The Pillar, Athenian’s student-run publication, moved online in the Spring of 2020, and with this came the opportunity to report in alternative formats like audio and video. Hudson Scott ‘21 was the first to take advantage of this new form of reporting, creating podcasts on Race in the Bay Area and Sustainable Living for the October 2020 Pillar.
In this podcast, Hudson and Athenian Science Instructor Brittany SchlaeGuada discuss the record-breaking 2020 fire season, electric vehicles, personal decisions affecting the environment, and environmental activism for larger-scale change.
Hudson says he was inspired to work on a podcast “Through watching other podcasters like Joe Rogan. I saw that he would have conversations with interesting and respected individuals on a variety of topics, so I wanted to try my own rendition of that.”
Hudson’s focus is on the quality of the conversation, and this shows through in his work.
“I came up with with both topics thus far – sustainability and race – simply by thinking about which teachers and faculty I would enjoy having a discussion with. Those people happened to be Brittany and Kal, respectively.”
Hudson is currently working on an upcoming podcast on the election. Stay tuned for more audio reporting from The Pillar!
This podcast by Hudson Scott was originally published in Athenian’s student-run publication, The Pillar.
Ask Athenian alumna Mary Costantino ’90 about the medical procedure she pioneered in her region, and she’ll tell you it’s “pretty easy”—just fifteen seconds to route a tube from her patient’s wrist to their groin. An Interventional Radiologist with a specialization in women’s health, Mary was the first physician in Oregon to treat uterine fibroids using this less invasive method involving the wrist as a surgical entry point.
During the six years she spent at Athenian, however, Mary did not consider herself to be a trailblazer. When we asked her how she became a medical innovator, she said, “I didn’t plan my whole trajectory back then and I still don’t have a plan.” Working in Interventional Radiology was not even something she immediately settled on while in medical school at UCLA. She arrived in her current field after seeing an ability to contribute in an area where health care equity was at stake.
The two most common women’s health conditions that Interventional Radiologists treat are postpartum hemorrhage and uterine fibroids. “Interventional Radiology was a field that had real purpose,” Mary reflected. “Forty percent of women over forty have fibroids and the primary way that fibroids are treated is by hysterectomy. The procedure I perform offers a one-week recovery time versus a six-week recovery time, was less expensive at the time when I was in school, and seemed like it could have a big impact on low-income women. It’s a very powerful thing to be able to do something that makes those stressors go away.”
In the fifteen years since Mary began her practice, she has witnessed gradual shifts—a dawning awareness that applies to the treatment of many conditions. “We are now finally recognizing health care disparities, which have been long evident to those of us in healthcare. Uterine fibroids are more common in African-American women, and minimally invasive treatments are almost never offered to women with fibroids. It’s really wrong, and I suspect I’ll spend the next 10 years fighting for equality in informed consent, as I have the last 10 years. Now, however, COVID has unveiled this disparity and there is hope for change.”
Mary credits her regard for social good to strong foundations from home that were built upon during her time at Athenian. “The conversations were centered around the environment and the pillars and being a citizen of the world. It shaped me without me knowing I was actually being shaped.” Unforgettable grand-scale experiences like her Round Square exchange and AWE were pivotal, but so were humbler aspects of student life. “Kitchen duty—what a great lesson. It taught us that we’re all here to take care of each other. Those kinds of jobs and lessons just don’t exist for teenagers anymore.”
People were also a special part of Mary’s Athenian experience. As a whole, she described faculty and staff as “kind, goodhearted educators with an interest in kids. Judy Atai, the art teacher…I just remember sitting and throwing pottery and making jewelry. Sheryl Petersen…all of these maternal figures looking out for you. Ed Ellis…he was always walking around campus, completely invested in us.”
Mary now lives in Oregon with children of her own who are the same age as she was during her Athenian days. When asked what she would say to high schoolers now, her advice was to stay open. “It puts unfair pressure on younger people to find out what their passion is, because you never know what opportunity will come that might pique your interest. It may come when you’re sixteen, or when you’re twelve, or when you’re thirty-five. There’s no way to predict now what might make you happy when you’re fifty.”
