Using Student Funds for Plants and Earthquake Relief

Today’s last Town Meeting of the year involved a proposal asking for $100 of Town Meeting funds to purchase 12,000 native, drought-tolerant milkweed seeds that attract monarchs.

During the meeting, friendly amendments were added to include $450 for outdoor furniture and using the remaining $450 for Nepal earthquake relief. The resolution passed.

Thanks to this year’s Town Meeting officers–Dina, Tessa, Ryan, Lauren, and Ryan–and to those taking over next year–Anna, Cade, Madelyn, Eli, and Arman!

Milkweed Proposal
Submitted By: Ryan D. ’15 and the E and C period Environmental Science classes
Up for Decision

Whereas: Athenian takes pride in its environmental pillar and planting milkweed will provide our campus with more native plants that are drought tolerant.

Whereas: Milkweed would attract monarch butterflies, which would add a beautiful aspect to our campus.

Whereas: Monarch butterflies are soon to be endangered and Athenian can provide a sanctuary for these butterflies on their migration from Canada to Mexico.

Resolved: The E and C period Envi Sci classes request $100 of town meeting funds to purchase milkweed seeds for the purpose of planting these seeds in approved places on campus.

Studying Physics at Great America

By Daizy Asaravala, Middle School Science Teacher

The principles of physics came to life as California’s Great America amusement park was turned into the world’s largest classroom. Eighth grade students experienced the laws of physics and made calculations and observations on speed, acceleration, velocity, force, inertia, potential and kinetic energy. They discovered how math and science applied to amusement park excitement during a new Focus Day: Physics, Science, & Math Day at Great America.

Athenians Go on Exchange in Record Numbers

by Amalia Gradie ‘17

In the past two years, there has been a significant increase in the number of Athenian students going on exchange to other Round Square schools. This is a result of the growing popularity of the Round Square program. Community Service Director and Round Square Coordinator Mark Friedman has had first-hand experience with the challenges and rewards created by the increase.

“In some classes, the fact that students have lived abroad enriches the class for everyone,” Friedman said.

However, more students going on exchange means more exchange students coming here, and not always at the most ideal times. Due to the fact that the schools in the southern hemisphere tend to send their students to Athenian in the second quarter and no Athenian students go on exchange during this time, classrooms can become a little crowded.

There is also the concern that having students on exchange from other schools who aren’t motivated by a grade will mean a low level of contribution or presence in the classroom, according to Friedman. The biggest challenge of having foreign exchange students come to Athenian is the effort put into supporting them.

“The nurse has to approve their health forms, the admissions office has to issue an I24 form for their student visa, and their information has to be entered into the school database.” Friedman said. “The amount of school staffing support that goes into supporting exchanges hasn’t gone up in a few years and the number of students going on exchange has doubled since then. It’s a challenge at this point managing all of the people and trying to make it possible for everyone who can go to go.”

The number of students going on exchange has been growing rapidly over the years, starting with only one in 1982 and now at an all time high of 26. Approximately one-fourth of all the exchanges Athenian has organized belong to this year’s applicants.

“If that was a life form, you would have a monster,” Friedman said, regarding the dramatic increase in Round Square exchanges.

Previously, only juniors and seniors were allowed to go on exchange per the school policy, and only recently, around 2011, were sophomores permitted to go.

“That’s the big change that has lead to the explosion,” Friedman said.Screenshot (17)

Another concern that has gained attention due to the spike in exchanges is the academic challenges students face coming back from their host country.

“Mostly we send students on exchange in the summer,” Friedman said. “For the students who go in the fourth quarter, they are coming back [to Athenian] in the fall and most courses begin with some sort of review so that hasn’t been a big challenge. The students who go on exchange in the third quarter are mostly seniors, and second-semester seniors have a reputation for not being super attached to their academic outcomes anyway.”

The 10th-grade student sent to The Gordonstoun School in Scotland each year has the most challenging time coming back.

“Probably the person it’s hardest for is the one student a year we send to Gordonstoun in the third quarter as a 10th grader,” Friedman said. “And that person still has to do the Cold War paper even though they are gone. Of all the people who go on exchange, that’s the person who it’s most challenging for. And no one who’s done that has ever said, ‘Mark, I wish I’d never gone.’”

The other academic concern is the placement options for students going on exchange during the school year. The option of taking an honors or AP course in the year after the exchange and the policy surrounding it varies from department to department. Depending on a student’s academic performance on the final exam or in class when he or she returns, and on how strong a student he or she is, honors and AP classes are an option, but not always a realistic one.

“Sometimes the exchange can limit your ability to participate in certain [advanced] classes,” Friedman said.

The greater challenge, according to Friedman, is the reintegration back into the home culture.

“One thing that I think is often surprising is that the coming home is often very challenging,” Friedman said. “You obviously get yourself jazzed for going abroad and you’re in a new country and a new culture and new people and so you knew that that was going to be challenging and that there was going to be culture shock,” Friedman said. “But what people don’t realize is that you go through the same process [culture shock] coming back. You feel like you don’t quite belong and you’ve changed a lot while other people haven’t… It can be a little disconcerting if you’re not expecting it.”

