Athenian: Recognized for Emotional Learning

By Eric Niles, Head of School

In February, I was in an audience of about 6,000 independent school administrators and teachers at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).  The conference was just beginning and the Association’s Executive Director, John Chubb, was giving his opening remarks.  In a time of great change in education, he was remarking on the things independent schools have always provided to their students.  He had listed three items and then began to talk about “the most important one—emotion.”  I was in the top row of the balcony of this massive hall as John Chubb began to talk about “touching the heart and soul” of our students, about how schools are not about just “teaching stuff” to kids.  He gave one example from a school in the east that created a fun way to call a snow day and then prepared to wrap up his comments.

Truthfully, I was already mentally making my transition to the first conference session (i.e., scanning my program to decide which of the dozens of presentations I would attend) when John Chubb said, “…Our schools are also good at touching kids so deeply that it changes their lives.”  It was then that a picture of an Athenian AWE patrol popped up on the massive screens at the front of the hall and now John had the full measure of my attention.

From here, I will let John speak for himself.  In the video, he starts talking about schools’ ability to elicit emotion at about 18:55 and then about Athenian at 21:25.  You can see that talking with our students deeply touched him and he, too, became emotional. My throat tightened as well as he talked about Athenian and the way this mission moves our students.  It was even a bit more poignant knowing that my son was only days away from embarking to Death Valley himself.

It took every bit of my self-control to not stand up in the back of the auditorium and scream, “That is my school!”  And I would have wanted people to know that AWE is but one way we endeavor to touch the hearts and souls of our students and engender in them a life of intellectual exploration and meaningful contribution.  When you respect students as humans and deep learners, and mix that with a mission that is all about applying knowledge (not simply gathering it) and using it to do good, then you get The Athenian School.  This was a supremely proud moment for me, although I am proud daily by the way our faculty and students bring their passion to the world.  As I have said on numerous occasions, the world has “come to us” in recognizing that Athenian’s brand of education is a supremely powerful way to prepare students for success in college and the years beyond.  Enjoy.