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.

Visiting Artist Exposes Fine Arts Students to Four Printmaking Techniques

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

Athenian was pleased to welcome Madalena Parreira, master printmaker and set designer, to serve as our 2019-20 Artist in Residence. Fine arts students in grades 9 through 12 were exposed to four new methods of printmaking under her instruction this fall. An alumni-supported Artist in Residence Endowed Fund provides a guest-instructor opportunity for an artist every year. The students’ diverse, personal, and visually-interesting prints made for an alluring display in the Center for Visual Arts (CFTA).  

Madalena was invited as a result of her long-term artistic collaboration with fine arts instructor, Sally Baker, who previously studied at Ar.Co (Center for Art and Visual Communication) in Lisbon, Portugal. Prior to serving as current head of printmaking at Ar.Co, Madalena taught art in secondary schools and colleges in Europe and the U.S., including for the United Nations International School in New York.

The program focused on four techniques. In the two weeks prior to Madalena’s arrival, Sally presented outstanding artworks in each technique and carefully explained what each printmaking processes entailed:

  • Silkscreen. A seventeenth-century method that uses stencils to block the passage of ink through a thin mesh; seen in the work of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.
  • Etching. A sixteenth-century technique that uses acids to etch line and tone drawings onto metal plates; seen in the work of Rembrandt, Piranesi, and Goya.
  • Lithography. An eighteenth-century technique of printing on stones that was widely used to print stamps, maps, and packaging; seen in the work of Delacroix and Kathe Kollwitz.
  • Collography. A twentieth-century technique that involves creating plates from textured materials and printing in intaglio or by roller; seen in the work of the late Cuban artist Belkis Ayon.

Students were able to choose the type of printmaking they would explore within their respective groups; workshops were designed according to their choices. Following Madalena’s arrival, students watched live demonstrations of each step as precursors to developing their own prints.

We are pleased to report that the program was also viewed as a success by the artist herself, who remarked, “It has been an enormous pleasure to spend these days with such inquisitive and talented students. I was particularly impressed with their warm, polite and welcoming attitude from the first day, as well as their commitment and sustained effort and focus in all sessions. I have rarely seen young artists demonstrate such mutual respect and interest in learning.”

Sarvodaya: “The World We Wish to See”

By Mark Friedman, Round Square Coordinator and Community Service Director

We are having a wonderful time at the Round Square International Conference in Madhya Pradesh, India hosted by The Emerald Heights International School. Morgan G. ’22, Chris C. ’21, and Nathan M. ’21 are doing a great job of reaching out and are making lots of new connections.

We started our trip in Mumbai. We visited the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Rabajai Clock Tower; markets; Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest outdoor laundry; and Dharavi, the world’s third-largest slum. We also got to spend time with Harnoor, a former exchange student to Athenian who flew down from Delhi to meet us.

The conference theme is Sarvodaya, which means “the world we wish to see.” The Emerald Heights International School describes Sarvodaya as follows:

“The theme of the conference is Sarvodaya-The world we wish to see. Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit word meaning progress for all. The word is a combination of two terms: ‘Sarva’ meaning one and all and ‘Uday’ meaning welfare or uplift. Combined the word signifies ‘Universal Uplift’. Very appropriately the conference is scheduled in the week when the world celebrates the Mahatma’s [Gandhi’s] 150th Birth Anniversary and the week that follows is dedicated to non-violence and peace. This is in keeping with our school’s philosophy.”

Conference Facebook page

The keynote speakers at the conference have been a diverse lot. We heard from Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi on the 150thanniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Other keynote speakers include a member of parliament who worked with the United Nations for 30 years, an Indian performance artist from LA, and a robot.

Every evening includes an hour-long cultural performance from conference delegates. Weather willing, this is followed by an outdoor dinner buffet with a huge spread of food and outstanding dance performances. Each evening has a special theme and is truly spectacular.

We have met the folks from Chanderbala Modi Academy, the school that is hosting us after the conference. The conference delegates are the ones who are hosting our students and they seem very excited to host.

The monsoon season refuses to end, so we have had a couple of rainstorms, some with intense wind. We are having a great time and we look forward to spending time at the Chanderbala Modi Academy!

Senior Story: Overcoming Shyness

Last year, seniors started delivering Senior Speeches at Morning Meeting. This Senior Speech is by Julie Qian ’20 and was delivered in early September.

Julie Qian ’20

A few days ago, my friend and I were talking and he asked me, “What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you?” I could easily respond because there has been this one mortifying memory that’s haunted me for the longest time.

