Athenians Connected Around the World

By Chris Beeson, Director of Admission and Financial Aid

Many boarding schools travel each year internationally to connect with current parents and alumni as well as encourage prospective students to apply. I have done so for Athenian for many years, building our relationship with these important members of the Athenian community who cannot get to campus as easily as those who live nearby.

Athenian’s travel has been built around annual fairs organized in Asian cities by TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools) for U.S. and Canadian schools. This year’s travels took me to eight cities (Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Saigon, Seoul, Shanghia, Taipei, and Tokyo) in seven countries in just 19 days! Though the fast pace of the trip is challenging, the warm connections made with Athenian families and alumni are heartwarming. In each meeting, I can build a stronger relationship for Athenian with these community members abroad.

14725707_10206928662911209_6895392832755584848_nI am truly touched by how much our alumni and parents value an Athenian education and experience. It is amazing how strong the bond to Athenian can be for alumni, some who graduated many years ago and some more recently. Alumni and current parents often join me to represent Athenian at the boarding school fairs as a testament to their commitment to the School. I am so grateful to the many volunteers who are by my side that not only know the School but can help bridge any language barriers that may arise.

In meetings with alumni and parents, I can share current information about what’s happening on campus as well as answer questions from parents and alumni.  I share with each boarding parent an update about their child. Both parents and alumni often value the chance to ask questions about Athenian now and our plans for the future.  With current parents, I can often fill in where information is missing and reply to any queries they have.  

Facebook has proven to be an amazing tool in locating and communicating.  After 23 years as the Director of Admission, there are many alumni I know but who may not have kept Athenian updated with their most current contact information.  I have been able to find some alumni on Facebook and then build out through their list of friends to locate others.  These connections are often met with enthusiasm and lead to wonderful gatherings on these trips.  

Here are some highlights of the fall 2016 trip:

  • Alumni, a current parent, and alumni parents gathered in Tokyo for dinner. Noburo Nishio helped represent Athenian at the fair in Tokyo.
  • Current parents met with me in Beijing, Shanghai, and Taiwan.
  • Alumni in Hong Kong gathered with me for dinner.
  • Parents and alumni in Ho Chi Minh City joined me for a meeting and lovely gathering.
  • In Bangkok, 12 alumni and alumni parents enjoyed a great meal.  I met with another recent alum over lunch. Krittaya Pichitnapakul once again helped represent Athenian at the boarding school fair.

Thank you to everyone who joined me for dinner, helped out at a fair, or just came to say hello. I look forward to next year’s trip already! Here’s to the international community that is Athenian!

The Original AWE: Borrowed Boots, a Lost Sleeping Bag, and Lifelong Friends

In honor of Athenian’s 50th Anniversary, alumni Michael Connelly ’71 and Judy Goldberg ’71 wrote about their 1969 experience on what we now know as the Athenian Wilderness Experience.  

By Michael Connelly and Judy Goldberg

Michael (pictured above on right, eating):  What we now refer to as the Athenian Wilderness Experience, or AWE, was just plain Outward Bound when it first became part of the Athenian experience the year I came to the school as a junior in 1969.  That first year, the program was operated by staff from Northwest Outward Bound, in Oregon, in portions of the Sierras where many of them had never been before, creating unexpected challenges and a real learning experience for everyone involved.  Participation was mandatory, which apparently created an issue for some rising sophomores but was just part of the program for people like me who were new to the school. My arrival from Mexico City, where my family lived at the time, was memorable in a number ways.  The flight my mother had booked for me arrived in San Francisco, and I was shuttled by helicopter across the Bay to the pick-up point at Oakland Airport.  I’ve never been sure why, but the helicopter was of the large, green military variety and I soon realized that for all the other young men who were aboard, the final destination was not an idyllic co-educational boarding school nestled at the foot of Mount Diablo but Vietnam.

michael connolly 4_Page_3

Judy pictured in braids.

Once the bus had deposited all of us at the school and we gathered under the Oak tree to check our equipment before setting out early the next morning for Mono Lake, I discovered I was in unexpected trouble because I had no hiking boots.  I was a scholarship student and I had read in the materials we had been sent by Outward Bound that boots would be provided.  Of course, that referred to participants in the Northwest Outward Bound program, not Athenian students, and I had clearly misunderstood.  I told Leslie, my patrol leader, of my predicament, and she came to the rescue by lending me her spare boots.  That meant that I was not only well shod but the boots had already been broken in and I avoided the suffering that many of my cohorts experienced as a result of having brand-new boots.

