Darfur Benefit Show Showcases Athenian Talent

The 7th annual Darfur Benefit Show was a fantastic display of Athenian talent last night.  Faculty, staff, and students donated handmade items for auction and more than 30 students performed musical and dance ensembles.  The performances were peppered with informational speeches about the history and current situation in Darfur by students in the Holocaust Seminar.

Athenian’s FIRST Lego League

A long-time participant in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the organization behind high school robotics competitions, Athenian now offers engineering opportunities to middle school students through FIRST’s Lego League (FLL).  Middle schoolers have been meeting after school this semester to accomplish “missions” that challenge them to problem-solve, work collaboratively, and test their creative muscle.

Dan Yu, a parent of a current 6th grader, created this film documenting the students’ experience over the past few months.

FIRST describes the progression of the robotics programs:

Learn more about FLL In FIRST LEGO League(FLL), children are immersed in real-world science and technology challenges. Teams design their own solution to a current scientific question or problem and build autonomous LEGO robots that perform a series of missions. Through their participation, children develop valuable life skills and discover exciting career possibilities while learning that they can make a positive contribution to society.

Children ages 9 to 16 (9-14 in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) get to:

  • Create innovative solutions for challenges facing today’s scientists as part of their research project.
  • Strategize, design, build, program, and test a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS® technology.
  • Apply real-world math and science concepts.
  • Develop employment and life skills including critical thinking, time management, collaboration, and communication while becoming more self confident.
  • Become involved in their local and global community.
  • Choose to participate in official tournaments and local events.
  • Qualify for an invitation to World Festival.
  • Engage in team activities guided by FLL Core Values.

Read more about FLL or contact fllteams@usfirst.org

Learn more about FTC FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is designed for high-schoolers who want to compete head to head using a sports model. Teams of up to 10 students are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete on a 12 X 12’ field in an Alliance format against other teams. Robots are built using a TETRIX®platform that is reusable from year-to-year using a variety of languages. Teams, including Coaches, Mentors, and Volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

High-school students get to:

  • Design, build, and program robots.
  • Apply real-world math and science concepts.
  • Develop problem-solving, organizational, and team-building skills.
  • Compete and cooperate in alliances at tournaments.
  • Earn a place in the World Championship.
  • Qualify for nearly $10 million in college scholarships.

Read more about FTC or contact ftcteams@usfirst.org

The Spirit of Athenian Flies Again!

Students and mentors with the Wag-Aero Sport Trainer

Thanks for your interest in the Athenian Airplane project. Our goal is to provide some history of the student-built airplane project at The Athenian School, as well as to chronicle the current progress of the students as they begin work on the latest project, a Van’s RV-12 light sport aircraft.

The project began back in 2002, when pilot, Marsh Freeman, had an idea. Born of his lifelong passion for airplanes, both building and flying them, he wanted to gather a group of young people together to build (and eventually, fly) a plane. When he approached The Athenian School, Eleanor Dase, the Head of School, was immediately interested. She felt that the project was in line with the school’s mission of providing experiential education experiences, and along with Dick Bradford, gave Marsh the school’s blessing to bring this innovative program onto the campus.

The first order of business was to build a suitable workshop for the project. Freeman took charge of the permitting and construction of a shop on the school grounds. He then presented the project to the student body and parents. He successfully inspired 85 students, an equal mix of boys and girls, including both middle school and high school students, to take on this challenge. Marsh and his family funded the purchase of the first airplane kit, a Wag-Aero Sport Trainer, and the construction process began.

Marsh was aided in the instruction process by Dr. Jim Mandley, a retired Navy pilot and award-winning aerobatic pilot and other members of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Together, these mentors began the process of teaching students how to build the plane, dubbed the Spirit of Athenian. The project was an after-school club, and students typically spent two to four hours per week in the workshop working on various parts of the plane. Two and a half years later, at the Buchanan Airfield in Concord, CA, the Spirit of Athenian went “wheels-up” to the cheers of about 100 spectators , many of them the student builders. Jim Mandley was the pilot, and the first passenger? Eleanor Dase.

