Many Students Flourish under New Grading Systems in the Science Department

The science department has given teachers a lot of agency over how they assess their students’ performances – and it seems to be working.

Take, for example, The Athenian School’s Molly Gowen, chemistry and geology teacher, whose geology tests are always available to reassess.

“Basically, in my geology class, each test is not graded with points – an answer is either correct or incorrect,” Gowen said. “My students get participation grades in class by coming back if they got a question wrong and showing me they understand it. They can come back for a test at any point before the end of the semester.”

Gowen says that the point of this is to be able to asses how students are learning the material without stressing them out about scores.

“I am seeing the learning come through reassessing and note-taking—if you choke on a test, it’s not the end of the world,” Gowen said.

These test reassessments are worth 20 percent of each student’s grade, while labs are worth 35 percent.

“Labs are not set in stone as a grade,” Gowen said. “Students’ lab notebooks are a living document, so they can always get those points back.”

Gowen says that students seem to be responding very well to this format of grading and that she allows for a lot of feedback.

“I let them have a lot of input,” Gowen said. “It’s a work in progress so far.”

Gowen says she would like to integrate these methods of grading into her sophomore chemistry classes, but there is simply not enough time allotted in Athenian’s schedule.

“I just don’t think that we have the time,” Gowen said. “It’s difficult when kids are constantly coming back in to go over assignments and reassess and there are 50 of them.”

The Athenian School’s other sophomore chemistry teacher, Marielle Decker, has also been hesitant to make changes to the way this core curriculum course is assessed. She has, however, made changes in her Environmental Science class grading policies, putting a lot of grade weight in students’ notebooks.

“The notebook thing was student input,” Decker said. “We talked back and forth about what the different grade structure would be – it was basically their decision.”

While Gowen and Decker allowed for change in their grading policies throughout their courses with their older students, Will Kim, Conceptual Physics and Advanced Physics teacher, has presented his freshman classes with a predetermined element of his grading system that surprised a lot of them: homework is not graded.

“I do not check for homework assignments — I give them homework solutions, so they should be checking for themselves if its right or wrong,” Kim said. “I don’t give them any points for it, they don’t get any grade for it, and they don’t get reprimanded if it’s not done.”

Kim explained that this decision had a lot to do with the reputation homework has among students, especially the younger ones.

“There’s a really, really bad branding problem that we have with homework,” Kim said. “It’s not taken as helpful among students — it’s not viewed as a tool, but an obstacle. In order to shift that paradigm of how students view homework, I am trying to stop the coercion. My hope is that if you do your homework, and if no one’s telling you to do it, that you’ll begin to realize that you will learn through homework assignments.”

Kim says that transitioning from teacher check-ins each day to being responsible for one’s own learning is hard for a lot of freshmen at first.

“I’ve had a lot of freshman freak out, and I’ve had a lot of freshman parents email me asking why I don’t have any graded homework,” Kim said. “Around about the middle of the year, my students start wondering why they’re not doing well in my class and then it clicks for them that the reason is that they’re not doing their homework. This is when a lot of them realize that homework can be helpful for them, and it shifts for a lot of them.”

Kim says he believes that students should be able to decide whether or not an assignment is helpful to them.

“I’ve had students who have gone through my class and done very well and haven’t done a single homework assignment, which is okay because if it doesn’t benefit the kid, why are we forcing them to do it?”

All three teachers agree that they owe some of their success with students to Athenian, a school with high expectations but flexible policies.

“Because the science department allows for differences, the learning is really coming through,” Gowen said.

Shake It Up: New Seismometer at Athenian

Originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

By Irena Volkov ’16

The Athenian campus recently welcomed DV-01, a digital seismometer that detects microseismic activity and makes its data is available for all students and faculty to analyze.

A seismometer is an instrument that measures the motion of the ground in all directions, specifically seismic waves generated by earthquakes. DV-01 is an urban deployment seismometer, which means that the machine measures the intensity of earthquakes in urban environments.

A seismometer is an instrument that measures the motion of the ground in all directions, specifically seismic waves generated by earthquakes. DV-01 is an urban deployment seismometer, which means that the machine measures the intensity of earthquakes in urban environments.