Athenian students are currently on exchange through Round Square in India, Germany, South Africa, and other countries.  Follow their adventures on the Round Square Blog!

Athenian: Recognized for Emotional Learning

By Eric Niles, Head of School

In February, I was in an audience of about 6,000 independent school administrators and teachers at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).  The conference was just beginning and the Association’s Executive Director, John Chubb, was giving his opening remarks.  In a time of great change in education, he was remarking on the things independent schools have always provided to their students.  He had listed three items and then began to talk about “the most important one—emotion.”  I was in the top row of the balcony of this massive hall as John Chubb began to talk about “touching the heart and soul” of our students, about how schools are not about just “teaching stuff” to kids.  He gave one example from a school in the east that created a fun way to call a snow day and then prepared to wrap up his comments.

Truthfully, I was already mentally making my transition to the first conference session (i.e., scanning my program to decide which of the dozens of presentations I would attend) when John Chubb said, “…Our schools are also good at touching kids so deeply that it changes their lives.”  It was then that a picture of an Athenian AWE patrol popped up on the massive screens at the front of the hall and now John had the full measure of my attention.

From here, I will let John speak for himself.  In the video, he starts talking about schools’ ability to elicit emotion at about 18:55 and then about Athenian at 21:25.  You can see that talking with our students deeply touched him and he, too, became emotional. My throat tightened as well as he talked about Athenian and the way this mission moves our students.  It was even a bit more poignant knowing that my son was only days away from embarking to Death Valley himself.

It took every bit of my self-control to not stand up in the back of the auditorium and scream, “That is my school!”  And I would have wanted people to know that AWE is but one way we endeavor to touch the hearts and souls of our students and engender in them a life of intellectual exploration and meaningful contribution.  When you respect students as humans and deep learners, and mix that with a mission that is all about applying knowledge (not simply gathering it) and using it to do good, then you get The Athenian School.  This was a supremely proud moment for me, although I am proud daily by the way our faculty and students bring their passion to the world.  As I have said on numerous occasions, the world has “come to us” in recognizing that Athenian’s brand of education is a supremely powerful way to prepare students for success in college and the years beyond.  Enjoy.

Athenian Launches Two New Heads of Schools

Athenian prides itself on attracting and developing faculty and staff who are committed to quality education and are often leaders in the field.  After nearly 20 years of combined service, two Athenian administrators will become Heads of Schools at independent schools with similar missions.  We will miss them dearly and we couldn’t be prouder of these educational leaders! 

Originally published in The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper, March 2015

by Irena Volkov ’16

The Athenian School’s beloveds Sam Shapiro and Jessica Lee will spend their last semester here at Athenian and will embark on new challenges of becoming Heads of School elsewhere this coming fall.Sam Shapiro Pic

Sam Shapiro, Athenian’s current 9th Grade Dean of Instruction, Assistant Director of Admission, and Humanities teacher, will be the new Head of School for the Marin Montessori School as of July 1st, 2015.

Marin Montessori School is an elementary and middle school located in Marin County, and is attended by about 270 kids, starting as young as 18 months up to 15 years old.

Shapiro knew he was interested in becoming a head of school after participating in the Fellowship for Aspiring School Heads, a program from the National Association of Independent Schools.

Eventually, Shapiro was recruited to be the Head of Marin Montessori.

“This year just felt right in terms of being ready for a new challenge and feeling ready to take on the challenge of heading a school,” Shapiro said.

Although he is ready for the challenges of being a school head, Shapiro claims that he is “about 88% excited and about 12% terrified.”

Shapiro was 26 years old when he first stepped onto the Athenian campus and has taught at Athenian for 14 years, serving as a Humanities teacher, World Cultures teacher, World Literature teacher, the 9th Grade Dean of Students, the Dean of Instruction and the Assistant Director of Admissions.

“I’m worried about what it’s going to feel like to not be a part of…to be an Athenian anymore,” Shapiro said. “I really kind of grew up here.”

Shapiro is also worried about how this change is going to impact his family and is sad to leave the Athenian community.

“I love Athenian, my son is an Athenian student now so I get to see it through his eyes,” Shapiro said. “This is my community, it’s my second home, and it’s where I’ve grown up. I’ve literally lived here for many years, and on-campus too… [I have] good friends here, and I love my work, so it’s sad.”

With a very rich and joyful Athenian experience such as Shapiro’s, he would like to leave Athenian with one lasting wish.

“Always stay very clear on the power and purpose of an Athenian education, which I see as rich learning through powerful experience and reflection, and, most importantly, staying a culture of kindness,” Shapiro said.

Lee, who has been Head of the Middle School for the past five years and is also serving as Assistant to the Head for Advancement, will also soon be facing the challenges of being Head of School in Washington D.C.

Lee will be the Head of a kindergarten through 8th grade school that “has a similar mission to Athenian,” Lee said. “It’s what’s called a ‘progressive school’, so it’s really hands-on and experiential.”

