Veronica Benjamin ’06, Lead Activist on Danville Police Shootings, Returns to Speak at Equity & Inclusion Night

Alumna Veronica Benjamin ’06 returned to Athenian Thursday evening, October 28 to serve as keynote speaker for our fall Equity and Inclusion night, a biannual event for Upper School students that spotlights social justice issues. Veronica spoke about her activism in seeking justice for the 2018 and 2020 killings of Laudemer Arboleda and Tyrell Wilson, respectively, at the hands of Danville Officer Andrew Hall.  Pictured with the family of Laudemer Arboleda on the day that a guilty verdict was returned for one of two felony charges, Veronica organized support for Arboleda’s case. In light of her monthslong leadership, we were eager to have her speak to students about local activism.

The Tyrell Wilson case hit home for Veronica–a permanent resident of India–who returned to her childhood home in Danville for the duration of the COVID pandemic. She encountered Mr. Wilson, an unhoused man living on the streets of Danville, on her regular route. “I started organizing in the wake of Tyrell’s murder because I saw him every day,” Veronica told students. “I commute to Berkeley on the bus and Tyrell was the man at the bus stop. He was so peaceful…Tyrell was part of my life.” 

Alumna Veronica Benjamin '06 holding up a sign that says "Justice for Tyrell" at a protest in Danville.

While some residents called on the city (primarily via the NextDoor app) to find ways to remove or house him, other neighbors mentioned his gentle, harmless manner. As Danville officials responded to posts, some pointed out that Wilson could not be arrested if he hadn’t committed a crime. On March 11, 2020, Wilson was shot and killed by on-duty Officer Andrew Hall at the intersection of Sycamore Valley Road and Camino Ramon after a twenty-three second confrontation. 

“When I found out Hall was the officer who killed Tyrell, I was livid,” Veronica recounted. It wasn’t the first incident for Hall. In November of 2018, while on duty, Hall shot and killed Filipino man, Laudemer Arboleda. The cases had similarities: both Wilson and Arboleda struggled with mental health, neither possessed a firearm, and both were men of color. And in these–the only two officer-involved shootings in Danville since 2001–Hall was the gunman in both. 

As Veronica co-organized justice efforts within the community, she focused on educating the public about key facts in both cases and driving turnout to key events. She became involved with Conscious Contra Costa, which she now co-leads. She spoke candidly with students about the challenges of teamwork and navigating bureaucracy. “What I’ve learned in the past six months of organizing is….how to work constructively with others and learn to compromise.”

Sanjev deSilva, Director of DEIS at Athenian, has been another significant figure in supporting the cause. He’s spoken at several vigils, marches and memorials. In the spring of 2021, helped efforts to educate the Athenian student community about the Tyrell Wilson case and prompted interested students to attend rallies. After meeting Veronica at a protest, Sanjev discovered their mutual connection to Athenian by happenstance.  Two of the students who attended one of the vigils, Izze K. ’21 and Khalil W. ’21, facilitated Thursday’s Equity and Inclusion conversation with Veronica.

When asked her thoughts on the role Athenian played in her current path, Veronica’s response hinted at several of our pillars: leadership, service to others and democratic participation and justice. “One thing that Athenian instilled in me is the idea that our learning ultimately has to come back in service of something greater than ourselves and in service of our society,” she said.

Veronica followed up from the conversation on E&I Night with a call to action for how the greater Athenian community could get involved by issuing the following statement: 

“I deeply appreciate everyone in the Athenian community who is dedicating their time, energy, and resources to making it truly equitable, inclusive, and committed to its highest ideals. I was honored to be invited to the E&I Night and have the opportunity to reconnect and converse with many of you. 


For any students, faculty, or family members who would like to get more involved in Conscious Contra Costa, please join our listserv (justicefortyrellwilson@gmail.com), and/or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”

Welcome to New Members of the Board of Trustees!