“It’s specially tuned to things like footsteps and traffic, and it can even be aware of things like construction since we’re going to be working on the roof of the science building sometime soon,” Molly Gowen, Chemistry and Geology teacher, said.

The seismometer is bolted to the ground in the small storage closet next to the former aquarium room and current office to chemistry and environmental science teacher, Marielle Decker and anatomy and physiology teacher, Stephanie Robles.

The idea of adding a seismometer to campus was brought by an Athenian parent, Caroline Johnson. The USGS, U.S. Geological Survey, asked Johnson if they could install a seismometer in her backyard for two years to record data that they would come out and collect later.

Ben Leslie-Bole, geologist and one of the teachers along with Dean of Students, Kathleen Huntington and Photography Teacher, Adam Thorman teaching Athenian’s California Water course, were also involved in bringing the seismometer to campus.

“[Johnson] sent it to us because she thought it would be cool, and it made it’s way to Eugene Mizusawa [Chair of the Athenian Department of Design-Learning and Engineering], and then Eugene and Dick Bradford [Upper School Head and Academic Dean, and Humanities Teacher] and Eric Niles [Head of School], and they moved it to me and Ben Leslie-Bole because Ben takes part in the California Water Course, but also has a geology background,” Gowen said. “So he and I both kind of spearheaded the efforts to have it installed.”

Leslie-Bole was motivated to help Gowen install the device because of his personal interest in earthquakes and because he thought it would be favorable for Athenian students to have access to it.

“I think it’s beneficial for the school to collect original data for students to learn how science happens, and it’s valuable having data generated firsthand so that students can use this data to make their own interpretations of it,” Leslie-Bole said.

Leslie-Bole coordinated the USGS, facilities people, and contracting people at Athenian to have a business plan and formalize an appropriate contract. His role was to get the parties together and the agreements needed for both parties to be satisfied.

“I came to campus with the USGS and met with Molly to evaluate different locations on campus,” Leslie-Bole said. “Once that was cleared with Leslie Lucas [Chief Operating Officer] and Larry Smith [Facilities Manager] on the facilities side, the Internet connections were secured: Matt Binder [Director of Information Systems] was part of that communication.”

Installation, however, was a bit tricky with the USGS people being delayed because of getting a flat tire on the way to Athenian, and because of some unlucky drilling.

“It was supposed to be easy and it was hilariously straightforward up until we drilled a hole in the wall through a power cord, or a set of very important wires, and knocked out power to a section of the building…” Gowen said. “Which was bad, but overall, the installation went really well, it just had it’s normal amount of kinks and hold-ups.”

Smith remained at the science building until 10pm that Wednesday to help install the seismometer and rewire everything to ensure that the power was working before everyone called it a night.

Gowen has plans to integrate the use of the seismometer into the Geology curriculum as well as the middle school science class next year.

“We just learned in geology how to use seismograms to look at ground shaking and also determine the epicenter of earthquakes,” Gowen said. “You need three seismometers to be able to center in on a location, but we can at least use that and some of the other data to figure out experimentally where an earthquake was epicentered and look at what the USGS said and say, ‘how close did we get?’”

DV-01 is actually a part of a brand new study that originated from the Northridge earthquake in the 90’s. This particular seismometer is especially attuned to very low magnitude earthquakes that can figure out how earthquakes propagate through different types of soil and how the valley of Danville will respond to different parts of the earthquakes; while some places may dampen the earthquake, others will amplify it.

It is also a part of a larger array of the Northern California Seismic Network. Originally, the device was going to be a temporary fixture and remain isolated, but since the San Ramon earthquake on Wednesday, April 13, the seismometer is now representing a larger part of the array.

“It’s an important device and gives you so much cool information, but it looks like somebody left it out to sit in the sun,” Gowen said.

The device is just a small box with a plastic box on top of it. The seismometer it purposefully nondescript so that people do not feel like they have a big, hulking machine in their backyards.

“I think that [students] will be excited about it, and then when they see it they’ll be disappointed, and then when they see the data from it, they’ll be excited again,” Gowen said.

Although students and faculty will be able to pull seismograms off the device, the door to the room where the device is located will remain locked for security purposes.

“We can’t leave it unlocked because the thing is very sensitive to shaking, and even though it knows footsteps, we don’t want anyone to just go in and rumble it or try taking the box off of it very much, or possibly unseating the epoxy, which is gluing it to the ground,” Gowen said.

