A Pumpkin Patch in the Middle School Library

by Jenny Staller, Middle School Librarian

All students who came into the Middle School library this week got to enjoy a very special Halloween treat in the form of our first-ever literary pumpkin patch. Students were invited to decorate a pumpkin based on a favorite book or character from literature and bring it into the library, where they were put on display for all to enjoy. At the end of the week, the Middle School’s Library Advisory Board voted on winners for each grade, which was an agonizing task considering the amount of talent and creativity that was on display. Winners received Amazon gift cards (and bragging rights), and all participants got Halloween prizes for their hard work.

This activity combined students’ love of reading and books with artistic expression, and it was a pleasure to see how differently students interpreted the book-inspired theme. Some students chose to illustrate a favorite scene from a book, others made their pumpkins into characters, and a few even recreated a book cover they loved. Each pumpkin was completely unique, and students used a variety of materials in their creations, including pipe cleaners, marshmallows, feathers, construction paper, and felt. Because of their tremendous efforts, other students flocked to the library every day before school, at break, and at lunch, to talk about the pumpkins and the books that inspired them. The pumpkin patch included the entire Middle School community–one parent even commented that her whole family got in on the fun and created pumpkins together based on the book theme.

This was a fun event for students and staff, and it hopefully marks the beginning of a new Athenian tradition!

“Beyond the Blackboard”: Kurt Hahn and Expeditionary Learning

by Eric Niles, Head of School

I write this blog post from Shanghai at the beginning of a six-country tour to celebrate Athenian’s 50th Anniversary and our identity as a global boarding school.  Shanghai is an amazing city and I have been warmly welcomed by our parents here.

As I landed, my email and texts were lighting up with notes about a radio documentary on KQED.  The piece isn’t literally about Athenian, but really, it is.  It is about Kurt Hahn, educator and founder of Outward Bound and the inspiration of our founder, Dyke Brown. It is about Hahn’s passion for character education and an emphasis on non-cognitive skills like persistence, leadership, and getting along with others as the means to prepare students to be compassionate citizens.  It is about education as it should be.  It is about Athenian.

The story is long, but I urge you to listen if you can find the time.  If you want to understand why we do Focus Friday’s, and AWE, and Round Square exchanges, and emphasize the Arts, and push so hard on core academic skills–this story is a great window into our mission and our thinking.  And if you want your child to visit the schools in Germany and Scotland started by Kurt Hahn, then just have them sign up for a Round Square exchange, for those two schools, like Athenian, were founders of that organization.

Part 2 of the story helps you understand why we are thinking so deeply about Athenian’s public purpose, the service we are supposed to do as an institution beyond the great education we provide every day to our students.

I know I often say “the world has come to Athenian.”  This story another indication of that.

Enjoy as I take Athenian to the world for the next few weeks.  See you soon.


Photo of students sitting for individual reflection during 9th-grade orientation at Pt. Reyes.  Photo by Mark Lukach.

Seventh Graders: On the Road Again…and Again…and Again

by Lauren Railey, Middle School Head
Borges Ranch 2Seventh graders took experiential education to a new level for the past three weeks by getting off campus every single Friday. On September 18, they visited the Conservatory of Flowers and Botanical Gardens in San Francisco to investigate plant adaptations for science class. On September 25, they took a hike to Borges Ranch in Walnut Creek where they tested their stamina and resilience in the autumn heat,
explored a century-old ranch, and documented their experiences throughout the day. Finally, on October 2, they headed to the East Beach at San Francisco’s Crissy Field to create collaborative environmental sculptures using elements of natural design inspired by the art of Andy Goldsworthy.

In addition to powerful curricular connections to science and art, these Focus Days emphasized two of our pillars: Outdoor Adventure (the appreciation of physical fitness and personal growth through the challenge of outdoor adventures) and Environmental Stewardship (a deep respect for and understanding of the natural world woven into our history, curriculum, and values). Borges Ranch 1The rich and varied learning over the course of these three Fridays is a good reminder that some of the best learning takes place outside of the classroom.

Though these experiences were educational and rewarding, I doubt that any of the seventh graders will mind staying on campus next Friday for Greek Art Day.

Making Global Connections in Singapore

By Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

Tomorrow is the final day of the Round Square International Conference.  The Athenian students all report that they’re having a great experience.  Singapore is sitting in thick haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia.  There was heavy rainfall today, which cleared the air somewhat.  We even caught a glimpse of the sun for the first time since our arrival.  The poor air quality has led to several changes in the conference schedule, but even Plan B has been of high quality.

Singapore1Today was service day at the conference.  We were supposed  to be off-campus, but because of the air quality the students did the service work at school.  Many delegates worked at the United World College of South East Asia’s (UNCSEA) elementary school, while some worked with senior citizens that visited the school.  The late afternoon brought an amazing collection of nonprofit leaders to campus.  I went to hear Janne Ritskes, who founded Tabitha Cambodia 20 years ago.  The organization has done amazing work to alleviate poverty in Cambodia, with its unique and painful history.  Signapore2The UWCSEA has been involved with Tabitha for 19 of its 20 years and sends 80 students to Cambodia each year to build houses with them.  Very inspiring!  I went down to meet Janne after her talk and to explore the possibility of bringing a group of Athenian students to Cambodia to work with her organization.  Then, in the evening, the conference hosted the world premiere of the film ‘Life is One.’  The film is a moving story about protecting sun bears in Indonesia.  The filmmaker, Patrick Rouxel, was on hand and he is a UWCSEA and Cal-Berkeley alum.  He just finished the film last week, rushing so that we could see it.

