Digital Candy

The 6th grade spent the day learning about the world of possibilities available to them through technology.  Exploring the emotional power of music, students tinkered around on Garage Band to generate pieces that elicit specific emotions.  Continuing to exercise their creative muscle (and their digital dexterity), students created colorful masterpieces using Flockdraw, an online drawing tool.  They also spent a rotation following a digital scavenger hunt that led them on a journey through the dos and don’ts of plagiarism.

South Africa: A Soup Kitchen, a Skull, and a Dance Party

Read Mark’s first update here.

It is Sunday evening and we just left Tiger Kloof’s weekly church service. It was another amazing window into life here. The singing was powerful and transcendent, with all the students swaying to the music. Many of the Tiger Kloof students brought their Bibles with them. When the reading was announced, they opened their books to read along. The head of the school gives the weekly sermon and his theme this term has been Jesus’ parables. I wonder if Eric would want to have “religious leader” added to his list of duties?

On Friday morning we headed into Vryburg for our first day of service. We worked at the Adrian Losper Soup Kitchen. As we drove there, the Tiger Kloof teacher told us that it was “in a coloured neighborhood.” The soup kitchen is run out of the home of Maggie Losper and seemed to have overtaken the building. It was difficult to imagine quite how her life fit amidst all the pots and food serving tables. A few doors from Maggie’s house there were rows of tiny aluminum-sided buildings. These are the homes of South Africa’s poor. Claire says that the South African government has promised to provide housing for people and that these structures also serve as a visible sign and protest for the government to do more. Interestingly, at the historic town next to the Big Hole is a structure that looks identical to these, the 1880s shack of a worker in the diamond mines.

We spent the morning making fry bread from scratch. Several other Round Square schools have worked at the soup kitchen and their names are painted on its wall. In the early afternoon we gathered up the warm bread and some bean stew and drove to the town dump. Amidst the mounds of trash and refuse, as trucks drove in dropping off fresh loads, we set up a table with food. About 50 men, women, and children who live and scavenge in the dump came over for a meal. It was a profound experience. There were young children and elderly women and all ages in between. The spirit of the people was striking. Tears came to many of our eyes as we thought about societies where people live in these conditions.

When we got back to the soup kitchen, the yard was filled with 50 young children huddled together on the ground and a dozen elders sitting around the perimeter of the yard in chairs. We served them food, sat and laughed with them, and took many pictures all around. This is a long weekend in South Africa and over the course of the afternoon, Maggie’s four children arrived from different corners of the country. Maggie said that we were part of her family now and so we welcomed our brothers and sisters.

On Saturday, we went to a preschool and painted one of the rooms. It was an all-day project because we not only put a fresh color of paint on the walls, but murals as well. The drawings ranged from the practical (how to wash your hands) to the inspirational (the South African flag with a rainbow and quote). Some of our group served as creative forces while others showed great diligence cleaning up the many paint spills. In the evening there was a braai (Bar-B-Q) for us and the Tiger Kloof students involved in Round Square. Then the students headed up to the bash (a student dance). It was different from an Athenian dance, as it was structured as a friendly dance competition. The Athenian students reported that they did two dances, one of which received good marks.

Today we traveled south from Tiger Kloof to the site where the Taung skull was found in 1924. As the first hominid found in Africa, this discovery had enormous scientific importance. The skull was found in an old limestone quarry and we also hiked the area. We were shown a sacred cave where local people hold religious events and we saw our first baboons off in the distance. After our tour of the quarry, we drove into Taung for a late lunch at the KFC. The Colonel is big in South Africa and there we were in a restaurant crowded with black South Africans getting the first KFC meal I’ve eaten in 40 years.

After this, we headed to meet the chief of one wing of the Batlhaping tribe. We were running late and so the chief was not available; however, his son gave us a tour of the kraal (where women are not usually allowed) and the graveyard where the chiefs are buried. It was fascinating learning about this aspect of South African life and talking about how the tribal system interacts with the modern government.

We have been five days in South Africa and spent the entire time in black South African communities. It has been an amazing introduction to the country. After a final breakfast with the Tigers tomorrow, we head off for two days in Pilanesberg National Park. Everyone is healthy and we are having great experiences. The warmth of the people and the visits to the archeological sites have me feeling like a prodigal son who has returned to an ancestral home.

–Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service

Greetings from South Africa!

This is the first report from Athenian’s delegates at the Round Square Conference in South Africa.

Greetings from South Africa!  It is our first full day at Tiger Kloof, the Round Square school that is hosting our pre-conference trip.  The other school with us is Daly College in India.  The students at Tiger Kloof are almost entirely black South Africans of the Tswana tribe.  We are close to Botswana and the last two presidents of Botswana are alums of Tiger Kloof.

