Physical Fitness: More than Competetive Sports

For the first time, PE in the Middle School includes a yoga unit this year.  Several teachers are incorporating mindfulness into their classroom curriculum and yoga in PE is an excellent compliment to this new practice.  While most students are familiar with the physical education goals of speed, strength, and skill, many do not recognize the importance of flexibility, toning, and the mind-body connection.  By carefully moving through various poses while focusing on the breath, students become more aware of their bodies, providing a more comprehensive “physical literacy.” Yoga is not only good for the body; it has calming, stress-relieving effects and it improves focus.  By starting yoga at a young age, the Middle School aims to give our students a strong foundation in physical and mental well-being.

Yoga tip: To help you focus on your breath, place a small stuffed animal on your stomach while lying flat on your back with your arms at your sides.  Watch the stuffed animal rise and fall to center your attention on your breath and help you notice how your body moves as you breathe.  (This is also a great use of all those old Beanie Babies you might have stored away!)

If you would like to read more about the benefits of kids doing yoga, take a look at this article from the Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research or this article from PBS.  The following excerpt is from the PBS article:

  • Yoga teaches us about our bodies.
    When we practice the physical postures or exercises (called asanas), we learn how to move more freely and with greater ease and awareness. These postures help our bodies become strong and flexible.
  • Yoga teaches us how to breathe better.
    When we breathe deeply and fully (called pranayama) and become more aware, we can bring peacefulness or energy to our bodies.
  • Yoga teaches us how to use our energy more effectively.
    When we practice yoga, we learn how to use the life force energy in our bodies (called prana) to feel more relaxed, focused, or motivated.
  • Yoga teaches us how to quiet the mind.
    When we practice yoga, we learn how to be still. This helps us to listen with attention and make good decisions.
  • Yoga teaches us about balance.
    When we practice yoga, we learn to be more aware about the need for balance in our lives. This could mean equal stretching on the left and right sides of our bodies or making sure we balance our very busy time with equal quiet time and relaxation.
  • Yoga teaches us to be the “boss” of our bodies.
    Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies by modifying or changing poses that are too hard or cause pain. (We will talk about how to modify poses in a later section.)
  • Yoga teaches us about taking care of ourselves.
    Yoga is a great way to move our bodies and feel healthy. And teaching children how to take care of themselves is one way to show love. As with all forms of exercise, a good yoga practice can mean a good night’s sleep!

Town Hall Presidential Debate: Athenians Take on Presidential Issues

Opening Remarks

Last Monday, before the 2nd Presidential Debate, Athenian sophomores hosted a Mock Presidential Town Hall debate for the Upper School as part of their U.S. History studies.  Sophomores Lauren and Aaron represented President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, respectively.  After opening remarks from each candidate, the speakers opened up the floor to the student body for questions.

Athenians’ Town Hall Questions: How do they stack up to the official Town Hall?

 Topic  Athenian Town Hall Question  Official Town Hall Question
Tough Question  How come you both have worked continuously to suppress the views of Dr. Jill Stein and Governor Gary Johnson who are running for the 3rd parties and how come they are not featured in today’s debate? Hi, Governor. I think this is a tough question. To each of you. What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate? Using specific examples, can you take this opportunity to debunk that misperception and set us straight?
Jobs  Over the last 4 years, the unemployment numbers have risen 2%.  I’m wondering what Obama will do during the 2nd term to fix that. Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?
 Energy  How is continuing to drill for oil in line with Romney’s idea of green energy?  Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?
 Taxes Romney, how do you plan to pay for a 20% reduction in taxes and a $2 trillion increase in military spending, specifically?  Governor Romney, you have stated that if you’re elected president, you would plan to reduce the tax rates for all the tax brackets and that you would work with the Congress to eliminate some deductions in order to make up for the loss in revenue.  Concerning the — these various deductions, the mortgage deductions, the charitable deductions, the child tax credit and also the education credits, which are important to me, because I have children in college. What would be your position on those things, which are important to the middle class?
 Romney  Romney, I understand you are a man of faith, specifically the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that is a church of continued revelation. It’s possible that the president and prophet of that church, Thomas Monson, might have increased revelation.  How would Romney deal with that as far as his moral code and his responsibility to the people? Governor Romney, I am an undecided voter, because I’m disappointed with the lack of progress I’ve seen in the last four years. However, I do attribute much of America’s economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush administration.  Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?
 Immigration  What is your approach to furthering border security?  Mr. Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?
 Foreign Policy  In the past, Israel has been one of America’s key allies in the middle east and during his term, President Obama has moved away from Israel.  What is his plan for protecting Israel and keeping them as an alliance? We were sitting around, talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?
 Gun Control  What are the candidates’ opinions on the 2nd amendment, the right to bare arms?  President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?
 Death Penalty  What are your views on the death penalty?  N/A
 Military Funding  Our military is already so strong and people who are in charge of the military say they don’t need more funding.  We are also trying to pull out of several wars right now.  Why do you think that funding more of the military when we’re trying to have less wars is a good idea?  N/A
 Debt  What would you do about the debt ceiling and our national debt in general?  N/A
 Women N/A  In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?
 Obama  N/A  Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I’m not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.
 Outsourcing  N/A  The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?

Wishes for the World

Young Round Square is a consortium of schools with students under age 15 that aspire to Round Square‘s IDEALS. At last year’s Young Round Square conference in Ontario, student delegates decided they wanted to have a Unity Day that all Young Round Square schools would participate in.  The first Unity Day was today; like students at sister schools across the country, Athenian middle schoolers hung Tibetan prayer flags that they had created with their wishes for the world.

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Watch Dani Oswood, Athenian Physical Education Director and Young Round Square representative, describe the evolution of Unity Day and this year’s project of designing and hanging Tibetan prayer flags.

