Athenian Students Visit Pixar Studios

This October, ten Advanced Filmmaking students and their teacher, Peter Tamaribuchi went to visit one of the most successful film studios in history, Pixar Studios in Emeryville. They got an inside look into Pixar’s production process and their facilities. Here are the reflections of Katie S. ’22, one of the students who attended the trip.

When I first walked into the secretive Pixar studios, I was surprised by the familiarity of the place. I was greeted by rolling hills, soccer fields, park benches, and even a swimming pool, making me feel like I had just stumbled onto a college campus rather than one of the most iconic movie studios in history. Instead of the closed doors and endless rows of cubicles I had expected to see, I saw people riding their bikes around the halls, working collaboratively over a cup of coffee, and I felt an unspoken agreement to defy standard work expectations and focus on community.

From the annual scavenger hunts to the daily games of soccer, it was clear to me that Pixar had somehow found a perfect balance between producing incredible films and maintaining a happy, stress-free environment. But while those two may seem contradictory, it’s clear that they are like yin and yang: each essential to the other’s existence.

By focusing so vehemently on a stress-free environment, Pixar is able to cultivate a happy community, where employees can let their creativity flow without the stress and isolation of a traditional workplace. It is clear from Pixar’s unorthodox and obviously successful method that other companies and workplaces should follow its example and focus on the employee’s wellbeing rather than feeding off of stress and individualism.

Athenian Men’s Soccer Wins the NCS Championship for the First Time Ever

With a final score of 4-2, and after a nail-biting second half, the Athenian Men’s Soccer team won the 2019 NCS Championship on Saturday. The unprecedented victory was won on Athenian’s field with more than four-hundred spectators holding their breath. The campus was packed with scores of students, dozens of alums, and a healthy showing of supportive faculty; Owls fans were deep, and “The Nest” was on fire.

The team was up 2-0 at half time, with a fast goal from striker Eiki H. ‘21 and an aggressive finish from Fraser C. ‘20. Matt B. ‘22 secured a comfortable third goal early in the second half off a header. When the opposing team caught up with a quick two goals, things were looking tense. The Owls persevered and held their ground defensively with a strong line led by Nathan Mc C. ‘21, and Rushil R. ‘20.  It was the amazing ball passed by Rabee H ‘20 that Eiki H. ‘21 put into the back of the net that secured the victory.

Overall, it was a great season for the Owls, who only lost a single game and won the BCL League Championships outright. They went on to become league tournament champions and got the number one seed for NCS, which gave them the home-field advantage during the tournament journey. They thrived under the leadership of Coach Matt Zahner, and Assistant Coaches Adam Thorman and Anthony Aguilar ’14, and the full support of an Athletics department led by Darek Cliff and Josie Chapman.

Recognizing Veteran’s Day

By Julia Borchers ’20, speech delivered at Upper School Morning Meeting on Veteran’s Day 2019

Julia and Dave

I spend a lot of my free time working with veterans*, to the point that most of our conversations don’t just follow meeting agendas but they surround our lives and beliefs. At the start of every meeting, Dave Ham, a Vietnam vet and essentially my surrogate grandfather, asks me what I did at school that day. On Friday, I told him about our forum on impeachment, so he and I got to talking about politics as we often do. Dave and I are different in every conceivable way, I’m 17 and he’s 70, so we disagree on a lot. However, as we playfully debating with each other he stopped, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “so many thousands of people risked their lives for our opportunity to have this conversation right now.” Dissenting is an inherently American value, but one that I always took for granted until I started my work with veterans.

As I considered being as involved as I am with local veteran’s associations, I felt conflicted. There’s a common misconception that members of the military lean one way politically, and therefore veteran’s issues are politicized and the other side of the aisle is apathetic to their cause. I had internalized the idea that my work would somehow jeopardize my political values, as if opposing current military operations somehow invalidated the veterans who fought for our freedoms generations ago. Honoring the heroes who lost their lives fighting for our country and critiquing the government are not mutually exclusive, in fact, I think that they should always go hand in hand. 