Judy:  My anticipation of the Outward Bound experience was distinctively different from Michael’s.  I, too, was an entering junior at Athenian, thanks to the good fortune of parents who realized I hungered for a different kind of high school experience. I was a Bay Area kid, steeped in 60’s pedagogy (though a little young for true hippie identity) and an avid outdoor adventurer. I recall starting the “OB” adventure with some “attitude.” I loved back-packing and had gone on summer camp expeditions in the Trinity Alps of northern California for several years.  I looked dismissively at my fellow students as they struggled over decisions about packing and what to leave behind: make-up, extra clothes, beloved mementos, etc. This particular “letting go” was far from my non-materialistic sense of necessities. A backpack and an open trail were my métier.

So off we all went the next morning, gathering that evening for supper together by the lake shore before leaving on our separate patrols early the next morning.  Each patrol included a faculty member as well as the patrol leader so there were two adults ostensibly in charge of a crowd of unruly teenagers.  The Outward Bound folks had not, up until that time, had a coeducational program or one in which many of the participants (all those rising sophomores) already knew each other, so that was probably a good thing.

A number of patrols were scheduled to meet up again in Tuolumne Meadows.  We had significant difficulty getting there–including the loss of my poorly attached sleeping bag while crossing a glacier and a case of snow blindness resulting from our crossing it in bright sunshine–and arrived a day later than planned.  I will never forget our arrival, when Leslie settled us in the shade beside a cool mountain stream for lunch (have peanut butter and crackers ever tasted so good?) while she went off to find the others.  When she returned after scouring the Meadows for some time, she reported that we were the only ones there so far.  It turned out that all the other patrols experienced greater challenges and worse setbacks than we had, which in retrospect seems to have been one of the distinct benefits as well as difficulties of planning a program for the first time in terra incognita.

As our respective patrols set-out with backpacks laden with a shared food supply for 5 days, I recall taking a lion’s share, proclaiming “it’s not so heavy once you hoist the pack onto your hips.” I demonstrated by dragging the heavy pack onto a bent leg and swinging it over my shoulder. I imagine myself hitting the trail with a particular “see, no big deal!” flare. Our first hike was a series of steep switch-backs.  Not fun, but I knew a slow pace was better than the stop and start, huff and puff I saw from my whinier trail mates. I’m sure the patrol leader must have reminded us that we were only as fast as our slowest member. “Like that was going to build team spirit!  What wusses!” was probably ruminating in my inflated head. That evening, when we were setting up camp, I got my comeuppance.  Warned about bears, I decided to climb a tree to hang my (heavier than most!) food sack.  In one very unheroic move, I came crashing down from the tree limb and landed on my right knee.  It was bad. It swelled to twice its size and I couldn’t put weight on it. For the rest of the trip, I hobbled with a stick, trying to keep up with the rest of the group.

So how did I survive without a sleeping bag?  Leslie, who had done her own urban Outward Bound (including a solo) in the streets of Detroit saw this as a challenge for the entire group to solve.  So until the snow blind girl went home at the first resupply (in the early days, there were two resupplies until it was realized that one was enough) and left her sleeping bag behind, I slept wrapped in ground cloths between two other people in their sleeping bags. It worked, although my teeth would be chattering by dawn, and after that, I was certainly more careful when it came to packing my backpack.

One other story–while trudging up a mountain during an early season snow storm, I remember exhaustedly asking Leslie when we would finally reach the summit.  “Look up,” she said, “instead of looking at your (her) boots.”  I did, and there was the peak right before my eyes.

How did I manage with a badly sprained knee?  Well, I got encouragement and special attention from the handsome patrol leader which was a happy surprise.  And when asked if I wanted to go home at the same troublesome resupply Michael mentioned, I said “no way!” Had I left at that juncture I never would have been in the same expedition group at the end with Michael. It was in those high Sierra landscapes where we started what has now become a 44-year friendship; initially cemented by Michael plucking a fresh, white aster each morning for me to stick into my long thick plait.

