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.]

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.

Faculty Play Pokémandala Go

Ever wonder how Athenian faculty get ready to dive back into the school year? This year, we played Athenian-themed Pokémon Go! Which really means we had an elaborate scavenger hunt on campus framed around the Mandala, our blueprint for quality education. Just as we ask our students to get out of their seats and/or put their hands and minds directly on the materials, our Deans of Faculty designed an opening game that would get us moving, talking, feeling, and thinking. Activities included writing a haiku about the Center for the Arts, singing a ditty about the Dase Center, calculating the number of people who could lie down in the Peanut (the grassy area in the Middle School), taking a selfie with the AWE Gate, and writing a poem about the School’s campus and land. We thought we’d share some of the creative thinking that came out of our talented Upper and Middle faculty in just one short hour. See how many types of thinking and learning you can count.

Haiku About the Center for the Arts

Shine paint into fire
Sway bodies cheek to moon
Here we mold desires

Hands oozing in clay
Bodies swirling to the dance
Creating magic

Metaphor made real
Heads hidden among the trees
Student legacies

Lights and camera
Songs, music of the ages
Dance sculpt create live

Sound Movement Beauty
All of you joined In this house
Alas, no parking

Building late at night
Dancing, singing, creating
Gather and reflect

art lives here always
reflecting what’s in our souls
creativity

Clay bust enigma
Dancing acting and building
Magic happening

Methods for Calculating How Many People Can Fit in the Peanut

17 Esteban leaps across the length of the peanut, 10 Esteban leaps across the wide part of the peanut, roughly 4 people per leap, we estimate 500 – 680 adults lying down with an average person height of 5 ft 5 inches.

333 adults will fit in the peanut lying down.
9 yd radius
5 yd radius
We calculated the approximate diameter of each of the two approximate circles of the peanut. We assumed a person takes up one square yard.

Our answer is 378 people. Lying on the ground, we figured that a person fit in a square yard. We paced off the two circles of the peanut and averaged the two to find roughly a rectangle of 27 yards by 14 yards. Since our yardage is easy…one person is one square yard…out 378 square yards means 378 people.

We used computational thinking to separate the problem into parts and then wrote an algorithm to compute the solution.
3.14 x 27 squared
= 2289.06
33×18=594
2289 + 594+157= 3040
Avg human height = 5 ft 6 inches
3040/7.15= 425 people

350 adults (average 5.5 ft grand 1.5 ft width) lying on their backs, minimum, adjusting for curves, tree and rocks.

We think 380 adults could lie down in the peanut. We added and averaged all our guesses.

340 people
Method: Took nut, made it into 2 circles. Found area of each. Added together. Estimate area of average person. Divide.

The Land

Transformational
golden rolling sacred
ground squirrels

Diablo!
So many stories
What’s truth?

Monte mistranslated mountain, thanks invading Spanish.

Blessed abundance
Invaders besieged
Global redemption

Alluding Spaniards; Murrieta’s hideout; inspiring growth.

Devilish beauty; “nothing gold can stay”

Grasses
Trees
Mountain breeze
Our Home

The Food on Your Plate: The History, Culture, and Making of Food

by Sanjev de Silva and the Food on Your Plate classes

Greetings Athenian Community, 

You may have noticed some new faces serving meals in the kitchen a few times over the past couple of weeks: the members of the Food On Your Plate seminars. One of the activities that we as a class have been assigned to partake in is to further understand the effort that goes into preparing a meal for a large group of people and in the process we have been serving our very own Athenian community. A few of the dishes that we have prepared included:  chicken gyros and falafel, cheese pizza, fried rice, enchiladas, lasagna and more. On Tuesday, April 19th, the B Period Food On Your Plate class prepared the enchiladas, and we are sharing with you all to describe what went into the preparation of the meal you received and also provide a bit of history about the dish. After learning about the enchiladas, you will hear  from the students in the other Food On Your Plate classes that cooked the pizza, fried rice and lasagna.

You may be surprised to find that there is a lot more that goes into the preparation and background of these meals than you may think! Enjoy! 