This story took place three years ago, when I was a new 9th grader at Athenian and let me tell you, I was painfully shy. You can ask any senior right now what they thought of me at that time, and they would tell you that I was either really quiet or that they didn’t know who I was because I was so quiet. Besides this, I joined the Athenian swim team even though I was incredibly nervous to go into a sport without knowing a single person.

The swim team has a wonderful long-standing tradition where we have a specific chant at the first home meet of the year. A 9th grader is selected to help perform part of the chant, and for some reason even though I was a quiet little thing, I was chosen to do so. I was really nervous, which only made things go downhill because I completely butchered the chant. I’m in front of my team, the other team, a second swim team, a ton of parents, and some students watching the meet when I just mess up the chant. I thought about this event for quite a few days after.

Me speaking to you right now shows how different I am as a senior now. I’m not sure if it’s clear to you all, but I’m not really super nervous speaking right here. This change isn’t that I used to be shy and now I’m no longer shy, but rather that I’m confident in who I am and the kind of person I want to be. Math classrooms forced me to accept that I’m going to be wrong a lot—honestly, maybe the majority of the time—and it doesn’t matter if the entire class hears me give a wrong answer. In lit classrooms, I was forced to present my ideas even if I thought they weren’t worth hearing. I held more responsibilities running clubs and helping as an ambassador or working on The Pillar newspaper.

This time you have here at Athenian is the perfect time to find your confidence and your growth, in whatever avenue you choose to do so.

To those of you who are really confident, you have the opportunity to be the one to reach out to others in your grade. I hope you haven’t judged shy people to be someone who isn’t worth knowing because some of them turn out to be the wittiest, kindest, and most wonderful people. You’re missing out.

I’m Julie Qian and that’s my senior story.

Hacking Summer

A group of Middle School students worked with teacher Meng Liao to form a Hackathon team this summer. On August 18, 37 students from China and America joined the Code Quest Hackathon at Stanford University as part of the CodeCombat and Tarena International Coding Tournament.

The international tournament challenged students to build collaborative projects that were evaluated by professional judges and volunteers from Stanford, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Using Python, groups coded a CodeCombat game in a three-hour time limit. They then demomstrated their project and presented it in front of the panel of judges.

The Athenian students performed outstandingly and won a number of prizes. Click on the name of their team to play their Hackathon games!

Committee Grand Prize

Team Anti-Hackers (Neal Chohan ‘24)

Team Dream Chaser (Quynh-Anh Nguyen ‘24)

Champion in Creativity & Computational Thinking

Team Code Hack (Charlie Langendorf ‘25)

Silver in Creativity

Team Normal (Sabrina Chang ‘24)

Silver in Computational Thinking & Bronze in Best Collaboration

Team Kings (Owen Williams ‘25)

Silver in Best Collaboration & Bronze in Computational  Thinking

Team Joker (Kaustubh Pullea ‘24)

Bronze in Best Presentation

Team Little Yellow Crab (Adam Zhuang ‘25)

Bronze in Best Collaboration

Team The X-Men (Sebastian Vargas ‘24)

Traveling to Colombia and Coming Back “A Whole New Person”

by Lev Dufaux ’23

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that highlight Athenian’s Pillars, the foundational values that we share with all Round Square schools. This installment is a speech about International and Multicultural Understanding delivered by 8th grader Lev at Morning Meeting to the Middle School.

We had hiked for about an hour or so, the air thinning more and more with each step up the mountain. Our conversations began to slow as we rose over 9,000 feet. Once we neared the top, gasps and yells of excitement broke out of our airless lungs. Our dewed faces lifted when we saw a big blue-green gleaming lagoon cradled by a bowl of jungle, like a potion being brewed in a witch’s pot. Last year, I went to Colombia for a Round Square conference that Athenian annually takes part in, along with three other Athenian Middle School students.

The Round Square trip was an opportunity to bond with people all around the globe, immerse myself in a culture very different from American culture, and develop leadership skills that will help me and others create a better home for everyone. South America was new to me, and I had no idea what to expect. Colombia led me through a whole other culture; it almost felt like a new world. Like a hug and kiss whenever you meet someone, or the smell of exotic food that lingers through the air. When I explored Colombia, I experienced new flavors, new landscapes, a new language, and a very loving community. Dancing was a very big part of my trip there. We had dance competitions to our favorite Reggaetón songs, laughing at how terrible we were at Cumbia. We tried all kinds of new wild Colombian flavors, my personal favorite being hot chocolate and cheese, which melts on your tongue like cotton candy. I met all kinds of new people, not just American and Colombian, but also Chilean, Peruvian, Mexican, Brazilian, Canadian, British, Argentinian, and Danish people.