Lessons learned?  The trail offers many transferrable analogies for day-to-day life.  “Keep on trucking.” “When you get to a fork in the road, stay high.” Clearly, this would be a popular choice for a 60’s gal! Another spin from Michael’s “look up” and appreciate where you are when you’re in the heat of an uphill climb is to “narrow your field of vision.” Mountains are never as big if you stay the course and go from step to step. Then, when you do reach that summit or pass, you realize it wasn’t all that hard after all.

Once it was over and we were all back at Athenian, I often talked to the friends from my patrol about our experience (and am still in touch with many people I met on Outward Bound to this day).  As I recall, most of us felt that it was an amazing, worthwhile and life-changing experience.  Except for one fellow, who was an excellent student and went on to Harvard, who said if he ever had to go hiking with a fifty-pound backpack again it would be too soon.

I’ve always wondered if he ever changed his opinion or still feels that way.


Athenian Alum Creates Open Dialogue Platform at Westpoint

Originally published in The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

by Priya Canzius ’16

This past fall, Athenian alum Cadet David Weinmann ’14 helped to develop a social media platform called Let’s Talk Jihad with 15 other classmates at The United States Military Academy at West Point.

“The idea was essentially to provide an unbiased forum where people could come and discuss Jihad, Islam, current events, the Islamic state, [and more],” Weinman said. “We moderated discussions and invited vetted experts to join the forum to provide their opinion.”

Athenian teacher Kal Balaven was one of the experts contacted.

“I contacted [Balaven] because I knew that he was aware of the history behind some of the origins of these radical groups; and because he is an educator and knows how to reach youth,” Weinmann said.

According to NPR, “a big part of the U.S. fight against ISIS is happening online, [and] the U.S. government is looking for ideas from all corners to try to figure out how to get better at countering the ISIS propaganda that is so central to the group’s recruiting strategy.”

Rather than using social media as a recruitment tool, Let’s Talk Jihad uses its platform to reach out to youth around the world.

“Our group also reached out to Imams and community leaders in the US as well as the UK and we are still trying to get leaders and other nations on-board,” Weinmann said. “We also worked with instructors in the Arabic and Middle Eastern history departments as well as Muslim cadets here at the academy. We sought out people we were confident would be able to provide advice to troubled youth.”

Because ISIS uses its extensive social media network to appeal to the younger generation, Let’s Talk Jihad’s goal is to redirect youth to less radical solutions.

“Most people do not know the presence that the Islamic State has online,” Weinmann said. “The internet is powerful. It is far more powerful than most of us think and the Islamic State uses it better than any other terror group… There is no single profile that people who join ISIS fit; anyone is susceptible to their propaganda.”

To combat this influence, the U.S. Department of State created the Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism (P2P) initiative. The goal of P2P, according to its website, is for “university students from around the world [to] develop and execute campaigns and social media strategies against extremism.”

Photo taken by EdVetnture Partners

Photo taken by EdVetnture Partners

Weinmann and his fellow cadets won second prize in this competition for their Let’s Talk Jihad page.

“We knew about the [P2P] initiative being put on by the State Department (DOS) when we started,” Weinmann said. “We looked at previous campaigns and wanted to build something that was different, something that would specifically target the audience we were reaching out for, which we called fence-sitters.”

Fence-sitters, according to Weinmann, are people who are “having thoughts about joining the radical group [ISIS].”

“These fence-sitters are what ultimately fuels ISIS’ ranks and are part of what makes them such a force,” Weinmann said. “We wanted to talk to these individuals before they became radical and traveled to join ISIS.”

On the page itself, the cadets chose to remain anonymous.

“We tried not to make assertions in our social media posts,” Weinmann said. “We just asked questions, and as a result we hid our biases. We used articles, stories and pictures from a number of sources, and some of our posts were in Arabic in order to keep things ambiguous.”

Furthermore, according to Weinmann, in order to “gain legitimacy among fence-sitters… [Weinman and his classmates] were careful to try and distance the campaign from the military academy and DOS.”

“By leaving our site anonymous we were able to talk with people without having them immediately discredit anything that we said,” Weinmann said. “Teenagers in Cairo won’t take advice from the US Army! [The goal is to help] people come to an understanding that what ISIS is talking about is really a bastardized version of Islam in order to further their political goals.”