As we bid farewell to three deeply appreciated members of the Board of Trustees, Josh Freeman, Laura Victorino, and Lizzie Miskovetz ‘10, Athenian is welcoming several new trustees with fascinating backgrounds and unique perspectives from which to help guide the school. We are thrilled to welcome new trustees (from left) Jill Miller, Alex Bly, Pavan Gill ‘92, and alumni advisory trustee Musadiq Bidar ‘10.

Jill Miller

Parent of Tess ‘ 22 and Audrey ‘25

Jill is a communications professional currently employed by a digital marketing agency.  She holds a BA in Business/Economics and English from Lafayette College.  A seasoned volunteer, Jill is drawn to organizations that promote education, combat illiteracy and support voting rights. Jill is honored to serve the school and support its efforts to create civic-minded, lifelong learners destined to make meaningful contributions to their communities and professions. 

Pavan Gill ‘92

For Pavan Gill ‘92, Athenian sparked a love of learning that he had not experienced until attending the school. Multiculturalism, civic engagement, service to a cause greater than self, and adventure were all foundations laid out for him to build upon from his time at Athenian.

Pavan is currently in the U.S. federal government at the intersection of technology and global affairs. Previously, Pavan was a partner in a penetration testing company, worked at a high-tech firm in Silicon Valley, and served in local law enforcement. 

It is Pavan’s hope that he can help inspire Athenians to pursue opportunities in public service.

Musadiq Bidar ‘10 (Alumni Advisory Trustee)

Musadiq Bidar is a Tech and Politics reporter at CBS News, where he has covered the 2020 Presidential Election, the 2020 California Primary and Vice President Mike Pence during the General Election. Musadiq started his career as an intern at CBS News in 2014 and has been with the network full-time since 2015. A native of Kabul, Afghanistan Musadiq and his family immigrated to the United States as refugees in 2003 and settled in the Bay Area. After graduating from Athenian in 2010, Musadiq continued his education at The George Washington University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. Musadiq is an avid sports fan and enjoys rooting for the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Lakers.

Alex Bly 

Parent of current Athenian students Abbie ’22, Lucy ’26, and Middle School alumna Natalie ’24

Alex works in customer experience consulting where he has experience co-founding a firm, working at large global firms, and driving innovations such as crowdsourcing to help evolve the traditional consulting services industry.

Alex believes Athenian is a place where students can learn how to find and explore their passions, a key part of preparing them for their futures. He first saw this happen while mentoring students for the robotics team and has seen it since with his own children’s Athenian experience.

As a trustee, Alex looks forward to helping Athenian continue to innovate the ways that students can find and explore their passions.

AAPI Heritage Month at Athenian

Middle schoolers Kaylee C. ’27, Payton I. ’27, and Olivia N. ’27 have been working on a mural denouncing acts of violence against Asian Americans. 

At a time when violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise nationwide, Athenians have come together to support and celebrate the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in an effort driven by student leaders.

Throughout the month of May, which has been recognized as AAPI Heritage Month since 1992, the Asian Student Union (ASU) and faculty advisers organized events, artwork, discussions, and other meaningful programming to increase awareness about the history of Asian Americans, the diversity of Asian culture, the Model Minority Myth, and the recent spate of violence against AAPI individuals. 

A collaborative effort led by students

ASU leaders Anthony Guan ’21, Sarah Liu ‘21, and Kitty Zhan ‘21 took the helm in organizing and drawing attention to AAPI month activities.

“ASU leaders have been monumental in these events that are taking place at Athenian,” said ESL Teacher, International Program Director, and ASU Co-Advisor Michelle Park. “It’s really happening at the ground level from the students.”

Upper School Community Meetings have been a key venue, and film has been an important medium in this month’s AAPI events. Students viewed and discussed this video from Time.com on the forgotten history of Asian immigration to the U.S. and a documentary by Film Instructor Peter Tamaribuchi about his father, a Japanese-American. Later in the month, Peter and Jeremy L. ’21 hosted a celebration of AAPI filmmakers. 

With the leadership of the ASU, collaboration has been a central theme in this month’s activities. The group held joint meetings with the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Athenian White Antiracist Group (AWAG) to explore opportunities to work toward common goals. ASU leaders also presented to grades 6 and 7 in the Middle School. 