Her second and final piece of advice goes back to the Service Pillar, which she still holds dear. “Always be volunteering. That’s a rule I have for myself. If I’m healthy and able bodied, I’m always volunteering. Humans were meant to be productive.”
In the last few months, thirty-one people have been killed and over four million acres have been burned all over California, resulting in deadly smoke, ash, and apocalyptic orange skies across the west coast.
The California wildfires have been burning since August, with little signs of letting up soon. What started as record heat waves and an unusual lightning storm has grown into the most devastating wildfire season California has seen in many years. Worsened by global warming, these fires are likely to return next year, resulting in even more destruction.
“Experts agree that human behavior, land management, arson, and the effects of climate change caused by human industrial activity helped spur these massive fires, worse than any in recent memory,” wrote science journalist Matthew Rozsa in Salon.
The fires, which mainly started from a major lightning storm in late August, have escalated due to a lack of rain, record high temperatures, and fierce winds. They are now releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating the already dangerous heat waves in California.
“One thing [heat] does, it causes the ground [and] plant life to dry out, which makes it a lot easier once things do catch fire, for things to spread and burn very quickly,” said Environmental Science Teacher Brittany SchlaeGuada. “The warm air also causes weird things to happen like the lightning surges we had which isn’t typical for this area. The actual temperature effects are due to global warming and climate change, and the fires are a subsequent repercussion of that.”
Beyond identifying the numerous factors that contribute to the escalation of wildfires, it is also important to note the key differences between climate and weather in order to understand the causes behind them.
“Climate is essentially the long-term average weather,” wrote Dean L. Urban, Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy at Duke University in an email to Salon. “So in the west now we’re seeing a warming climate, plus a long-term drought, plus freakish short-term weather (for example, the lightning storms in [California], and the crazier than usual winds). Climate change and weather are linked, of course, in that under climate change we expect warmer weather but we also expect more extreme events.”
The widespread impact of wildfires this year has caused many Californians to seriously consider the influences and effects of climate change.
“[When] people think about climate change, they think [about how] the weather gets hotter or ice caps are melting,” said SchlaeGuada. “[They think about these effects of climate change] that are far away, not really measurable, and that don’t usually come into contact with our lives, but the truth is that climate change and its effects are kind of everywhere and people are starting to realize that with the seriousness of fires this year.”
Although the denial of climate change has decreased as people start to personally experience it’s effects, it still makes a difference when public leaders recognize and respond to it’s presence.
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom acknowledged this influence of climate change in a September interview: “The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes. It’s not an intellectual debate. It’s not even debatable.”
However, Newsom hasn’t just accepted the reality of climate change. He has begun taking much-needed action on behalf of California to reduce it’s impacts.
“One thing that [Governor Newsom] just signed recently was an executive order in the next 15 years to make California’s car market 100% emission free.” said SchlaeGuada. “So that all new vehicles sold in the state of California 15 years from now will all be electric vehicles or some other type of renewable source. He’s taking strides to try and push California in a better direction when it comes to climate change.”
Newsom isn’t alone as he combats our climate crisis. Many Californians have been coming up with their own proposed solutions over the last few years. Some popular suggestions include forest management and stronger fire regulations, which although easier to implement, will only provide temporary relief.
“If we do not address the climate change issue, no amount of forest management is going to avoid this sort of situation in the future,” said Professor Francis E. Putz, botanist at the University of Florida in an interview with Matthew Rozsa.
It is clear that we need a long-term plan set in motion—and soon—as many climate scientists have predicted the wildfires to continue in the coming years, likely getting worse over time.
This article was originally published in The Athenian Pillar, Athenian’s student-run publication, on October 24, 2020.
Preparing the Middle School to welcome students back to campus under new circumstances was an adventure in logistics. Yet despite the challenges the pandemic presents, the school has achieved its monumental goal of getting students back on campus. By strictly following county guidelines for schools, Athenian became one of the first schools to gain a waiver for sixth graders to come back to campus on September 21, with grades 7-12 soon to follow.