In order to keep the program flying, the Spirit of Athenian was sold to fund the purchase of a second airplane kit, a Christen Eagle, an aerobatic biplane. More about that in our next post. Stay tuned!

Airplane Project Blog Tips

Hello airplane mechanics!

Here are some tips for posting to the Athenian School Blog Airplane page:

      1. Login at athenianblog.athenian.org/wp-admin (Username = airplane; check with the advisers for the password)
      2. Once you login, you will see the WordPress Dashboard, which looks like this:
        A.  Click here to view the blog

        B.  Click +New to create a new blog post.  This will take you to the new post screen (see below)

        C. Check to make sure that you are logged in with the correct account.  If it says “Howdy, Airplane” you are in the right place.

        D.  If you want to create a short blog post, you can do it right from the Dashboard.  Give your post a title, type up your content, add pictures, and click Publish.

      3. Create a new post using the New Post Screen
        E. Type your post title here.

        F. Type your post here.

        G.  Editing tools.  There are advanced tools in the two rows below the highlighted section; if you know what these tools are, feel free to use them.

        H. Save your draft.  Do this after you title your post.  This way your draft is saved if your browser crashes.

        I.  Click Preview to see what your blog post will look like when it is published.

        J.  You can choose what type of format you would like your post to be.  Most posts will be Standard, the default option.

        K.  Enter tags here.  Tags can be a useful tool to organize posts and find information quickly and easily.

        L.  To add photos or documents to your post, click Upload/Insert.  Follow the prompts on the pop-up screen to add your media.

        M.  When your post is finished, you’re ready to publish. (Don’t forget to edit first.)  Click Publish to publish your post.  You can then view your post on the blog.

The Many Talents of Lizette Dolan

Lizette Dolan, Dean of Equity and Inclusion, must have a body double. Between raising two young children, teaching an upper division humanities seminar, overseeing the Equity and Inclusion program at Athenian, choreographing original dances, and pursuing a PhD in education at St. Mary’s College of California, she cannot possibly have time to do anything else. Yet, Lizette also manages to share her knowledge of and passion for diversity work far beyond the Athenian community. To highlight a few recent community activities, this past summer, Lizette helped coordinate and sat on a panel at St. Mary’s Summer Leadership Institute. A few weeks ago, she moderated a panel at the East Bay School for Boys addressing the question: How is supporting boys a feminist act? She is actively involved in People of Color in Independent Schools (POCIS) as an adviser. Though Lizette is dancing less these days, she most recently married her passions for an original performance piece at the national White Privilege Conference. And this Saturday, she will present at a national education conference. The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) hosts an annual conference for boarding school heads, faculty, and administrators; Lizette will be giving a talk called “Cultivating an Equitable and Inclusive School Climate.” In recognition of her academic prowess, professional aspirations, and demonstrated leadership, St. Mary’s Kalmanovitz School of Education awarded Lizette a scholarship this past summer. While Lizette insists that she does not, in fact, have a body double, those of us privy to her busy life will continue to look for the Lizette look-alike that helps her accomplish all that she does.

TABS Conference: Cultivating an Equitable and Inclusive School Climate
Saturday December 1, 2012 • 11:30 AM- 12:30 PM
Practical techniques for learning and growing environments that acknowledge, respect, and celebrate the identities of all its community members. We will examine institutional policies and practices that can foster the emotional and psychological health of historically under-represented students and adults. Through interactive exploration of our school’s structures, we will leave with strategies designed to support and empower all communities members. Participants will work in small groups and individually and share best practices within our schools to foster healthy souls.

TABS Webinar: From Institutional Colorblindness to Cultural Competence
February 2013 • Topic Focus: International Students

St. Mary’s College of California Summer Leadership Institute
Watch Lizette’s panel discussion at the Institute below.


Learn more about Athenian’s commitment to equity and inclusion.

Cross Country: 6th in State!

by Philip Hadley, Cross Country Coach

Read about Philip here.