Regardless, Gowen’s students are excited about the notion of pulling the seismograms by going home, logging into the network, and asking, “what’s shakin’ at the school?”

“I think it’s really cool that we are now able to monitor the faults that are close to us,” David Meier ’16 said.

DV-01 is currently constantly measuring ground displacements and consistently calling out to the satellite using its GPS connection that sticks out in a little pod from the science building. The machine also contains an accelerometer that measures how fast the ground is moving.

There was recently a small earthquake that was even recorded on the device. To see more small earthquakes that were recorded in the area, and potentially on Athenian’s seismometer, you can visit the USGS earthquakes map here.

The information to login to the seismometer’s network will be released very soon so that everyone on Athenian’s campus can view the original data collected by our very own DV-01.

Bringing Back an Essence of Dyke Brown: Spirituality

Recently graduated senior Kelsey Miles ’16 spent much of her time at Athenian exploring issues around religion and spirituality.  During her senior year, she had an opportunity to take a Journalism seminar and dig deeper into this issue, both at Athenian and at independent schools in general.  Read Kelsey’s well-researched article, which she completed as an Honors assignment, in which she astutely critiques Athenian’s current environment around spirituality and offers insights into the possibilities of incorporating more spirituality into the school’s focus.  Given current world events, it’s important for all of us to think about the ways we are (or are not) inclusive of religion and spirituality.  Thank you to Kelsey for initiating these conversations at Athenian and for elevating an often less focused on issue into our collective consciousness. We can and will do better!

Originally published in The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper by Kelsey Miles ’16

Spirituality TreeThe majority of members in the Athenian community know about Dyke Brown’s mandala, as Brown is the founder of the school. Yet how many people know his mandala talks about church attendance and courses on religion?

Although spirituality was one of the seven aspects Brown deemed the core of his mandala, this aspect currently does not play a large part in Athenian life or culture.

“There’s not a lot of understanding around religious faiths and the culture behind it,” Andrew Kocins ’16 said. “I don’t think it’s just Athenian but our generation is questioning it. We’re not a religious school, so it’s not a [big] part of the curriculum, so it’s not discussed… it’s not acknowledged very often.”

Similarly, Priya Canzius ’16 said faith is not a common topic of conversation among students at Athenian. However, in the rare instances the topic of faith arises, non-religious students do not often speak about the issue in a positive light.

“I feel like there’s an assumption there that no one believes in what we [as students] are saying, so we’re more inclined to put religion down,” Canzius said.

Although students often talk about faith in this manner, according to Xenia Danylyszyn ’16, their comments are often unintentionally destructive, as students do not realize their words are offensive to others.

“They’re not trying to be hurtful or make a mockery, but there’s students on campus who make comments to parody religion that I consider inappropriate…they’re trying to be funny but it’s not,” Danylyszyn said.  According to Simona Shur ’18, when these instances occur, the comment is often not addressed out of fear. Thus, students do not realize their words are creating a negative impact because no one is willing to stand apart and bring up the issue.

“I feel like non-religious students say some hurtful comments and they don’t realize what they’re talking about,” Shur said. “People are too afraid to speak up because they’re afraid of being judged. Because we’re so close knit, the majority will think the same way, so if you don’t think the same way it’ll make you feel uncomfortable.”

Consequently, many students who do not affiliate with a religion are not aware that their peers are hiding their faith because religion and spirituality is not a topic the community often addresses.

“In some ways, I would [feel included] if I was [a student of faith] because of certain clubs that support it,” Julia van Warmerdam ’17 said. “But it’s not part of our curriculum at all, so I don’t really know.”


Middle School Focus Day field trip to a Jewish Temple. Learn more:

[Note: World religions are a part of the Middle School humanities curriculum as well as the Upper School 9th grade World Cultures classes and select seminars.]

While students of faith say they notice the lack of conversation around the issue, the scarcity of talk about faith is something even students who do not affiliate with a religion notice, and they are not the only ones who do. Balaven, as the Dean of Equity and Inclusion, not only recognizes this absence of discussion, but he works on supporting students of faith who feel ostracized in the community and creating a support mechanism for students.