Also in the Middle School, Michelle gave a presentation on K-POP, and students viewed video clips highlighting the Asian American experience and the accomplishments of AAPI individuals. A group of students created a mini-mural to celebrate the month, and many students took the opportunity to focus on AAPI issues in their personal projects. The DEIS team, with the help of Middle School student contributors, put together this E&I newsletter on AAPI heritage and shared it with the school. 

A workshop for Upper School International students highlighted AAPI heritage and history: ASU leaders presented on Asian American history and the origins of the Model Minority Myth, and adults who identify as Asian American spoke about how this myth affected their lives growing up. 

In a group art project in the CIS, students created a mural based on a painting by Sarah F. ’22. Anthony G. ’21 transformed the painting into a poster that was distributed throughout the Athenian campus, and members of the ASU lent their artistic skills to transfer the image to canvas panels. The mural is now on display in the main window area of the CIS.

In addition, alumni Matt Okazaki ’06 and Krissy Manansala ’09, presented at an ASU meeting to share their experiences of growing up Asian American and attending Athenian. 

A new safe space

While the Athenian Asian Club has been on campus for nearly two decades, over the years it morphed from an affinity space into a cultural and social club that is open to all races and ethnicities. 

The newly created Asian Student Union, which is open to students who identify as Asian, was officially formed in January 2021, but the impetus for an Asian affinity group came a year earlier, when Vivian Liao, ASU Co-Advisor and Director of the Carter Innovation Studio, approached Michelle about ways to support Asian students as the pandemic escalated. 

“She already had the sense over a year ago that there was a need to support our Asian students on campus,” Michelle said.

In January 2021, nearly a year into the pandemic and immediately following the end of Trump’s divisive presidency, Vivian and Michelle created an affinity group that would help Asian American students and adults at Athenian to feel supported. 

“We wanted it to be a safe space for students and adults who identify as Asian to gather and share stories, grieve, celebrate,” said Michelle.

Challenges continue

As Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to a close amid continued concerns for AAPI safety nationwide, it’s important to recognize that violence against Asian Americans continues. While from the mainstream media it may seem like these acts of aggression have abated, Asian American news sources give a different perspective, Vivian said. 

“They have not stopped, they have not abated,” said Vivian, adding that the Bay Area is actually a hot spot for these ongoing events, which often target the elderly and women. 

AAPI events this month have also addressed the problems created by the Model Minority Myth, which stereotypes Asian Americans as a monolithic group. Depicting Asian Americans as robotic high achievers, it puts pressure on those who may not fit the mold and pits minorities against one another. 

“It comes with a whole suite of stereotypes and it just dehumanizes everyone involved,” Vivian said.

While the challenges faced by the AAPI community continue, the formation of the ASU along with this month’s series of community events have provided much-needed support.

“It’s been very therapeutic for myself, and for I think a lot of Asian American members of our community, to finally have a forum, a group to discuss these events, and I think that the ASU is part of that—they specifically provide a space for the students to process these things.”Sources: ASU Co-Advisors Michelle Park and Vivian Liao, Letter from Sanjev deSilva and the ASU regarding AAPI month [[link]]. Note: Vivian will be succeeded by Kimiko Sera-Tacorda as ASU Co-Advisor in 2021-22.

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.

Pillar Podcast: Implications of the 2020 Election with Hudson S. ’21 and April Smock

Starting with a definition of politics and political discourse, Hudson S. ’21 and Humanities Teacher and Department Chair April Smock get philosophical in this discussion about democracy and the 2020 election. Have we lost our ability to communicate with others whose views differ from our own? Are we shutting each other out by isolating ourselves with people who think like we do? How can we be more open to others’ complexities, seeing each other more holistically? Hudson and April break it down in this fascinating conversation.

This track was originally published on The Pillar on January 10, 2021 and is part of Hudson’s yearlong podcast series featuring interviews with Athenian faculty.

