Environmental Stewardship

Sustainability

Rowland Hall is dedicated to the promise of an environmentally responsible culture within our school and the larger community. We encourage all community members to engage in educational experiences that foster a deep understanding of our interdependent relationships with nature. As a result, we strive to identify, initiate, and implement projects and curriculum to increase environmental awareness and stewardship.

Utah Society for Environmental Education recognizes Rowland Hall as a platinum-level member of Utah Green Schools. This initiative aims to promote sustainable practices in school facilities and curricula.

Curriculum

Rowland Hall has a long history of sustainability and environmental education in the classroom. We're a charter member of the Green Schools Alliance, a national organization devoted to K-12 sustainability.

Beginning School curriculum covers topics such as worms, soil, composting, and pumpkin decomposition. Students in the Lower School explore and learn just outside their classrooms, in our science garden. And during Lower School chapels, we teach respect for our planet and responsibility regarding recycling and resource consumption/disposal.

Middle School students gain valuable knowledge of Salt Lake City’s air quality via our air pollution education unit. In the Upper School, passionate students can choose to take our  robust, project-based Environmental Sciences course that revolves around real-world applications of sustainability. 

Facilities

Rowland Hall is committed to advancing and evolving sustainability in our facility protocol and activities. A few examples of Rowland Hall’s sustainability initiatives at a facility level:

  • School-wide composting program utilizing our earth tub as well as Momentum Recycling services.
  • School-wide recycling of paper, plastic, aluminum, batteries, glass bottles, and more.
  • A 10.8 kW solar PV array on the roof of a McCarthey Campus building.
  • The creation of the Steiner Community Garden (behind the McCarthey Campus), home to 40 plots where gardeners from all over the valley grow delicious organic vegetables.

Community Outreach

Our Sustainability Committee is open to students, faculty, staff, and parents interested in furthering Rowland Hall’s commitment to sustainability. The committee endeavors to create a culture of conservation and sustainability through our curriculum, everyday practices and policies, and facility operations. If you're interested in joining the Sustainability Committee please email Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund.

Sustainability Milestones

2006: The Upper School offers its sustainability class.

2008: Schoolwide recycling program and idle-free policy rolled out. E.E. Ford Foundation grant provides three-year funding for director of sustainability.

2009: Students raise funds towards composting efforts with Environs Club dinner. Lighting retrofitted with energy-efficient bulbs.

2010: $10,000 grant awarded by Rio Tinto for earth tub. Solar panels installed on McCarthey Campus. Composting efforts begin at McCarthey Campus.

2011: Composting efforts begin at Lincoln Street Campus. Earth tub installation at McCarthey Campus. Utah Society for Environmental Education honors Rowland Hall with Platinum Award in Sustainability.

2012: Rowland Hall wins Utah Recycling Alliance's Innovative Path to Zero Award.

2013: Steiner Campus community gardens built and opened. School hosts Japanese educators for Sustainable Development Program.

2014: Ongoing environmental education offered in curriculum of all divisions.

2015: Joined inversion-mitigation initiative in Salt Lake City.

2016: Completed McCarthey HVAC recommissioning project. Upper and middle schoolers win Shane McConkey EcoChallenge $6,000 grand prize and endow fund for student sustainability projects. Installation of electric-vehicle chargers in the parking lot near the Steiner Campus soccer field, funded via the nonprofit Leaders for Clean Air and the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development.

Platinum-Level Member

Ryan Hoglund with beginning schooler.

Ryan Hoglund
Director of Ethical Educationget to know Ryan

Sustainability in Action

Middle and Upper Schoolers Rally for Clean Air at State Capitol

Students Channel Air-Quality Curriculum While Exercising First Amendment Rights

Seventh-grader Ava Erickson stood behind a podium on the steps of the Utah Capitol and brandished a blue and white surgical mask. She addressed hundreds of peers from Rowland Hall and other local independent schools assembled for the third annual Utah Students for Clean Air Rally January 26.

“See this mask?” she unfalteringly asked the crowd on the below-freezing morning. “I had to wear one of these to school every day for four years. That was how bad the air quality was when I lived in China. I don’t want Utah to end up like China.”

Ava, who’s new to Rowland Hall this school year, said she has friends in China who developed asthma and lung cancer due to pollution. The American Lung Association ranks the Salt Lake area the sixth-worst city in the country for short-term particle pollution. But Ava and her classmates who spoke at the rally expressed optimism that individuals can make a positive difference in Utah’s air quality.

“By doing tiny, small things like not idling your cars, turning your thermostat down, and even just taking the bus, you are helping prevent pollution,” she said. “Every time you do something small to help our air quality, you could be helping save someone’s life.”