One moment that changed who I am today was when we did a service project in a small school in the mountains. At the school, we created murals, made a new playground, took care of the children, and made the school a more enjoyable place. When we sat there in the worn down schoolhouse, I realized that the kids were not super young, but closer to my age. Later, our guides told us that they were so small because they didn’t have easy access to food. Keeping these children in mind keeps me grateful for my community, and it compels me to help others. Knowing that I made these children’s lives a little better keeps me focused on leading because it changed not only their lives but mine as well. I became inspired to stand up and lead, and I now feel comfortable sharing my opinions.

Never have I gone on a trip to a foreign place and come back as a whole new person. I met so many new people that I still talk to this day, and more often than not I find myself thinking about all the great experiences I had with all kinds of wonderful people. I miss the smell of freshly made ajiaco soup pouring out of small restaurants and the taste of homemade arepa that gives you a reason to step out of bed in the mornings. I miss the warm hugs and kisses when you meet someone. I miss my good friends that I made that I still talk to today. I haven’t forgotten about Colombia one bit, and still keep a part of it on my wrist every day, a bracelet the color of the Colombian flag. Special thanks to Esteban and Cynthia for organizing and supervising the trip, and to Kyle P., Kate L., and Maddie G. for coming along with me.

Bringing Environmentalism Back to Athenian

By Karen Hinh ’19 and Vikrant Goel ’19
 
This is the third in a series of blog posts that highlight Athenian’s Pillars, the foundational values that we share with all Round Square schools. This installment is a speech about environmentalism delivered by Karen and Vikrant at Morning Meeting to the Upper School. The students rightly point out that the School’s focus on Environmentalism was “on pause” during our recent construction projects and they are leading the cause to recenter this pillar in the life of the School. 
 

Karen: Hello Athenian! We are presenting to you the Environmental Pillar at Athenian. Let’s be honest. It was, still is, one of the more forgotten pillars these past couple of years with all the change that’s been happening on campus, but we’re here to bring it back.

Vikrant: As someone who has always been interested in environmental issues, Athenian’s environmental stewardship pillar was one of the things that I felt passionately about from the very beginning of high school. It created an awareness in me about the importance of my personal responsibility, and the impact that I could make as an individual. It also encouraged me to choose working with an organization called Go Green Initiative for my community service project for junior and senior year, where I worked within my local community of Pleasanton to create awareness regarding a new recycling ordinance by going door to door to local businesses, talking to residents and students at public events, working with a team to conduct waste audits for the City of Pleasanton, and convincing the City School Board to comply with local recycling policy.

Karen: My inspiration comes from the science classes in elementary and middle school where I researched the effects of overfishing on the ocean, the benefits of renewable energy, air pollution in Beijing, etc. Raise your hands if you’ve had a class where you learned something similar. Yeah, right? So we’ve all had those little nuggets of knowledge along the way. But for me, the more news articles I read, the more videos I watched on YouTube about how food waste is the dumbest problem in the world, and the more I educated I got, the more invested in environmentalism I became. Fortunately, Athenian has given me a chance to see the lack of environmental education on campus these past couple of years, and that has only motivated me to do more for this campus to bring it back to the Green Ribbon school it was.

We need to care about the environment because it’s our home. We are the ones who have to live with the consequences of how we treat it, and the fact of the matter is that we haven’t been treating this planet very well in the past century with the era of fossil fuels and single-use plastic. Certainly not with a government that pulled out of the 2016 Paris Climate agreement, and that is now pushing for more coal jobs and less environmental regulation.

Vikrant: Last fall, I had the opportunity to write an article for my Journalism class, where I chose to write about the importance of instilling a culture of sustainability in schools, focusing on Athenian for my research. I was surprised to find that despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a core value of our school, we lost our focus, particularly during the construction on campus. For example, the majority of us didn’t even know that all of the compost and recycling was being hauled directly to the landfill, which was key during a time when we used disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. [Note that the School maintained separated waste disposal during the majority of construction, but there were several months when all waste was being redirected to the landfill. Because of the Environmental Science classes’ efforts, the School quickly restored our waste disposal last year and students increased the education on campus about proper waste sorting.] As a result, I really felt that change was urgently needed, and we did make some headway in the second semester last year, though I hope we can keep this momentum going in the coming year.

Karen: That’s why I started the Environmental Action Club. That’s why my friends and I are working on rebuilding the garden at Athenian with the club and a sophomore community service group. That’s why I won’t shut up about you tossing your food in the landfill bin, because it’s these small things that reflect how we choose to treat our planet and the future that we are all going to have to live with.