Community Service at Athenian: Crystal C. ’21 at ARM of Care

By Crystal C. ’21

Over March Term in 2020, I was fortunate enough to do an internship with ARM of Care for a second year. ARM of Care uses the creative arts to restore and empower individuals who have been commercially sexually exploited through human trafficking or are at risk for being trafficked.

Despite the unexpected social distancing a week into my internship, it went smoothly overall, and I was ultimately able to accomplish all that we had planned. I am really grateful for and owe a lot to the experience I got working with ARM of Care since March the previous year. Because of that connection, I got to know the organization and its mission a lot better, which helped me with self-motivation and helped deepen my level of consideration for my work this March Term. There were a few major changes in my internship this year, which brought new challenges, different perspectives, and more introspection.

One difference was the increased independence asked of me. By “independent,” I don’t mean “remote.” A lot of my work with ARM of Care last year was remote, so I luckily did not have to go through a big a learning curve about that. This year, I got to experience a different meaning of “independence.” For instance, my artwork this year has been all on paper by hand, rather than online last year, so errors could not be as easily undone. I was given the creative freedom to choose my own mediums for the cards and gift bags I was asked to decorate. At first, I felt stuck between choosing something that would yield the best possible quality versus something that would be more forgiving towards mistakes. In the end, I decided that I wanted to put as much care as possible into making something really nice for the girls (the gift bags) and representative of the organization (the thank-you cards). I chose to use watercolor, a medium that is not very forgiving, but looks great if done well. As a result of this choice, my work took a lot of patience. I had to be even more attentive and cautious than last year. Sometimes the painting did feel tiring, both physically and mentally, but I learned to understand that working “independently” is not just working remotely. It’s also being able to work through challenges and motivate oneself even without a supervisor or mentor always there.

Because of current events and social distancing, I also had a lot of time for reflection and introspection. Although my age and skills limit how much I can help ARM of Care as a whole, I realized that even small things–like painting gift bags for some of the girls they serve–can bring joy and aid in the organization’s mission. I also realized how much my consideration for my work has grown since last year. Last year, I did a lot of digital marketing work, but I did not know much about how the organization operated and I knew almost nothing about the girls they served. Over the past year, as I continued to work with ARM of Care, I was able to hear a victim speak. I heard first-hand about what happens to a lot of the girls they serve and about the organization’s philosophy in facilitating the healing process.

I didn’t really realize how much my perspective had changed until one day during my internship this year. I was adding paint splatters to gift tags for artistic effect, when I was suddenly worried that the dark pink-red splatter might be triggering for some of the girls. I immediately went back and modified all the splatters into tiny flowers. It might have just been me nitpicking, but it’s not something I would have considered last year. I realized that motivation and care for work comes from an understanding of and commitment to the underlying purpose.

Angie and I have talked about continuing to work together, which I am also looking forward to.

This article was originally published on the Athenian Community Service Blog on January 29, 2021.

Does COVID-19 Mark the End of Small Business?

By Ilah R. ’23

On April 16, 2020, Neal Gottlieb, founder of Three Twins Ice Cream, one of America’s leading grocery store brands in organic ice cream, announced that his business of 15 years would be ceasing operations as of April 17. Many were distraught to hear this news, as Three Twin’s iconic flavors of Lemon Cookie, Dad’s Cardamom, Land of Milk and Honey, and more, were staple ice creams in countless Bay Area homes. The reason for this abrupt closure was not unique to Three Twins; many other small businesses are also closing up shop due to the immense economic strain brought about by COVID-19.

When citizens of the United States were sheltered in place during the months of March and April, many were worried about the most pressing insecurity that COVID-19 introduced: the health and safety of their family members and themselves. However, a significant subset of Americans had other worries on their minds in addition to this basic concern. For the 49.2 percent of Americans who are owners and/or employees of a small business, COVID-19 was not only a matter of health, but also of livelihood, as the pandemic had a direct impact on the way in which these vital businesses function. Beyond the primary issue of many businesses completely closing down during March, April, and May, small businesses had to reevaluate how many people they could keep employed, and whether they could afford to stay open at all.