“It has been so exciting to see our sixth graders back, engaging with each other, and connecting in-person with their teachers,” says Athenian Head of School Eric Niles. “Tremendous kudos to those teachers for their amazing work in making this happen. As always, they make it all about our kids and their experience here at Athenian.”
From the big picture to the smallest details, Athenian has worked with Forensic Analytical Consulting Services (FACS) since early spring to achieve risk reduction throughout the pandemic. FACS and a medical expert helped Athenian draft the school’s comprehensive Safety Plan, enabled the school to offer COVID-19 testing on campus, and helped teachers and staff to prepare classrooms for optimal spacing of students and teachers, among myriad other steps toward a contactless campus.
With sixth grade students and teachers having acted as trailblazers for a new educational model in the time of COVID-19, the school is now prepared to welcome all students back in a part-time, low-density fashion. On October 20, the Athenian will start a two-week reintroduction to campus for all other grades on an alternating-week schedule.
Large and small changes have been made to the campus, including the addition of outdoor learning spaces, hand sanitizing stations outside each classroom, and cleaning supplies inside each room. Our sixth graders are being tested every week for COVID-19 and we will be testing all of our students and teachers regularly when they return.
Teachers separated the groups into pods of 10-13 students while still in distance learning. This gave kids a sense of familiarity with their groups when they came back, and a core group with whom to start their Athenian career.
“In preparation, we had to think about how it would work, what we were going to be able to do in the classroom,” says Middle School English teacher Justin Guerra. “We learned a lot through that experience.”
The sixth grade faculty worked hard to prepare classrooms, which went from shared spaces among which students would rotate from room to room, to a model where each student is assigned their own desk to use throughout the day, with teachers rotating instead. During breaks between classes, teachers pack up their materials in wagons that have been provided for them by the school, and move to their next classroom.
“We are walking around the classrooms and things feel very normal, other than kids [previously] being able to collaborate inside,” Justin says.
Keeping students assigned to a single desk while indoors is meant to aid in contact tracing—if there were a COVID-19 case, the school would easily be able to determine where any points of contact might be. Students bring their materials from home, keeping everything organized in one place.
“They look beautiful, like little workspaces,” Justin says of the desks. “It’s really awesome.”
With a small number of students still learning from home, teachers are maintaining distance learning while also teaching in person by setting up “owl cameras” while they teach their in-person classes.
And while students aren’t as mobile indoors as they have been in the past, new outdoor classrooms are offering them a chance to collaborate with each other and mix groups and spend time six feet apart with masks, or 10 feet apart without masks.
“We are going outside, we are really utilizing the outside the classrooms,” Justin says.
As is often the case, there is a silver lining to all this. The sixth graders have been able to gain confidence as the only students on campus before the seventh and eighth grades arrive, and they are developing a closeness in their small pods that would not exist if they had not been cohorted in this way.
“They are able to have some face-to-face conversations laying outside on the peanut, or on the soccer field, or in the outdoor classrooms, and so that’s starting to feel a lot more normal,” Justin says. “It’s starting to feel like Athenian again.”
As one of our Pillars, the key values we share with the Round Square consortium of schools around the world, Service is an essential part of an Athenian education. The beauty of community service lies in the way that it allows for people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and advocate for causes that they are passionate about. Not only does it help those in need, it is also a way in which students can grow and develop themselves as individuals. At the Athenian Upper School, students are able to gain these experiences through weekend service trips, ongoing community service groups, and intensive individual projects. The following essay, by Radman Z. ’21, speaks to the depth of one student’s experience at White Pony Express, a Pleasant Hill-based nonprofit that provides food and goods to those in need.
White Pony Express
By Radman Z. ’21
In my view, many community service programs, including Athenian’s, use service requirements to educate individuals about the values of civic duty, selflessness, and our responsibility not just to our community but to each other by virtue of our shared humanity; our participation in the human experience. While I have certainly become wiser with respect to all three values, the primary outcome of my service project was something else – the experience bestowed upon me a better understanding of human purpose in the context of our ephemeralness in a constantly changing universe, pushed forward relentlessly by the torrents of time.