“First I listen, and then I try to strategize around how to prevent [the situation] from happening in the future, while at the same time remedying the immediate hurt,” Balaven said. “It might be something like having interfaith as club, or having a student do an interfaith independent study, to create an interfaith space on campus, to really be able to answer the needs of the students before they have the need.”

According to Akshay Padmanabhan ’17, plenty of students are either unaware of or do not understand the networks being created for them, such as the Interfaith Club and the Interfaith space.

“I know we have a Christian Club… I feel like the intentions of the club are to let anyone learn, but not being Christian myself I don’t feel comfortable going there,” Padmanabhan said. “I didn’t know we had an Interfaith Club… I think we’re moving in the right direction based on what you’re telling me.”

Similar to student’s lack of awareness about the Interfaith Club, the Interfaith space upstairs in the Main Hall is not publicized, thus, few students know of its existence.

“We have a room back here reserved for prayers,” Dick Bradford, Dean of the Upper School, said. “So what we try to do is to make sure people feel like they can express themselves openly… we recognize spirituality and its importance, and faith is part of that… but I don’t see us becoming a religious institution.”

According to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, as spirituality becomes increasingly popular, it can be used as a vehicle for “mitigating interfaith difference within American culture” because it is more “universal, accommodating, inclusive, and personally empowering” than religion. While religion is an organized belief system, spirituality is individualistic, yet both recognize the existence of a higher power.

While spirituality has the potency to keep people from being oblivious to the beliefs of other religions, Athenian could be doing more to fulfill this core aspect of the institution.

“I think the school could do a better job of incorporating spirituality in the curriculum by facilitating more discussion about the differences and similarities about what people believe about life… not a debate but a sharing about beliefs,” Arnold said. “It would make people feel more comfortable about sharing their beliefs.”

One of the ways the administration addresses faith is through the observance of religious holidays. Although the school cannot take off every religious holiday because students would be missing too much school, students who participate in a holiday have the freedom to take school off for the day.

“Every year I send out notices to faculty of what we do if people are absent for observance of religious holidays,” Bradford said. “Students are excused from class, I talk a little bit about the holiday and what it is, and then recognizing that they may not be in a position to do any work, and to stagger the work so nothing is due after the holiday.”

In an interview, science teacher Molly Gowen, said she finds understanding different religions and religious holidays important in teaching because the knowledge gives her context for what her students are doing.

“If I have a student who is participating in Ramadan, and if I understand the way the holiday works, I might be able to have more empathy as a teacher and be more flexible,” Gowen said. “So students who are participating in the fasting might be tired during the day, and I might be more willing to understand where they’re coming from, otherwise I might just think ‘why aren’t they paying attention in class?’”

As people in a community, there is importance in being cognizant of other religions because the lack of knowledge about religious beliefs can lead to misunderstanding and harmful stereotypes that are not true to a person. This issue has become even more relevant from the recent ISIS attacks in Paris which have furthered the spread of Islamophobia.

“In order to be an informed person, it’s good to understand other religions,” Kocins said. “A good example is 9/11 because it’s not good to make conclusions about religions as a whole based on specific events, but on interacting with other people.”

According to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, “the experience of seeing another faith in worship… helps students to overcome the stereotyped images portrayed in the media.” The article describes a program where all students worship together, all in their own ways according to their religion: “‘I think when I see my peers doing these things, and me showing to them, it’s not, that’s a Muslim. That’s Omar. That’s Michael … you get the people.’”

While the topic of faith impacts students, they are not alone. Teachers are facing issues around faith, yet in different ways. Their faith can influence the conversations they do or do not have with each other and how they interact at colleague social gatherings.

“I have to be perfectly honest, I’m barely aware of another teacher’s faith,” Gowen said. “My experience is that I haven’t encountered [the faith of my colleagues] very much and that could speak to people not feeling comfortable sharing their religious tendencies, or just the fact that I am held up at the science building and don’t get to interact with my coworkers as much as I’d like to.”

Humanities teacher Emily Howland, said that while faith is not a common topic of conversation, spirituality through mindfulness is an aspect of the school that she incorporates into her classes.

“I haven’t had a lot of conversations with people about faith, but as someone in the mindfulness class, I definitely think about spirituality and the value of having silent time to look inwardly, which I think is often associated with some sort of prayer or meditation,” Howland said. “In a way, mindfulness is akin to spirituality, and that’s where I’m having conversations.”