Enchiladas

enchiladasEnchiladas originated in Mexico. The practice of rolling tortillas with cheese, tomato, and other ingredients has been dated back to Mayan times. The first reference and recipe to the modern enchilada is dated back to 1885. The enchiladas prepared in the United States is different than the traditional enchiladas found in Mexico today. Although they are often eaten in California, the type we eat here at Athenian is different than the type eaten in Mexico. In Mexico, the spice is more prominent in the enchilada and is most commonly a maize tortilla stuffed with meat and covered with tomato and chili sauce. The spicy tradition of the current Mexican enchilada is related to the fact that the meaning of the word enchilada in Spanish is literally “to have seasoned with chili.” The enchiladas that you ate last week had ingredients that had to travel a total of 7,236 miles to reach you.

Ingredients Used

Cheese: (3,027 miles): Vermont

As most people know, cheese is a dairy product, meaning that it’s made from milk. What most people don’t know is that it’s one of the oldest dairy products ever made by humans with a history dating back 4000 years. It’s generally believed that cheese was first discovered by people who carried their supply of milk inside sheep stomach pouches and discovered that the bacteria inside the stomach would ferment the milk causing it to solidify into cheese. Cheeses made their way from Asia to the Roman Empire to the rest of Europe and finally to America aboard the mayflower. Cheese is still a huge part of our culture today, although as it has become increasingly processed, it has turned into a huge industry that profits over 2 billion dollars annually. In America, about a third of the milk produced is turned into cheese each day!

Tortilla: (3,946 miles): Mexico

The Spanish conquistadors named the tortilla. It was a flatbread that the Aztecs had eaten for centuries. They have been made since 10,000 BCE and are one of the main foods of the Aztecs. The Aztecs used corn to create tortillas and they cooked them on large stone slabs.  Today, tortillas are commonly used for burritos, enchiladas, and many other dishes. They have expanded out of Spanish cuisine to be used in food worldwide, including here in California.

enchiladasGreen Pepper: (44 miles): California

Columbus brought peppers from South America to Europe. They were cultivated in Europe. They come in many different colors, such as green, red, and yellow.  In the United States, California produces the most bell peppers while the largest country that produces bell peppers is China.  Today, they are used in a variety of dishes.  They are a large source of vitamin C and vitamin A, making them a staple in vegetarian diets.  Also, they have a lot of fiber and promote blood circulation.

Tomato: (219 miles): California

The tomato is native to the Americas, with origins tracing back to 700 AD (when it was first used by the Aztecs).  The first widespread cultivation of tomatoes began in modern day Peru. During the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors brought the tomato to their colonies in the Caribbean, and then to the Philippines. From the Philippines, the tomato was spread throughout the entire continent of Asia and was soon considered an important crop. Eventually, the tomato made its way to Europe, where its shiny red exterior led to rumors of it being poisonous.  It was later adopted by the Europeans and was soon brought back to the United States when the colonies were formed. Tomatoes are now utilized in cooking in most cultures globally.

Making Enchiladas in the Athenian Kitchen

Step One: Safety: Just like any time you work with food in a professional setting, we had to follow certain health and safety standards. That meant hair tied back with a hairnet, plastic gloves, and no flip flops or sandals.

Step Two: The tortilla: every enchilada that we made had to first start as just a meager tortilla. Although we didn’t make the tortillas, we had to heat them up a bit on the stove at first so that they could easily be rolled into enchiladas.

Step Three: The filling: The filling of each enchilada is pretty basic. Just a bunch of cheese and some peppers. We had this mix in a giant bowl and we would put a little bit of it inside each tortilla. Then we would roll the enchilada up and put it in the pan. Each pan had to fit 30 enchiladas for serving purposes. Reaching this exact number was one of the most difficult parts of the job.

Step Four: Waiting: The enchiladas are prepared a day before we actually eat them so they sat overnight until they were ready for the final steps the next day.

Step Five: Sauce: A creamy tomato sauce is added to the enchiladas right before cooking them.

Step Six: Cooking: The enchiladas are cooked right before its time for lunch so that they’re still warm by the time everyone eats them.

