The Logistics Behind the Logistics

by Eric Niles, Head of School

Part of my Spring Break was spent deep in Death Valley camping with the logistics team resupplying our AWE (Athenian Wilderness Experience) groups.  It was nothing short of a magical four days for me.  My son, Cade, a Death Valley veteran from last year, is on the logistics team and my daughter, Hannah, a Death Valley participant in 2013, joined me for the trip.  It was wonderful to share that experience with my own children and with about 30 of my other “kids” as they came into resupply.  Their smiles were full and their eyes were beginning to show the clarity so visible at Run-In each year.  They said their groups (I saw groups 1, 2, & 3) were great and asked me to tell their parents that they miss them and love them.  Consider the message delivered.  

I was already aware that AWE is so much more than a backpacking trip, that Jason and Phoebe, our AWE Directors, (and all their instructors) administer a well-conceived and tested curriculum to be sure that each student receives the educational outcomes (e.g. leadership, self-esteem, teamwork, resilience) so unique to this trip.  What I got to see this time was the complicated logistics “dance” that makes sure our children have all the food and water they need for the journey.  Just the car ride down the 32-mile dirt road to the logistics camp was enough to test my mettle.  On top of that, the logistics team needs to get (and refill, and refill) the water that will later be dispersed, tend to any medical needs, and make sure all the food is sorted and ready to go.  The “Logis” do it all and they do it with gusto. 

I wasn’t sure I was a “desert person” but I am now.  The expanse of the Racetrack (a dry ancient lake bed) towered over by Ubehebe Peak is just breathtaking.  Dare I say, AWE inspiring.  And, yes, it was the year of the “Super Bloom” of wildflowers.  Think Wizard of Oz.  Pictured here is me next to a Sailing Stone.  Note the trail that marks its movement over the decades.  Do a Google search to hear about these stones.  It is worth your time.  

Once again, I wrap up a year feeling blessed to be part of this community and helping to tend to this mission.  Athenian is one of a kind.  So are each of our kids.  Happy spring.

The Original AWE: Borrowed Boots, a Lost Sleeping Bag, and Lifelong Friends

In honor of Athenian’s 50th Anniversary, alumni Michael Connelly ’71 and Judy Goldberg ’71 wrote about their 1969 experience on what we now know as the Athenian Wilderness Experience.  

By Michael Connelly and Judy Goldberg

Michael (pictured above on right, eating):  What we now refer to as the Athenian Wilderness Experience, or AWE, was just plain Outward Bound when it first became part of the Athenian experience the year I came to the school as a junior in 1969.  That first year, the program was operated by staff from Northwest Outward Bound, in Oregon, in portions of the Sierras where many of them had never been before, creating unexpected challenges and a real learning experience for everyone involved.  Participation was mandatory, which apparently created an issue for some rising sophomores but was just part of the program for people like me who were new to the school. My arrival from Mexico City, where my family lived at the time, was memorable in a number ways.  The flight my mother had booked for me arrived in San Francisco, and I was shuttled by helicopter across the Bay to the pick-up point at Oakland Airport.  I’ve never been sure why, but the helicopter was of the large, green military variety and I soon realized that for all the other young men who were aboard, the final destination was not an idyllic co-educational boarding school nestled at the foot of Mount Diablo but Vietnam.

michael connolly 4_Page_3

Judy pictured in braids.

Once the bus had deposited all of us at the school and we gathered under the Oak tree to check our equipment before setting out early the next morning for Mono Lake, I discovered I was in unexpected trouble because I had no hiking boots.  I was a scholarship student and I had read in the materials we had been sent by Outward Bound that boots would be provided.  Of course, that referred to participants in the Northwest Outward Bound program, not Athenian students, and I had clearly misunderstood.  I told Leslie, my patrol leader, of my predicament, and she came to the rescue by lending me her spare boots.  That meant that I was not only well shod but the boots had already been broken in and I avoided the suffering that many of my cohorts experienced as a result of having brand-new boots.

Judy:  My anticipation of the Outward Bound experience was distinctively different from Michael’s.  I, too, was an entering junior at Athenian, thanks to the good fortune of parents who realized I hungered for a different kind of high school experience. I was a Bay Area kid, steeped in 60’s pedagogy (though a little young for true hippie identity) and an avid outdoor adventurer. I recall starting the “OB” adventure with some “attitude.” I loved back-packing and had gone on summer camp expeditions in the Trinity Alps of northern California for several years.  I looked dismissively at my fellow students as they struggled over decisions about packing and what to leave behind: make-up, extra clothes, beloved mementos, etc. This particular “letting go” was far from my non-materialistic sense of necessities. A backpack and an open trail were my métier.