Prior to conducting my service project with the White Pony Express (WPE), I believed that personal achievement was the most important objective in life. In our society, we are often taught that nothing short of perfection is acceptable, and that anything less than that is failure. Even the way we look at food at the grocery store is reflective of this judgement. There are many who would not even consider buying, for example, corn whose rows are not perfectly straight or tomatoes with too many disfigurations, even though there may be nothing amiss with the product. In light of this, Imperfect Foods, with whom I have collaborated through WPE, was founded to rescue food that is senselessly neglected. Before my project, I believed that we as humans should work towards perfection, and to a good extent still do. However, I used to think this was the ultimate goal of life, and I was shown otherwise.
When I heard about the opportunity to conduct a 200 hour service project as a sophomore, I decided it would be in my best interests to take on such a project as it would bring me closer to the ideal of a perfect model citizen. Since service was valued highly in my community, I believed that excellence was correlated to service, and that consequently this achievement would make me a better community member. I also reasoned it would be a great use of my time, especially since as a teenager, I knew there were not very many conventional ways for me to be a useful member of society.
My first year of volunteering at WPE taught me leadership above all else. It also showed me both the power and value of civic duty, and why it is important to be taught selflessness – so you can logically identify and act on societal needs greater than your own wants instead of succumbing to the common compulsion towards Netflix and popcorn. When multiple people come together in responding to their sense of civic duty, it is nothing short of incredible what can be done. I got several opportunities to lead others in my first year at WPE; I gained experience in leading by example, by directive, and through peer leadership, all of which were immensely gratifying. I felt as if I was giving back to WPE by assisting the flow of the operation and helping new volunteers, as I had been given guidance when I was new.
As a whole, the first year consisted of connecting to my sense of civic duty, striving to be as useful as I could through both my work and leadership, and finding fulfillment in contributing to society. Yet I still believed what was important was to work towards becoming the ideal citizen or community member, to attain this personal achievement of perfecting one’s self with regards to one’s societally given duties. It was not until the second year of my project that I realized that personal achievement, even pertaining to one’s excellence in their fulfillment of the tasks their community deems valuable, is not what ultimately gives us purpose.
In my second year of volunteering for WPE, I took a position as a deliveryman on food distribution runs, a role I had never done before. I would usually arrive at the distribution center early in the morning and go out on a truck to rescue surplus food from local grocery stores. This time, I went out on an afternoon delivery to supply food to pantries and soup kitchens so they could distribute it directly to those in need.
One day, after unloading at one of our stops, I encountered a homeless man sitting on a bench near the pantry. I offered to grab him anything he wanted from the truck, and upon his agreement, I jaunted to the back of the truck, where my eyes fell upon a crate of fruit cartons I had quality-controlled and packed that morning. As I handed a pack of strawberries to the man, who gratefully accepted it with a smile, something clicked in my mind. I came to the crucial realization that personal achievement is not purpose itself, but a contributing factor to a much larger cause.
The strawberries I handed the man were not the finest but, as opposed to their shiny comrades sitting idly on grocery store shelves, they had a purpose. For the strawberry that goes unused, regardless of how marvelous, will have had a purposeless existence. Hence, I saw that what matters is not purely one’s personal achievement but what you do with the knowledge, skill, and opportunity you have. Many of us desire to do something that lasts longer than ourselves, to leave some imprint in history so that our existence will not have been negligible. Yet one’s achievements, regardless of their magnitude, will eventually all be lost in the sands of time. But the impacts we have on each other’s lives, from the genuine smiles we evoke in friends and strangers to the technological breakthroughs we make that improve the lives of thousands, are permanently imprinted in the being of other observers of reality. In this, we may know that we were not negligible, that we mattered, that we made a positive difference that cannot be erased.
Our personal achievements matter only insofar as we use our gifts to positively impact the lives of others. With great ability comes great responsibility. And I am determined to use mine to its fullest potential.