Tanner Shaw ’14 blazed his way to another piece of Athenian history as he became our first student to finish among the top 10 individuals at the California State Championship Meet in Fresno.  Shaw’s 52 second improvement from 2011 earned him 7th place among 180 of the fastest Division V runners.  Tanner’s maintenance of a 5:11 per mile pace over the 3.1 mile course was one of the five factors that also helped set a new Athenian team record as we improved from a 9th place finish in 2011 to 6th place in 2012 with a team average pace of 5:27, dropping 10 seconds from 2011.

Senior Cameron Taylor showed tremendous strength, poise and patience throughout his injury-riddled season but never so much today as he approached the race with a lead-by-example positive attitude to record his best time on the Woodward Park course.  A very fast first mile as the lead pack raced out in 5:05 pace, Cameron showed one of the advantages of being a 4-year senior as he ran smoothly, confidently and wisely to his own tune for that first too-fast mile (5:15 for Cameron).  Then he passed 41 (!) people on his way to a 27th placing and 31 second improvement. Cameron’s steadfast enthusiasm for the program and his insatiable desire to improve beyond the sight on our current selves has undoubtedly been one of the reasons for our success today.

That the race was much deeper this year was clear from junior Gabe Elliott’s run today as he removed a second from his best time, moved up 10 spots in the NCS ranking from last weekend, and yet finished 9 positions lower relative to his 2011 State finish.  It’s a great example to show that you cannot control anyone but yourself (and that alone is hard enough).  Elliott’s best race of the season, like a rhinoceros, he never stopped charging throughout the 3.1 mile distance.  Gabe was as aggressive passing people up Killer Hill as he was in the last 50 yards.  Given how much Gabe liked Tanner’s shiny medal, expect another Athenian to bring home the brass in 2013.

Senior Charlie Thimesch played human bowling ball near the top of Killer Hill as he tripped on an ankle (not his own) and rolled down three runners.  Up faster than the others, Charlie regained himself and sped the last 1.2 miles to lop 35 seconds from his previous Fresno outing.  Charlie has been a bedrock of consistency and Spartan toughness throughout his three years with Athenian XC.  A dual athlete with swimming, Charlie was spotted on several occasions to be running secret Saturday morning track workouts of mile repeats so as not to ‘lose’ his running shape while off swimming.

It takes a team of seven to race, and eight to show promise for the future.  Three Athenians made their Woodward Park debut in the tule fog this morning: junior Alex Ball, freshman Eric Strand, junior David Weinmann and 8th man and alternate, freshman Anthony Ottati.

Learning his lesson well from NCS last weekend, much improved harrier Alex Ball did not look behind in this race (first time this has occurred) as he became our 5th man across the line in 18:05.  This marks a 45-second improvement over our 5th man from 2011 (the 5th man is the final runner awarded a score toward team points).  Indeed, so much stronger is out depth this year that our sixth and seventh runners were also faster than our 2011 5th man.  Eric Strand set a bit of Athenian history on Saturday as he became our first freshman to run the State course.  We hope that he will become our first 4-year State senior in a few years.  Junior David Weinmann capped a spectacular late season rise to be our 7th runner, and then sped to Athenian to fulfill his other varsity obligation as an Owl basketball player.  We hope to see him on the track after scoring many points on the court.  Freshman Anthony Ottati was our official alternate, running the course on Friday paced by a trio of his teammates as he completed the course in an easy to remember 20:12.  I’m confident that Ottati will be racing around this venue in 2013.

Thank you, everyone, for a great season.  Thank you to Kim and Steve for the bagels and fruit Saturday morning and to each of the parents for dinner and lunch this weekend (Rob Shaw, Chuck Taylor, Tim and Michelle Thimesch, Kim Risedorph, Steve Elliott, Steve and Nina Strand).

Check out a video of the race here.

Remember: Athletics Banquet this Tuesday, 6:30pm.

Photos and video by Donal Pierce.

