When a Tree Falls: Giving Founder’s Oak a Second Life

The response to the fall of our mighty oak was swift and resounding: first, grief, then grit. How could we find a way to honor this tree by giving it another life? Alongside an outpouring of memories came a slew of ideas. Could its wood be crafted into something usable? Could those who loved the tree take pieces for themselves? 

A team was assembled to discuss exactly that. Chief Operating Officer Keith Powell, Middle School Head Lauren Railey, Carter Innovation Studio Director Cassie Kise, and Middle School English Teacher Charlie Raymond spent several weeks exploring how best to honor our beloved tree. Beyond this introduction to our first careful steps in repurposing the tree, a blog series will keep you informed around the status of Founder’s Oak.

The Science of Reclaimed Wood

An essential early step in the reclaiming process is curing. Wood tends to twist and check as it dries. A robust curing process allows wood to wick moisture and settle into its final shape and hardness, all while protecting against rot. Proper curing will yield bone-dry wood that won’t continue to change–wood that is ready for cutting.

“We think of wood as dry on the inside, but it’s actually pretty wet,” said Charlie, who worked as a furniture maker prior to becoming a teacher. “When you go to a store and buy a milled piece of wood, you’re relying on that wood to be straight so you can build something out of it. The best pieces will stay straight only if they have gone through a careful drying process.” 

A tree as large and complex as Founder’s Oak will yield cuttings of different thickness. While the smallest pieces are expected to dry over the course of a single season, the trunk and large branches might need to be stored for five or more years. At the end of this process, the dimensions of the cuttings will have changed. Additionally, some of the pieces we set out to cure may have been lost to rot.

“Our particular kind of valley oak–quercus lobata–can be difficult to work with,” Charlie continued. “We can’t predict how much usable wood our tree will yield. Every piece of it is important to try to get as much as we can out of it.” That’s why it’s so important that we be strategic at this stage in where and how we cut the logs to cure. 

Enter Nick Harvey of Bay Area Redwood, the expert we’ve hired to oversee the harvesting of the tree. Nick has been on campus managing a process that could span two months. “At this point, most of the smaller limbs have been separated from the main trunk. The branches off the main trunk are called “secondaries”. The largest ones are as wide as tree trunks themselves and will take years to cure. The smallest pieces will be the first pieces ready for processing.” 

Once all of the smaller branches have been strategically cut and cleared away, Nick will partner with Kyle Dowd from Golden State Portable Milling on the milling of the main trunk. “Milling day will be a big day. Maybe a big two or three days,” Charlie commented. “The actual cutting of the main trunk will be noisy, but we won’t schedule it for a weekend. We’ll schedule it for during the week so that the community can see and be a part of what’s going on. It will be part of student learning.”

A photo of Founder's Oak Tree taken at The Athenian School in Danville, CA
A photo of Founder’s Oak taken circa 2020

Speaking of Student Learning…

Summer conversations also focused on how to involve students in all aspects of recycling the tree, from these early harvesting steps, to curing, to cutting smaller pieces, and–eventually–to crafting. Though the viability of many ideas still needs to be assessed, one suggestion is to enlist students to help create proper storage conditions on campus and to have them oversee the curing of parts of the tree. 

“Rain is not an enemy of this process, but sunshine is. It can twist and warp the exposed side and not the other. A better technique is to find a shaded area to stack the wood with space between each slab so that air can flow. Sometimes, slabs need to be treated against insects. We could involve students in discussing what chemicals might be used to treat the slabs against decay,” said Charlie.

Carter Innovation Studio director Cassie Kise shared similar thoughts about timing for next steps. “People don’t realize how time-intensive fabrication is. As Americans, so much of the supply chain process is taken out of our purview that we don’t understand how long things take to make. It’s important that we employ patience and instill those values in our students as well.” 

Small branches from early cuttings, staged in front of the Carter Innovation Studio at The Athenian School
Small branches from early cuttings, staged in front of the Carter Innovation Studio

Though fully recycling the tree will take a series of years, discussions of early craft projects are also underway, as are more general discussions about how to better integrate woodworking into the curriculum. “Ultimately, the tree will dictate what we do with it,” Cassie continued. “Once we gain an understanding of the materials we have to work with, it’s our job to expand the conversation to other members of our community, especially students. We also need to emulate our values as an institution. For example, wood that isn’t used to craft an item might integrate with our ecosystem in the form of mulch. Finally, we need to honor the spiritual legacy of the tree–the nostalgia and love encapsulated within it and how that should play into its second life.”