However, the cadets’ identities were publicized in many online news outlets in early February.

“We had asked the DOS keep our identities a secret, but that didn’t work out once the media got involved; we did not intend to have the project go public,” Weinmann said.

According to Weinmann, “it’s still too early to tell the effect that [the media attention] will have on the campaign. [Moreover, the cadets] still update the page, but less frequently.”

Let’s Talk Jihad has made an impact on social media.

“We knew that we were making an impact when ISIS members started telling members of their group not to come to our page or listen to what we were saying,” Weinmann said. “They also- may or may not – have tried to shut down our Twitter. We aren’t entirely sure since it was anonymous, but we believe it was them.

Although Weinmann and his fellow cadets currently maintain the Let’s Talk Jihad page, according to Weinmann, they “are looking to turn the campaign over to a group that would be able to run it full-time and provide even better support than we can.”

“With our limited time and resources, we don’t see ourselves maintaining it forever,” Weinmann said.

Balaven believes that the use of social media is important to redirect fence-sitters and supports the cadets’ mission.

“It was a pretty phenomenal thing that [David and his classmates] did,” Balaven said. “He tried to find a non-violent way of trying to use social media to try to get those that would sympathize or empathize with ISIS into a place where they can dialogue and get their frustration out outside of those venues.”

Inaugural Run Through AWE Ceremonial Gate from the Class of 2013

DSC08497The Class of 2013 wanted to honor their Athenian Wilderness Experience with a lasting class gift of a decorative gate for Athenian’s traditional Run-In. To complete their 26 day backpacking adventure, students run the last eight miles back to campus, where the entire community welcomes them back on the field. Previously, students ran through a small gate onto the field; now, students run through a beautiful, symbolic gate inscribed with the words “There’s more in you than you think,” by Kurt Hahn.

DSC_0018To inaugurate the gate, alumni were invited back for a ceremonial jog-through. David Buchanan ’72, Nicola Place ’76, Bryna Winchell ’84, John Kohler ’88, Wendell C. Arnold ’92, Allison Fletcher ’96, Philippa Stewart ’04, and Beth Heinen ’05 represented all AWE alumni by jogging through the gate before the Death Valley 2014 group came in.

Allie Rowe, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Dick Bradford, Upper School Head and Academic Dean, and Gabe Del Real, Dean of Curriculum, emceed the event before the small group of alums and the Board of Trustees. Dick spoke about how AWE is the pinnacle of experiential education, students learn compassion for each other, and gain a better appreciation for the outdoors. He concluded with a piece of a poem by Tennyson:



I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! 
strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The side of the gate facing the street reads "The Athenian Wilderness Experience"

The side of the gate facing the street reads “The Athenian Wilderness Experience”

Watch the 4-minute ceremony.

The gate’s design was a combination of student and alumni ideas, brought to life by Chad Dietz, a metal artist out of Monterey County.

“Not only did I notice my physical strength–feeling weak and still running farther than I ever thought possible–but I realized that as ‘strong’ as some people are on their own, knowing that you can ask for help and depend on your support system gives you immense strength to do things you never thought possible,” Emily Knell ’07 reflected on her own run-in experience.

Join Athenian in a Day of Giving: #GivingTuesday

Dear Athenian Families:


Grandma Jay, Eric, Meg, Cade, Uncle Mike
Thanksgiving 2013

I hope you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving break with your children. Meg and I certainly had a restful few days surrounded by friends and family. We know how much we have to be thankful for living and working in this Athenian community.

At The Athenian School, we’ve understood for a long time the importance of giving back. Our students not only study the world – they also work to change it for the better.  This year, on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Athenian  is joining a call to action that will change the calendar and help make history. We are celebrating a day dedicated to giving  when charities, families, businesses, community centers, students, retailers and more will all come together for #GivingTuesday – a movement to celebrate giving and encourage more, better and smarter giving during the Holiday Season that we are proud to be part of.

I invite you to join us on #GivingTuesday as hundreds of Athenian alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and students celebrate the spirit of service and philanthropy that is at the core of what it means to be part of the Athenian community. Certainly, if you haven’t yet given to the Athenian Annual fund, please consider giving today. Know that this gift allows us to better deliver the unique Athenian School education that you have come to expect.