Among the faculty and staff, their comfort level in talking about their faith depends on the person. For some, they freely talk about their religion and religious activities because they do not feel there is a difference between teachers of faith and those who do not associate with a religion.

“I feel comfortable talking about [Hinduism] even if nobody talks about it… I wish [religion] was more addressed. Conversations on the subject of religion should be conducted with consideration and respect because everyone’s faith is so sacred and personal,” Susan Zic, Annual Fund and Database Manager, said.

However, for others, the lack of conversation keeps them from bringing up the subject, especially if theirs is not a well-known faith.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable, but because I don’t really hear too many conversations happening, I don’t think it’s something I’d want to interject if it’s not already on the table,” said a teacher who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s a place where people leave their spiritual beliefs at home… I’ve heard talk of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism but I haven’t heard of others… because of being the ‘other’, I can’t add onto the conversation in the same way.”

Faith not only impacts faculty and staff in the conversations they have with their colleagues but also in their social circles at Athenian.

“I don’t go to social events amongst the faculty that involve alcohol, for religious reasons, and that might affect me being around and having the same social connections other colleagues have with each other,” Balaven said. “I think people understand why I don’t, so I think I get around that. Amongst the adult community, it’s a more welcoming and open space [than the student community], at least, in my perception.”

If faith becomes a more integrated part of the Athenian culture through conversations both in and out of the classroom, there are some possible difficulties.

“If we privilege the goal of inclusiveness and seek to bring a wide diversity of groups together in a spirit of understanding and cooperation, it is likely that we will not all be able to agree on justice issues,” states the magazine, Cross Currents.

However, problems could arise if some religious faiths are more prominent than others, which could cause faculty, staff, and students of less common faiths to feel excluded.

“If we privilege the goal of justice, take positions on issues and create interfaith coalitions to wage campaigns, it is likely that many religious groups will not participate, and moreover, feel as if their theology is being negatively judged,” states the magazine Cross Currents.

Efforts to make Athenian more inclusive to students, faculty, and staff of all faiths have been spurred in recent years and is significantly increasing this year.

A few years ago, Balaven created a space for Muslim students to pray, who came to him with the need. This year, it has become an interfaith space to invite students of all religious backgrounds.

In addition, Athenian now has three religious clubs for students to participate in. The school has a Christian Club as well as the newly re-formed Jew Crew and Interfaith Club which all meet during lunches. For students interested in discussing the general topic of faith, the Interfaith Club, which meets in House three every Thursday, can be a resource.

This year, the school has begun making strides towards specifically making Athenian more welcoming to all religious students, which will hopefully expand to faculty and staff as well.

If Athenian becomes the campus Brown imagined in his mandala 50 years ago, with spirituality as a core aspect of the school, the Athenian culture could be impacted for the next 50 years. However, the school has more work in store to reach this potential in creating empathy and understanding around the subject of faith.

“Athenian is an inclusive place by design… you will feel less marginalized here than other places,” Bruce Hamren, science teacher, said. “But we have our own brand of Kool-Aid. People here aren’t any different, they still like to hold onto something about what they believe, but we look flexible on the outside. We are riled about people who aren’t like us, if they’re closed minded or secularistic.”

What We Learned at Model United Nations

Model UN is a simulation of the United Nations conference, which brings high school students that represent one of 193 countries together to discuss international issues and crises and propose solutions to them. According to the UN Charter, the mission of the United Nations is to encourage and maintain international peace and security, friendly and diplomatic relationships with other countries, as well as to create an international center for nations to work to achieve these common goals. Each delegation is assigned a country, and as a class we represented Israel.  As delegates of Israel, we were divided into separate committees where we discussed and debated issues such as drones, organized crime, and the Zika virus, hoping to pass resolutions proposing solutions to the problem through Israel’s perspective.

Preparation: Preparing the Country Book

In order to be fully prepared for Model UN, we began by researching the political history of Israel and various country policies before going in depth on our particular committee topics. After we finished researching Israel’s global priorities, human rights concerns, and current events, we started to focus on our assigned committees and wrote position papers to further delve into and propose solutions to the topics we would discuss in our committees. Despite the arduous process of researching and putting together our country book, our hard work paid off at the conference when our books provided valuable information that we were able to quickly utilize during our committee sessions.

