Virtual Exchanges at Athenian

International exchanges involve travel, but with restrictions due to the pandemic, how were they to continue in 2021? This is where the virtual exchange came into play. 

Round Square and Athenian adapted to the new reality by allowing students to attend classes virtually at schools around the world. While the usual cultural immersion was not the same, it was still a rich international learning experience. Athenian has both sent students to other Round Square schools and welcomed them to our school, where they attended classes, took part in clubs, and befriended their host students. 

“Is it as good as living in another country? Well, no,” said Athenian Round Square Director Mark Friedman. “But it seems like it went shockingly well, and some real connections were created.”

Midway through their exchange, Chloe and Bianca’s families hopped on a Zoom call to connect and get to know one another.

During Quarter 3, Athenian welcomed ten virtual exchange students: five visited from San Silvestre School in Peru, three from Markham, also in Peru, one from St. Cyprian’s in South Africa, and one from Vivek High School in India. While with in-person exchanges, there are some pairs that just don’t “click,” Mark said, all of the virtual exchanges got glowing reviews. 

One of our wonderful virtual visitors was Bianca A., who participated in the eight-week exchange during her summer vacation from San Silvestre, an all-girls British-Peruvian school in Lima, Peru. 

At first, Bianca wasn’t sure whether she would be able to attend Athenian classes during her summer break, but pushed herself to participate, and is glad that she did. She enjoyed taking Speech & Debate and ESL world History, where she gained an alternative perspective in both subjects. 

“I chose the speech and debate class because at San Silvestre I take debate too,” Bianca said in a Zoom call from Lima. “I wanted to learn new strategies and my experience was really [fulfilling] because I got to learn more strategies that I am going to surely use.” 

During her visit, she was able to shadow Athenian students as they prepared for a debate, learning skills she expected to be helpful in her debates at San Silvestre. 

In ESL World History, she enjoyed the opportunity to focus on American history, which she was eager to learn more about. 

Another highlight of Bianca’s time at Athenian was connecting online with her host, Chloe B. ‘22. “We had so much fun being able to connect via Zoom. It was really natural,” she said.

Chloe had attended San Silvestre virtually in the summer of 2020, where the main classes were in English and extracurricular classes were in Spanish. After this, Chloe was interested in hosting a virtual exchange student. 

“That was really awesome, and I wanted to offer someone the same opportunity,” she said. “It’s just really fun to get to know someone that doesn’t live in the same country.”

Being a host, or exchange buddy, involves regular Zoom calls and messaging with the visiting student to make sure they feel welcome at the school. Chloe and Bianca initially connected via Whatsapp.

“We also used Snapchat a lot, it’s just easier to send videos and such,” she said. 

The two enjoyed messaging, and Chloe met some of Bianca’s friends through Snapchat. 

Midway through the exchange, their families also got a chance to meet via Zoom. While connecting virtually was different from it would have been in person, both students felt they had made a friend, and really enjoyed the exchange. 

“It was definitely different than in person—in person would have been better, for sure, but it was pretty good, too,” she said. “I feel like we definitely became friends.”

Read more about this and other exchanges on The Athenian School Exchange Blog:

Here is Bianca’s blog entry on her exchange at Athenian.

Here is Chloe’s blog entry on her exchange at San Silvestre.

Alumni Spotlights: Celebrating Athenian Black Excellence

In recent weeks and months, our school community and our nation have been deep in conversation about the importance of Black lives. In America, and at Athenian, conversations have focused primarily on social injustice, and on Black pain. One consequence of such conversations is that the joy of Black lives can be easily forgotten. It was the wish of the current BSU, led by Esther A. ’21, Hudson S. ’21, and Chad M. ’22, that we not allow February to pass without acknowledgment of the amazing, purpose-driven lives pursued by members of our own Black Athenian community.

For the past three weeks, we profiled more than a dozen members of our community, from current faculty and staff, to current students, to alumni. In this spotlight, we celebrate the lives, loves and contributions of several Black alumni. Please take the time to read these profiles, to enjoy this series, and to appreciate the members of our community who are doing amazing things in the world!