Please see below for more information on #GivingTuesday and for ways to get your family involved.


Eric Niles, Head of School

More About #GivingTuesday

join global movementA team of recognized experts and influencers, initially convened by leaders of 92nd Street Y and supported by a core group of founding partners, originally spearheaded this effort. Founding partners in 2012 included United Nations Foundation,, Mashable, Blackbaud, charity: water, GlobalGiving, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Kiva, Darden Restaurant Group, Groupon, Unilever and VentureThree Capital. Leaders in philanthropy, social media, innovative giving, grassroots organizing, marketing and communications are providing counsel and resources to help build this movement.

“#GivingTuesday is a counter narrative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday because it reminds us that the spirit of the holiday giving season should be about community and not just consumerism,” said Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation. “The most meaningful gift we can give our children, loved ones, friends and neighbors is the commitment to work together to help build a better world.”

#GivingTuesday FAQs

Ideas to Involve the Family

foodHave a family conversation about your favorite foods and the healthy foods you having been trying to eat. Take some of those foods from your cabinets (non perishable) and bring them to your local food pantry.

Take an #UNselfie! How? Take a “selfie” with a caption explaining how or why you and your friends are “giving” this year. Use #Unselfie and #Athenian so we can find your photo.


Home Treasure Hunt! Look in your closets at home. Collect what is not being used, what hasn’t been used in a long time, and the extras you have, and donate to a program that sets up families in new homes.

“Change of Season” – At the beginning of each new season, think of one specific item that is needed. For instance, gloves and hats for winter, socks for fall, T-shirts for summer, etc. Do a collection in your neighborhood, building, or school for just that one item and donate.


Hold a neighborhood yard or bake sale and donate proceeds to an organization in need.

For an entire week or two, everyone in the family skips the “extras.” Take the money you would have spent on after school treats, a special ice cream, or coffees from your favorite vendor, and collect it all in a jar. Watch it mount and donate to your local food pantry to help others get the essentials foods they need.

Want more? Check out these tips and ideas:

Athenian Asked to Mentor Schools in Making

MENTOR Makerspace

MENTOR Makerspace is a program created by O’Reilly Media (creators of Make Magazine and Maker Faire) in partnership with Otherlab and made possible by an award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The program aims to encourage and nurture the introduction of new design tools and collaborative practices of making to high school students. By creating makerspaces in an educational context, students can have access to tools and equipment that they might not have otherwise; they can collaborate on projects that are driven by their own interests, and by doing so, develop the capacity and confidence to innovate. Our goal is to establish the practices of making in high schools in 1000 schools over the course of four years.

There are 15 schools, mostly in the Bay Area, that are part of this year-1 pilot program, some of which were chosen because of their already-developed making facilities (like Athenian), and some of which are trying to develop theirs. While we will see some of this DARPA grant money and equipment, our function will be primarily mentoring other schools as part of our mission’s public purpose of private schools, as well as our engineering program’s stated purpose of K-5 public outreach. The opening conference we attended last June at the Crucible in Oakland allowed us to begin forming partnerships with and gathering best practices from some of the top local engineering schools. We will represent Athenian at the official public launch of the MENTOR Makerspace program next Monday, September 10th at the College of San Mateo. If you are interested in attending, you can reserve tickets here.

Athenian students mentored 5th graders from Montair Elementary last year.

Learn More:

Athenians at Bay Area Maker Faire 2012

Makerspace Directory

History of the Makerspace Project

‘Makerspace’ event helps kick off U.S. Department of Education bus tour across America

Athenian’s New Faculty and Staff

The Athenian School welcomes the newest members of our faculty and staff!  (The above photo shows new employees on an environmental tour of the school with Bob Oxenburgh, Director of Finance.)

New Upper School Faculty

Leslie Cushner, Humanities Dept – 9th grade teacher
M.A. in Indian Religions from the University of Chicago Divinity School, Chicago, IL
B.A. in Classics and Religion from Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Leslie has taught a diverse range of Humanities courses including medieval history, ancient literature, world religions and philosophies, as well as ethics classes. Leslie is reading-proficient in multiple ancient languages such as Latin, Attic and Koine Greek, Sanskrit, and Biblical Hebrew. An avid volunteer, Leslie has taught ESL in India, and currently volunteers as an ESL tutor/teacher and publications editor for the Tibetan Association of Northern California.