Ava and a dozen other Rowland Hall middle and upper schoolers took to the podium at the Capitol. The teachers who organized the event asked student speakers to answer this question: what can students do to improve the quality of air in our valley?

Like Ava, speakers trumpeted practical tips: walk, bike, carpool, take public transportation, ensure homes are energy efficient, avoid burning wood as a heat source, unplug unused appliances, and turn off lights when you leave rooms.

The entire Rowland Hall Middle School attended the rally, along with Ben Smith’s Upper School environmental science class. In sixth grade, air quality is part of the curriculum. Sixth graders study, record, and analyze air quality in Molly Lewis’ science class—read more in this February 2016 Fine Print article.

Indeed, Rowland Hall student speakers such as senior Marguerite Tate discussed the science behind poor air quality and the significance of PM2.5, or fine particulate matter with diameters less than 2.5 micrometers. “It’s small enough to get anywhere in your lungs,” Marguerite said. “It affects everyone—it doesn’t matter if you don’t have asthma or if you don’t have problems breathing.” Beyond giving students the opportunity to speak publicly about a scientific topic they’ve studied, the rally gave middle and upper schoolers a chance to practice their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly.

The rally, sixth-grader Aileen Robles said, let students speak for Utahns who want clean air but can’t necessarily take the time to lobby for it. “We also learned how much people care about this, and how much it has to be pushed, and how our voices need to be heard,” she said.

In a post-rally discussion, some of Ms. Lewis’ students asked how much of a difference an individual can make on topics such as local air quality. Sixth-grader Kate Brague chimed in on the value of leadership: if there’s one person “willing to take the reins,” more people will follow, she said. And if student activism falls short, Ms. Lewis reminded her sixth graders that when they turn 18, they gain the right to vote. Later, they can even run for office. “You can be the change,” the teacher said. 

Media coverage of Rowland Hall at the Utah Students for Clean Air Rally

Upper, Middle Schoolers Win National EcoChallenge Prize, Endow Fund for Student Sustainability Projects

On April 22, Earth Day, 17 middle and upper schoolers found out they’d turned trash into treasure. The students learned that a sustainability project they spearheaded won the Shane McConkey EcoChallenge’s grand prize of $6,000 to benefit sustainability endeavors at Rowland Hall.

Now-seniors Alicia Lu and Cindy Shen, along with help from now-freshman Hailey Hauck, led an inspiring cross-divisional charge last school year to collect garbage and turn it into eco-bricks—plastic bottles stuffed with non-recyclable trash—to build a bench on the western side of the Lincoln Street Campus. They collected about 10 large trash bags, or 1,000 gallons, of dry non-recyclables in a month. Watch their EcoChallenge video entry here.

Cindy and Alicia were thrilled at news of the win, and their Middle School counterparts were “almost more excited than we were,” Cindy said. The victory left Hailey speechless. “I knew that we had a chance, but winning a national award seemed too farfetched,” she said.

Seventh-grade World Studies Teacher Margot Miller advised Alicia and Cindy on this undertaking, which served as the juniors’ Project 11. Ms. Miller also helped them galvanize the Middle School community in support of the cause.

“They were motivated to do something about the environment,” Alicia said of her younger peers.

Sixth through eighth graders made promotional project posters, donated the most trash, and stuffed the most bottles. Middle schoolers also came up with the idea to create a competition between grade levels to fuel productivity. Whichever grade donated the most non-recyclables earned a free dress day; the youngest group, sixth graders, won.

“At Rowland Hall, everyone sort of thrives on competitiveness, so we needed to make some sort of competition for our project,” Hailey said.

Some students were inherently motivated, but multiple incentives helped to drive project participation, Alicia explained. “We felt like it’s great to be altruistic, but you kind of need an incentive to stuff trash into trash,” she joked. The incentives worked. For example, at the May 20 All-School Carnival, the EcoChallenge team gave out donut holes to anyone who would stuff a bottle. Volunteers from all divisions pitched in, including little beginning schoolers who tried their hands at bottle-stuffing for a few minutes.

That sort of community collaboration helped to make the project highly successful. Hailey, a Rowland Hall lifer and an eighth grader last year, valued the opportunity to spend time with and learn from upper schoolers. “It’s sort of hard to motivate people in your grade, because you’re their peers,” Hailey said. “It can be done, but it’s much easier when you have people who are older than you to help you with that.” There was a sense of looking to Alicia and Cindy as role models, she said. Cindy and Alicia, in turn, gave middle schoolers an equal voice in the project and gave them full credit for bringing a “creative edge” to the table, including the competition idea.