Democracy in Action Trip to the Yuba River

The Democracy in Action class took a trip to the Yuba River to learn about the conflict over the Yuba River dam.  Between rafting down the river to learn about the life cycle of salmon, hearing a Maidu tribesman’s personal connection to the river, and speaking with the owners of the dam, the class was able to experience first-hand all sides of the issue.  In this video, Haley Kardek ’14 documents their experience and captures several students’ responses to their experience.

Mark Mendelson Brightens the Theater Program

Originally published on The Pillar, November 2012

by Julia Cohen ’13

Curly hair, bright smile, glasses slightly askew—Mark Mendelson is not your run of the mill teacher. However, this may result from the fact that Mark Mendelson does not teach a run of the mill class. His classroom has no chairs, desks, or whiteboards, and he does not give praise in the form of grades, but rather in copious amounts of candy. While in any other class climbing on objects may be discouraged, Mark encourages it—in fact, you cannot be in his class without climbing around 10 feet in the air. Sound too good to be true? Well, if you don’t believe me, take the long trek up to the theatre during PA and witness the great Mark Mendelson in action, teaching his new Technical Theatre class.

The Technical Theatre class is a new addition to the PA selection and Mark’s first opportunity to join the Athenian faculty. However, Mark is not new to Athenian; he has been helping with productions for several years as a theater tech. I first encountered him sophomore year, during my debut in the technical theatre world. At first I did not know what to make of him: pencil tucked behind his ear, tongue out, surveying the scene in front of him. I was told tech rehearsal would take around 2 hours; however, it was well past six o’clock when Mark finally deemed it acceptable to move on, and as a result the first word that flew to my mind whenever I saw Mark for the rest of the day was “perfectionist.”

However, as the week went on I began to associate another word with Mark: brilliant. I could not help but admire him. Where I saw a scene of a play, Mark saw an opportunity. He transformed the bland CFTA into a work of art. I could not believe the ideas he came up with, nor could I believe the energy and enthusiasm he put into making these ideas a reality. One minute he would be sitting in the front row conferring with Peter, and the next he’d be in the booth, a slightly mad look on his face, glasses nearly falling off, madly tapping away into the light board. Mark is one of the most creative people I have ever met in my life.

Now, having known Mark for three years and worked on countless events with him, I can elaborate much past the “perfectionist” and “brilliant artist” I first saw as a sophomore. Now speaking about Mark, I cannot help but mention his innate silliness. Often when I have been working with him I have heard a show tune coming from a corner in the theatre, only to find out that it was Mark. He often sings directions to me, and his favorite word, “jank,” is not one that naturally occurs in the English language. Mark likes to teach through jokes, making the work about having fun rather than about only trying to meet a goal. He is also a hand talker, and by this I mean he wildly moves his hands while speaking, illustrating his point in thin air, sometimes flinging the ever present pen in his hand across the theatre. Mark is one of the silliest teachers I have ever had.

However, more than anything, the defining feature of Mark as a teacher is that he genuinely loves what he does. I have never met a teacher who genuinely enjoys teaching as much as he does or one who so wholeheartedly loves the subject matter of his lessons. Mark does not just teach how to hang lights, run sound, or even make a set, he teaches his students how to love what they do. This is in fact the greatest lesson Mark has taught me, and what makes him one of the greatest teachers I have ever had.

Art Revolution: Mapping the Self

Art Revolution is the brain child of Stacey Goodman, art teacher.  Wanting to show students the true power of art to “engage and effect transformation in the community,” Stacey created a new year-long course that “gives students the artistic skills, organizational methods and social-historical understanding to initiate and complete a community art project.”  Through creative exploration, students are tackling some big issues including community, identity, culture, and affinity.  You can read the Syllabus here.

Below is a group of photos of the class’s Self Maps, an art project that challenged them to think about their own identity and shared affinities.

Self Maps Assignment: Student creates a decorative, color coded community map of the self. This project is part diagram that uses spoke-mapping as well as color/decorative elements that show their identity as one comprised of shared affinities with societal groups. The student uses design principles to create a concept-driven work meant to show hidden and visible identities, conventional and surprising affinities, how identity can be reflected through artistic expression as well as an understanding that identity can consist of more than the usual groupings around ethnicity, gender, etc.