Alicia Dantzker, Science Dept – Biology teacher
B.A. and M.A. from Stanford
Alicia has taught at three Bay Area independent schools: Marin Academy, Urban, and Head Royce.  She also worked for Aim High and the Exploratorium.

Andrew Glassco, Foreign Language Dept – Spanish teacher
M.A. with a specialization in Spanish education from the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
B.A. in English from the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
Andrew spent four years abroad in Spain, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, studying Spanish and teaching English. He led a group of students to the rainforests of Panama where they focused on projects pertaining to environmentalism and economic sustainability. Andrew has taught Spanish classes from elementary school level to college level and enjoys integrating technology into foreign language curriculum.

Gabe Hourcade, Foreign Language Dept – French
PhD in French literature from the University of California, Davis, CA
M.A. in French literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
B.A. in English literature from the University of Savoie, Chambery, France
Gabriel Hourcade joins Athenian after recently serving as an Assistant Professor of French at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. Gabe has also taught English and French extensively throughout Europe (Austria, France, and Switzerland); when he lived in Switzerland, he taught snowboarding during the holiday season!

Mark Mendelson, Fine Arts Dept – Theater Arts Technical Director
B.F.A. in Theatre – Scenic Design from the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
Joining the Athenian drama department in a new position as Technical Director, Mark is an experienced award-winning set design professional. He has worked on many stage productions throughout the Bay Area as well as productions in the Hollywood / Los Angeles area, and in St. Louis, MO. Mark’s portfolio can be viewed at his website.

Adam Thorman, Fine Arts Dept – Photography
M.F.A. in Photography from Arizona State University
B.F.A. in Photography from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University
An accomplished professional photographer whose works have been in numerous solo and group exhibitions, collections, and publications, Adam Thorman is an experienced instructor of photography and related disciplines ranging from digital retouching, image editing software and equipment to post-production and web design. Adam’s portfolio can be viewed at his website.

New Staff

Katrina Deliramich, Upper School Assistant Librarian
M.L.I.S. degree in Library Information Science from San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
B.A. degree in History, California State University, East Bay, Hayward, CA
Katrina recently served as Library Media Technician for the Ukiah Unified School District. She is a dedicated volunteer, sharing her time and knowledge with children, home-bound elderly, and library patrons. Katrina will oversee the Athenian library in the late afternoons and during evening study hours with the boarders.

Vanessa Hourcade, Assistant to the Office of the Head of Upper School / Academic Dean
Castleton State College, Castleton, VT – completed coursework in Anthropology and Sociology
Vanessa has been working at Athenian since March of this year, nevertheless, we’d like to formally welcome her and share a little bit about her. Vanessa has worked in a variety of capacities at international boarding schools, including Agilon College, a Round Square school in Switzerland. She is dedicated to supporting students, faculty, administrators and staff as well as thrives on juggling multiple roles and tasks. Fluent in French and Italian languages, Vanessa embraces opportunities to interface with international students and very much enjoys multicultural environments. Vanessa sports a diverse range of interests, skills, and hobbies, including AASI Level II Snowboard Coach certification, carpentry, landscaping, sewing, drawing and painting.

Joanne Lee, Associate Director of Advancement, Annual Fund
M.A. in Organization and Leadership Studies from the University of San Francisco School of Education
B.A., New College of Florida
Joanne joined the Athenian Advancement team in April with a broad background in development, fundraising, philanthropy and giving campaigns. She is an avid supporter of volunteerism and enrichment programs that include music, the arts, languages, multiculturalism and professional development.

Margaret Perrone, School Nurse
We were unable to reach Margaret for her credentials and biography by the time of this publication.

Linda Rafferty, Director of Advancement
M.A. in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA
B.A. in Politics from Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Linda has 20+ years of experience in independent school work, primarily in development, but also in admissions and middle school teaching. Most recently, Linda served as Director of Development at McLean School of Maryland. Although most of her career has been in New York City and Washington DC schools, Linda is a 4th-generation Bay Area native who grew up in Moraga. She and her husband, Scott, and their two daughters, Annie (age 10) and Melina (age 7) are excited about experiencing this new chapter of their lives.

