At the end of this school year, Athenian said a fond farewell to three long-time faculty who are entering retirement. Robin Oliver, 34 year French teacher, Cindy Kanstein, 24 year science teacher, and Karen Sanford, 14 year art teacher, have each contributed so much to The Athenian School. Thank you for everything you’ve done for the Athenian community! Enjoy your retirement and come back and visit us!
The Upper School newspaper editors wrote tributes to Karen and Robin in The Pillar in May, reprinted here.
Bon Voyage to Robin Oliver
This June, Robin Oliver will be attending her last Athenian graduation as a faculty member. After 34 years of teaching, the beloved French teacher’s career is coming to a close.
Oliver was living in New York when she heard about Athenian in 1979.
“I thought Athenian was the most beautiful school I’d ever seen; it was so lush and green, and miles away from civilization,” Oliver said. “I had read about the school and its mission, and thought that is sounded like a fantastic place to be.”
The school was much smaller when Oliver began her teaching career. All of the students and the majority of the teachers lived on campus, and the environment was much more relaxed. Oliver would spontaneously take her advisees to ice cream after school on occasion.
“It felt like a big family as opposed to a school,” Oliver said.
In her first year at Athenian, the schedule was designed so there were three two-hour classes a day, and Oliver taught French, Spanish I, and ESL. Oliver taught ESL for 19 years, and has been solely teaching French for the last 14 years. She served as the department chair of the language department for 27 years, and also has taken multiple interim trips to France.
“Robin is the nicest woman on the entire planet,” Ali Hirt ’15 said. “She cares about each and every one of her students. The letter she wrote for me on AWE was so sweet, it made my day!”
Robin’s AWE letters to her students reflect how much she cares about them and her passion for the school.
“My favorite part about being at Athenian is teaching and being here with the students,” Oliver said. “They make every day fun; I’m never bored here. I’m always surprised by the intelligence, the compassion, and the things my students are doing.”
The community at Athenian is one of the parts that make this school unique.
“I really believe a community is a good place for a person to learn, for both students and adults,” Oliver said. “I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.”
Sculpting Her Future: Art Teacher Karen Sanford to Retire
After 14 years at Athenian, art teacher Karen Sanford is retiring at the end of the year. Sanford started teaching at Athenian in 2000 along with Niki Stefaneli, and over the years she has taught 3D art, ceramics, sculpture, Humanitas, and the fine art quarter of the freshman art rotation.
Sanford grew up in Orinda and went to Miramonte High School, which is where she first got interested in art. She had a teacher who taught arts and crafts, which really intrigued her.
For college, Sanford started out at the University of California Santa Barbara as a sociology major, but she missed art and so she switched her major. She continued her art degree at California College of the Arts in Oakland, and then took a break for a while. During that time, she worked as a plumber for fifteen years (“I like to make stuff, so it was a making stuff thing,” said Sanford), and then finished her art degree at Cal State Hayward before getting her teaching credential at St. Mary’s College.
The moral of the story is that “you can get a degree even if you don’t do it in a straight line,” Sanford said.
After completing her teaching credential, Sanford taught both 2D and 3D art at various middle schools for six years before coming to Athenian.
“Niki Stefaneli and I got hired at the same time, in 2000…and because we got to decide who wanted to teach what, we decided that I would teach the 3D stuff and Niki would teach the 2D stuff,” Sanford said.
When Sanford first started here and taught the freshman art rotation, there was one quarter for 3D art and one quarter for 2D art, and health was after school, which was “very insane for poor freshmen,” Sanford said. Eventually they combined the two quarters of art into one in order to make room in the schedule for Health.
Sanford said that her favorite class that she teaches at Athenian is her 3D art class.
“I’ll miss that class a lot because that’s where I get to have them for a whole year and we get to do really interesting group projects,” Sanford said, including the stained glass currently hanging in front of the library.
Sanford with miss certain aspects of teaching at Athenian.
“I’ll miss the community the most…I really love my colleagues. I like that practically my entire social life can just be right here which is really nice, and we all seem to have common goals. It’s okay for everybody to be different and we still care about each other and take care of each other,” Sanford said.
When Sanford compares the Athenian of 2000 to the Athenian of today, she notices a few cultural differences.
“I think we’re a little bit more organized, we have a few more processes for things,” she said. “And unfortunately, I think kids are more stressed out about college and about getting all the right things in a row so that they can go on to the right place…things were a little bit more free-flowing, I would say, than they are now.”
Sanford is looking forward to making more art in her retirement, as well as traveling a little bit. After school gets out in June, Sanford is going to Portugal for a few weeks to visit Sally Baker, who used to be an art teacher at Athenian as well.
When asked for any parting thoughts for the Athenian community, Sanford said, “AWE and graduation are two of the greatest things that we do, so keep doing those things and keep being an awesome community!”
Cindy Kanstein and Wet Duck Retire
After 24 years in the Middle School, Cindy has taught hundreds of students 7th and 8th grade science. Cindy was instrumental in creating Friday Focus Days, a unique learning model that allows in-depth, experiential activities every Friday. Generations of students remember Pool Volume Day, Softballs in the Gym, Soda Can Day, and Newtonian Olympics, to name a few.
Cindy taught 7th and 8th grade science, health, and sex education.
Any of Cindy’s students will remember Wet Duck, the character she used in word problems. Cindy’s word problems didn’t just teach physics; they told an intriguing and often funny story, such as the “Fowl Saga.”
Cindy’s legacy at Athenian will live on every Friday in the Middle School.