Committee Experience

In the committee meetings themselves, we were challenged explain and advocate for our country policies to the best of our ability, and apply these policies to potential solutions.  We talked about issues in moderated caucuses and we wrote resolutions and collaborated with other delegates in unmoderated caucuses. In our experience, representing and speaking for a certain country in a conference was be challenging at first, but once we got used to the MUN procedures and language, most of us became much more comfortable and active participants. This came much easier to Elliot Sasson, a student-delegate who represented Israel because it is a country that he has an emotional connection with and has visited multiple times. The MUN experience was admittedly challenging, but we learned a lot during the process and gained experience we can apply throughout our lives.

Take Away

Despite the common perception of Model UN as a debate tournament, it actually entails much more preparation, applied skill, and enthusiasm. As someone who has participated in parliamentary debate, I can tell you that Model UN is a totally different experience. Instead of short prepared speeches delivered by participants in a formal debate, committee meetings are unpredictable as there is no clear victory or defeat. Other than a one-minute speech, the rest of the meeting depends solely upon the opinions brought up by the delegates, which contributes to how much energy is needed to participate. In regards to the personal interaction during the meetings, it is definitely out of some people’s comfort zone to constantly engage with strangers who you refer to by the country they represent. Nevertheless, Model UN is a must-do for anyone interested politics or international relations and will definitely boost one’s knowledge of world affairs in general, which perfectly envelopes the Multicultural understanding pillar at Athenian. As a class, we performed very well at CCCMUN and 2 out of the 5 delegates representing Israel won awards. Hannah Williams won the award for “Outstanding Delegate,” the top most honor that can be received and Rahul Arockiaraj won the award for “Exceptional Delegate,” the second most honorable award. Also from the F Period class, Devin Dhaliwal won the “Distinguished Delegate” award which is the third highest honor.

As participation within the Athenian community grows, so will our opportunities to explore deeper into the world of MUN. For example, this year we got invited to visit the New York City MUN, which takes place at the UN headquarters. The competition includes possible appearances from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. This and other potential opportunities that may come up only benefit the Athenian community, in general. Again, as a class, we would like to stress the amount of knowledge gained from MUN and strongly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely interested. Please spread the word to anyone else you might think will enjoy taking part in MUN.

Secret (Community) Service: Embracing the Community Service Pillar

Originally published in the spring edition of The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

by Madeleine Kardek ’17

Whether it’s volunteering at an animal shelter, working at a local church, or putting on a wheel chair basketball game at Athenian sponsoring The Wheelchair Foundation, students at The Athenian School choose countless ways to give back to communities outside of the school. While there are many known community service programs associated with Athenian, several students’ service projects fly under the radar at Athenian. Community service is a unique way for students to explore and pursue their individual passions, while also making a positive impact on surrounding communities.

Charlotte Atkins ’17 learned about her community service project through a field trip that her Native American literature class took to the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland.

“It is really a great community with really nice people,” Atkins said. “I was drawn to it originally on a field trip.”

The volunteers help prepare food for elders who are often very poor and need basic necessities in order to survive. The work they do not only benefits the elders, but also children, by taking care of them and teaching them how to read.

“I hope I have helped others to have a break from struggles they face in their lives outside of the Intertribal Friendship House,” Atkins said, reflecting upon her experiences and contributions to her service project.

Nia Warren ’16 also shared a personal connection to her community service project. She volunteers for A Better Chance, a nonprofit organization that helps students of color get into independent schools across the country. Warren helps by running the events, speaking to the students, recruiting others and ultimately being the head of the scholar outreach for the student leadership council called Cornerstone.

Warren has had a very close connection with the program for years as she has been involved in not only volunteering for the program, but also being personally affected by the resources it has to offer. She feels a profound sense of gratitude and attachment to the program, because of the positive influence the program has had in her life.

“[A Better Chance] is definitely special to me, because I was helped by the organization to get into Athenian, so it’s my way of giving back,” Warren said of her involvement.

Similarly to Warren and Atkins, Will McCurdy ’17 has a community service project that is close to his heart. He fosters dogs through the organization Animal Rescue Recon, which saves dogs from the shelter before they are put down in hopes of saving their lives and finding new and better homes.