Lee Family PicAccording to Lee, the K-8 school has a very diverse student body and adult community, which is why Lee feels the school is a good fit for her.

Lee came to Athenian from a K-8 school because she felt that middle school was where her heart was, but also loves being around elementary-aged children.

“I love being around the little kids,” Lee said. “The little ones are so cute and they just say what they think, there’s no filter, and it’s just so fun to talk to them. So I’m really excited about that.”

Lee was originally recruited for this job by a recruiter last March, but she had declined the offer because she didn’t think her husband, Humanities teacher Steven Lee, would want to move their life to Washington D.C.

Jessica told the recruiter, “I eventually want to be a Head of School but I’m happy at Athenian, so unless it was the perfect school it wasn’t worth leaving.”

After being called by the recruiter a second time, last August, both Steven and Jessica decided to fly to D.C. for two days to allow Jessica to be interviewed and Steven to explore the city.

After the trip, Steven said to Jessica, “you know what, we’re ready for an adventure.”

Steven is anxious about living in a new city and not knowing anybody because both Jessica and Steven’s families live in California, and they both feel loved by their communities.

Steven thinks this change is a great opportunity for Jessica and has a plan to “help Jessica and be a house husband, while keeping my eyes open for possible positions in schools,” Steven said.

Jessica is very excited about the new adventure and can see herself doing a lot of great work at the new school.

“I’m excited to live in a city, I’m excited for Liam [her son] to be in a different environment,” Lee said. “I think it’s important to push yourself outside of what you know you can do, so it’s the kind of challenge that I know will be fun.”

Jessica has been a proud representative of The Athenian School and is really sad to leave the Athenian community.

“I think about being in D.C. or I think about being here,” Jessica said. “I don’t think about leaving here because it makes me sad.”

Jessica and Steven have had wonderful experiences at Athenian because of the team-like community and the “neat” students.

“I really appreciate the community here because the people are very special,” Steven said. “We’ve had such a wonderful experience so it’s going to be hard to leave.”

When asked about her final words to the Athenian community, Jessica would like to say, “Thank you. I’ve had such a great experience here and have felt so welcomed, even in the hard things and good, and I think my children have gotten a good education here, so thank you.”

From Abercrombie to Birkenstocks: Student Fashion at Athenian

Originally published in The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper, March 2015

by Nicole Thrower ’15

Sweatpants and bare feet, floral print dresses and wedges, Paul Frank pajama pants, boyfriend jeans and Birkenstocks, Odd Future ball caps and distressed denim vans: you name it, Athenian has it. Anyone can take a look around and notice the variety of style amongst the student body.

Recent student interviews explain the diversity of student style at Athenian.

Fashion is an unspoken expression of individuality. Even if a student doesn’t plan what he or she will wear before leaving home in the morning, the student’s last-minute choice in attire reveals a part of his or her character.

“I don’t think a whole lot about my style, I don’t like to think of the way that I dress as a certain style or a certain image, I guess that I put out one but I don’t consciously pick stuff to try to make me look a certain way,” Sam Katz ‘15 said.

Students explained or interpreted their styles in a series of random interviews. When asked to describe their style, responses such as grungy/hippie-ish, classy, sophisticated, preppy, bold, edgy, girly, relaxed, and even comfy were used.

Athenians have gone through a series of transitions in the fashion realm. Every interviewee commented on their unique changes. Most focused on their middle school phases up to their current styles.

“My transition from eighth grade to now has gone from girly and colorful, to hipster-y, now more hippie-ish,” Violet Jurich ‘16 said.

While Jurich focused on colors, others followed brands.

“My middle-school phase was Abercrombie,” Katie Kwak ‘16 said. “Everything Abercrombie. And once I got into high school I sort of just shopped wherever. However, I have always worn my shorts even when it was 50 degrees outside.”

Some students have recently made more of an effort to show off their best selves, discovering their inner style and attending to every outfit.

“I feel like I did not care that much when I was younger but now that high school has started I felt like I needed to step up my game because most people judge you on first sight,” Hunter Barr ‘17 said. “Fashion and clothing are very important and I put value and care into everything I wear.”

Athenian appears to be a place that welcomes quirkiness and individuality. Most interviewees agreed that they do not feel pressure to dress differently at Athenian than they would elsewhere. “How I dress varies on how I am feeling that day, but for the most part I don’t think it varies,” Madelyn Mathai ‘16 said when asked if she dresses differently at Athenian than she does outside of Athenian.

Athenian is a special place that consists of a variety of styles and unique self-expression. Every so often, stop to take a look around and observe; you may discover something new about a student with a simple glance at their outfit.

“No matter where you go people are gonna be like, ‘oh my God what are you wearing’ and, of course, there’s a norm for style everywhere, but it’s Athenian, come on,” Katz said. “No one is going to say, ‘you need to dress this way or that’s not cool’, I feel like I can dress how I want and no one is going to give me too much grief for it”.