When a Tree Falls: Giving Founder’s Oak a Second Life

The response to the fall of our mighty oak was swift and resounding: first, grief, then grit. How could we find a way to honor this tree by giving it another life? Alongside an outpouring of memories came a slew of ideas. Could its wood be crafted into something usable? Could those who loved the tree take pieces for themselves? 

A team was assembled to discuss exactly that. Chief Operating Officer Keith Powell, Middle School Head Lauren Railey, Carter Innovation Studio Director Cassie Kise, and Middle School English Teacher Charlie Raymond spent several weeks exploring how best to honor our beloved tree. Beyond this introduction to our first careful steps in repurposing the tree, a blog series will keep you informed around the status of Founder’s Oak.

The Science of Reclaimed Wood

An essential early step in the reclaiming process is curing. Wood tends to twist and check as it dries. A robust curing process allows wood to wick moisture and settle into its final shape and hardness, all while protecting against rot. Proper curing will yield bone-dry wood that won’t continue to change–wood that is ready for cutting.

“We think of wood as dry on the inside, but it’s actually pretty wet,” said Charlie, who worked as a furniture maker prior to becoming a teacher. “When you go to a store and buy a milled piece of wood, you’re relying on that wood to be straight so you can build something out of it. The best pieces will stay straight only if they have gone through a careful drying process.” 

A tree as large and complex as Founder’s Oak will yield cuttings of different thickness. While the smallest pieces are expected to dry over the course of a single season, the trunk and large branches might need to be stored for five or more years. At the end of this process, the dimensions of the cuttings will have changed. Additionally, some of the pieces we set out to cure may have been lost to rot.

“Our particular kind of valley oak–quercus lobata–can be difficult to work with,” Charlie continued. “We can’t predict how much usable wood our tree will yield. Every piece of it is important to try to get as much as we can out of it.” That’s why it’s so important that we be strategic at this stage in where and how we cut the logs to cure. 

Enter Nick Harvey of Bay Area Redwood, the expert we’ve hired to oversee the harvesting of the tree. Nick has been on campus managing a process that could span two months. “At this point, most of the smaller limbs have been separated from the main trunk. The branches off the main trunk are called “secondaries”. The largest ones are as wide as tree trunks themselves and will take years to cure. The smallest pieces will be the first pieces ready for processing.” 

Once all of the smaller branches have been strategically cut and cleared away, Nick will partner with Kyle Dowd from Golden State Portable Milling on the milling of the main trunk. “Milling day will be a big day. Maybe a big two or three days,” Charlie commented. “The actual cutting of the main trunk will be noisy, but we won’t schedule it for a weekend. We’ll schedule it for during the week so that the community can see and be a part of what’s going on. It will be part of student learning.”

A photo of Founder's Oak Tree taken at The Athenian School in Danville, CA
A photo of Founder’s Oak taken circa 2020

Speaking of Student Learning…

Summer conversations also focused on how to involve students in all aspects of recycling the tree, from these early harvesting steps, to curing, to cutting smaller pieces, and–eventually–to crafting. Though the viability of many ideas still needs to be assessed, one suggestion is to enlist students to help create proper storage conditions on campus and to have them oversee the curing of parts of the tree. 

“Rain is not an enemy of this process, but sunshine is. It can twist and warp the exposed side and not the other. A better technique is to find a shaded area to stack the wood with space between each slab so that air can flow. Sometimes, slabs need to be treated against insects. We could involve students in discussing what chemicals might be used to treat the slabs against decay,” said Charlie.

Carter Innovation Studio director Cassie Kise shared similar thoughts about timing for next steps. “People don’t realize how time-intensive fabrication is. As Americans, so much of the supply chain process is taken out of our purview that we don’t understand how long things take to make. It’s important that we employ patience and instill those values in our students as well.” 

Small branches from early cuttings, staged in front of the Carter Innovation Studio at The Athenian School
Small branches from early cuttings, staged in front of the Carter Innovation Studio

Though fully recycling the tree will take a series of years, discussions of early craft projects are also underway, as are more general discussions about how to better integrate woodworking into the curriculum. “Ultimately, the tree will dictate what we do with it,” Cassie continued. “Once we gain an understanding of the materials we have to work with, it’s our job to expand the conversation to other members of our community, especially students. We also need to emulate our values as an institution. For example, wood that isn’t used to craft an item might integrate with our ecosystem in the form of mulch. Finally, we need to honor the spiritual legacy of the tree–the nostalgia and love encapsulated within it and how that should play into its second life.”