Though he acknowledged the tragedy of losing the tree, Charlie also underscored that Founder’s Oak deserves our respect. “Overall, this should be seen as a great opportunity to build our profile as an experiential school. We’re already doing that in the Carter Innovation Studio, in the art department, in our middle school Focus Days, and in our electives. Working with Founder’s Oak represents a huge opportunity to reinforce this.”

Dick Bradford Delivers Remarks about Founder’s Oak at 2022 Reunion

On June 1, our iconic Founder’s Oak tree fell. This majestic landmark at the front of campus witnessed the comings and goings of many generations of Athenians. It provided welcome shade for those who relaxed on benches beneath; it was the site of faculty and alumni weddings; countless families gathered under the tree to commemorate milestone events like first days of school and graduation.

At Reunion on June 4, just three days after the tree fell, former teacher and Upper School Head, Dick Bradford, addressed a crowd of 120 community members with his recollections of Founder’s Oak. Here is a transcript of his remarks:

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dick Bradford, former dorm head, coach, literature teacher, academic dean, head of Upper School, and alumni parent. I came out here from New England in the fall of 1981, thinking I would be here for a couple of years. I retired in June of 2018.

I wanted to say a few words about the Founder’s Oak – a tree with which I have some history. When I started here , I was the dorm parent of Boys’ 1 – now known as Reinhardt. For those of you of a certain age, before me, this was Lester Henderson’s dorm.  My bedroom is now the Founder’s Oak conference room – my living room and kitchen are now Eric and Debbie’s offices. So I would go past that tree every morning on the way to breakfast. It provided great shade against the afternoon sun for my apartment.

As my career moved on at Athenian, I became in charge of organizing Back to School afternoons – where the parents had an opportunity to follow their children’s schedule for the afternoon, meeting briefly with their teachers – discovering why we had ten minute passing periods. This was in the early part of September, so we used the Founder’s Oak  for shade – I remember marking out the exact spots of shade to design the seating arrangement.

The Middle School used the Founder’s Oak as the site for their graduation every June. This posed a logistical problem for the Upper School, which at that time had an all school meeting in the nearby Main Hall– and we were told in no uncertain terms that our meeting could not interrupt the Middle School graduation under the Founder’s Oak. Since I knew I could not control a hall full of adolescents for an hour while the Middle School graduated, I made up the tradition of a walk of reflective silence, single-filing from the doors to the east lawn, up to the driveway of House 1, and then down the drive to meet on the far corner of the soccer field, where I would do my best to inspire the students with a poem ( Musee de Beaux Arts) or a story (The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas). This worked reasonably well, although I always felt vaguely guilty about creating ritual over a scheduling conflict.

Then we were told that the tree was in danger of falling. This was years and years ago, and we did our best to mitigate any damage we might have inadvertently have been doing through watering. All events under the tree were then cancelled – we re-scheduled the graduation ceremonies to avoid the conflict, thus ending the reflective silence ritual – and built an interpretative walkway with quotation from Kurt Hahn and Dyke Brown at various points. Lovely idea – not sure how many people were aware of it. More visible were the hundred of daffodils planted by Eleanor Dase that came up each year around the tree. Thanks again for that Eleanor – and again for everything.

So now the tree has fallen. I used to present a slideshow at the beginning of the year to students, trying to acquaint with the history of the school – one of the slides was from a local paper saying “Mighty Oak has Fallen”. It was talking about a huge oak that was on the entrance to the School – on the left, just past the school sign. This was then just a practice field, not the parking lot it is today. I bring it up only because oak trees fall all the time. When I lived in House 1, I was working in my study one night in late August, with the side door open, when I heard a sound I could not identify. We had a trampoline outside that door, and the only thing that came to mind was that a deer had somehow gotten into the trampoline and was struggling with the webbing.  I got a flashlight  – and the trampoline was fine. The next day, I looked out and  a huge oak tree halfway up the hill behind our house had split in two and fallen.

So, oaks have their cycle, as do all of us. I used to read a poem to the Upper School every spring about the cycle of trees. I come from New England – the poem is Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.  I noticed that the oaks around my house on campus which lost their leaves in the fall would push forth leaf tips that were golden, and for a few short days, the leaves were gold, instead of green. Bruce Hamren complained every year that I was missing the purple phase of this transition – I’ll leave that to your judgment. This usually happened in March, so I would talk to the students about the transitory nature of beauty  – to remind them to make sure they treasured their moment with their friends , families and landscapes, because spring, like life, goes by like a torrent – and we need to reassure all that we have while we have it.  Here is the poem:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

And I would say the same to all of you now – hold fast to these moments, make sure to appreciate love and beauty as they show themselves to you – this is, after all, what gives us appreciation for the past, an understanding of the present – and hope for the future.