So off we all went the next morning, gathering that evening for supper together by the lake shore before leaving on our separate patrols early the next morning.  Each patrol included a faculty member as well as the patrol leader so there were two adults ostensibly in charge of a crowd of unruly teenagers.  The Outward Bound folks had not, up until that time, had a coeducational program or one in which many of the participants (all those rising sophomores) already knew each other, so that was probably a good thing.

A number of patrols were scheduled to meet up again in Tuolumne Meadows.  We had significant difficulty getting there–including the loss of my poorly attached sleeping bag while crossing a glacier and a case of snow blindness resulting from our crossing it in bright sunshine–and arrived a day later than planned.  I will never forget our arrival, when Leslie settled us in the shade beside a cool mountain stream for lunch (have peanut butter and crackers ever tasted so good?) while she went off to find the others.  When she returned after scouring the Meadows for some time, she reported that we were the only ones there so far.  It turned out that all the other patrols experienced greater challenges and worse setbacks than we had, which in retrospect seems to have been one of the distinct benefits as well as difficulties of planning a program for the first time in terra incognita.

As our respective patrols set-out with backpacks laden with a shared food supply for 5 days, I recall taking a lion’s share, proclaiming “it’s not so heavy once you hoist the pack onto your hips.” I demonstrated by dragging the heavy pack onto a bent leg and swinging it over my shoulder. I imagine myself hitting the trail with a particular “see, no big deal!” flare. Our first hike was a series of steep switch-backs.  Not fun, but I knew a slow pace was better than the stop and start, huff and puff I saw from my whinier trail mates. I’m sure the patrol leader must have reminded us that we were only as fast as our slowest member. “Like that was going to build team spirit!  What wusses!” was probably ruminating in my inflated head. That evening, when we were setting up camp, I got my comeuppance.  Warned about bears, I decided to climb a tree to hang my (heavier than most!) food sack.  In one very unheroic move, I came crashing down from the tree limb and landed on my right knee.  It was bad. It swelled to twice its size and I couldn’t put weight on it. For the rest of the trip, I hobbled with a stick, trying to keep up with the rest of the group.

So how did I survive without a sleeping bag?  Leslie, who had done her own urban Outward Bound (including a solo) in the streets of Detroit saw this as a challenge for the entire group to solve.  So until the snow blind girl went home at the first resupply (in the early days, there were two resupplies until it was realized that one was enough) and left her sleeping bag behind, I slept wrapped in ground cloths between two other people in their sleeping bags. It worked, although my teeth would be chattering by dawn, and after that, I was certainly more careful when it came to packing my backpack.

One other story–while trudging up a mountain during an early season snow storm, I remember exhaustedly asking Leslie when we would finally reach the summit.  “Look up,” she said, “instead of looking at your (her) boots.”  I did, and there was the peak right before my eyes.

How did I manage with a badly sprained knee?  Well, I got encouragement and special attention from the handsome patrol leader which was a happy surprise.  And when asked if I wanted to go home at the same troublesome resupply Michael mentioned, I said “no way!” Had I left at that juncture I never would have been in the same expedition group at the end with Michael. It was in those high Sierra landscapes where we started what has now become a 44-year friendship; initially cemented by Michael plucking a fresh, white aster each morning for me to stick into my long thick plait.

Lessons learned?  The trail offers many transferrable analogies for day-to-day life.  “Keep on trucking.” “When you get to a fork in the road, stay high.” Clearly, this would be a popular choice for a 60’s gal! Another spin from Michael’s “look up” and appreciate where you are when you’re in the heat of an uphill climb is to “narrow your field of vision.” Mountains are never as big if you stay the course and go from step to step. Then, when you do reach that summit or pass, you realize it wasn’t all that hard after all.

Once it was over and we were all back at Athenian, I often talked to the friends from my patrol about our experience (and am still in touch with many people I met on Outward Bound to this day).  As I recall, most of us felt that it was an amazing, worthwhile and life-changing experience.  Except for one fellow, who was an excellent student and went on to Harvard, who said if he ever had to go hiking with a fifty-pound backpack again it would be too soon.

I’ve always wondered if he ever changed his opinion or still feels that way.


Athenian Alum Creates Open Dialogue Platform at Westpoint

Originally published in The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

by Priya Canzius ’16

This past fall, Athenian alum Cadet David Weinmann ’14 helped to develop a social media platform called Let’s Talk Jihad with 15 other classmates at The United States Military Academy at West Point.

“The idea was essentially to provide an unbiased forum where people could come and discuss Jihad, Islam, current events, the Islamic state, [and more],” Weinman said. “We moderated discussions and invited vetted experts to join the forum to provide their opinion.”

Athenian teacher Kal Balaven was one of the experts contacted.

“I contacted [Balaven] because I knew that he was aware of the history behind some of the origins of these radical groups; and because he is an educator and knows how to reach youth,” Weinmann said.