Fern Hill School, a sister YRS school, created this description of the project:

A Young Round Square school wide project:  All students will create a series of prayer flags to share their wishes for the world.
What is a Tibetan prayer flag? Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to ‘gods,’ rather the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all-pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all. By hanging flags in high places the “Wind Horse” will carry the blessings depicted on the flags to all beings. As wind passes over the surface of the flags, which are sensitive to the slightest movement of the wind, the air is purified and sanctified by the Mantras. The prayers of a flag become a permanent part of the universe as the images fade from exposure to the elements. Just as life moves on and is replaced by new life, Tibetans renew their hopes for the world by continually mounting new flags alongside the old. This act symbolizes a welcoming of life changes and an acknowledgment that all beings are part of a greater ongoing cycle. Tibetan prayer flags are used by Buddhists to send prayers and blessings throughout the world. Each flag contains writing and images that are meant to be generate peace and good wishes.
Purpose: Tibetan prayer flags are now used to send prayers of good will into the world as well as bring prosperity and good fortune into a home. They have been in use for several thousand years.
Types of Flags: The two basic categories of Tibetan prayer flags are dar-ding and darchen. Dar-ding flags are raised horizontally between two objects and have a color sequence. Darchen flags are flown vertically on a pole.
Flag Layout: Tibetan prayer flags must be hung in the proper order. From left to right, the colors are blue, white, red, green and yellow. The colors symbolize sky, cloud, fire, water and earth.
Symbols:Most flags have symbols and a mantra, or saying, imprinted upon them. Symbols include the tiger, lion, garuda (a bird-like creature), dragon, horse, umbrella, fish, vase, lotus flower, white conch, knot of life, banner of victory and wheel of dharma. Each symbol and mantra has a specific meaning.

Madagascar in My Heart

In addition to today’s Unity activity, the Middle School will participate in a fundraiser for Madagascar in My Heart, an organization started by one of the YRS representatives.  Madagascar in My Heart works to provide computers and basic computing skills to poor regions of Madagascar.  Dani describes the “Toddler to Teacher” fundraiser the school will participate in:

This video is from Madagascar in My Heart:

Photos from South Africa

Athenian’s delegation to the Round Square Conference in South Africa has returned.  Here are pictures from Mark Friedman, one of the faculty that accompanied our students.

Cambodian Adventure: Learning History and Photography

Niki Stefanelli, fine arts instructor at Athenian, went on a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam this summer to hone her photography skills. This spring she will run a photography interim trip based on her adventure. Apply now!

Last year, Niki taught a class called “Continuing 2-D Art” which offered students an opportunity to create an independent project in a media of their choice. To Niki’s surprise, most of the students were interested in learning about photography. Since Niki’s primary medium is oil paint, she decided to look into professional development that would help her cater more directly to her students’ interests. Comparing photography workshops, Niki discovered Peace of Angkor Photography Tours, which offers week-long, individual intensive workshops (that cost less than workshops in the States!). With the guidance of professional photographer Dave Perkes, Niki spent two weeks traveling through Cambodia and Vietnam with her son Ade, a current 8th grader in the Middle School.

When Niki was preparing for her summer trip, she wrote:

This year I am examining the question: “How can I share who I am as an artist with my students so that they benefit from having a professional artist as a teacher?” I find that I am a better teacher (and happier person) when I have time to be a creative artist. I believe that allowing my students to see my creative process, both the successes and the frustrations, allows me to teach through example. The Photography Workshop will be a starting point for my artistic process for July and August, and I will share that journey with my students in September.

These are the results of her trip. Photos by Ade have his name in the title; the rest are Niki’s photos.

Niki’s photos will be shown in the World Affairs Council’s Global Visions 2012 Exhibition in San Francisco.  The show opens October 4 at 6pm at the World Affairs Council’s office in San Francisco.

Interim 2013

Inspired by her experience, Niki will take students back to many of the places she visited with Ade. Niki will be leading an interim trip in March 2013 to both Cambodia and Vietnam with Athenian librarian Jim Sternberg. The trip will focus on culture and history with opportunities for individual instruction in photography. Niki adds:

Cambodia and Vietnam are both amazing countries to visit. Much of what we know about Vietnam and Cambodia from an American perspective is based on media coverage of the Vietnam War. There is so much more to learn about cultural traditions, the countries long histories, and even the history of the war itself, by visiting and meeting people in Cambodia and Vietnam. People are incredibly welcoming, the food is amazing, and the sights, sounds and smells overwhelm the senses.

Interim Description: We will travel to two vibrant South East Asian countries to explore the local culture, ancient ruins and history of these amazing places. We start in Siem Reap, Cambodia where we visit the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, spend a day on the Tonle Sap Lake visiting floating fishing villages, explore local farming communities and visit a school. From there we travel to Hoi An, Vietnam where we experience Vietnamese farming, cooking and fishing traditions. Then we are off to Hanoi, the bustling capital of North Vietnam. Hanoi will be our base for an overnight homestay in the Northern village of Mai Chau and a 2 night trip aboard a junk boat in Halong Bay. For students interested in photography, there will be many opportunities to shoot during the trip, and Niki will provide individual instruction. Students with no photography experience/interest may still join the trip. Although we will visit a few historical places, most of our understanding of history will come through our interactions with local people as we travel through Cambodia and Vietnam. Please note the trip includes the following activities: boat rides on various boat types including kayaks, bike riding and hiking in the mountains, all in a hot/humid climate. (Trip costs include airfare from Cambodia to Vietnam and from Central Vietnam to North Vietnam, 10 nights in hotels, one night village homestay and 2 nights aboard a junk boat.)

To apply: fill out this form and submit to Kathleen by Monday, October 8.