Introducing Amy Rasner Clulow, Director of People and Culture

Just over halfway through her first year at Athenian, we sat down with Amy Rasner Clulow, Director of People and Culture, to learn more about her role and how it was created to support the school’s strategic priorities. The idea for a dedicated People and Culture position grew from the multi-year work on our strategic vision, Boldly Athenian and was formalized in parallel with a cultural assessment conducted last year. Amy joined the community in July to support the school’s culture work, namely the support, growth and continued development of our adult community. When asked about her priorities in this first year, Amy says, “I’ve been listening and seeking to understand the historical context and underpinnings of current employee experiences and organizational structures through an equity lens. My focus also includes supporting the retention and professional growth of our adult community and outreach and hiring efforts.” Amy has spent countless hours in listening sessions with faculty and staff and evaluating current systems and practices in both hiring and retention. She adds, “the path forward will require a combination of introspection and collective effort to dismantle systemic barriers to building and sustaining an authentically equitable and inclusive community.” 

While Amy’s role is focused on how our campus adults – faculty and staff – contribute to our school culture and sense of community, many stakeholders contribute to the culture of Athenian. “While my initial efforts focus on culture and community building for our campus adults, this extends readily to the broader Athenian community of parents and guardians, alumni trustees and former employees.”
As we begin hiring season, Athenian welcomes alumni partnerships in sharing job postings and referring candidates to our job board. Please join our Alumni LinkedIn group and watch for job postings in the coming weeks. 

More About Amy

Amy joined the Athenian community in July 2021 as the inaugural Director of People & Culture. She joins us most recently from The Hotchkiss School, a boarding and day high school in Connecticut, where she served as the Director of Multicultural Outreach for the admission office. In addition to her enrollment responsibilities, Amy served as a faculty mentor and student advisor and contributed to several working groups and committees, including Student Support, All Gender Housing, DEI Curriculum Review and Mission Review. Amy also served as the project manager on an institutional research partnership to reveal market position, utilizing the data to improve admission outreach and brand positioning efforts. She went on to lead the development and launch of the Hotchkiss Bridge program which provides transitional support for historically underrepresented students. 

Amy spent her early career working in human resources, specializing in recruitment and organizational development. She has carried her HR experience forward into each of her various roles since. Amy’s commitment to equity and inclusion has been a constant, anchored by her own interest in continued growth. Among her DEIS commitments, Amy launched and co-facilitated SEED for Hotchkiss and extended the program to neighboring public and private school educators. She also initiated and co-facilitated a white antiracist affinity space for Hotchkiss adults and serves as an affinity group leader for NAIS. Her past non profit engagement has included support for low cost K-8 enrichment programming (SOAR) and awareness building and support for victims of relationship violence (Women’s Support Services). Amy also serves as a mentor for families of transgender youth.

Amy received her BA from University of California, San Diego and her M.S.Ed. in School Leadership from University of Pennsylvania. She presently lives on campus with her partner, Mike, their youngest daughter, Frankie ‘25, and their older children, Hudson and Charlotte, when they are on break from college. 

Tané Remington  ’06 on Bold Career Moves and Aligning Career to Purpose

If you’d asked the 9th grade version of Tané Remington where she would end up in life, a career in STEM might have seemed out of reach. She failed her first chemistry exam junior year and struggled with basic concepts, despite seeming to grasp some of the more difficult ones.

Then, teacher Eugene Mizusawa made her a deal that would change her life’s trajectory: he promised her a passing grade if she joined robotics. Fifteen years later, Tané still likes to come to campus and play with robots, this time as a volunteer advisor to the current robotics team. And she doesn’t just inspire students with her knowledge. Stories of her circuitous path, which was paved with stones she collected at Athenian, tell of how she landed some of the most fascinating—and socially important—professions in the world.

“My department tried to understand how we might deflect asteroids that were coming toward the earth,” Tané mentioned casually when asked about her former role at Lawrence Livermore Labs. She went there as a postdoc after earning a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from UC San Diego. “I got to run simulations relating to asteroids with a range of attributes—rock, metal, bollides, etc.” It was Tané’s first professional job.

Following a two-and-a-half year stint in planetary defense, she was offered a full-time position at Lawrence Livermore, this time working in a nuclear forensics unit with adjacency to the Stockpile Responsiveness Program, an effort that fully exercises the capabilities of the US nuclear security enterprise. But after more than three years with the lab, an opportunity that felt supremely meaningful drew her to a new path.