Though he acknowledged the tragedy of losing the tree, Charlie also underscored that Founder’s Oak deserves our respect. “Overall, this should be seen as a great opportunity to build our profile as an experiential school. We’re already doing that in the Carter Innovation Studio, in the art department, in our middle school Focus Days, and in our electives. Working with Founder’s Oak represents a huge opportunity to reinforce this.”

Tané Remington  ’06 on Bold Career Moves and Aligning Career to Purpose

If you’d asked the 9th grade version of Tané Remington where she would end up in life, a career in STEM might have seemed out of reach. She failed her first chemistry exam junior year and struggled with basic concepts, despite seeming to grasp some of the more difficult ones.

Then, teacher Eugene Mizusawa made her a deal that would change her life’s trajectory: he promised her a passing grade if she joined robotics. Fifteen years later, Tané still likes to come to campus and play with robots, this time as a volunteer advisor to the current robotics team. And she doesn’t just inspire students with her knowledge. Stories of her circuitous path, which was paved with stones she collected at Athenian, tell of how she landed some of the most fascinating—and socially important—professions in the world.

“My department tried to understand how we might deflect asteroids that were coming toward the earth,” Tané mentioned casually when asked about her former role at Lawrence Livermore Labs. She went there as a postdoc after earning a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from UC San Diego. “I got to run simulations relating to asteroids with a range of attributes—rock, metal, bollides, etc.” It was Tané’s first professional job.

Following a two-and-a-half year stint in planetary defense, she was offered a full-time position at Lawrence Livermore, this time working in a nuclear forensics unit with adjacency to the Stockpile Responsiveness Program, an effort that fully exercises the capabilities of the US nuclear security enterprise. But after more than three years with the lab, an opportunity that felt supremely meaningful drew her to a new path.

“It just so happens that I’m obsessed with water,” Tané explained as she talked about Maelstrom Water, a high-tech desalination company of which Tané is a co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer. “It comes from being Californian, and also being Turkish, as we had a lot of water shortages.”

Desalination refers to processes that remove the salt content from water. Reverse osmosis is the most well-known approach. But Maelstrom endeavors to use a different method: cavitation. By reaching the temperature of the sun in a matter of microseconds, it can change the properties of its targets. Though a working desalination solution is not yet ready, Maelstrom has confirmed other applications of its technology (e.g., waste water, medical waste, soil remediation, the worldwide oceanic and fresh water algae bloom) and has numerous patents pending.

Tané spent all of middle and upper school at Athenian, except for one year she spent abroad. She attributed her spirit of innovation and curiosity at least partially to her Athenian teachers. “When I was in middle school, Sven and Ted really taught me how to love learning.” Beyond traditional classroom fare, Focus Fridays and volunteer service provided opportunities for perspective.

“I think Athenian’s values had an enormous impact on the person I became. I gave up a tenured position for less money, no stability. It’s risky, but it keeps me up at night thinking about our future with water.” She also mentioned her daughter as a driving factor behind her decision to make a move. “When my daughter asks me when she’s older what I work on, I can tell her how proud I am to have taken on an issue like desalination and committed to it as part of my legacy.”

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)

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
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! 

Middle School Focus Days: Kicking Off the Year with Fortune Cookies, Flowers, and Film

Focus Days are in full swing in the Middle School! Focus Days are designed for students to find relevance and deep meaning in what they are learning, connecting content with interpersonal skills while engaging in hands-on activities. Last week, we had three action-packed days that encouraged our students to get creative, get moving, and get out of their comfort zones:

The 8th graders had a field trip to Chinatown in San Francisco, where they got to explore the neighborhood and learn about its history. Their day started with a trip on BART, followed by a guided tour of Chinatown. In their English classes, students have been reading stories by Amy Tan. One of the highlights of their tour was the First Chinese Baptist Church at Waverly Place, featured prominently in The Joy Luck Club. Later in the day, students talked about the significance of Chinatown as an immigrant community and also had the chance to hear faculty tell their own family immigration stories. Sama G, ’23 said, “I very much enjoyed learning immigrant stories. I also loved having 30 minutes to roam around with friends. The boba was spectacular and the fortune cookie factory was interesting.”