View Round Square Schools in a larger map

Half of the Tigers, as the students are called, board and we just finished having breakfast with them.  The Athenian and Daly College students spread out, one to each table.  It was a treat to see the animated conversations between our students and the students at Tiger Kloof.  After breakfast the adults in our group headed to the teachers meeting that happens every morning at 7:10am.  All of the teachers had paper pads out to take notes; there was not a single laptop or Ipad in sight.  As I write, our students are sitting in on classes.  This afternoon we will go serve lunch at a soup kitchen and paint the walls of a local preschool.

We arrived in South Africa 48 hours ago.  After a furious round of changing money and clothes in the airport, we headed to the far side of Johannesburg and Soweto.  Our first stop was the Hector Pieterson Museum.  Hector was killed at the age of 13 in 1976 when the police fired on Soweto students who were protesting the imposition of Afrikaans language in their schools.  176 or more students were killed that day and the Soweto uprising was a turning point in the struggle to end apartheid.  We learned about the uprising in general, walked the path that some of the students took that day, and visited the spot where Hector was shot.  I was in a reverie watching daily life in Soweto—uniformed students chatting as they wandered back to high school after lunch, two elderly women leaning against a fence catching up, the pale blue sky above the large dumps of rock from the gold mines.  Walking on, we saw Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s homes.  These two future Nobel Peace Prize winners lived four doors from each other in Soweto!

By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, our energy was lagging.  The last time we had slept in a bed was Sunday night.  We had one more plane to catch that day, this one to Kimberley—where diamonds were discovered in 1866.  Here we met up with our Tiger Kloof hosts and the Daly College delegates.

Our journey yesterday from Kimberly to Tiger Kloof was filled with history.  We visited the Big Hole in Kimberley.  This huge 1,000 meter hole was dug by hand in the mining of diamonds.  The buildings of historic Kimberley are persevered in a neighborhood next to the mine.  From there we drove along the edge of the Kalahari Desert to the Wonderworks Cave.  Inside the cave is the oldest evidence of controlled fire.  Or in the words of one of the Tiger Kloof teachers, “this is the site of the world’s first braai” (South African for B-B-Que).   The large cave extends a couple hundreds yards into the mountain and its roof is black with soot from the  fires of many millennium.  We also saw cave paintings, some of which are over 10,000 years old.  Our final stop was the Moffat Mission.  This was on the missionary road from Cape Town north into the interior of Africa.  Here, Robert Moffat translated and printed the first Bible in an African language, Tswana in this case.  The printing press still works after 150 years.  The famous explorer and missionary David Livingstone married Robert Moffat’s daughter and lived here for many years as well.  And Tiger Kloof originally was founded here in the 1880s before moving to its present site when the railroad from Kimberley displaced the missionary road as the main transportation artery.

All is well here.  I have to run off for a tour of Tiger Kloof by some students.

–Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service

Athenian Star Party

Last week, Athenian had it’s first Star Party. While it was the same week as the Emmy’s, the Star Party’s intent was not to revel in the comedic brilliance of Jon Stewart or the psychological realism Claire Danes brings to the screen. Athenian’s first Star Party was in honor of our skies, celebrating the moon, Saturn, the Trifid Nebula, and an earthgrazer, among other interstellar celebrities.

Those in attendance could see great views of our closest celestial neighbor (the Moon), two planets in our solar system (Mars and Saturn), a few stars in our local galaxy (Arcturus – an orange giant; Mizar and Alcor, two nice binaries close to each other in the Big Dipper), a stellar nursery (the Trifid Nebula), and our closest galactic neighbor (the Andromeda galaxy). For those lucky ones looking east at the time, we also spotted an earthgrazer (a long, bright shooting star with a long tail) from the Piscids!

Since it was a school night, the party wrapped up a little bit earlier than planned. Unfortunately, that meant that the few families that came to school around 9pm didn’t get a chance to participate. Our apologies! But don’t worry: we will plan our next event for a Friday night to make sure everyone can stay longer. We have already started planning the next Athenian Star Party, this time to watch the winter sky, full of beautiful nebulae, multi-colored binaries, Jupiter and its moons, etc. Stay tuned!

Thank you to Vip Gupta and Tyler Huntington for driving this effort; without their passion and initiative this event wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you also to the families and star experts who lent both their telescopes (we had 7!) and their knowledge to the event, including the Danylyszyns and Thompsons.


U.N.C.E.N.S.O.R.E.D. is an all-school meeting that invites the community to share ideas and discuss issues, typically outside of the realm of Athenian.  This morning, a student brought up the topic of the recent Innocence of Muslims video released on YouTube on 9-11.  Having discussed it in a seminar, the student wanted to hear what the community thought about the video.  Should it be censored?  How does freedom of speech play a role in the conflict?  Why was there such a strong response across the globe?