“It just so happens that I’m obsessed with water,” Tané explained as she talked about Maelstrom Water, a high-tech desalination company of which Tané is a co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer. “It comes from being Californian, and also being Turkish, as we had a lot of water shortages.”

Desalination refers to processes that remove the salt content from water. Reverse osmosis is the most well-known approach. But Maelstrom endeavors to use a different method: cavitation. By reaching the temperature of the sun in a matter of microseconds, it can change the properties of its targets. Though a working desalination solution is not yet ready, Maelstrom has confirmed other applications of its technology (e.g., waste water, medical waste, soil remediation, the worldwide oceanic and fresh water algae bloom) and has numerous patents pending.

Tané spent all of middle and upper school at Athenian, except for one year she spent abroad. She attributed her spirit of innovation and curiosity at least partially to her Athenian teachers. “When I was in middle school, Sven and Ted really taught me how to love learning.” Beyond traditional classroom fare, Focus Fridays and volunteer service provided opportunities for perspective.

“I think Athenian’s values had an enormous impact on the person I became. I gave up a tenured position for less money, no stability. It’s risky, but it keeps me up at night thinking about our future with water.” She also mentioned her daughter as a driving factor behind her decision to make a move. “When my daughter asks me when she’s older what I work on, I can tell her how proud I am to have taken on an issue like desalination and committed to it as part of my legacy.”

Veronica Benjamin ’06, Lead Activist on Danville Police Shootings, Returns to Speak at Equity & Inclusion Night

Alumna Veronica Benjamin ’06 returned to Athenian Thursday evening, October 28 to serve as keynote speaker for our fall Equity and Inclusion night, a biannual event for Upper School students that spotlights social justice issues. Veronica spoke about her activism in seeking justice for the 2018 and 2020 killings of Laudemer Arboleda and Tyrell Wilson, respectively, at the hands of Danville Officer Andrew Hall.  Pictured with the family of Laudemer Arboleda on the day that a guilty verdict was returned for one of two felony charges, Veronica organized support for Arboleda’s case. In light of her monthslong leadership, we were eager to have her speak to students about local activism.

The Tyrell Wilson case hit home for Veronica–a permanent resident of India–who returned to her childhood home in Danville for the duration of the COVID pandemic. She encountered Mr. Wilson, an unhoused man living on the streets of Danville, on her regular route. “I started organizing in the wake of Tyrell’s murder because I saw him every day,” Veronica told students. “I commute to Berkeley on the bus and Tyrell was the man at the bus stop. He was so peaceful…Tyrell was part of my life.” 

Alumna Veronica Benjamin '06 holding up a sign that says "Justice for Tyrell" at a protest in Danville.

While some residents called on the city (primarily via the NextDoor app) to find ways to remove or house him, other neighbors mentioned his gentle, harmless manner. As Danville officials responded to posts, some pointed out that Wilson could not be arrested if he hadn’t committed a crime. On March 11, 2020, Wilson was shot and killed by on-duty Officer Andrew Hall at the intersection of Sycamore Valley Road and Camino Ramon after a twenty-three second confrontation. 

“When I found out Hall was the officer who killed Tyrell, I was livid,” Veronica recounted. It wasn’t the first incident for Hall. In November of 2018, while on duty, Hall shot and killed Filipino man, Laudemer Arboleda. The cases had similarities: both Wilson and Arboleda struggled with mental health, neither possessed a firearm, and both were men of color. And in these–the only two officer-involved shootings in Danville since 2001–Hall was the gunman in both. 

As Veronica co-organized justice efforts within the community, she focused on educating the public about key facts in both cases and driving turnout to key events. She became involved with Conscious Contra Costa, which she now co-leads. She spoke candidly with students about the challenges of teamwork and navigating bureaucracy. “What I’ve learned in the past six months of organizing is….how to work constructively with others and learn to compromise.”

Sanjev deSilva, Director of DEIS at Athenian, has been another significant figure in supporting the cause. He’s spoken at several vigils, marches and memorials. In the spring of 2021, helped efforts to educate the Athenian student community about the Tyrell Wilson case and prompted interested students to attend rallies. After meeting Veronica at a protest, Sanjev discovered their mutual connection to Athenian by happenstance.  Two of the students who attended one of the vigils, Izze K. ’21 and Khalil W. ’21, facilitated Thursday’s Equity and Inclusion conversation with Veronica.