Step Seven: Eat and Enjoy!

Lasagna 

Paula Jurado ‘16, Matt Ota ‘17, Lilly Huang ‘17, Maya Duggal ‘17, Alyssa Tlera ‘16, and Kaylie Wang ‘16 

Hope you enjoyed!

D Period Food on Your Plate Class

What are the Historic elements of the dish?

The first lasagna dish itself originated in Ancient Greece with the individual pasta sheets originally called “lagnon” around 146 BC.  From there, the “Lagnon” pasta travelled to Italy, where it began to be layered to form the traditional lasagna dish we know today. In Italy, the name Lasagne was given to the individual pasta sheets in a lasagna dish.  The traditional Italian way of making lasagna, historically, has included alternating layers of ragu sauce, parmesan cheese, eggs and lasagna pasta sheets. However, after lasagna was spread outside this region, the dish began to incorporate ricotta, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, meat, spinach, garlic, and onions. These ingredients are used in the lasagna we made today.  

What is the Regional Context?

This is the way lasagna is traditionally prepared today, as well.  Authentic recipes contain Italian sausage, ground beef, eggs, minced onion, and tomatoes.  At Athenian, however, due to the particularity of the regulations, our lasagna is generally a cheese lasagna. It contains alternating layers of tomato sauce, lasagna pasta sheets, ricotta and shredded cheese.

What is the Conduit?

Conduit: process of each ingredient & preparation

Tomato sauce: tomatoes are washed, peeled, and then condensed in the canning process

Pasta squares: A ball of dough is kneaded then passed through a pasta machine which stretches and thins the pasta into the sheets used in lasagna                             

Eggs: Taken from mother hens

Ricotta:  Leftover whey from cheese making is fermented for several days and then cooked until the residual protein solidifies into cheese

Parmesan: Part skim milk is combined with rennet to curdle and is then strained and placed into molds where it ages for, on average, 2 years.

Garlic powderPeeled garlic cloves are placed in high heat ovens to roast and then transferred to dehydrators where moisture content is reduced to 6.5%. After dehydration, the garlic is then pulverized into powder through a food processor.

Where do the ingredients come from?

Tomato sauce: Arezzio /Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Pasta squares: Arezzio / Houston, Texas(1,766 miles)

Parmesan: Arezzio / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Mozzarella: Morgan Hill, California (61.4 miles)

Ricotta: Arezzio  / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Italian seasoning: Arezzio  / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Eggs: Glaum Egg Ranch / Aptos, California (85.5 miles)

Garlic: Gilroy, California (68.6 miles)

Oregano: Arezzio  / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles) 

Pizza

pizzaWe hope you find this debrief interesting and thank you all for supporting us through this process!

Redden Alexander Ludwig Thompson, Matthew Ian Chabala, Peony Bethny Ho, and Sofia Luisa Kavanaugh

To start, here is a little bit of the history of pizza. The original forms of pizza were made in mud ovens by The Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians, and Babylonians. At first, these flatbreads were only topped with olive oil and spices, now known as focaccia. Working people and their families ate it because it was quick and easy to make.

When tomatoes were brought over to Europe in the Colombian Exchange, they were originally thought to be poisonous, but they eventually became a part of the poorer people’s diets. These workers made flatbreads with whatever ingredients they had- generally, they were limited to flour, olive oil, cheese, and herbs for cooking their meals, and thus came the invention of pizza. 

Eventually, cook Raffaele Esposito decided to use tomatoes in the making of pizza because he thought it would be aesthetically pleasing to include the colors of the Italian flag- the white was the cheese, the red was the tomatoes, and the green was the basil on top.  He was called to make this for Queen Margherita, hence the name of Margherita pizza. 

Now for a little bit of Regional Context:

Athenian has made it a mission to use locally sourced, organic ingredients in order to promote sustainability and a healthy lifestyle for all who enjoy the food. Using healthy foods, Athenian Dining by Sodexo provides a solid diet that checks the main nutritional boxes. Sodexo prides itself in ensuring that all of its food processes are clean, safe, and benefit the overall satisfaction of Athenian lunch-eaters. Sodexo provides food service for many school and universities all over the nation.