The 7th graders also ventured out to San Francisco on Friday to visit the Botanical Gardens and the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. In small groups, they investigated different species suited to a variety of ecosystems, from the ferns that grace the Ancient Plant Garden to the towering trees in the California Native Redwood Grove. Students were asked to observe and draw the plants they saw, paying special attention to how they have adapted for survival in different environments. After a quick lunch break, the 7th graders hiked over to the Conservatory of Flowers to continue their adaptation reflections while marveling at carnivorous plants and tropical flowers.

Meanwhile, the 6th graders got the Middle School campus all to themselves. Their Focus Day, Tool Cool for School, showed them how to use a variety of physical and digital tools that will be relevant throughout their Athenian careers. The students spent half of their day in the new Carter Innovation Studio, learning “making” fundamentals in their creation of an art piece using hammers, nails, and string. The string art they created is integrated into the Identity Projects that they have been working on in their English classes. The second part of the day involved students using iMovie to create a film titled “The Hilarious Tale of a 6th Grader’s First Month at Athenian.” In groups of four or five, students had to write scripts, film, and edit their movies, which were shown at the end of the day to much laughter.

Let’s hope that the rest of the year is full of Focus Days that are as exciting and fulfilling as the ones we experienced on Friday!

Athenian Students’ Innovative Projects

by Kate Oxley ’20
Originally published in the March 2018 edition of The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

A scalable bionic heart. A bio-digester to make methane from compost. A mobile refrigeration unit with electronic generation for third world countries. A prosthetic limb that simulates a ball and joint socket. What do all of these have in common? They can all change the world, they all took hundreds of hours to develop, and they were all made by students while at The Athenian School.

Classes such as Applied Science, CADFab, and Engineering enable students to pursue personal projects while receiving class credit for their efforts. Many students rise to the opportunity and exceed all class expectations in their projects for more than just a good grade. These students can spend hundreds of hours in a semester on their project, but what drives them to do and learn so much in such a short period of time?

“I think individual passion should lead students through the learning process,” Dave Otten, teacher of Athenian’s new Science and Engineering class, said. “It should be the thing that keeps them going when they get stuck. When doing projects, it should help determine what they need to learn.”

One former student who thrived in project-oriented classes is Baxter Eldridge ’13. In high school, he claimed he had a tendency to work on “way too many projects at any given time” in and out of class. One of these projects was a scalable 3D printed bionic heart.

“There are these ventricle assistive devices, which were a super recent medical device when I worked on it,” Eldridge said. “They work like a motor, but the rotor in the motor is a turbine, think a jet turbine, so it pulls fluid through it as it runs…. There was this popular science article about these two doctors who were trying to use two of these ventricle assistive devices to make a complete artificial heart. The reason that’s currently somewhat challenging is that while these devices work quite well, they do damage blood cells. So, while one patient can handle the damage to blood cells caused by one of these devices, if you use two you damage too many blood cells to use as a long-term heart. My idea was to take the concept of the ventricle assistive device and the premise you eventually get to make it a complete heart, and focus on trying to make the device so you can tailor its output depending on the size of its patient… The goal of my project was that you could choose, let’s say three motors, then 3D print the size of the auger so the optimum running speed of the motor pumped out the optimum amount of fluid for the patient.”

Projects like these are one of many reasons that The Athenian School is developing a more project-based curriculum for the coming year. Whereas in some classes students currently find interest in the topics presented to them in class, Eldridge pushes Athenian teachers to tailor their curriculum to take cues from students’ passions, and to teach students how to deconstruct their ideas into smaller, quantitative milestones.

“Rather than telling students to produce this report, then this report, and this little thing, when you’re not really excited about each milestone, it’d be better to [build milestones where] you’ll be able to say ‘ok, now this is a real thing, I’m holding it in my hand,’” Eldridge said. “The school could [work on] taking ideas from understanding students’ goals and visions, then helping them see how to break those down into distinct and satiating milestones.”