When asked her thoughts on the role Athenian played in her current path, Veronica’s response hinted at several of our pillars: leadership, service to others and democratic participation and justice. “One thing that Athenian instilled in me is the idea that our learning ultimately has to come back in service of something greater than ourselves and in service of our society,” she said.

Veronica followed up from the conversation on E&I Night with a call to action for how the greater Athenian community could get involved by issuing the following statement: 

“I deeply appreciate everyone in the Athenian community who is dedicating their time, energy, and resources to making it truly equitable, inclusive, and committed to its highest ideals. I was honored to be invited to the E&I Night and have the opportunity to reconnect and converse with many of you. 

For any students, faculty, or family members who would like to get more involved in Conscious Contra Costa, please join our listserv (justicefortyrellwilson@gmail.com), and/or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”

Welcome to New Members of the Board of Trustees!

As we bid farewell to three deeply appreciated members of the Board of Trustees, Josh Freeman, Laura Victorino, and Lizzie Miskovetz ‘10, Athenian is welcoming several new trustees with fascinating backgrounds and unique perspectives from which to help guide the school. We are thrilled to welcome new trustees (from left) Jill Miller, Alex Bly, Pavan Gill ‘92, and alumni advisory trustee Musadiq Bidar ‘10.

Jill Miller

Parent of Tess ‘ 22 and Audrey ‘25

Jill is a communications professional currently employed by a digital marketing agency.  She holds a BA in Business/Economics and English from Lafayette College.  A seasoned volunteer, Jill is drawn to organizations that promote education, combat illiteracy and support voting rights. Jill is honored to serve the school and support its efforts to create civic-minded, lifelong learners destined to make meaningful contributions to their communities and professions. 

Pavan Gill ‘92

For Pavan Gill ‘92, Athenian sparked a love of learning that he had not experienced until attending the school. Multiculturalism, civic engagement, service to a cause greater than self, and adventure were all foundations laid out for him to build upon from his time at Athenian.

Pavan is currently in the U.S. federal government at the intersection of technology and global affairs. Previously, Pavan was a partner in a penetration testing company, worked at a high-tech firm in Silicon Valley, and served in local law enforcement. 

It is Pavan’s hope that he can help inspire Athenians to pursue opportunities in public service.

Musadiq Bidar ‘10 (Alumni Advisory Trustee)

Musadiq Bidar is a Tech and Politics reporter at CBS News, where he has covered the 2020 Presidential Election, the 2020 California Primary and Vice President Mike Pence during the General Election. Musadiq started his career as an intern at CBS News in 2014 and has been with the network full-time since 2015. A native of Kabul, Afghanistan Musadiq and his family immigrated to the United States as refugees in 2003 and settled in the Bay Area. After graduating from Athenian in 2010, Musadiq continued his education at The George Washington University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. Musadiq is an avid sports fan and enjoys rooting for the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Lakers.

Alex Bly 

Parent of current Athenian students Abbie ’22, Lucy ’26, and Middle School alumna Natalie ’24

Alex works in customer experience consulting where he has experience co-founding a firm, working at large global firms, and driving innovations such as crowdsourcing to help evolve the traditional consulting services industry.

Alex believes Athenian is a place where students can learn how to find and explore their passions, a key part of preparing them for their futures. He first saw this happen while mentoring students for the robotics team and has seen it since with his own children’s Athenian experience.

As a trustee, Alex looks forward to helping Athenian continue to innovate the ways that students can find and explore their passions.

AAPI Heritage Month at Athenian

Middle schoolers Kaylee C. ’27, Payton I. ’27, and Olivia N. ’27 have been working on a mural denouncing acts of violence against Asian Americans. 

At a time when violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise nationwide, Athenians have come together to support and celebrate the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in an effort driven by student leaders.

Throughout the month of May, which has been recognized as AAPI Heritage Month since 1992, the Asian Student Union (ASU) and faculty advisers organized events, artwork, discussions, and other meaningful programming to increase awareness about the history of Asian Americans, the diversity of Asian culture, the Model Minority Myth, and the recent spate of violence against AAPI individuals. 

A collaborative effort led by students

ASU leaders Anthony Guan ’21, Sarah Liu ‘21, and Kitty Zhan ‘21 took the helm in organizing and drawing attention to AAPI month activities.

“ASU leaders have been monumental in these events that are taking place at Athenian,” said ESL Teacher, International Program Director, and ASU Co-Advisor Michelle Park. “It’s really happening at the ground level from the students.”