The pizza’s main ingredients are whole wheat dough (for the crust), canned tomato sauce, parmesan and mozzarella cheese.

pizza2The average miles from where the ingredients were grown to Athenian are:

1.     Whole wheat dough

  • Average distance: 880 miles
  • Supplier: Mostly from Italy

2.     Canned tomato sauce

  • Average distance: 8,344 miles
  • Supplier: Mostly from Italy

3.     Parmesan cheese

  • Average distance: 1,759 miles
  • Supplier:: Mostly from Italy

4.     Mozzarella

  • Average distance: 1,604 miles
  • Supplier: Mostly from Italy

Resource: foodmiles.com

And lastly, how we prepared the pizza at Athenian:

1.     Step 1, while wearing gloves and hairnets, we applied two circular pieces of whole wheat dough to a tray sprayed with olive oil a day before preparation and left in the refrigerator to thaw.

2.     The next day, we spread the dough evenly along the steel bake pan so that all dough reached all corners.

3.     Next, we spread tomato sauce throughout the dough, making sure that we don’t get any sauce close to the corners (this burns the sauce and makes it harder to clean later on).

4.     We sprinkled parmesan cheese on top of the sauce for flavor.

5.     Lastly, we heavily applied mozzarella cheese to the top of the pizza before placing the pizza in the oven. 

fried rice 

The Logistics Behind the Logistics

by Eric Niles, Head of School

Part of my Spring Break was spent deep in Death Valley camping with the logistics team resupplying our AWE (Athenian Wilderness Experience) groups.  It was nothing short of a magical four days for me.  My son, Cade, a Death Valley veteran from last year, is on the logistics team and my daughter, Hannah, a Death Valley participant in 2013, joined me for the trip.  It was wonderful to share that experience with my own children and with about 30 of my other “kids” as they came into resupply.  Their smiles were full and their eyes were beginning to show the clarity so visible at Run-In each year.  They said their groups (I saw groups 1, 2, & 3) were great and asked me to tell their parents that they miss them and love them.  Consider the message delivered.  

I was already aware that AWE is so much more than a backpacking trip, that Jason and Phoebe, our AWE Directors, (and all their instructors) administer a well-conceived and tested curriculum to be sure that each student receives the educational outcomes (e.g. leadership, self-esteem, teamwork, resilience) so unique to this trip.  What I got to see this time was the complicated logistics “dance” that makes sure our children have all the food and water they need for the journey.  Just the car ride down the 32-mile dirt road to the logistics camp was enough to test my mettle.  On top of that, the logistics team needs to get (and refill, and refill) the water that will later be dispersed, tend to any medical needs, and make sure all the food is sorted and ready to go.  The “Logis” do it all and they do it with gusto. 

I wasn’t sure I was a “desert person” but I am now.  The expanse of the Racetrack (a dry ancient lake bed) towered over by Ubehebe Peak is just breathtaking.  Dare I say, AWE inspiring.  And, yes, it was the year of the “Super Bloom” of wildflowers.  Think Wizard of Oz.  Pictured here is me next to a Sailing Stone.  Note the trail that marks its movement over the decades.  Do a Google search to hear about these stones.  It is worth your time.  

Once again, I wrap up a year feeling blessed to be part of this community and helping to tend to this mission.  Athenian is one of a kind.  So are each of our kids.  Happy spring.
Eric

The Politics of Disaster Seminar Visits the Butte Fire Disaster Area

by Abigail Eldridge ’17

“Shock and fear are no doubt the first stages. Then disbelief. That is different from shock in the sense that shock is the total unable to process the situation. Disbelief is trying to come to grips with the fact that it really did happen, it’s not a dream.” – Darcy Lambert

Butte1On September 9, 2015, a power line failure resulted in a massive fire that would destroy 475 residences and eventually burn over 70,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras counties. The rapid pace of the Butte Fire resulted in a quick evacuation for many and left little time for collecting valuables. Local residents continue to suffer a lasting emotional and financial toll as they work to recover from this disaster. Students from April Smock’s Politics of Disaster seminar, joined by Kathleen Huntington and Jim Sternberg, traveled to Calaveras County in November to gain first-hand experience studying the impact disasters have on impacted communities. The class participated in a field study of the area, touring the site of the fire, interviewing victims and helping the family of Kent and Darcy Lambert with their recovery efforts.