Athenians Beware: There’s a Taekwondo Master Among Us

Originally published on The Pillar, November 2012

by Lauren Santo Domingo ’15

As she wipes her hair out of her eyes, Athenian student Annalise Stevenson, representing the United States, prepares for her final spar against her Venezuelan opponent. The two competitors take their stances, looking deep into each other’s eyes, trying to find any possible weakness. It’s overtime, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Stevenson tunes out the roars and screams of the crowd as she zeros in on the only person left who stands in her way of receiving her bronze medal.

The Venezuelan’s eyes briefly make contact with her opponent’s as she strikes with a jumping hand attack to her midsection. Stevenson, however, anticipates the maneuver and responds with a perfect block. The Venezuelan, realizing her mistake too late, has no time to protect herself, and Stevenson attacks with a flying kick to her head. As Stevenson makes contact, she ends the spar, in addition to the Venezuelan’s dreams of medaling.

“I felt the intensity in the room, with everyone chanting ‘USA’ over and over,” says Stevenson about the experience of sparring for Team USA at the International Taekwondo Federation World Championships.

Not only does this confident, wiry, blonde teenager practice one of the most extreme forms of martial arts in existence, she also is currently a new sophomore at The Athenian School. This past summer, Stevenson qualified to go to the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) World Championships for the first time. She is only 15 years old.

However, don’t confuse this form of taekwondo with Olympic taekwondo—this kind is way more intense. In the Olympics, or WTF, every competitor must wear a standardized head guard, a trunk protector, shin/feet guards, and wrist/hand guards. Stevenson, on the other hand, only dons feet, hand, and head protectors when she spars (which is the maximum amount of protection; only a mouth guard is actually required in the ITF).

The WTF also bans punches to the head, attacking below the waist, and many types of jumping spinning kicks. On the contrary, the ITF awards jumping spinning kicks and punches more points, in addition to strikes to the head. “The Olympic style of taekwondo, in my opinion, is pretty boring,” says Stevenson. “It’s nothing compared to what we do.”

“I first got into taekwondo when I was in fifth grade,” says Stevenson when asked about how she became interested in it. “My dad has always wanted me to try new sports, but I didn’t realize that taekwondo was ‘my sport’ until I made it to Nationals. I recognized that I was good at it, and that it was something I could pursue.”

Taekwondo is not all fun and games, however. Over the summer, Stevenson had to train for three hours a day, seven days a week. Training was mandatory, and if a member of the team missed a practice, the consequences were severe. Stevenson recalls one time she and her teammates were forced to do 500 push ups because someone showed up late. Team USA is no joke, people.

Stevenson says that during the school year, it isn’t as extreme. She tries to go to taekwondo at least five days a week, but with cross-country and guitar, Stevenson says that sometimes she has to miss. “I have definitely learned a lot about time management doing [taekwondo],” Stevenson states. “But even with my super-busy schedule, it is completely worth it.”

What is her favorite part of taekwondo? “Oh, definitely sparring,” Stevenson reports with enthusiasm. “It’s the most fun, especially when you’re winning. But, it’s not so fun when you’re on the receiving end of the blows. It can hurt a lot sometimes.”

One of the main reasons Stevenson loves taekwondo and sparring is the discipline that comes with it. “When you are sparring, it can get really intense, but you have to stay disciplined, otherwise you might mess up,” Stevenson says. Stevenson also enjoys breaking, which is another part of taekwondo. Her record is breaking 5 boards at one time.

In addition, her experience at the World Championships was once in a lifetime. “It was really cool, meeting all of the other kids from all over the world. We all connected, in a way, because we’re really all the same; we do the same things and all have a passion for taekwondo,” Stevenson says of her experience. This past summer was her first trip to the World Championships, and to top off her experience, she won the bronze medal for her country. “I wasn’t expecting to medal; I really thought it was going to be just a test run,” Stevenson confesses. “But it really was a special moment.”

As for her plans for the future, Stevenson plans to go back to the World Championships in 2014. “My time now will be spent preparing for that,” she says.