Thank you! Remember to come join us at the march next Saturday, and check your emails for more details. [This speech was delivered in September and a large cohort of Athenians attended the Climate March in San Francisco.]

Robotics Season: A Year of Firsts at FIRST Robotics Competition

by Lori Harsch, Robotics Advisor
This blog post is adapted from an email Lori sent to the Robotics Team at the conclusion of the season. We wanted to share the Robotics’ Team successes and gratitude with the community.
 
The 2019 Athenian Robotics Season has come to an end and as we roll into Spring Break I want to send one final all team email to wrap up the season and to send you all my gratitude for a memorable year.  This year we had a few firsts for our team…
  • First year in the Carter Innovation Studio. We were all finally in the same building and were able to collaborate and experience each other’s work in a way we haven’t been able to do before. We were also able to share our progress in real time with other non-robotics students who had classes in CIS.
  • First opportunity to build a practice field that we could use throughout the build season. Thank you Athenian School for allowing us to use part of the new Main Hall for our field.
  • First time to demonstrate our robot to our School. It was so rewarding to show our classmates and teachers what we have worked so hard on over the 6.5 week build season.
  • First year at a new regional. We have historically competed at the Silicon Valley Regional in San Jose. This year with the new March Term, we chose to attend the inaugural Monterey Bay Regional at Seaside High. Many of us got to meet Woody Flowers who came out for the event
  • I think FIRST also had a first….our very own Diego Rodriguez played the National Anthem on Day 1 of the competition!  Watch below, the link is cued to Diego’s performance.

Watch Monterey Bay Regional from FIRSTinspires19 on www.twitch.tv

As we move into the last couple of months of school, I want all of you to know that it has been a pleasure coaching and mentoring you all this season. I know we all have grown from the time we have spent together and I am so fortunate to be able to work with the group of bright, talented, and creative young people that you all are.
 
I want to thank you all for all your hard work and team support at the competition. This competition was new for all of us (new town, new venue, new hotel) and I appreciate you all for representing our School with enthusiasm and integrity.  Although the competition itself had its ups and downs, the team worked together to do its best to support each other through the tough moments and celebrate with each other during the high points. This resilience comes from the strong team bond that was formed during the build season. You all worked well together and helped each other learn and grow. All of you worked hard to design, build, and control our robot this year and it is always amazing to see these robots come to life in such a short period of time.
 
 
I also want to let all of you know how proud I am of this year’s leadership team – Karen H. ’19 and Jake H. ’19. You both had a big job to do and a large team to lead. I know it wasn’t easy and you two were stretched at times but you were able to get the job done and create a strong team. Your leadership and influence have inspired those that will follow and you two are part of the legacy of leaders for Athenian Robotics. And thanks for using the microphone even when you didn’t want to. 🙂
 
I also want to give a shout out to the students who talked with the judges at the competition. Our team was the first runner up for the Safety Award: I have pins for all of you. Props to Sam H. ’20 and Grace T. ’20.
 
Our team also won the Innovation in Control Award Sponsored by Rockwell Automation. This award celebrates an innovative control system or application of control components to provide unique machine functions. Vincent P. ’19 and Donovan Z. ’20 were the primary contributors to this innovation. Here is the poem that was announced during the awards ceremony. and a description of the innovation.
 
Why use ONE camera when you can use TWO?
Keeping your focus, orientation is true.
Aligning a grid, for an overlay scene.
Line up your shot
and
score like a dream!
 
Utilizing two cameras, the team was able to provide the drivers with a modified driver’s assist that helps them align with the goal. Both cameras are multi-threaded and made to run asynchronously. The second camera takes in the image first and using a pose estimation algorithm named SolvePnP in OpenCV, it simulates a 3D space with a 2D image (similar to an AR marker) and gives us our robot’s position relative to our goal. The location and other data will then be superimposed onto the first camera, which is what the drivers actually get to see. 
 
 
Congratulations team! Well done!
 
Finally, I want to thank David Grier, Paul Ambrose, Jamey Jacobs, Tané Remington ’06, James Cahill, and Eugene Mizusawa for their generous time and talents. Our students learn so much from you all and the guidance and mentorship you have so freely given have been the backbone of our team. And thank you Doug Moffet and Gerard vanSteyn for you help supervising the students during the weekday evening sessions. I appreciate the second pair of eyes and ears!
 
Special thanks to Lori for her leadership and countless hours working with our students. The School is grateful for everything Lori has done to ensure the success of the Robotics Program!