Upper School Community Meetings have been a key venue, and film has been an important medium in this month’s AAPI events. Students viewed and discussed this video from Time.com on the forgotten history of Asian immigration to the U.S. and a documentary by Film Instructor Peter Tamaribuchi about his father, a Japanese-American. Later in the month, Peter and Jeremy L. ’21 hosted a celebration of AAPI filmmakers. 

With the leadership of the ASU, collaboration has been a central theme in this month’s activities. The group held joint meetings with the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Athenian White Antiracist Group (AWAG) to explore opportunities to work toward common goals. ASU leaders also presented to grades 6 and 7 in the Middle School. 

Also in the Middle School, Michelle gave a presentation on K-POP, and students viewed video clips highlighting the Asian American experience and the accomplishments of AAPI individuals. A group of students created a mini-mural to celebrate the month, and many students took the opportunity to focus on AAPI issues in their personal projects. The DEIS team, with the help of Middle School student contributors, put together this E&I newsletter on AAPI heritage and shared it with the school. 

A workshop for Upper School International students highlighted AAPI heritage and history: ASU leaders presented on Asian American history and the origins of the Model Minority Myth, and adults who identify as Asian American spoke about how this myth affected their lives growing up. 

In a group art project in the CIS, students created a mural based on a painting by Sarah F. ’22. Anthony G. ’21 transformed the painting into a poster that was distributed throughout the Athenian campus, and members of the ASU lent their artistic skills to transfer the image to canvas panels. The mural is now on display in the main window area of the CIS.

In addition, alumni Matt Okazaki ’06 and Krissy Manansala ’09, presented at an ASU meeting to share their experiences of growing up Asian American and attending Athenian. 

A new safe space

While the Athenian Asian Club has been on campus for nearly two decades, over the years it morphed from an affinity space into a cultural and social club that is open to all races and ethnicities. 

The newly created Asian Student Union, which is open to students who identify as Asian, was officially formed in January 2021, but the impetus for an Asian affinity group came a year earlier, when Vivian Liao, ASU Co-Advisor and Director of the Carter Innovation Studio, approached Michelle about ways to support Asian students as the pandemic escalated. 

“She already had the sense over a year ago that there was a need to support our Asian students on campus,” Michelle said.

In January 2021, nearly a year into the pandemic and immediately following the end of Trump’s divisive presidency, Vivian and Michelle created an affinity group that would help Asian American students and adults at Athenian to feel supported. 

“We wanted it to be a safe space for students and adults who identify as Asian to gather and share stories, grieve, celebrate,” said Michelle.

Challenges continue

As Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to a close amid continued concerns for AAPI safety nationwide, it’s important to recognize that violence against Asian Americans continues. While from the mainstream media it may seem like these acts of aggression have abated, Asian American news sources give a different perspective, Vivian said. 

“They have not stopped, they have not abated,” said Vivian, adding that the Bay Area is actually a hot spot for these ongoing events, which often target the elderly and women. 

AAPI events this month have also addressed the problems created by the Model Minority Myth, which stereotypes Asian Americans as a monolithic group. Depicting Asian Americans as robotic high achievers, it puts pressure on those who may not fit the mold and pits minorities against one another. 

“It comes with a whole suite of stereotypes and it just dehumanizes everyone involved,” Vivian said.

While the challenges faced by the AAPI community continue, the formation of the ASU along with this month’s series of community events have provided much-needed support.

“It’s been very therapeutic for myself, and for I think a lot of Asian American members of our community, to finally have a forum, a group to discuss these events, and I think that the ASU is part of that—they specifically provide a space for the students to process these things.”Sources: ASU Co-Advisors Michelle Park and Vivian Liao, Letter from Sanjev deSilva and the ASU regarding AAPI month [[link]]. Note: Vivian will be succeeded by Kimiko Sera-Tacorda as ASU Co-Advisor in 2021-22.

Alumni Parents Rally to Support Boarding Students

Led by Molly Andrus, parent of Emma ’12 and Izzy ’20, the Athenian Parent Alumni Group launched this fall. Its mission? To continue supporting current Athenian students, even after their own children have left the nest.

Its focus this year was the boarding community. Molly and team worked closely with Director of Residential Life, Emily Shinkle, to learn how they could serve this group. Many, due to COVID, were unable to travel home.

Julia Borchers ‘20 and Lexi G. ’22 made cakes for students celebrating birthdays and the parent group delivered the cakes to campus and provided festive décor. Birthday boarders also got candy vases and small gifts. The group sponsored catered dinners that allowed students to choose meals that served up flavors from home. Individual dessert boxes were also delivered–a student favorite!