According to the latest research by Yelp, 72,842 businesses in the United States have been forced to close permanently due to the impact of COVID-19 on businesses. The food industry has been one of the most harshly affected by COVID-19. An estimated 15,770 restaurants have permanently closed in the US alone. One out of every 10 restaurants which temporarily closed in March, April, and May has since closed permanently. These intimidating numbers are concerning for small business owners, as they serve as a reminder of the looming threat bigger businesses pose in encroaching on their market share. For Gottlieb, this threat came in the form of companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs. 

“The biggest challenge of the grocery side of the business even before COVID was competing with the likes of Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs, which are cheaper grocery market brands. It’s just really challenging to offer a clean and organic product, and to get consumers to pay significantly more for it,” Gottlieb said. 

The concern of national chains eliminating small business may have been highlighted by the pandemic, but Gottlieb’s account suggests that it existed long before COVID-19. Most consumers opt for the more convenient and cheap option when it comes to food and other products. Supporting small businesses is becoming less of a priority for the American public.

Unfortunately, Three Twins’ business model was inherently harder to sustain due to their commitment to producing reasonably priced organic ice cream through environmentally friendly means of manufacturing. In the current consumer economy, it has become increasingly difficult to survive as a business while staying true to these values.

“I wanted to create a business that was organic and environmentally friendly, but appealed to the masses for reasons far beyond just being a green business. So I wanted to put that out into the world at an affordable price, which was something that had a lot of initial success, but that also proved to be very challenging as far as getting to a place where the business was sustained and profitable,” Gottlieb explained.

Then came the pandemic, an obstacle which introduced a new level of financial instability that Three Twins was unable to keep up with.

“The more established companies just have deeper pockets, and they have established profitability. So they are able to weather the storm when there’s a downturn, whereas we just didn’t have that. We were already running on fumes before the pandemic,” Gottlieb said. 

The story of Three Twins Ice Cream is one of hope and resilience, but ultimately loss. The 72,842 businesses that have permanently closed in the recent months suggest that there are many other stories like Gottlieb’s. COVID-19 has served as a harsh awakening for small business owners who started companies from the ground up with hopes of providing consumers with unique products. Many of these businesses were ultimately unable to withstand the combined forces of an economic recession fueled by a raging pandemic and the competition created by bigger companies who have established profitability.

In a time where the average American’s trips to the grocery store are increasingly centered around finding the least expensive products in the shortest amount of time, many wonder if small businesses and brands still have a future in our world and consumer economy.

This article originally appeared in The Athenian Pillar on January 10, 2021.

Athenian’s Film Students Gain Recognition at Major Film Festivals

Athenian’s film students have been taking the festival circuit by storm. Led by film teacher Peter Tamaribuchi, students have created short films and submitted them to multiple festivals, with results that have brought them recognition locally, online, and across the country, both pre- and post-pandemic. 

Athenian’s film program emphasizes storytelling excellence and social change, and currently, most students are working on documentaries that will make a positive impact on their communities.

“It’s been amazing to see so many students do so well in so many film festivals. I think one of the things we have learned from this experience is that student filmmakers do extremely well when they have a story they are passionate about and are given the freedom and support to make that story into a compelling film,” Peter said.  

In film classes, students begin by developing their ideas, followed by pre-production and planning their film shoot. Students then shoot their films and edit them into a final product. While film students previously worked in teams with shared video cameras, they are currently working on their own solo smartphone films. 

As students follow their passions and interests, their high-quality storytelling has audiences taking note. 

Jeremy L. ‘21

In his film “instant,” Jeremy L. ‘21 portrays a man close to the point of death, chronicling his last few moments. 

“Shortly before I made the film I went through a personal loss so that kind of influenced some aspects of the film, and I think in some ways I kind of made it to cope with it,” Jeremy said.  

“As someone who uses creativity a lot to process emotions, I think the main thing that I wanted to take away from that was just turning something that was personal and turning that into something that not necessarily something that was enjoyable, but something that can be seen by others.” Jeremy said. “I wanted to turn something sad into something beautiful.” 