Dora Rodriguez, Transportation driver
Dora also joined Athenian earlier this year (April 2012). She has served our students well in getting them to and from school and events safely and happily. We warmly welcome her to the Athenian community.

2012-2013 Student Profile

Welcome to the 2012-2013 school year!

Here’s a look at this year’s student body:

This year’s 44 international students come from the places on the map:

Additionally, we have students who are citizens of: Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Panama, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, Uganda, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Vietnam.

Locally, our students are from: Alameda, Alamo, Antioch, Benicia, Berkeley, Brentwood, Castro Valley, Clayton, Concord, Danville, Diablo, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hayward, Hercules, Lafayette, Livermore, Martinez, Modesto, Moraga, Novato, Oakland, Orinda, Piedmont, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, San Francisco, San Ramon, Santa Clara, Vallejo, and Walnut Creek.

Professor A.L.I. Revealed: Humanities Teacher Kal Balaven

Professor A.L.I. Revealed: Kal BalavenkatesanAfter five years at The Athenian School, humanities teacher Kalyan Ali Balaven has finally revealed his alter ego: Professor A.L.I.  As the Union City Patch proclaimed, Kal is like a modern day Clark Kent–a teacher by day and a hip-hop M.C. and spoken word artist by night.  Kal explains that Professor A.L.I is “an educator who uses hip-hop as a language to communicate my message Authentically, with Love, and Intellect.”  Kal previously kept his alter-ego private, as he wanted his teaching to be student-centered and feared knowledge of his personal artistic expression would derail his classes.  However, in the last year, the word has slowly gotten out about Kal’s alter ego (thank you, Google).  He decided to make the most of it and collaborate with a student who was also making a name for himself as a rapper.  Kal is now proud to share this other side of his life with the Athenian community.  Kal describes the evolution of the collaboration in his own words:

Native Sun by Professor A.L.I.

I remember when I first met Carter [Wilson ’12] five years ago; it was hard to miss him since he stood out as much as I did amidst our new peers.  I see him in my mind vividly, standing awkwardly in the sunlight upon a beach as part of an in-coming student orientation; and I’m sure he visualizes me in similar fashion.  He, a freshman, and I, the new teacher on campus, at a unfamiliar school were clearly feeling nervous about the community we were being enveloped in and showed it through our uncomfortable body language.  We clearly felt, then, like outsiders, like shadows cast in the light of the sun.

Four years later, as the June sun beamed down upon our heads, Carter would walk across the stage; and in the Athenian School tradition he picked an instructor to give a one-minute graduation speech on his behalf.   Carter chose me and I chose to deliver the speech as a rap, sans beat; it seemed appropriate since Carter’s alter ego was the young, up and coming rapper Captaincy and I was Professor A.L.I.


As Carter was nearing his impending graduation, the elephant in the room was a potential collaboration between the teacher and student, between a Professor and a young Captain.  Carter had joked with me about the possibility in years past, but I shook it off with banter for I rarely admitted to anyone on campus that I was Professor A.L.I. and knew such a collab would’ve blown my identity out in into the sunlight.  For so long, I’d kept my artistry hidden in the shadows of my professional world and seeing the two worlds collide was, at the time, unsettling.

Yet, at the same time, Carter represented everything I strove to be an educator for.  He was a brilliant young man with deep inner-reflections who also thought out of the box.  He was the laid back freshman who’d emerged from the shadows of obscurity to embrace the lamp of learning.  And to top it off, unlike many young people, he possessed both knowledge and reverence for the true pioneers and “teachers” of hip-hop like Brand Nubian, Public Enemy & KRS-One.

So motivated by that realization, I showed Carter a song in which I sought to promote hip-hop as it once was, the art of expression of social/political issues that were relevant to the community at large.  The song had a natural intersection in the realm of equity and inclusion, a theme that was central to both Captaincy and Professor A.L.I.; it also spoke to our time at Athenian together, to community building and education.  We had embraced the light of our true selves on this campus, let down our guards, and allowed what we do as artists respectively to become a part of the landscape like the sun in the sky. It was the most appropriate intersection for a collab, and Captaincy laid the second verse on the song, and lo and behold, “Native Sun” was born.

