constructive conversations is essential in preparing them to live lives of purpose in an increasingly interconnected world.
“We're a global society,” said Jill. “We have to be able to communicate to a wide audience.”
Choice prepares students for this by getting them comfortable with thinking deeply, examining ideas, and seeking out information—habits that are built through reading. In the safety of class, students learn there truly is something for everyone, and they can experiment to find what works for them: physical or digital publications, novels or magazines, graphic novels or comic books. They can even listen to audio books, which build reading comprehension skills in the brain in the same way print books do, and are especially beneficial for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities (at Rowland Hall, these students have access to Learning Ally, an audio book resource, thanks to a generous grant from a family in the community).
“Students are moving through so many texts and making reading a daily practice, which is one of the best ways to grow as a reader,” said Chelsea.
And it’s not only students’ reading skills that are improving. The more language that kids are exposed to via books, the teachers said, the better writers they become.
“Good readers are good writers,” said Jill. “I'm starting to see the nuance of language emerge, and it's all organic: they're looking at the way writers write, and how they connect to it, and what it makes them feel.”
Books are human experiences, human stories. Humans connect through books, and you can really see kids grow through books.—Jill Gerber, seventh-grade English teacher
In other words, students are beginning to connect the stories they read to what it means to be human.
“Books are human experiences, human stories,” said Jill. “Humans connect through books, and you can really see kids grow through books.” She pointed out that stories are the building blocks of our collective history—before we could write, we told stories around fires and painted the first comics on cave walls—which is why students who explore them are more likely to connect, and better communicate, with others, a skill that can serve any path they choose to take. After all, Jill pointed out, the best doctors are the ones who know how to connect with people. “To be a really good doctor you have to understand the human experience,” she said.
This connection to the human experience also might just spark the inspiration students need to become tomorrow’s producers: writers of the articles, the graphic novels, and the bestsellers that continue this long tradition of storytelling, that help connect us through our shared humanity, and that, perhaps, inspire the next generation of readers.