The class was welcomed to the area by the Lamberts who led them on a tour of the fire damage and to the site of their destroyed homestead. After hearing about the experience from the Lamberts, we spent the day laying straw down on a hillside spanning their property to prevent the erosion expected from the upcoming rainy season.  When asked about her experience, Nia Warren ’16 described the site:  “It felt like I was in a picture I would find on Google images. I could turn one way and see a flourishing garden and trees, and look in the opposite direction and see someone’s home completely destroyed. It was humbling to know that this could have happened to me or one of my family members. When you have a chance to see things first hand, you feel even more responsible for doing whatever you can to make a positive impact on victims’ lives.”

The experience brought a new perspective to the Athenian students. Instead of just reading about a disaster, the trip gave us the opportunity to get a closer look at the true impact of a disaster. We were also able to develop a stronger sense of empathy and understanding about the hardship victims experience in a tragedy.  When asked about her new understanding of how the victims feel in these disasters, Nia said, “It helped me to understand the struggle that it is to really move from a disaster. They can emotionally recover and still have to rebuild their homes, they can rebuild their homes but still never overcome the emotional trauma. Everyone heals in different ways, but regardless of how someone copes, life has to keep going.” By volunteering to work on the property, we felt we were able to give back in a way we had not anticipated.

In an interview conducted by Will McCurdy ’17, Redden Thompson ’16, and Natalie Knowles ‘16, Kent Lambert talked about the lasting effects of the fire and how his family is dealing with the tragedy and its aftermath.  He discussed how a community deals with this type of tragedy: “For the larger community, everyone’s got a different situation.  There’s quite a few people that I’m aware of that are not going to rebuild or they’re still trying to decide. For us there was a period we had to think about it but in short order decided this is what we’re going to do. Even though the landscape is going to change so drastically and that’s what brought us to that place, we’re going to do what we can to help change it to something different but in some ways better if we can, than it was before. For other people it’s too hard or too emotional, some people can’t even go back to their properties, it’s just too difficult.”

Butte3After the field trip, students in the class wrote journal reflections about their experience.  In his reflection, Will McCurdy wrote about what impacted him most: “Something I contemplated was how even other people’s possessions can have sentimental value and memories for us. I thought about all the times my family has gone over to our neighbor’s house and hung out and how I’ve grown up not just in my house, but in my neighborhood. Not only do you lose these places that hold so many memories, but like Kent and Darcy both said, many of the people don’t come back either.”  He also mentioned that hearing the stories from Kent and Darcy hit him the hardest. They impacted him in a way that was unexpected and made him think about what it would be like if his own home was destroyed in a fire:  “I would say all these stories I heard were the most valuable part of the day for me because I was able to reflect and connect them to my own life and by doing so, I think I got a really good understanding of what the Lambert family is going through. Obviously, one person can never fully comprehend a situation unless they live it, but each story and experience you hear about can give a deeper and deeper understanding.” Visiting the site of the fire gave all of us students a clearer perspective on how victims of natural disasters are impacted and even brought on a new sense of empathy for future victims of disaster.

Darcy Lambert was very grateful for our help and hopes that we will continue to offer support to others who suffer a loss in a disaster: “There are so many aspects to disaster. I am thrilled that your students chose this class. They will be better citizens for thinking about the concept. No doubt they will be the leaders in the future having taken the time to understand this very difficult concept. May they never suffer personally, but be in a position to support others when the time arises,” Darcy said. This trip was an important learning opportunity to grow not only as intellectuals but as more empathetic human beings that truly understand what happens when people go through such tragic events.