AWE is designed to push the limits of its participants. But this year, the program’s own limits were pushed as the directors worked with expert consultants to develop additional protocols to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Additional features were added to an already complex expedition, and the result was a successful trip for a satisfied, if smaller, group of students.
“Before we went out we had already implemented a number of the protocols. Even so, there was a chance that small groups, or two associated groups, or even the whole course would have to come home,” said AWE Co-Director Phoebe Dameron. But they didn’t—to the delight of students, instructors and families, everything went well and all students completed the course successfully.
The 26-day High Sierra course, scheduled in late summer, traverses Yosemite National Park north to south – starting in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, resupplying in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, and ending in the Sierra National Forest. The High Sierra course requires one food resupply, compared to three food and water resupplies for the Death Valley course, as there are opportunities to purify water along the way.
One of the first and biggest changes to this AWE iteration was to make what is normally a graduation requirement an opt-in course. As a result, while a full trip would have had 42 students, this year’s group had 27. Some families didn’t feel comfortable with the risk, and some were not able to abide by the more strict shelter-in-place requirements before the trip went out.
After the initial opt-in process, the AWE team, which includes Phoebe, Co-Director Jason Ham and Associate Director Whitney Hofacker, proceeded to research the risks so that they could develop a more concrete plan. They engaged two medical providers, administrators, and an external consultant from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
Families were required to abide by a quarantine protocol before the trip began, and all students and staff tested negative for COVID-19 before the trip launched.
In the field, groups followed a modified structure. Similar to the strategy that Athenian will follow when students come back to campus, leaders divided the groups into smaller, “mini-groups” with one instructor, rather than the usual eight or ten students with two instructors. Two mini-groups (a cohort) hiked at a distance but in proximity of each other to account for safety concerns apart from COVID-19.
“There [were] a lot of logistics that went into it,” said AWE Associate Director Whitney Hofacker, “and I think I was so focused dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s that when we finally got out there there I was able to look up and see how special it truly was.”
After months of quarantine, the social aspect of the trip was one of the biggest rewards, and students were appreciative of the opportunity to be out in nature.
“I found AWE to be a transformative experience especially during the pandemic. It was a welcome adventure that helped me center myself mentally, physically, and emotionally,” said Amanda K. ’21.
After 14 days in smaller “mini” groups the two cohorts were able to combine into a standard AWE group. “For them to be able to interact with each other in person, to be able to hug, laugh, to go through this challenge together on top of the pandemic was unique, and I think they really needed it,” Whitney said of the students.
Instead of the usual eight-mile run-in culminating on campus, AWE staff created a four-mile out-and-back run from the final basecamp, complete with a toilet paper finish.
The special basecamp banquet was also different from the family celebration that usually takes place on campus. However, students still presented about their experiences and each other in the form of skits, songs and monologues about one another’s strengths.
“It wasn’t the typical run-in or banquet like we usually do, but we did it in the field, which was really special,” Whitney said.
For Amy Wintermeyer, Head of the Upper School, the value of this year’s High Sierra trip was twofold – to maintain tradition, even in such an unprecedented time, and to give students at home and in need of social interaction this life-changing experience when they needed it the most.
“This is a huge rite of passage at Athenian,” she said. “It was certainly the greatest gift we could have given them.”
Amy emphasizes that the highly detailed planning and risk-management that went into this trip were an enormous feat.
“I would give major, major kudos to Phoebe, Jason and Whitney,” Amy said.
While the global pandemic upended almost all the in-person exchanges scheduled for our students this year, Athenian’s international exchanges are still an integral part of our way of being.
Nine Athenian students did five-week virtual exchanges this summer at Markham College or San Silvestre School, Round Square schools in Lima. Some of the students have written about their experience for the Athenian exchange blog and you can read about their adventures here.
These schools in Peru will be holding virtual classes for the rest of 2020, creating unique opportunities for more partnership with Markham and San Silvestre, which conduct classes in English. I will be organizing some social activities and discussions for our students to have with students there, and there is a potential for faculty to connect online academic courses between Round Square Schools. It could be a one-time meeting or an ongoing partnership. This can be an interesting way to bring new perspectives into a class and to dialog with students from other countries.