If Athenian has taught me anything, it is to always question what I am told. We live in an increasingly divisive time, but it will always be up to us to decide what we believe in, and how. The past four years I’ve spent alongside veterans has made me a truer member of our democracy, regardless of how others may interpret it. The unparalleled lessons about honor, service, and sacrifice that these veterans taught me have completely shaped who I am, and how I look at the world. They dedicated their lives to something bigger than themselves, and I am grateful for them every single day. Happy veteran’s day!

*Julia is a lead organizer for Wreaths Across Pleasanton, the local chapter of a national effort to recognize veterans.

Athenian’s Upper School had a Forum meeting last week. Forums are all-school meetings that give students the opportunity to discuss current events. Last week, the school voted to talk about the impeachment proceedings. Faculty shared faculty information about what an impeachment entails and students shared their opinions.

Beat Boxing with Eric Strand ’16

by Kim Palacios, Associate Director of Advancement, Alumni Giving & Engagement

Athenian was delighted to welcome alumnus Eric Strand ‘16 as a visiting instructor teaching beat-boxing skills to the hOWLers. Strand sings with On The Rocks, the nationally-known all-male a cappella group at the University of Oregon and traces some of his love for performing back to his Athenian roots. This September marked the fourth time that Eric visited campus to lend his expertise to student programs. He has also organized performances of On the Rocks on the Athenian campus. 

Eric’s visit is the latest in a series of alumni/hOWLers partnerships organized by Choir Director Emily Shinkle, whose track record of building two-way relationships between Athenian alumni and current students, and bringing alumni back to perform has been stellar. “I’m always happy to see former hOWLers continue on with singing in college and I love it when they want to come back to share what they’ve learned and inspire our current singers,” she remarked. 

Beyond bringing Eric back to serve students, Emily and the hOWLers have traveled to the Oakland elementary school where Melissa Barry Hansen ’85 is a 5th-grade teacher, teaching them how to sing in rounds, and two-part harmonies. An Alumni Cabaret held in January 2018 brought young alumni back for a vocally-focused variety show. Emily is currently in discussions with a cross-functional team to co-organize a new performance event that would feature a mix of students and alumni. Stay tuned for possible news!

Presentations of Learning

Athenian’s ongoing efforts to focus on mastery as we define student success has led us to experiment with when and how students receive feedback on their learning. In addition to written grade reports, parents are invited to attend conferences with their students’ teachers at the end of the first quarter. Students receive feedback directly from their teachers and then self-reflect with their advisors. Depending on the grade level, students then prepare a presentation of their learning so far this year.

Middle School

Sixth graders don’t receive grades at all in the first quarter. We want students to focus on areas of strength and growth rather than letter grades as they transition into middle school. Instead, sixth graders get comprehensive rubrics with comments from each of their teachers that assess their development across the following learning areas:

  • empathy
  • readiness to learn
  • collaboration
  • quality of work
  • demonstration of learning
  • mindset

Students then reflect with their advisors on the rubrics and develop a Presentation of Learning for their parents. They share strengths and areas of growth for each class and conclude with three general goals: academic, social, and how they will contribute to the community.

Unlike former models in which each teacher would share something about the student, now students are at the helm of these presentations. Students are at the center of this process and have active ownership of their growth and development.

6th graders also have the opportunity to share coursework including their identity shields with their parents. Aa part of an introduction to the tools in the Carter Innovation Studio, students craft wooden shields that represent various parts of their identity. Guided through a number of reflective exercises, students choose areas of identity to focus on in each quadrant of their shield, such as family, social, academic, athletic, religious, physical, or community identity. They learn how to use the laser printer, 3-D printers, and hand tools to assemble their shield and they write a poem or short prose.

Upper School

The Upper School has a similar student-centered model for conferences. All Upper School students reflect with advisors to prepare a self-assessment of what is going well in each class, what they could do better, and what specific actions they can take to improve. In addition to assessing their classes, they examine co-curriculars, social life, health and wellness, time management, and their home life. During conferences, all students in 9th grade and many students in 10th-12th grades present their reflections to their parents and advisor.

By scaffolding the reflection process with written feedback from teachers, in-person meetings with advisors, and student-written reflections, students are central in the evaluation of their own learning. These models encourage students to think creatively about how they can improve with attentive support from the adults in our community.