The parent group is also underway with seed transplants and plant beds for a boarding community garden. A final event will take place in May, one which will allow members of the parent group to interact more with boarding students given the easing of COVID restrictions.

“This parent group has been amazing,” said Emily in praise of the program. “Molly does an incredible job mobilizing parents. I’m so excited the boarders will get to see the program volunteers in real life this time. They’ve been wondering who these generous parents are!”

Plans are underway for a final event of the year at the home of Board President Beth Borchers, and the parent group is already looking forward to expanding the scope of thier activities to a broader set of students on a reinvigorated campus in the fall.

The group is always open to new members; please reach out to alumni@athenian.org for more information if you would like to get involved!

Virtual Exchanges at Athenian

International exchanges involve travel, but with restrictions due to the pandemic, how were they to continue in 2021? This is where the virtual exchange came into play. 

Round Square and Athenian adapted to the new reality by allowing students to attend classes virtually at schools around the world. While the usual cultural immersion was not the same, it was still a rich international learning experience. Athenian has both sent students to other Round Square schools and welcomed them to our school, where they attended classes, took part in clubs, and befriended their host students. 

“Is it as good as living in another country? Well, no,” said Athenian Round Square Director Mark Friedman. “But it seems like it went shockingly well, and some real connections were created.”

Midway through their exchange, Chloe and Bianca’s families hopped on a Zoom call to connect and get to know one another.

During Quarter 3, Athenian welcomed ten virtual exchange students: five visited from San Silvestre School in Peru, three from Markham, also in Peru, one from St. Cyprian’s in South Africa, and one from Vivek High School in India. While with in-person exchanges, there are some pairs that just don’t “click,” Mark said, all of the virtual exchanges got glowing reviews. 

One of our wonderful virtual visitors was Bianca A., who participated in the eight-week exchange during her summer vacation from San Silvestre, an all-girls British-Peruvian school in Lima, Peru. 

At first, Bianca wasn’t sure whether she would be able to attend Athenian classes during her summer break, but pushed herself to participate, and is glad that she did. She enjoyed taking Speech & Debate and ESL world History, where she gained an alternative perspective in both subjects. 

“I chose the speech and debate class because at San Silvestre I take debate too,” Bianca said in a Zoom call from Lima. “I wanted to learn new strategies and my experience was really [fulfilling] because I got to learn more strategies that I am going to surely use.” 

During her visit, she was able to shadow Athenian students as they prepared for a debate, learning skills she expected to be helpful in her debates at San Silvestre. 

In ESL World History, she enjoyed the opportunity to focus on American history, which she was eager to learn more about. 

Another highlight of Bianca’s time at Athenian was connecting online with her host, Chloe B. ‘22. “We had so much fun being able to connect via Zoom. It was really natural,” she said.

Chloe had attended San Silvestre virtually in the summer of 2020, where the main classes were in English and extracurricular classes were in Spanish. After this, Chloe was interested in hosting a virtual exchange student. 

“That was really awesome, and I wanted to offer someone the same opportunity,” she said. “It’s just really fun to get to know someone that doesn’t live in the same country.”

Being a host, or exchange buddy, involves regular Zoom calls and messaging with the visiting student to make sure they feel welcome at the school. Chloe and Bianca initially connected via Whatsapp.

“We also used Snapchat a lot, it’s just easier to send videos and such,” she said. 

The two enjoyed messaging, and Chloe met some of Bianca’s friends through Snapchat. 

Midway through the exchange, their families also got a chance to meet via Zoom. While connecting virtually was different from it would have been in person, both students felt they had made a friend, and really enjoyed the exchange. 

“It was definitely different than in person—in person would have been better, for sure, but it was pretty good, too,” she said. “I feel like we definitely became friends.”

Read more about this and other exchanges on The Athenian School Exchange Blog:

Here is Bianca’s blog entry on her exchange at Athenian.

Here is Chloe’s blog entry on her exchange at San Silvestre.

Alumni Spotlights: Celebrating Athenian Black Excellence

In recent weeks and months, our school community and our nation have been deep in conversation about the importance of Black lives. In America, and at Athenian, conversations have focused primarily on social injustice, and on Black pain. One consequence of such conversations is that the joy of Black lives can be easily forgotten. It was the wish of the current BSU, led by Esther A. ’21, Hudson S. ’21, and Chad M. ’22, that we not allow February to pass without acknowledgment of the amazing, purpose-driven lives pursued by members of our own Black Athenian community.