“instant.” by Jeremy L. ’21 (Best Young Producer : Animation at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival).

Jeremy created the second film, “Adrenaline,” for the Athenian Film Festival. A more fast-paced combination of animation with live action, it shows a teenager doing math homework while pulling an all-nighter fueled by coffee. 

“That’s a common experience most students have, so I thought it would be relatable,” he said. 

“Adrenaline” won Semi-Finalist at Top Shorts, which is known as the world’s leading online film festival.  

Adrenaline” by Jeremy L. ’21 (Semi-finalist at Top Shorts Film Festival).

Jeremy has been admitted into the film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and will enroll in the fall. 

“I think I’m just going to see where it takes me, I don’t really have any set goals but I think to some degree that’s a good thing, like to go in with as little expectations so I can kind of just be shaped by it,” he said.

When asked for his advice for other film students, Jeremy reflected on his own creative process. 

“I think the main thing I would say is that anything can be a good idea. I kind of struggled with this when I was starting with filmmaking. I would come up with an idea and then immediately shrug it off as a bad idea,” he said, adding that he came up with the idea for Adrenaline while drinking coffee and doing math homework. “I feel like some of the most successful films I’ve made were the ones that just came out of the smallest observations.” 

Matthew Y. ‘20

Athenian alumnus Matthew Y. ’20 caught the film bug in elementary and middle school, when he shot movies on his iPad with his brother and friends. His genre of choice is live action comedy, and he is very intrigued by the combination of action and comedy.  

In Matthew’s short film, “Love and Time,” a guy asks a girl out over and over, in what he eventually discovers is a time loop. Once he understands the repetition, he evolves his approach each time, ending by meditating with the young woman he is pursuing. 

“I was interested in the concept of reliving your day, and I wanted to explore that concept more.” 

Matthew completed shooting the film in November 2018, and edited in the spring of 2019. The film gained recognition in multiple festivals: it was a semifinalist in the Top Shorts Film Festival, won the Best Shorts Film Award for the teen bracket, and won third place (and $500!) in the high school division of the Grand Foundation Student Film Festival.  

His advice to upcoming students is to be persistent and to practice.

“If you want to be a good filmmaker, you have to experience filmmaking multiple times,” he said.

Now in his first year at the University of Rochester, Matthew is interested in producing mini-documentaries in college and hopes to become part of a film club.

Olivia A. ‘22, Frances F. ‘22, and Caitlin S. ‘22

Years after attending the Aurora Elementary School in Oakland together, Olivia A. ‘22, Frances F. ‘22, and Caitlin S. ‘22 found themselves once again together at Athenian freshman year in a March Term film class, Filmmaking for Change. During March Term, Upper School students take three-week mini classes of their choosing, diving deeply into a subject they would not otherwise get to experience in their high school career. 

When Olivia, Frances and Caitlin gathered to discuss ideas for a film, one of the issues that came up in discussion was increasing gun violence in schools. With the knowledge that young students were participating in active shooter drills, they decided to return to the Aurora School to explore how the increasing prevalence and knowledge of gun violence in schools was affecting younger children. They filmed K-5 students during a lockdown drill and interviewed some fourth and fifth graders about their experiences with lockdowns, seeking to understand how the awareness of the possibility of a shooting had impacted their time in elementary school. Editing the material together as a team, they included clips from survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting in 2018. 

“We wanted to further explore how the media coverage of school shootings impacts young kids,” Frances said. “It impacts us, but we didn’t necessarily remember a lot of having the knowledge of what was happening in the world when we were in elementary school.” 

The trio made the film, titled “Avoidable Trauma,” during the three-week March term period. They split the work evenly and each did some of each task, gaining experience with filming, and editing with Adobe Premiere. 

While there were some frustrations related to editing on unfamiliar software, the group enjoyed working together, and at the end of the class, they were encouraged to apply to several film festivals. ”We applied to a handful of them that were just free,” she said, adding, “We actually forgot about it for a while.”

