Concussed: Learning for Living


The moment the soccer ball slammed into my head, everything went white and then black. When I first opened my eyes, a blurry, light, and dizzy world surrounded me. I will never forget that view of the world. – Emma Cottrill ’17

At Athenian, we believe the best way to master academic subjects is to experience their application firsthand. Our academic program resonates and sticks with students because we all learn by doing, by applying what is learned to real world situations. Whether in or out of the classroom, this approach allows our students to incorporate their learning with their living, laying a strong foundation for a life of intellectual exploration and meaningful contribution.

Inspired by a freshmen Interim trip where Emma Cottrill ’17 bonded with classmates and teachers over photography, she continued to study photography throughout her Athenian experience.  Emma’s final photography project created a digital gallery of photographs and reflections on her recovery from a traumatic concussion. Emma begins her piece with the following:

My life changed forever the night I was hit in the back of the head with an over-inflated soccer ball. The impact from the ball caused my head to whip forward. Simultaneously, the momentum forced me to the ground, where my head violently slammed into the turf. Concussion was the immediate diagnosis, but the two-week normal recovery morphed into months. Isolated. Bored. Angry. Initially, I hated that this happened to me, but eventually, I recognized that I could resent the accident or embrace it.

My approach to the world altered after I got hurt. Before my injury, my life was black and white. Numbers and science drove my beliefs, and I required proof for acceptance. However, after my injury, the gray areas became more interesting to me. Less rigid, more whimsical, I embraced the magic in the daily simplicities. I found energy and inspiration in the imperfect.

In Concussed, I photograph all aspects associated with my concussion: the way I see the world, my view of soccer, the doctors, the medicine, my brain, and who I became.

Emma describes herself on her project’s website, “In addition to the creativity that comes with photography, I also enjoy structure and procedure and a rigid schedule. I love my Chemistry and Math classes, and I am a competitive swimmer who is training intensely with a goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials.” Emma’s work reveals a mastery of photographic theory, a comprehensive understanding of concussion science and medicine, a facility with meaning-making, and a great capacity for self-reflection. As a senior, Emma applied her many skills learned through years of scaffolded Athenian experiences to conceptualize an independent, self-expressive project, applying her usual rigorous and creative approach.

This is just one example of what is possible here. Each one of Emma’s 83 senior classmates could tell their own Athenian story revealing how they have discovered “there is more in you than you know.” We could not be more proud of our students.


When My Teachers See Me as a Whole Person

Originally published in the spring 2017 edition of The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper by Jenna H. ’19


Ginger and Jenna

As I embark on the second semester of my sophomore year at Athenian, I have had time to reflect on my educational experiences. At my public middle school, although I was successful academically, something left me feeling unfulfilled and, frankly, upset from time to time. To my surprise, I couldn’t pinpoint a moment in which I was honestly excited to go to school or felt as though I was part of a larger community. It was an environment in which no efforts were made to know me on a personal level. No teacher went out of their way to talk to me; if I wasn’t getting into trouble, why bother?

Amongst the 1,200 students in the whole school, I was not seen as anything more than a grade, simply a student you didn’t need to worry about because you knew I’d graduate. For three years, I simply went through the motions, becoming more accustomed to the lack of communication and genuine connection.

At Athenian, I feel as though I have come to be appreciated as a whole person. I think students at our school might not always realize it, but the kinAmanda.5d rapport between teachers and students on our campus is a remarkable blessing. Meeting with a teacher to receive extra help on an assignment, or simply having a teacher check in with me about my well-being was something I had previously never experienced from an adult at school. Here, I feel that teachers not only celebrate their students’ successes but help them navigate challenges and overcome their failures. Occasionally, I am still surprised when I see a student being treated as an equal, even a friend by an adult on campus.

From my experiences, thus far, the relationships I am able to have wPhoebe_1576ith my teachers has positively impacted my communication skills, further contributing to my academic success and overall enjoyment of learning. In a way, I think this is an homage to the wonderful faculty and staff on our campus, the heroes who aren’t always recognized for everything that they do, as well as their efforts to foster a community of mutual respect and well-being.