For many decades, Athenian has been sponsoring students at the Starehe Boys Centre and Starehe Girls’ Center, Round Square schools in Kenya. The Athenian faculty/staff put on a show in the spring to support students there. We had a student from the Starehe Boys’ Centre, Daniel Musyoka, come on exchange to Athenian a few years ago. The Athenian community then financially supported Daniel through his university studies. Recently, I came across Daniel’s thank you letter to Athenian. He gave it to me when I led a trip to East Africa a couple of years ago and the letter got lost in a file. Daniel’s letter is a lovely ode to Athenian and a moving example of our community in action. Even if you never meet Daniel, I think you’ll be inspired by it. Here’s the link.
I look forward to working with our faculty and larger community to create powerful, internationally-oriented learning experiences for our students.
Athenian will soon be expanding its reach into the larger community with an exciting new program—Athenian After School! The program will accept students in grades 5-8, offering classes in both extracurricular and academic areas.
Course offerings will include innovation and making, visual arts, leadership, DEIC/cultural competency workshops, math and writing support, and computational thinking.
Like Athenian Summer Programs, the program will offer classes to members of the Athenian community and the general student population as well. Because of the pandemic, classes will initially be held online, but in-person classes are planned for the future. Classes will meet twice a week from 4:00-5:00 PM, Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday, starting October 5. All enrichment classes for the fall will be posted and live for registration on Monday, August 17.
Interest in the afterschool program is strong, with more than 93 percent of families whose children attended the summer program hoping to join.
Justin Guerra, who is in his third year as Director of Summer Programs at Athenian, says the pandemic has caused somewhat of a pivot in the afterschool program, which Guerra initially envisioned as more of a community center focused on arts, making, computational thinking, and leadership.
“Originally the academic component was not the priority of our game plan,” Guerra says, adding that with some school districts planning on being completely remote in the fall, academic support now seems like a real need in the community. “We want to offer academic support, just knowing that remote learning is hard.”
Another need Guerra sees is for free programming. While Athenian After School charges tuition, once each 12-student cohort reaches eight paying students, the remaining four spots will be reserved for families in need. Guerra will reach out to local partners and invite them to come enjoy Athenian After School’s programming for free, and other families are welcome to apply.
“I see what kids that can’t come to our school full time get from our summer programs, the way we can connect to the community and the services we can provide, even on a smaller scale,” he says.
After working on the program for about two years, Guerra is thrilled to see it launch, even under unusual circumstances. Despite the pandemic, Guerra feels that the value is there, and plans are firm to go through with the October 5 start date.
“There is a general excitement about bringing a new program to Athenian,” Guerra says, adding that there is “a great energy about supporting this new program at our school.”
With the departure of deeply appreciated members of the Board of Trustees John Kohler ’88 and Tony Dominguez, this summer the Board gained three exciting new additions: Jeannine Bell Whittaker ‘98, Jonathan Nickens, and Ginna Girzadas.
Jeannine Bell Whittaker ‘98 is a Regional Vice President of Sales at Special Counsel, a leading consulting and solutions firm with a domestic and international footprint.
Jeannine is a firm believer in the mission of the school and all of the various ways Athenian strives to educate the whole student, both inside and outside of the classroom. She is an avid traveler, having explored over 50 countries; several trips included visiting Athenian alumni and former faculty as well as Round Square schools. After 10 years in New York, Jeannine returned to the Bay Area with her husband and young children in tow. She looks forward to supporting Athenian in its ongoing journey as a leader in education.
Jonathan Nickens, parent of Athenian students: Ryan ’22 and Natalie ’25, left the financial services industry after almost 20 years to find more meaningful ways to give back to his community. He currently serves on his local school board and transportation agency.
Jon decided to join the Athenian Board of Trustees as a way to give back to a community that has positively impacted his family. Both of his children began their journey here in sixth grade, and Athenian has become a second home for them. While drawn to the educational opportunities and experiences the school offers, what ultimately convinced Jon and his wife that this was the right place was the school’s commitment to nurturing all aspects of its students. At Athenian, Ryan and Natalie have developed a true sense of who they are, and how they can make the world a better place. He finds this truly inspirational, and wants to help Athenian continue on its mission.