Singapore3As great as the program is, the best part of the conference is the friendships that are formed with people from around the world.  I know our students are doing wonderfully at this, but to give you deeper sense of this, let me tell you about two of my conversations today.  I spent an hour this morning talking with Prince Alexander of Germany, who has been involved with Round Square for several decades.  (Prince Alexander is the person on the far left in the photo.)  While I’ve seen him at many Round Square conferences, we had never really spoken.  I asked how he got involved with Round Square and he proceeded to tell the long and fascinating history of how his family, under the guidance of Kurt Hahn, started Louisenlund School in the devastating aftermath of World War II in Germany.  Prince Alexander talked about Dyke and Kate Brown.  And Louisenlund is hosting next October’s Round Square International Conference.  At dinner, I sat next to a teacher from the Amman Baccalaureate School in Jordan.  Having been to Jordan for last year’s conference, I know a little about refugees in Jordan (e.g. there are currently about 900,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan).  We had an interesting conversation about Jordan’s amazing hospitality to refugees and the situation in Europe.

Singapore4Yesterday was Explore Singapore Day at the conference.  The adults and students were on different programs; the students headed into town first thing in the morning while the adults had a morning full of meetings.  My group of adults visited the Asian Civilizations Museum, toured the Singapore River on a bum boat, and visited the Gardens by the Bay.  The Athenian students are looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring Singapore on our own after the conference ends.  They spent Sunday afternoon and evening with their host families, so some of them already have ideas for places they want to visit, such as a henna shop in Little India with good prices.

Learn more about the conference.

Martial Arts and Climbing Coconut Trees in Bali

by Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

IMG_9598 (1024x768)Greetings from Singapore!  We arrived here safely this afternoon.  The theme of the conference and the pre-conference trip in Bali is environmental sustainability.  We arrived in Singapore in the midst of an air pollution crisis.  The air in Singapore is thick with gray haze, smoke really, from fires in Indonesia.  The pollution was so thick one day last week that they had to close all the schools.  Gratefully it’s not that bad right now.  The efficiency of Singapore was also on display.  It was a long ride to the airport in Denpasar this morning through a sea of motorbikes.  Despite the fact that the airport is on one side of Singapore and the Dover Campus of the United World College is on the other, the bus never had to slow on our long cross-town drive.

bali1Yesterday we toured a silk factory.  We were able to see each step of the silk-making process and then got to do batik, which is an Indonesian art form.

bali2First thing on Wednesday, we participated in a session on waste management.  After discussing how waste is managed in the different places represented by the schools present, we split up into small groups to walk the nearby dirt roads and pick up trash.  It was a great way to explore the neighborhood.  Bali is full of Hindu temples; there are two within feet of the school and we hadn’t seen them before.  There is no trash or recycling pick-up in the Green School’s neighborhood, so some families just toss their trash outside their compound.  Amazingly, the Green School has its own recycling center where people can bring items.  We brought our trash there and sorted it into one of the 20+ categories of items they recycle.  At the end, there was only a little that had to go to a landfill.
Then each student got to climb a coconut tree.  Almost every Athenian student made it to the top!  (And don’t worry, the students were belayed and wearing helmets.)

bali3Lunch was a special meal and we were served a traditional Balinese feast.  Bamboo mats covered the floor and large banana leaves were laid end-to-end.  On the banana leaves was spread lots of great food.  We sat on the mats and ate with our hands.  We were told that this is the style of dining for a feast where everyone is considered equal, a significant event in a society with a caste system.

bali4One of the highlights of our time in Bali was participating in the Balinese martial art of mepantingan that afternoon.  We heard we were ‘mud wrestling’ and dressed appropriately.  But we began with no mud in sight, standing in a circle on the field.  Two Balinese men led us in simple martial arts stances and movements, with some vigorous call-and-response chanting—and a healthy dose of laughter.  They taught us a couple of moves and had various members of our group come out and practice on them—or on each other.  Then we walked over to a little oval amphitheater nearby, whose floor was covered in six inches of muddy water.  And they led the group in a similar version of exercises there—except it meant getting wet and muddy and getting others wet and muddy.  Various students wrestled with the instructors or with each other.  What a blast!

The late afternoon and evening?  The students had been working in small groups discussing issues such as consumerism, overpopulation, and waste management.  In the late afternoon, each group wrote a shadow puppet show about their theme and cut out puppets to accompany their show.  And the evening activity was watching the ten puppet shows, which were both serious and funny.

IMG_9592 (1024x768)We ate breakfast at the airport in Bali this morning and reflected on our time there.  The students talked about how part of what made their week in Bali so great was that all the Athenian students tried their enthusiastic best at every activity—and they wanted to bring that spirit back to their daily lives in California.  They said that being around the delegations from the other schools made them appreciate even more the respectful relationships they have with their teachers at Athenian.  And they were excited to keep exploring environmental issues having already spent a week thinking about them.

We’re excited to begin the Conference now that we are in Singapore.  More to come!