According to NPR, “a big part of the U.S. fight against ISIS is happening online, [and] the U.S. government is looking for ideas from all corners to try to figure out how to get better at countering the ISIS propaganda that is so central to the group’s recruiting strategy.”

Rather than using social media as a recruitment tool, Let’s Talk Jihad uses its platform to reach out to youth around the world.

“Our group also reached out to Imams and community leaders in the US as well as the UK and we are still trying to get leaders and other nations on-board,” Weinmann said. “We also worked with instructors in the Arabic and Middle Eastern history departments as well as Muslim cadets here at the academy. We sought out people we were confident would be able to provide advice to troubled youth.”

Because ISIS uses its extensive social media network to appeal to the younger generation, Let’s Talk Jihad’s goal is to redirect youth to less radical solutions.

“Most people do not know the presence that the Islamic State has online,” Weinmann said. “The internet is powerful. It is far more powerful than most of us think and the Islamic State uses it better than any other terror group… There is no single profile that people who join ISIS fit; anyone is susceptible to their propaganda.”

To combat this influence, the U.S. Department of State created the Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism (P2P) initiative. The goal of P2P, according to its website, is for “university students from around the world [to] develop and execute campaigns and social media strategies against extremism.”

Photo taken by EdVetnture Partners

Photo taken by EdVetnture Partners

Weinmann and his fellow cadets won second prize in this competition for their Let’s Talk Jihad page.

“We knew about the [P2P] initiative being put on by the State Department (DOS) when we started,” Weinmann said. “We looked at previous campaigns and wanted to build something that was different, something that would specifically target the audience we were reaching out for, which we called fence-sitters.”

Fence-sitters, according to Weinmann, are people who are “having thoughts about joining the radical group [ISIS].”

“These fence-sitters are what ultimately fuels ISIS’ ranks and are part of what makes them such a force,” Weinmann said. “We wanted to talk to these individuals before they became radical and traveled to join ISIS.”

On the page itself, the cadets chose to remain anonymous.

“We tried not to make assertions in our social media posts,” Weinmann said. “We just asked questions, and as a result we hid our biases. We used articles, stories and pictures from a number of sources, and some of our posts were in Arabic in order to keep things ambiguous.”

Furthermore, according to Weinmann, in order to “gain legitimacy among fence-sitters… [Weinman and his classmates] were careful to try and distance the campaign from the military academy and DOS.”

“By leaving our site anonymous we were able to talk with people without having them immediately discredit anything that we said,” Weinmann said. “Teenagers in Cairo won’t take advice from the US Army! [The goal is to help] people come to an understanding that what ISIS is talking about is really a bastardized version of Islam in order to further their political goals.”

However, the cadets’ identities were publicized in many online news outlets in early February.

“We had asked the DOS keep our identities a secret, but that didn’t work out once the media got involved; we did not intend to have the project go public,” Weinmann said.

According to Weinmann, “it’s still too early to tell the effect that [the media attention] will have on the campaign. [Moreover, the cadets] still update the page, but less frequently.”

Let’s Talk Jihad has made an impact on social media.

“We knew that we were making an impact when ISIS members started telling members of their group not to come to our page or listen to what we were saying,” Weinmann said. “They also- may or may not – have tried to shut down our Twitter. We aren’t entirely sure since it was anonymous, but we believe it was them.

Although Weinmann and his fellow cadets currently maintain the Let’s Talk Jihad page, according to Weinmann, they “are looking to turn the campaign over to a group that would be able to run it full-time and provide even better support than we can.”

“With our limited time and resources, we don’t see ourselves maintaining it forever,” Weinmann said.

Balaven believes that the use of social media is important to redirect fence-sitters and supports the cadets’ mission.

“It was a pretty phenomenal thing that [David and his classmates] did,” Balaven said. “He tried to find a non-violent way of trying to use social media to try to get those that would sympathize or empathize with ISIS into a place where they can dialogue and get their frustration out outside of those venues.”

Monotheism Day: Visiting Houses of Worship

Bringing their Social Studies lessons to life, the 7th grade spent a recent Friday exploring houses of worship of the three major Monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  They met with religious leaders at each temple and church who shared with the students the basic tenants of the religion.

As 7th grade is the year many Jewish young people come of age with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah service, it so happened that one student was going to have her Bat Mitzvah that weekend.  As the students were looking at the Torah (the holy scripture), the Rabbi invited Sydney B. ’21 to read her Torah portion.  With encouragement and a blessing from several boys–Ethan B., Matthew W., and Bernie B.–who had already completed their Bar Mitzvahs, Sydney read from the Torah in front of her class.  This bringing together of the personal and the educational in front of one’s classmates was a powerful experience for all the students.