Ginna Girzadas, parent of Athenian students Eve ‘21 and Allie ‘23, and alumni Grace ‘18 and Luke ‘20, has been an active member of the Athenian community for a decade, serving as head of the Athenian Parents Association until the spring of 2020. A Danville native, Ginna worked in product marketing for a technology company before starting her family, and later immersed herself in volunteer work. She now hopes to further Athenian’s impact as a member of the Board of Trustees.
Ginna loves Athenian’s combination of academic rigor with a focus on the education of the whole child. She feels that the school’s approach allows students to develop different aspects of themselves and prepares them for a meaningful life in which they can and want to make a difference in the world. She values the school’s wonderful faculty and the authentic relationships they create with students.
Jeannine, Jonathan and Ginna, we are honored and delighted to welcome you to the Board of Trustees!
As three iconic faculty members and four trailblazing staffers leave the nest this year, their combined 172 years of service deserve a moment in the spotlight. They have taught and nurtured our students, helped build our community and culture, and their legacies will carry on.
Tina Nott, retiring Math teacher, was a founding member of the Middle School faculty, a co-founder of Middle School Focus Days, and the second woman to teach Math at Athenian. Joining Eleanor Dase, Munzer Afifi and Lester Henderson in a combined Middle School/Upper School Math department, she joined Athenian in 1982 and helped realize a vision to have more women teach STEM.
Retiring French teacher Elisabeth Bertschi, who joined Athenian in 1986, brought with her “whole child” approaches to learning. Her rubrics for refreshing her curriculum were decades ahead of their time. Though she came to Athenian straight out of graduate school, she had a natural ability to connect with students.
Retiring staffer Debbie Schafgans joined Athenian in 1987, initially in the Development (now Advancement) department. She was also a pioneer: the first staffer to use a personal computer for core elements of her role and one of the first to manage the digital integration of her department.
As with Debbie Schafgans, retiring staffer Debra Ataman’s role evolved. She joined Athenian in 1997, working in Reception before becoming the Assistant to the Director of Special Programs in 2001. In the years following, Debra became heavily involved in community outreach and ultimately went on to be a key member of our Summer Programs, contributing to its significant growth over the years.
When asked about why Athenian staff and faculty are so well-equipped to play a variety of roles, former Head of School Eleanor Dase pointed to the many opportunities for faculty and staff to show leadership, such as chaperoning trips, organizing fundraisers, providing leadership in Round Square, Interim/March Term, and much more. If self-determination and grassroots organizing are part of Athenian’s DNA, it’s clear why retiring employees Lydia Guzman, Elise Jan and Barbara Carlino were so effective.
Lydia Guzman began her career at Athenian in 2000, serving for 20 years as the Attendance Officer. She also co-advised the Latino Club, raised more than $17,000 for the Monument Crisis Center over the years after co-founding the Tuesday Nacho Sale, organized the annual Athenian Pink Day to benefit breast cancer and served a run as Dean of Staff. Along with Debbie, she was an early regular attendee of the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference (POCC) and an early champion of equity and inclusion at Athenian.
Barbara Carlino, who joined in 2007 as Upper School Counselor, founded longstanding programs as well. She co-created ASAP (the Athenian Sexual Assault Prevention Program), started the school’s peer counseling program, and shaped curriculum and culture by carrying out Athenian’s health education program for many years.
Mandarin teacher Elise Jan, who came to Athenian in 2009, is yet another lauded language teacher. She developed an innovative method of instruction that helped students achieve a level of fluency that wasn’t obtainable through classic approaches. Along the lines of holistic participation, she also chaperoned several trips abroad.
Beyond what these outgoing women contributed as trailblazers from a curriculum and culture perspective, they contributed greatly to our enjoyment of the school. They gave hugs. They played pranks (we’re looking at you, Tina). They performed in countless Staff and Faculty Talent Shows. They were treasured friends. We will miss them all.