He has been working consistently with this organization fostering dogs for the past year after his own dog’s passing. His love for dogs is evident through his active involvement with the program by opening up his house to stray and abandoned dogs and by refusing to give up on finding a perfect family to adopt his new companion.

“I foster dogs because I lost my dog a year ago and have always loved dogs,” McCurdy said. “This was an easy way to have a dog again, but not make the long term commitment, all while doing a great service for these dogs.”

Sofia Kavanaugh ’17 combines her passion for horseback riding with helping children with disabilities. She volunteers at a therapeutic riding center in Orinda called Xenophon.

Kavanaugh and her fellow volunteers help achieve the children’s individual goals, whether they are physical, communicative, social, or a combination of all three, through horseback riding therapy.


Photo credit: Xenophon Website

“We’ve had kids come who were unable to speak, kids with severe Cerebral Palsy which limited them from walking or even sitting straight, victims of stroke, students anywhere on the Autism spectrum, Down Syndrome, and many other physical, social, and or mental diseases,” Kavanaugh said. “Each of [the children] got to ride horses and work on their goals.”

These goals are made possible through equine-assisted activities in a safe environment where they are aided by volunteers, such as Kavanaugh, and their licensed therapist and occupational therapist on staff. Thanks to this program, children are achieving goals that many imagined impossible.

All these students share their own personal connections and relations to their service projects that are most likely unknown to Athenian. Warren, McCurdy, Kavanaugh and Atkins all express the essentiality of finding a community service project that ignites passion and acts as inspiration for others in the Athenian community to find a project that will do the same.

Tim Holm Day: One Advisory’s Experience

Originally published in the spring 2016 edition of The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

by Dylan Ratner ’17

Beach cleanups. Campus beautification. Distributing donated food. All of these activities are typical of Athenian’s annual community service or hiking day, Tim Holm Day. Still, as most advisories work individually, not all Athenian students get to experience the breadth of Athenian’s Tim Holm Day offerings. The best way to get a sense for what Tim Holm Day is all about is to hear it from the students themselves. On a trip to the Diablo Hills Regional park to clean up a dump site, here is one advisory’s take on Tim Holm Day and service at Athenian or in their own lives.

“I realize now, that when it comes to community service, it doesn’t always have to be ‘your community’ because I do a lot of community service in Texas, even though I don’t live there anymore,” Priya Canzius ‘16, on her final Tim Holm Day, said. “Still, I feel like Athenian is my home and so doing service [through Athenian] is pretty rewarding.”

Others in the group spoke about how community service engages them with people and communities that they might not otherwise interact with, providing an essential outlet to interact with the world outside the Athenian ‘bubble.’

“It’s a really fun experience and great to get off campus to help the greater Bay Area,” Julia Van Warmerdam ’17 said. “Even though it is hot, it is a wonderful time to bond with my fellow advisees as we dig through dirt to uncover old trash.”

For some, the experience provided a new way to engage with Athenian’s commitment to community service and spend time with a variety of Athenian students who they did not normally see.

“Coming to Athenian this year, Tim Holm Day is a new experience for me,” Lauren Hollis ’19 said. “I love how the entire school makes an effort to contribute to our local community and truly lives up to the Community Service pillar. It is nice to take a break from school and spend time with friends in other grades while still feeling productive afterwards.”

In addition to providing opportunities for service, Tim Holm Day is also a day to celebrate Athenian spirit and serves as a ritual to remind the Athenian community of its values.

“As a freshman, Tim Holm Day was never mentioned to me until a few weeks before so it is interesting to learn more about Athenian’s history and it feels good to be able to help contribute to something that would benefit many more people to come,” Kaitlyn Chin ’19 said.

One aspect of Tim Holm day that is often overlooked is the intersectionality of Athenian’s different pillars, particularly between those of Community Service and Environmental Stewardship. For some students, this synthesis of Athenian values reflects and reinforces the importance of Tim Holm Day.

“Being out in nature was so relaxing and a nice change from being in a classroom,” Van Warmerdam said. “I like that this work really manifests our values in a concrete way. It was also nice to explore a new park in the Bay Area while doing good work.”