Rock Williams ’17 and Ryan Keller ’17 were another pair of students who took project-based learning to a new level in their Applied Science class.

“I worked with Ryan on a ball-and-socket motor, which we’d originally planned on purchasing online for a robotic arm,” Williams said. “For all the joints of the fingers where all the phalanges meet the metacarpals, all of those have the range of motion of a ball-and-socket. Because of this, we thought it’d be easier to use a ball-and-socket motor, rather than a set of multiple motors.”

Upon looking for a ball-and-socket motor, the pair discovered that it did not exist. Rather than moving on to a new project, they “decided to delve deeper into how [they] could counter this problem, and into the possible future applications of a ball-and-socket motor,” marking the beginning of a school-year long project to create a ball-and-socket motor for a functional prosthetic limb. Williams hopes more people can work on projects they are passionate about, however, he has some concern about the visibility of such projects.

“I think it’s difficult because, at least with the old Makers Studio, it’s a little hidden, like its own little world,” Williams said. “I think Eugene, Lori, and Dave do a really great job of getting projects going and getting them completed, but as a whole school, I don’t think the Makers Studio is completely integrated. It’s kind of like an isolated event.”

Another way to participate in these projects is through the entrepreneurship program. Laura Victorino, teacher of the entrepreneurship G period class, hopes to bridge the gap between business, technology, and social justice issues, however, she fears that false assumptions about entrepreneurship could discourage student participation.

“One of the things that disappoints me is that people associate the word ‘entrepreneurship’ with too narrow a set of ideas. People think it’s all about being the next Facebook or Tesla, and while those are very high profile entrepreneurial ventures, to me entrepreneurship is a much broader thing which involves making social change or solving health problems, or environmental problems, or education problems. I think you can bring an entrepreneurial attitude and toolset to all the important problems we have, not just entertainment or transportation or finance… Entrepreneurial thinking is one of the most valuable things you can learn to take to almost anything you do.”

Athenian will be opening the new Carter Innovation Studio in the fall of 2018, a significant upgrade from our current tucked-away Maker Studio. The Carter Innovation Studio will stand at the entrance to our campus and will be an integrated hub of learning for all of our students to work on projects. Athenian believes in hands-on education where students can work on real-life projects that have meaning to them. We can’t wait to see what our students will create in this new space. Learn more about the future of project-based innovative learning at Athenian.

BlendEd Seismic Studies Class Shakes Up Learning

by Katie Furlong ’18

This fall, I took a class called Seismic Studies & Earthquake Engineering. The class was a BlendEd class, so it was composed of students from Athenian, Marin Academy, Lick-Wilmerding, Urban, and College Prep. The main benefits of BlendEd classes are that they allow students to work independently and perfect time management skills, as well as meet and work with students and teachers from other Bay Area independent schools. The majority of the class was based online, but there were also a few dates where we met in person, either to have an in-class lesson or to participate in a discussion with engineers who work to design earthquake-proof structures.

Our final project for the class was to build a three-foot tower out of just balsa wood and glue that we would test on the shake table at UC Berkeley. This project was intended to help wrap up everything we had learned about the structural integrity required of buildings needed to survive an earthquake.

We first tested our towers with two earthquakes that are programmed into the shake table: the 1995 Kobe earthquake (Magnitude 6.9) and the 1994 Northridge earthquake (Magnitude 6.7). My tower survived the replications of both the Kobe earthquake and the Northridge earthquake.

After, we were able to design our own earthquakes to test our buildings by changing the amplitude and frequency of the seismic waves. While I was subjecting my building to an earthquake of my own design, I saw weeks of hard work shatter right in front of my eyes. Despite the demise of my tower, I thought this project was a great way to put into action everything we had learned in the class and it made it more memorable than just taking a test to finish off a semester of hard work. I can certainly say that it was one of the best demonstrations of Athenian’s commitment to hands-on and experiential education that I’ve experienced throughout my four years here.

Students Redesigning Spinal Surgery

Reprinted from the Athenian Magazine 2017


When Sofia Kavanaugh ‘17 started Applied Science at the beginning of her senior year, she thought she would learn how to use a saw and wasn’t really sure what else. Little did she know that she would embark on a project that could change the way surgeons treat scoliosis.