Alicia, Cindy, and Hailey completed work on the bench last summer, with help from Rowland Hall staff members and a professional contractor. While the bench itself is made partially with sustainable supplies—the eco-bricks—its main purpose is to raise community awareness. Before the end of 2016, the students plan to install a commemorative plaque that lists the prize-winning project and all students involved, along with a dedication to Ms. Miller.

Alicia and Cindy used some of the EcoChallenge prize money to finish the bench, but the vast majority remains and will be made available to students who want to pursue similar sustainability projects in the future. Alicia and Cindy set up a formal application process for students who want to conduct environmental projects; view the application here. And for any future student-run sustainability projects that win prize money, that money would ideally go back into the sustainability project fund.

Ethical Education

Service Learning with a French Twist for a Liberian School

When Samuel Rogers was eight years old, civil war forced his family to flee their home of Cotton Tree, Liberia, perched about 11 miles off the Atlantic Coast. Mr. Rogers lived in refugee camps for four years and had to switch schools every few months. He turned to a transportable hobby as a mental escape from the turmoil.

“On the refugee camp, I just decided that soccer was something that I liked to do to make me forget about what happened during the war,” Mr. Rogers said. “When I focus on soccer, it makes me forget about everything else.”

Mr. Rogers and two of his brothers were admitted to a resettlement program and landed in Salt Lake City in 2004. Now, he teaches physical education at Backman Elementary School and coaches soccer for the Utah Development Academy (UDA), a nonprofit that organizes kids’ competitive teams, a recreational league, and free soccer clinics targeted at underserved youth living on Salt Lake City’s west side. Five Rowland Hall eighth-grade boys—Aksel Anderson, Logan Bateman, Jimmy Bocock, Ben Kanter, and Patrick McNally—have played on a UDA competitive team led by Mr. Rogers, or “Skills,” as the boys affectionately call their coach.

“He gets the point across without ever having to raise his voice, without ever having to punish us for anything,” Patrick said. “We do conditioning...but our team is much stronger mentally than physically. And that’s completely, 100% Skills’ doing, because he trains us in a way where we think about the bigger picture rather than just a soccer game.”

Patrick, 14, started playing soccer under Mr. Rogers at age 11. Now, the eighth-grader calls Skills his mentor. UDA, Patrick added, has provided him and his Rowland Hall teammates with a valuable opportunity to get to know kids from all over the world, some of whom are refugees and remind Mr. Rogers of his own childhood.

Mr. Rogers has stayed in touch with friends and family back in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone, and he planned a trip home in 2014. Then, an Ebola outbreak pummeled West Africa. Mr. Rogers canceled his trip. And while the war and epidemic have been calmed in Liberia, difficulties persist, particularly in education.

Mr. Rogers’ friend Bernard Quaidoo, a Cotton Tree teacher, complained to the coach about a severe lack of government funding for education. Mr. Quaidoo said that at 44 Junior High School (pictured), an elementary and middle school where he teaches, students are without basic school supplies, and his particular school has just four school computers for all students and teachers. Mr. Rogers, who’s on track to earn a teaching degree from the University of Utah in a year and half, spread the word to his soccer players. Patrick, Mr. Rogers said, took off running with the idea of helping this Liberian school.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Rogers said. “He was so excited.”

Patrick’s French teacher, Christa Brigdon, had asked her students to propose service-learning ideas that could be integrated into the curriculum. In the past, she’d orchestrated volunteer efforts for her students. “This year, I was interested in having the kids be more invested and directing the service, and making it a more personal connection,” Ms. Brigdon said. “So I put it out there.”

Patrick pitched Mr. Rogers’ idea of helping the Cotton Tree school, and Ms. Brigdon approved it. Liberia isn’t primarily a French-speaking country, but it’s surrounded by them. So Ms. Brigdon built a unit around French-speaking West Africa. Students wrote children’s books in French pertaining to West African culture, created maps for and planned West African villages, and learned about what it’s like to be a teenager in the region.

Meanwhile, Patrick crafted a formal, eloquent email to Rowland Hall Director of Technology Patrick Godfrey requesting 30 laptops no longer in use by the school. These computers, the eighth-grader wrote, would help Cotton Tree teachers plan new lessons and increase student productivity. And the increased internet access could help community members educate themselves on relevant global and local issues, such as the spread of Ebola and how people can protect themselves against the disease.

When Mr. Godfrey read Patrick’s email requesting laptops, the tech director initially thought it was “a big ask.” But after Mr. Godfrey heard a presentation from the young student, he thought it could work. Mr. Godfrey’s department wouldn’t be able to donate any of the school’s newer silver MacBooks, but he did have 65 older white MacBooks that had gone through a phase-out process and were ready to be recycled.