After losing their family home to the Butte Fire, the Lambert family is still facing the repercussions that come with a disaster of such magnitude.  Darcy Lambert described the way she is dealing with the disaster, saying “What I do know is that what is working for me is the positive outlook. By staying positive, it allows others to approach the situation and be willing to help. If they were faced with depression or anger I suspect they would help once and be gone. It’s hard to help in those situations. Also we learned that we must accept help in the way the giver needs to give it. People want to help, our job is to accept it graciously.”

Students in the Politics of Disaster class are showcasing their Honors Projects based on natural and environmental disasters they studied in the Commons through the end of January.

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. 

Seventh Graders: On the Road Again…and Again…and Again

by Lauren Railey, Middle School Head
Borges Ranch 2Seventh graders took experiential education to a new level for the past three weeks by getting off campus every single Friday. On September 18, they visited the Conservatory of Flowers and Botanical Gardens in San Francisco to investigate plant adaptations for science class. On September 25, they took a hike to Borges Ranch in Walnut Creek where they tested their stamina and resilience in the autumn heat,
explored a century-old ranch, and documented their experiences throughout the day. Finally, on October 2, they headed to the East Beach at San Francisco’s Crissy Field to create collaborative environmental sculptures using elements of natural design inspired by the art of Andy Goldsworthy.

In addition to powerful curricular connections to science and art, these Focus Days emphasized two of our pillars: Outdoor Adventure (the appreciation of physical fitness and personal growth through the challenge of outdoor adventures) and Environmental Stewardship (a deep respect for and understanding of the natural world woven into our history, curriculum, and values). Borges Ranch 1The rich and varied learning over the course of these three Fridays is a good reminder that some of the best learning takes place outside of the classroom.

Though these experiences were educational and rewarding, I doubt that any of the seventh graders will mind staying on campus next Friday for Greek Art Day.

Making Global Connections in Singapore

By Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

Tomorrow is the final day of the Round Square International Conference.  The Athenian students all report that they’re having a great experience.  Singapore is sitting in thick haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia.  There was heavy rainfall today, which cleared the air somewhat.  We even caught a glimpse of the sun for the first time since our arrival.  The poor air quality has led to several changes in the conference schedule, but even Plan B has been of high quality.

Singapore1Today was service day at the conference.  We were supposed  to be off-campus, but because of the air quality the students did the service work at school.  Many delegates worked at the United World College of South East Asia’s (UNCSEA) elementary school, while some worked with senior citizens that visited the school.  The late afternoon brought an amazing collection of nonprofit leaders to campus.  I went to hear Janne Ritskes, who founded Tabitha Cambodia 20 years ago.  The organization has done amazing work to alleviate poverty in Cambodia, with its unique and painful history.  Signapore2The UWCSEA has been involved with Tabitha for 19 of its 20 years and sends 80 students to Cambodia each year to build houses with them.  Very inspiring!  I went down to meet Janne after her talk and to explore the possibility of bringing a group of Athenian students to Cambodia to work with her organization.  Then, in the evening, the conference hosted the world premiere of the film ‘Life is One.’  The film is a moving story about protecting sun bears in Indonesia.  The filmmaker, Patrick Rouxel, was on hand and he is a UWCSEA and Cal-Berkeley alum.  He just finished the film last week, rushing so that we could see it.

Singapore3As great as the program is, the best part of the conference is the friendships that are formed with people from around the world.  I know our students are doing wonderfully at this, but to give you deeper sense of this, let me tell you about two of my conversations today.  I spent an hour this morning talking with Prince Alexander of Germany, who has been involved with Round Square for several decades.  (Prince Alexander is the person on the far left in the photo.)  While I’ve seen him at many Round Square conferences, we had never really spoken.  I asked how he got involved with Round Square and he proceeded to tell the long and fascinating history of how his family, under the guidance of Kurt Hahn, started Louisenlund School in the devastating aftermath of World War II in Germany.  Prince Alexander talked about Dyke and Kate Brown.  And Louisenlund is hosting next October’s Round Square International Conference.  At dinner, I sat next to a teacher from the Amman Baccalaureate School in Jordan.  Having been to Jordan for last year’s conference, I know a little about refugees in Jordan (e.g. there are currently about 900,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan).  We had an interesting conversation about Jordan’s amazing hospitality to refugees and the situation in Europe.