Jamahn Lee ’94

Alum Jamahn Lee attended Athenian throughout middle school and high school, went on to earn a B.A. in Spanish from Tulane and, later, a M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Passions for youth services and multiculturalism led him to the nonprofit world. He has worked with the Spanish Speaking Citizen’s Foundation on afterschool programs; with the Fred Finch Youth Center on in-home and therapeutic programs; with Policy Link,  a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity, on programs for Black boys; and with the  Oakland Unified School District as its community school program manager. Jamahn is now nearing his fourth year as a Program Coordinator with  SFJAZZ, where he shares his passion for jazz music with middle schoolers in Oakland and San Francisco. In response to challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, he has adapted and developed virtual jazz education programming that is now accessible to students throughout the country.

Britney Davis ’04

Britney has played integral roles in some of the music industry’s biggest recent successes, and has emerged as a strong voice for industry change. She has led marketing and artist development for Lil Baby since he signed to Motown Records. Now at Capitol Records as the VP of Marketing, Artist Relations and Special Projects, she has worked with artists like Migos, City Girls, Queen Naija, and on the “Queen & Slim” soundtrack. She was recently named as one of Billboard’s Hip Hop Power Players, 40 under 40, and as a Variety Magazine Woman of Impact. Britney graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard University’s John H. Johnson School of Communications.

Pen Harshaw ’05

Pendarvis Harshaw ‘05 is the host of KQED’s, Rightnowish, a radio show and podcast that highlights artists and activists on the frontlines. The show focuses on Black artists from across the East Bay. In 2020, he received a $50,000 grant from the Oakland-based Akonadi Foundation, which partially funds the show’s production. He is also the author of OG Told Me, a coming of age memoir about a kid from Oakland who listened to his elders. “Pen,” as he is known among friends, seeks to increase community understanding and awareness of Oakland’s Black cultural diaspora.

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Kelia Human ’15

With a goal of improving healthcare and its accessibility, especially for underserved and minority communities, Kelia currently attends Columbia University, where she is pursuing her Ph.D. “Healthcare is moving towards more personalized service and providing access outside of the hospital and clinic. I think this provides an excellent opportunity to explore ways to break down the barriers that have made healthcare difficult to access for underserved populations. Additionally, by focusing on patient-centered devices there is an opportunity to give control and better understanding about one’s own health, further empowering people to engage with their healthcare providers.” Kelia’s study of biomedical engineering has been applied to two projects this year: the first was a fast diagnostic test for COVID. The second is a bioactive patch to accelerate wound healing. She is a staunch believer in mentorship, which she says “can really help people see new possibilities; I was on the fence about pursuing grad school and being able to talk it out with older students was helpful.”

Eli Feierabend-Peters ’16

Eli “Feier” is a Black mixed-race, gender-questioning musician and Stanford alumnus who believes in the power of art to foster radical healing, change, and love in ourselves and our communities. They were a 2020 recipient of Stanford’s VPA Senior Grant. Their project–the production of their debut album–found them quarantined in California, turning closets into makeshift studios as they worked on music steeped in the traditions of hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and indie-pop and informed by their academic studies of sociology, poetry, fiction, climatology, and history. They guest-taught hip hop and social justice to Advanced Choir students this year and will return again to Athenian this month for a broader conversation on social justice.

Nia Warren ’16

Nia Renee Warren is an African-American filmmaker, photographer, and actress who recently graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. While studying at USC, she became an active force in the black community, serving as the Co-Director of the Black Student Assembly and member of the African American Cinema Society. After graduation, she completed a film titled “Son of Oakland: A Tribute to Victor McElhaney” where she served as the Co-Director and Producer. The film is a dedication to her friend and fellow Oakland native, who she lost due to gun violence near-campus in 2019. It has since been featured in, as well as won awards, in multiple festivals. She looks forward to the film officially premiering at the Pan African Film Festival this month. While enjoying the journey this film has allowed her to take, Nia has been focusing on furthering her acting career and has recently signed with Central Artists Agency for commercial/print work.

More Excellence to Come

Black History is not limited to the month of February, and our Black Excellence series will be ongoing. Look out for periodic profiles posted in various places online throughout the end of this year. We know there are more Black members of our Athenian community who could and should be highlighted! Please nominate or self-nominate by reaching out to us at alumni@athenian.org!