2015 Year in Rap Entries from US History Classes

For the last four years, Athenian students have entered (and won!) the New York Times’ Year in Rap writing contest.  This year, the number of entrants increased and our entries didn’t place.  But they did a stellar job of capturing last years’ events.  In just one class period, each class outlined the previous years’ major events and then together crafted a rap in mostly rhyming couplets about 2015.  Check out their raps below.

Abant, Andrew, Genevieve, Abigail, Grace, Julius, Yegor, Julian, Jeremy, Caleb, Morgan, Molly, Elliot, Zarah, and Hannah

It’s the New Year, now reflect is what we do,

Starting with the world talkin’ ’bout CO2.

Technology advances with driverless cars,

We explored past Pluto and found water on Mars.

Adele’s hit music debuts at number one,

While the new Star Wars rakes in money by the ton.

Chipotle’s E. Coli plagued the nation,

Volkswagen’s lies brought defamation.

The Warriors were lit, they did it for the Bay,

Seattle should’ve run it, but New England made the play.

The nations unites to defend against ISIS,

While Europe becomes frantic with the refugee crisis.

Presidential candidates put up a good fight,

And at last we made history for gay marriage rights.

Natalie’s Everlasting Love made us stronger,

Spock’s legacy: live long and prosper.


Nathan, Sonya, Lexi, Isabella, Gianna, Ishaani, Ben, Ian, Nathaniel, Joey, Ishaan, Sally, Anson

Trump’s winning plan is to build a wall,

But at least love and marriage is legal for all.

Europe was burdened by a refugee crisis,

All of it was caused by extremists called ISIS.

Uber’s been stealing all that taxi business,

While Shkreli’s corporation was put out of existence.

Dub Nation won the Finals led by Chef Curry

And Marshawn should’ve grabbed the ball in a hurry.

Kim K and the dress they broke the Internet,

And Adele’s now 25; it’s her best album yet

Just when you thought Star Wars forsaken,

The Force awakened and was record breakin.

Sci-Fi masters Sir Lee and Nimoy are gone,

With them we lose Spock, Dracula, and Saruman.

 Back to the future is a blast from the past,

Because 2016 is here at last.

Poppy R., Ciara, Natalie, Saryan, Alexandra, Trang, Justine, Daniel, Max, Will, Eileen, Katie, Simona

Curry made it rain for the Golden State

But did Brady drop the ball with deflate-gate?

Steve Harvey couldn’t get Miss Universe right

And it turns out The Dress was just a trick of the light

The loss of Spock left the whole world shaken

But in the dead of winter, the Force Awakened

By (or in)  summer China’s stock market hit the floor

As Syrian refugees searched for an open door

The world rallied with Paris, attacked twice by Isis

Even Pope Francis agrees our climate’s in crisis

This year made it clear that Black Lives Matter

While the Woman of the Year caused quite some chatter

Same sex marriage was legalized this year

Went Back to the Future, now we outta here

Amidst fierce competition in the Presidential race,

NASA found some love on Pluto’s face


Camille, Maddy, Zarmeena, Lauren, Amanda, Sunny, Jennifer, Jackson, Sophie Y, Rahul, Anson, Zain, Devin, Will, Lucas, Poppy, Chloe, Sophie T

 Hello it’s me, 2015

The year JJ broke records with new Star Wars scenes

As ISIS reined terror in their Paris attacks

Brave civilians stood up to protect the lives of blacks

It’s about time-gay marriage is finally legal

Sorry Kim Davis, you don’t look so regal

Steve Harvey, John Travolta, you haven’t done well

It was actually Miss Philippines and Idina Menzel

 We got pictures of Pluto, and found water on Mars 

Technology advances and we made self-driving cars.  

We’ve got droughts, we’ve got floods, we’ve got refugees

fleeing from regimes that could bring us to our knees

 In deflate gate the Patriots wanted a jump

Andrew Luck should have brought in an air pump

Hillary, Donald, And Bernie Sanders

Who will prevail in the elections as the commander?

Olivia, Ellie, Phoebe, Serena, Florian, Ryan, Alex, Chloe, Victoria, Amanda, Skyler, David, Monty, Brian, Alexa and Christina 

 2015, the year love finally won

Also winning, US women’s soccer’s number one.

While some US states won’t aid the refugee crisis,

The world joins forces to fight the war on ISIS.

Donald Trump’s popularity was a curveball

Especially when he suggested we build a great wall.

The Golden State Warriors, champs of the NBA

Chef Curry and Klay Thompson got buckets all day.

Remember that kid who got arrested for a clock?

After the law suit, the courts are still in shock.

Freedom and equality, that’s what the US is for-

So why don’t black lives matter, as seen in Baltimore?

A lot has changed in the Kardashian-Jenner clan,

With Saint West joining and Caitlyn taking a stand.

 This December, Harvey really made a scene,

Crowning Miss Columbia, oh wait Miss Philippines.