Singapore4Yesterday was Explore Singapore Day at the conference.  The adults and students were on different programs; the students headed into town first thing in the morning while the adults had a morning full of meetings.  My group of adults visited the Asian Civilizations Museum, toured the Singapore River on a bum boat, and visited the Gardens by the Bay.  The Athenian students are looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring Singapore on our own after the conference ends.  They spent Sunday afternoon and evening with their host families, so some of them already have ideas for places they want to visit, such as a henna shop in Little India with good prices.

Learn more about the conference.

Martial Arts and Climbing Coconut Trees in Bali

by Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

IMG_9598 (1024x768)Greetings from Singapore!  We arrived here safely this afternoon.  The theme of the conference and the pre-conference trip in Bali is environmental sustainability.  We arrived in Singapore in the midst of an air pollution crisis.  The air in Singapore is thick with gray haze, smoke really, from fires in Indonesia.  The pollution was so thick one day last week that they had to close all the schools.  Gratefully it’s not that bad right now.  The efficiency of Singapore was also on display.  It was a long ride to the airport in Denpasar this morning through a sea of motorbikes.  Despite the fact that the airport is on one side of Singapore and the Dover Campus of the United World College is on the other, the bus never had to slow on our long cross-town drive.

bali1Yesterday we toured a silk factory.  We were able to see each step of the silk-making process and then got to do batik, which is an Indonesian art form.

bali2First thing on Wednesday, we participated in a session on waste management.  After discussing how waste is managed in the different places represented by the schools present, we split up into small groups to walk the nearby dirt roads and pick up trash.  It was a great way to explore the neighborhood.  Bali is full of Hindu temples; there are two within feet of the school and we hadn’t seen them before.  There is no trash or recycling pick-up in the Green School’s neighborhood, so some families just toss their trash outside their compound.  Amazingly, the Green School has its own recycling center where people can bring items.  We brought our trash there and sorted it into one of the 20+ categories of items they recycle.  At the end, there was only a little that had to go to a landfill.
Then each student got to climb a coconut tree.  Almost every Athenian student made it to the top!  (And don’t worry, the students were belayed and wearing helmets.)

bali3Lunch was a special meal and we were served a traditional Balinese feast.  Bamboo mats covered the floor and large banana leaves were laid end-to-end.  On the banana leaves was spread lots of great food.  We sat on the mats and ate with our hands.  We were told that this is the style of dining for a feast where everyone is considered equal, a significant event in a society with a caste system.

bali4One of the highlights of our time in Bali was participating in the Balinese martial art of mepantingan that afternoon.  We heard we were ‘mud wrestling’ and dressed appropriately.  But we began with no mud in sight, standing in a circle on the field.  Two Balinese men led us in simple martial arts stances and movements, with some vigorous call-and-response chanting—and a healthy dose of laughter.  They taught us a couple of moves and had various members of our group come out and practice on them—or on each other.  Then we walked over to a little oval amphitheater nearby, whose floor was covered in six inches of muddy water.  And they led the group in a similar version of exercises there—except it meant getting wet and muddy and getting others wet and muddy.  Various students wrestled with the instructors or with each other.  What a blast!

The late afternoon and evening?  The students had been working in small groups discussing issues such as consumerism, overpopulation, and waste management.  In the late afternoon, each group wrote a shadow puppet show about their theme and cut out puppets to accompany their show.  And the evening activity was watching the ten puppet shows, which were both serious and funny.

IMG_9592 (1024x768)We ate breakfast at the airport in Bali this morning and reflected on our time there.  The students talked about how part of what made their week in Bali so great was that all the Athenian students tried their enthusiastic best at every activity—and they wanted to bring that spirit back to their daily lives in California.  They said that being around the delegations from the other schools made them appreciate even more the respectful relationships they have with their teachers at Athenian.  And they were excited to keep exploring environmental issues having already spent a week thinking about them.

We’re excited to begin the Conference now that we are in Singapore.  More to come!