Little did the first-time filmmakers know that their hard work would gain them national recognition—“Avoidable Trauma” was accepted into the All-American HIgh School Film Festival, the largest high school film festival in the world. Over a weekend in October, they traveled with Olivia’s mother to New York City for the event. 

“When students do well in film festivals, it’s so rewarding for them as artists to see their work celebrated and gives them the confidence to believe in their work and their artistry,” Peter said.  

A Uniquely Amazing Semester of Athletics

By Josie Chapman

Despite everything that has unfolded since the start of school, given the realities of COVID-19, our athletes and coaches came to the fields, makeshift courts, and campus surroundings (with masks on) and made us all so proud. None of this would have been possible without our incredible coaching staff, bus drivers, and maintenance team. Day in and day out, they worked tirelessly to keep the Owl athletes safe, connected, and inspired to play during this unprecedented time.

Since this first semester was entirely clinic-based with no opposing teams or spectators, the Athenian Athletics Department wanted to share a few highlights:

The fall semester was broken into three sessions to represent the traditional three-season model we follow each year: fall, winter, and spring. Each session represented the appropriate sports, and athletes participated in four weeks of clinics as a team. We had over one hundred Owls on campus each clinic day, playing on the field, running the campus, on our makeshift parking lot tennis courts or basketball courts, and for a brief moment in the gyms. 

Owls showed up with their positive spirits day after day, in the rain, during a heat wave, and after days off because of poor air quality. This positive spirit is what our Owls have been all about this fall semester of 2020 – simply an amazing display of resilience and community.

Josie Chapman is the Athenian School’s Associate Athletic Director.

The Carter Innovation Studio

Abuzz with invention in a typical year, the Carter Innovation Studio (CIS) is a focal point for hands-on work at Athenian. In its bright, airy spaces, students can be found focusing on their creations as they drill, saw, draw, create 3D models, or bring robots into motion for major competitions. 

Home to the school’s engineering, architecture and making classes, the studio also hosts Athenian’s robotics and entrepreneurship programs. While it’s quieter now, plans that have been on hold due to COVID-19 are regaining momentum – a tiny homes project with the architecture program is in the works, and a hydroponic garden project is brewing. 

CIS Director Vivian Liao is in charge of long-term planning for the studio.

CIS Director Vivian Liao is in charge of long-term planning for the lab, and is excited to have students back in person.

“It’s a nice energy to have students back. I like seeing them focus on their projects,” Vivian says.

At the beginning of of this 2002-21 school year, Alicia and Vivian spent time putting together kits for students in CIS classes so that they could work on projects at home. Now, with the school on an alternating-week in-person schedule, they are making improvements in the lab in preparation for its return to full activity. They are conducting maintenance on the machines and tools and have ordered a new professional-grade Ultimaker 3D printer. 

With architecture and engineering back in person, small groups of students may soon be allowed to use the machines. One of the challenges now is to figure out the flow of people through the shop and the safe shared use of tools. 

“We are just in the process of figuring out how we can let students do hands-on work while maintaining the hygiene and safety standards that COVID requires,” Vivian says.

As shop manager, Alicia Wang maintains machines and trains faculty to use the CIS.

Trained as a furniture designer at the Rhode Island School of Design, CIS Shop Manager Alicia Wang makes sure everything is running smoothly in the CIS, maintaining the machines and the facility. In preparation for students coming back to campus, Alicia has been organizing and labeling materials, and has cleaned up the hydroponic towers outside so that students will soon be able to plant vegetables hydroponically. 

Alicia is interested in making of all kinds, and was drawn to Athenian’s experiential model. 

“I feel like hands-on learning, this approach, is not the norm, and that’s also an experience that I’ve received in my own education in furniture design, so I want to see what it’s like to build a community that centers this type of education.”

While students are still learning online, using Arduino or online rendering software, Alicia notices how happy they are to be back in the shop. 

“They pick up like nothing happened,” Alicia says. “They’d sit down and just start chatting and working on their stuff, and that’s nice to just hear in the background while I’m doing other things in the shop.”