Applied Science is an untraditional course, Sofia explains. “Eugene [Mizusawa] sets us loose and tells us to think of something we’re interested in, not something that’s going to bore us a couple months from now.” Some of Sofia’s classmates set to work on a range of projects. William Yao ‘17 wanted to build a robot that could carry heavy camera equipment on movie sets. Emma Cottrill ‘17 used a personal experience with a concussion to fuel her search for an on-the-field concussion detection device. Rock Williams ‘17 and Ryan Keller ‘17 wanted to build a motor that mimicked the movement of a joint socket, rolling around rather than backward and forward or side to side. But Sofia wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

Eugene prompted her to think about what she was passionate about. “He asked what my interests were and I told him I was interested in medicine and anatomy,” Sofia remembers. Eugene thought of a 9th grader on the robotics team who he knew had scoliosis and had undergone an experimental surgery. In short, Grace True ’20 had a spinal surgery that in time overcorrected her scoliosis, forming a curve in the opposite direction and necessitating a second surgery. Surgery is always risky, so Grace, Sofia, and fellow Applied Science classmate Peni Magari ’17 set about creating a mathematical and computerized 3-D model that could help surgeons perform the surgery with more precision necessitating fewer surgeries.

An x-ray of Grace’s spine

Unlike older scoliosis surgeries that fuse the spine together restricting movement, Vertical Body Tethering (VBT) works to correct spinal curvature by screwing a tether into the spine of a still-growing scoliosis patient. As the patient grows, the tether pulls the spine back while still allowing for a full range of motion. The problem is that there is no way to test how tight to screw in the tether. In Grace’s case, she grew more than was expected in a short amount of time, and the tether pulled her spine past vertical into a curve opposite of the one she started with. While the first surgery went well, after a year, Grace needed a second surgery to alter the tightness of the tether to accommodate her rapid growth.

Sofia and the team were left with the question: How can we measure the tension in the tether and figure out a mathematical and computerized model of predicting how tight the tether will pull and how much the spine will correct? They set about creating a model that surgeons could use to enter the patient’s height, weight, predicted growth, and other measurements and predict using a 3-D model what tether pressure would have the best outcome.

3D printed spine

After extensive research and pulling into the project a 9th grader with coding expertise, Kate Oxley  ’20, they used Grace’s x-rays and cat scans to create a digital 3-D model of Grace’s spine. They were able to print the model using 3-D printers so they could feel and see for themselves what they had been studying. Using the Cobb Method, they set about measuring the degree of spinal curve. Measuring the Cobb angle at various stages of growth is the baseline data needed for making predictions.

A highlight of the project, the team spoke with Grace’s surgeon to get more information on the flaws in the surgery and what problems he anticipated with the model.  Sofia says, “Up until we met with the surgeon, it had been all talk. What if we did this? What if we did that? The surgeon showed us what we needed to work on. He saw the project for what it was and really believed in it. It was definitely a cool moment.”

Sofia notes how important and also how unusual this class is, even at Athenian. The students are given freedom to explore a passion and see where it takes them. “In other classes, you’re more dependent on the teacher, but in this class, it’s all you doing it. Athenian is one of the only places that would allow that kind of freedom.” A class without strict attendance rules and no specific assignments may not sound like a class at all to some people. Yet the outcomes of this course make its value self-evident. Sofia shares the impact the class had on her, “I’ve always been a motivated person, but this class tested me: if someone isn’t watching, will you still put in the work? It taught us how to be self-motivated and learn about the things we really wanted to. The kind of perspective the class gave me I’ll definitely carry with me through college.”

Sofia further raves, “This class and these types of classes are really important. Getting to learn in a new way that is purely directed by you is incredibly beneficial. It gave us more confidence as there’s no one telling us this is the exact procedure you have to follow. Everything was driven and created by us. Since we are younger and we still have a lot of school left, we often get told we don’t know or can’t do certain things. This class was the complete opposite of that. A high schooler can come up with a super complex project and have it be used by the world.