For the past three weeks, we profiled more than a dozen members of our community, from current faculty and staff, to current students, to alumni. In this spotlight, we celebrate the lives, loves and contributions of several Black alumni. Please take the time to read these profiles, to enjoy this series, and to appreciate the members of our community who are doing amazing things in the world!

Jamahn Lee ’94

Alum Jamahn Lee attended Athenian throughout middle school and high school, went on to earn a B.A. in Spanish from Tulane and, later, a M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Passions for youth services and multiculturalism led him to the nonprofit world. He has worked with the Spanish Speaking Citizen’s Foundation on afterschool programs; with the Fred Finch Youth Center on in-home and therapeutic programs; with Policy Link,  a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity, on programs for Black boys; and with the  Oakland Unified School District as its community school program manager. Jamahn is now nearing his fourth year as a Program Coordinator with  SFJAZZ, where he shares his passion for jazz music with middle schoolers in Oakland and San Francisco. In response to challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, he has adapted and developed virtual jazz education programming that is now accessible to students throughout the country.

Britney Davis ’04

Britney has played integral roles in some of the music industry’s biggest recent successes, and has emerged as a strong voice for industry change. She has led marketing and artist development for Lil Baby since he signed to Motown Records. Now at Capitol Records as the VP of Marketing, Artist Relations and Special Projects, she has worked with artists like Migos, City Girls, Queen Naija, and on the “Queen & Slim” soundtrack. She was recently named as one of Billboard’s Hip Hop Power Players, 40 under 40, and as a Variety Magazine Woman of Impact. Britney graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard University’s John H. Johnson School of Communications.

Pen Harshaw ’05

Pendarvis Harshaw ‘05 is the host of KQED’s, Rightnowish, a radio show and podcast that highlights artists and activists on the frontlines. The show focuses on Black artists from across the East Bay. In 2020, he received a $50,000 grant from the Oakland-based Akonadi Foundation, which partially funds the show’s production. He is also the author of OG Told Me, a coming of age memoir about a kid from Oakland who listened to his elders. “Pen,” as he is known among friends, seeks to increase community understanding and awareness of Oakland’s Black cultural diaspora.


Kelia Human ’15

With a goal of improving healthcare and its accessibility, especially for underserved and minority communities, Kelia currently attends Columbia University, where she is pursuing her Ph.D. “Healthcare is moving towards more personalized service and providing access outside of the hospital and clinic. I think this provides an excellent opportunity to explore ways to break down the barriers that have made healthcare difficult to access for underserved populations. Additionally, by focusing on patient-centered devices there is an opportunity to give control and better understanding about one’s own health, further empowering people to engage with their healthcare providers.” Kelia’s study of biomedical engineering has been applied to two projects this year: the first was a fast diagnostic test for COVID. The second is a bioactive patch to accelerate wound healing. She is a staunch believer in mentorship, which she says “can really help people see new possibilities; I was on the fence about pursuing grad school and being able to talk it out with older students was helpful.”

Eli Feierabend-Peters ’16

Eli “Feier” is a Black mixed-race, gender-questioning musician and Stanford alumnus who believes in the power of art to foster radical healing, change, and love in ourselves and our communities. They were a 2020 recipient of Stanford’s VPA Senior Grant. Their project–the production of their debut album–found them quarantined in California, turning closets into makeshift studios as they worked on music steeped in the traditions of hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and indie-pop and informed by their academic studies of sociology, poetry, fiction, climatology, and history. They guest-taught hip hop and social justice to Advanced Choir students this year and will return again to Athenian this month for a broader conversation on social justice.

Nia Warren ’16

Nia Renee Warren is an African-American filmmaker, photographer, and actress who recently graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. While studying at USC, she became an active force in the black community, serving as the Co-Director of the Black Student Assembly and member of the African American Cinema Society. After graduation, she completed a film titled “Son of Oakland: A Tribute to Victor McElhaney” where she served as the Co-Director and Producer. The film is a dedication to her friend and fellow Oakland native, who she lost due to gun violence near-campus in 2019. It has since been featured in, as well as won awards, in multiple festivals. She looks forward to the film officially premiering at the Pan African Film Festival this month. While enjoying the journey this film has allowed her to take, Nia has been focusing on furthering her acting career and has recently signed with Central Artists Agency for commercial/print work.

More Excellence to Come

Black History is not limited to the month of February, and our Black Excellence series will be ongoing. Look out for periodic profiles posted in various places online throughout the end of this year. We know there are more Black members of our Athenian community who could and should be highlighted! Please nominate or self-nominate by reaching out to us at alumni@athenian.org!