The song was born of a reverence for Richard Wright’s seminal work, Native Son, and the language of hip-hop with the elevation of self in the speak of the Nation of Gods & Earths community; the same NGE community that gave hip-hop its slang and cadence.  Imbued with both “science & math”, the track is a metaphor of the passing of a torch; of a Professor taking his own light to elevate another, a student to become a “Sun”, to give off his own light, to embrace the highest expression of self, one that is celestial in nature.

The song’s journey is one that begins in the classroom, through the lecture of a Professor, sparking the imagination of students, and of one student in particular, Carter (Captaincy) who presents his own reality.  This should be the nature of any art, to spark more creativity, and to create more artists.  So like a sun that shines upon all and gives life meaning, by the light of the moon, its warmth and radiation, so too do the lyrics of the song give life meaning by shedding light upon the importance of equity and point out societal inequities that we live and breathe in on a daily basis.

“Native Sun” is a song off of the Emerald Manifesto album and the beginning of a new movement for me as an artist.  Up until now, as Carter, my peers, and many students will attest to, I’ve kept my artistic life and life as an educator separate.  However. I now see the empowering role that hip-hop artistry and lyricism can play in education and also vice versa.   Merged together, hip-hop & education shed light on issues that are not touched upon by popular media or given attention because they do not further the status quo.  It is the unexplored realm of voice, the subaltern, and as an educator I see the importance of the voice of the M.C.  After all, as I’ve said in the past, “a Professor has knowledge, but an M.C. has the audience.”

To that end, on Emerald Manifesto, I created songs that spoke to issues that didn’t see the light of day.  I spit verses about the social inequities of the caste system still in practice in South Asia, the movement of permaculture, the genocide in Bahrain, the importance of localized spending and the similarities rather than the difference between people living in the Middle East.  All of these issues are rarely addressed, yet are issues relevant to our world and more importantly the world inherited by our children.  The sun diminishes darkness, vanishes obscurity, and makes all things erudite.  I was seeking to do the same as an artist; in the end I was seeking to become a sun.

At Athenian, both Carter and I had become suns; we found a supportive community, one that encouraged artistic expression and explored ways in which educators and students could be learners outside of the traditional classroom setting.  In four years the icy wall I had created between my artistry and role as educator had slowly melted.  The Google searches that easily reveal the presence of my alter ego and calls to recite spoken word and a capella poetry had blown my carefully constructed cover as a mild-mannered educator along with my icy wall to bits.

When this happened, I saw an immense swell of support and love from a community that stood by its own.  Carter saw that too, and as he started to take the lyrics from his notepad to the mic, he too found his strongest support coming from the Athenian campus family.  Artistry thrives when it is cultivated with love, and we both found that from our respective peers.  So we too began to shine in our own right.

We also discovered, after five years at Athenian, that our initial reaction to being on the other side of the tunnel, in a city (Danville) that was really different from our respective homes of Union City & Oakland, was not what we expected.  In our time on campus, we discovered we were not outsiders but integral parts of the community as if we had always been there.  We felt like we were natives of that Mt. Diablo setting and it communicated in our body language that we had ascended to become part of what makes Athenian shine as a community, that we were “suns” in the NGE sense of the word. We were Native Suns.


I am currently working on my new project entitled Das Ka Rebel, taking the exploration of hip-hop and education to another level.  I will explore themes that make education truly innovative and experiential—while at the same time discovering all of what hip-hop could be.  Hip-hop after all was born in the West African griot, so I will seek to imbue the spirit of that oral historian as I weave the tales of our world as a testament to later generations, and, like the griot, impart lessons that will help them preserve our values while avoiding our mistakes.

I seek to shine like the Native Sun and give light to the “earths” and their seeds–so that they flower with knowledge and grow to regenerate this planet and allow it to flourish with love.  In the words of Tupac Shakur, “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”  I feel the same way, and I will seek to move through this world with Ollin Tonatiuh, with the movement of the sun, riding the chariot in the sky of life-like Apollo, facing its demons like Surya, for I am Ra in Kemet, I am the Native Sun.