The team made a lot of progress during the year but there is still more to do. Sofia isn’t exactly sure where it will go from here, but she hopes Grace and Kate will keep working on the project the next couple of years and take Applied Science as seniors. She also plans to stay involved in whatever way she can as she moves on to college.

Sofia started at University of California Los Angeles in fall 2017; while her major is undeclared, she plans to be in the pre-med track. Asked what she wants to do after school, she responded with a wise smile, “Right now, I want to be a vet. But there’s still a small chance that I might become a physician given that I would probably be the 5th generation. It’s kind of in my blood.”

Students Soar with Experiential Education

By Ishanni Gokli ’18

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.” – Kurt Hahn

Experiential education is a fundamental part of being an Athenian student. Our students truly take pride in having it as a part of our daily curriculum, and an exemplary example of this is the Advanced Physics project taken on by Akshay Shah, Trenton Tan, and Anthony Ottati ’16.

Hang gliding Diablo 4The three seniors are building a hang glider for a project in their Advanced Physics class.

The Athenian class of ‘71 alum, Tim Holm, with his love of hang-gliding and adventure, inspired them to design and take on this project.

Tim Holm always wanted to build and fly a plane but never thought he would have the funding to do so. During Athenian’s Project Week (now Interim), Holm designed and built a plane for $8. His launch wasn’t successful and Holm cracked a vertebra. However, Holm felt grateful and passionate for his experience. 20151206_150143In a reflection on this flight, he wrote, “Not once have I regretted my decision to fly, for now, I know that I can.”

“We really wanted to explore and innovate like Tim Holm would have,” said Shah. “Our choice to attempt to make a biplane hang glider really lets us make use of the experiential learning aspect offered at Athenian: which I think Tim Holm would have been into.”

Akshay described their process of trial and error: “We went to Home Depot and bought all the materials we needed. Bruce Hamren gave us the cloth for the final design. We started by looking up a few designs and going through the pros and cons of each. We decided on a biplane design since it was the most effective. The three of us built it in the Maker’s Studio and outside of the orchard classrooms. We did have some problems throughout the building process, especially with attaching the cloth to the pipes, but we improvised and it ended up working out.”

With a project so fulfilling, the spirit of Tim Holm is embodied Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 9.33.17 AMby the three seniors.

By taking on this inspiring feat, it speaks to how Athenian students challenge themselves for the pursuit of knowledge and the spirit of adventure.

Middle School Robotics Teams “Trash” the Competition

by Lauren Railey, Head of the Middle School

This year, Athenian Middle School students participated on four different competitive robotics teams. Two of the teams, Athenian 6 and the Brick Owls, met on campus and were made up entirely of Athenian students.

At least three of the teams participated in the FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics challenge, Trash Trek. Participants were required to design, build, and program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS® and then compete on a table-top playing field. The robot missions that students completed all had to do with trash. According to one member of the Brick Owls, a team made up of all seventh-grade girls, “The table had this cool trash/recyclables sorter (made out of Legos) and you had to use your robot to make the sorter function.”

According to members of the all-sixth grade team, Athenian 6, the best part of the experience was “the disqualification—two sensors were deemed noncompliant and had to be changed before the first round of competition—because it was a good learning experience and funny. And, winning the trophy was pretty great, too.” Participants learned a great deal about engineering, teamwork, and working with perseverance during the many trial runs of the robot mission.

In addition to the robotics component of the challenge, each team was required to research a specific trash-related environmental challenge and then develop a project to solve the problem and educate others about the issue. The Brick Owls used leftover clipboards and a laser cutter to make reusable, compostable, recyclable replacement soda can holders. The Athenian 6 team researched wax waste and were able to make a difference locally by collecting and reusing the wax from candles and crayons to make new crayons. Not only did they keep the wax out of the landfill, they donated the new crayons to children in hospitals in California. Trash Talkers, one of the teams that included students from other middle schools, focused on reducing the massive production of plastic waste by eliminating the use of single-use toiletries in hotels and other lodging establishments.

Teams fared well in the qualifying round and awards ranged from “Judges Award” to “Best Project Award” to “Champions Award.” Regardless of the awards, students on all teams commented on the positive experience of participating on a robotics team and developing a project that addressed an important environmental issue.  Two of the teams are going on to the next round of competitions.