“The laptops have literally sat on the shelf for three or four months just waiting for our big recycle at the end of the year,” Mr. Godfrey said. “So it’s a great use for them.”

The donation came with a caveat: these older MacBooks needed new chargers and batteries. But Patrick didn’t bat an eye when Mr. Godfrey said students would have to be responsible for purchasing those supplies. Patrick and Ms. Brigdon decided to fundraise.

Ms. Brigdon, Patrick, and the other French students set their fundraising goal at $1,000 to cover the laptop supplies and shipping expenses. Patrick, who doesn’t eat sweets, didn’t want to hold a typical bake sale. Ms. Brigdon and Patrick brainstormed and decided they wanted a fundraiser with a French theme. “Every year we make crepes in French class, and all the kids just want to eat crepes,” Ms. Brigdon said. “So we decided, ‘Alright, let’s make it a crepe sale and from start to finish.’”

Ms. Brigdon took her students down the street to Smith’s grocery store. They bought the bulk of ingredients required to hold the fundraiser for four consecutive Fridays from April 29 through May 20, culminating in Rowland Hall’s annual All-School Carnival. Ms. Brigdon stresses her role in the process as solely advisory: “The whole thing was figured out by the kids,” she said, from the recipe and serving sizes to the math in the business plan. Some of her students, she added, are now expert crepe-makers.

“We’ve gotten really good at it,” Patrick said enthusiastically, “and we’ve even tried them too.”

“I hope you do,” Mr. Rogers said through a laugh.

“Yeah, they’re surprisingly good,” Patrick replied.

Patrick’s target demographic—his fellow students—seem to agree. Students lined up for the French delicacies, and the sales generated the necessary $1,000. The fundraising group plans to send off two trial laptops to the Cotton Tree school before the end of the school year. Students will then format the remaining laptops and ship them over by late 2016 or early 2017.

Mr. Rogers hopes to be in Liberia when the computers arrive through a shipping service. This trip also means he’ll get to see his mother, sister, and little brother for the first time in over a decade. “It’s going to be one of those things that puts tears in my eyes,” he said. But his journey won’t be a selfish one: he plans to hand-deliver the computers to 44 Junior High School to ensure their safe arrival. And if school is in session, he wants to volunteer his time to teach while he’s there.

After meeting Mr. Rogers, Ms. Brigdon sees how Patrick may have picked up cues from his soccer coach. Ms. Brigdon called Mr. Rogers, now 25, respectful, polite, and dignified. His Rowland Hall soccer players were eager to support their coach with a fundraiser. Taking after his coach, Patrick always thanks Ms. Brigdon after French class, is self-motivated, and is loved by his peers—in February, he won the monthly Winged Lion Award for demonstrated respect for others, individual integrity, and personal responsibility.

Like Mr. Rogers, Patrick would love to visit West Africa one day, but he’ll settle for a Skype call for now. If all goes well and the laptops reach their destination, Ms. Brigdon and her students hope to video chat with Cotton Tree students on one of their newly acquired laptops.

Gross! A Rowland Hall Waste Audit

“Gross!” yelled one of the students. “This is so nasty!” grumbled another one. Ten Rowland Hall Upper School students armed themselves with plastic gloves and performed an important waste audit as their Rowland Hall’s Half Day Whole Heart project this past October. Their goal was to understand what was being thrown away in Rowland Hall’s garbage cans.

The project was planned by Rowland Hall student Katie Henn '17 and Rowland Hall Sustainability Coordinator Jensen Morgan. Half of the students stayed on the Lincoln Street Campus and were led by Katie. The other five headed up to the McCarthey Campus to perform a second waste audit there with Jensen.

Despite the initial shrieks of surprise as the students emptied garbage bags onto a tarp, the students were committed to helping out and worked for two straight hours to separate, categorize, and weigh the different components of Rowland Hall’s waste stream. In the process, they learned about Salt Lake County Landfill, Rocky Mountain Recycling, and how to properly separate recycling from the waste stream.

After cleaning up, triple-washing hands, and getting a drink of water, the students sat around dining tables in the Lower School cafeteria for a discussion. The students had some eye-opening realizations about the high amount of recyclable materials that had been thrown away in the trash, about how much organic material was not composted, and why a perfectly good jacket had been thrown away instead of taken to a thrift store. When asked how they would improve Rowland Hall’s recycling rates, one student suggested, “We should have every student do a waste audit!”

Katie and Jensen crunched the data, and the results were surprising! It looks like Rowland Hall can improve on its recycling diversion rates since 67 percent of what goes in the trash could have been recycled. With Salt Lake City’s goal to be zero-waste by 2045, Rowland Hall hopes to build off of its current recycling program and achieve that goal along with the city.

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