Some of the issues brought up and discussed include:

  • Is freedom of speech a good or bad thing?
  • Do we really have the right to say anything we want?
  • What does it mean to hate?  Why do people hate?
  • What justifies killing?
  • With freedom comes great responsibility
  • There is no personal accountability in the age of digital anonymity

Feel free to comment below with your own questions, thoughts, or natterings.

Comment Dites-Vous Athenian?

Since 2004, Athenian middle school students have traveled to Quebec to visit Petit Séminaire de Québec (Collège François-de-Laval). They in turn have sent students to San Francisco and Athenian. We just discovered an article from this past May from the Petit Séminaire’s blog. This has been loosely translated from the original Québécois French.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011 by Jasmine Bogaty

Since 2004, the Petit Séminaire has partnered with a private school in San Francisco. The Athenian School offers optional courses in French and wants to enable its students to experience French immersion in a homestay for a few days. From 2005 to 2010, we had the pleasure of visiting California families for a period of more than a week. Also, each year we welcome two students 12 and 13 years from The Athenian School to our school. This year, 12 students from the Minor Seminary, accompanied by English teachers, had the chance to experience this unique immersion. We welcomed students from Athenian March 18-25 and our students visited California May 3 to 11.

Students aged 11 and 12 years from The Athenian School came to visit the beautiful city of Quebec in March 2011 and it was now our turn. Students were accompanied by Anne Parent and Catherine Mercier to visit the beautiful city and the golden hills of San Francisco.

At 4am on May 3, the adventure began. All the students were eager to travel. Some had never flown before, so a little bit of stress prevailed.

Once in San Francisco, we met Suzanne, our guide during our stay. With charm and thoughtfulness, she showed us the city. We did various activities and visited various beautiful places. Here is the list:

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Alcatraz
  • Pier 39
  • Berkeley University
  • Trolley Tour
  • Chinatown
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Athenian School
  • Saulsalito

The warm sun and beautiful weather were with us! During the weekend, we had our Athenian counterparts to learn more about the lives of Americans.

In short, this trip was an unforgettable experience! An extraordinary adventure that marked our lives. Some said they would like to live in San Francisco it was so majestic!

Click here or on the image below to see a video of their trip in French!

Take a look at the pictures from Athenian’s interim trip to the Petit Séminaire de Québec (Collège François-de-Laval) in March 2011.

Eric Challenges the Student Body to “Clean Up Your Mess”

Eric Niles, Head of School, kicked off Convocation this year with a message about personal character: “Start behaving like a responsible person.” Watch the video below to see how Eric ties dirty dishes to personal integrity and community involvement.

“Athenian’s mission requires that we are mess cleaners, not mess makers….Join me this year in cleaning up our mess—one recycled bottle, one kind gesture, one moment of political respect, one plate, one cup, one fork, and one spoon at time–and sending a message to the world about what the Athenian community is capable of.”

Should Leadership be a Sixth Athenian Pillar?

Today was the first Town Meeting of the school year.  To explain the process and purpose, the Town Meeting leadership–Moderator Joe, President Andrea, VP Andrew, and Secretary Haley–ran a mock Town Meeting.  The mock proposal up for debate was that Athenian should add leadership as a sixth pillar:

Click on the photo to read descriptions of the Pillars

Whereas leadership is a quality Athenian tries to instill in all of its students;

Whereas the Pillars currently do not express this aspect of an Athenian education;

Whereas Round Square currently lists leadership as a sixth core principle;

Resolved: We propose that we add leadership as a sixth pillar at Athenian.

While the following video is fairly long, it captures the unique quality of this student-run, democratic process.  You will hear arguments that range from changing our founding mission to whether there is physical space in the Main Hall for a sixth pillar.  Check it out!

Related Posts:

Students Give Inspired (and Inspiring!) Speeches for Town Meeting Presidential Election

Athenians on Exchange

Athenian Club Fair

Dick Shares a Poem in Remembrance of 9/11

Dick Bradford, Head of the Upper School and Academic Dean, sent out an email to students and faculty this morning that he wanted to share with the greater community.

Dear Athenians,

Since we do not have a morning meeting today, I wanted to send out a brief note reminding us of the significance of this day in history.  Here is a link to a National Geographic site covering the different aspects of September 11, 2001.

I have always remembered the day by reading a poem that I read to the Upper School on the afternoon of this day 11 years ago.  I am not sure why I picked this poem all those years ago – it speaks to me a recognizing a common humanity and connection to the possibilities of the world, at a time when we were all feeling vulnerable and dispirited.  I include it here for your consideration:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~