Greetings from Bali!

by Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

The singing and chanting we heard falling asleep the first night is from a nearby Hindu temple.  This has happened each evening.  There is also morning chanting, which I’ve used as an indicator that it’s time to get up.  I’m reminded of the Muslim call to prayer, which was such a significant feature of our experience in Jordan at last year’s Round Square conference.

Bali1As it turns out, the folks at the Green School weren’t able to organize meaningful service work for us all.  Instead, we have an action-packed program of experiential activities.  We’ve made paper from bamboo leaves, created traditional Balinese votives, learned how to do Balinese dance, had a laughter yoga class, and made chocolate sauce from scratch.  We’ve learned how some Green School students got a law passed banning plastic bags in Bai and discussed consumerism.

Bali2We got a tour of the Green School our first day here.  The Green School has amazing architecture.  The ‘heart of the school’ is the largest bamboo building in the world.  The computer lab is on the second floor, the library on the third floor, and there are many art classrooms scattered around its edges.  That night, we went on a ‘night safari’ on the campus.  Our leader was able to find a tree frog, toad, praying mantis, chameleon, and snake by shining his flashlight around in the trees and bushes.

Bali3Yesterday we went on a subac walk through a nearby village and rice fields.  The hike started at Bali’s largest banyan tree.  The Athenian student group insisted on a photo under the tree in honor of the book they read in 9th grade, Under the Banyan Tree.  For a good part of the walk, we hiked along an irrigation canal.  The canal has a few tunnels that we walked—or in my case, crawled—through.  The Balinese irrigation system was developed 500 years ago.  It still works without any machinery and distributes water to people throughout the island.  It’s so amazing that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site a few years ago.  Interestingly, our side of the valley was owned by the village and had corn and rice fields.  The other side of the river had high-end hotels and expensive homes.

Bali4This morning was spent learning about sustainable agriculture—and working at it. The Green School grows about 35% of the food it consumes. We worked in the compost shed—they have a couple of cows, whose manure helps enrich the compost—and the plant nursery and gardens.  In the afternoon, the students were split into five groups of five students and each group had to build a raft.  They were given inner tubes, bamboo poles, and lashing materials.  Afterward, we floated for 60 minutes down a wide irrigation canal.  It was great fun and a wonderful way to see some more of Bali.  Two of the other teachers and I drifted behind the students in inner tubes.  After the students’ rafts had all passed but before I’d arrived, a half-dozen boys ripped off their clothes and jumped into the canal to swim and then playfully followed us downstream.

In addition to Athenians, there are students on this preconference trip from South Africa, Australia, Peru and Canada.  The Athenian students are doing a great job of making friends and taking initiative.  The head of an Australian school commented on their comfort sharing their opinions and taking leadership in a group.  Yesterday, the 60 students were split into two teams for an afternoon activity and Brian Li was selected the leader of one of the teams.  The Athenian students are having a great experience and representing Athenian beautifully.

Using Student Funds for Plants and Earthquake Relief

Today’s last Town Meeting of the year involved a proposal asking for $100 of Town Meeting funds to purchase 12,000 native, drought-tolerant milkweed seeds that attract monarchs.

During the meeting, friendly amendments were added to include $450 for outdoor furniture and using the remaining $450 for Nepal earthquake relief. The resolution passed.

Thanks to this year’s Town Meeting officers–Dina, Tessa, Ryan, Lauren, and Ryan–and to those taking over next year–Anna, Cade, Madelyn, Eli, and Arman!

Milkweed Proposal
Submitted By: Ryan D. ’15 and the E and C period Environmental Science classes
Up for Decision

Whereas: Athenian takes pride in its environmental pillar and planting milkweed will provide our campus with more native plants that are drought tolerant.

Whereas: Milkweed would attract monarch butterflies, which would add a beautiful aspect to our campus.

Whereas: Monarch butterflies are soon to be endangered and Athenian can provide a sanctuary for these butterflies on their migration from Canada to Mexico.

Resolved: The E and C period Envi Sci classes request $100 of town meeting funds to purchase milkweed seeds for the purpose of planting these seeds in approved places on campus.

The Middle School Celebrates Earth Day

Middle School classes have focused their energies on Earth Day today!  From science to English to art, students spent the day reflecting on how they can reduce their impact on the earth.


Students brought in used items and wrote commitments of things they could realistically do to reduce their environmental impact.

Students in a French class gave suggestions on how to be green.


6th grade students wrote Earth Day themed Haiku in English class.

6th grade students wrote Earth Day themed Haiku in English class.

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Eighth-grade students have been working on pollution projects and were able to display the culmination of their work today.

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Interim Adventures Near and Far

Before Spring Break, Athenians scatter the Bay Area and the globe to immerse themselves in 3-10 day experiential adventures. Themes explored range from U.S. history in Washington, D.C. to learning to surf in Santa Cruz, to exploring the Bay Area food scene. Students are travelling internationally to New Zealand, Kenya and Tanzania, Belize, and Costa Rica, and nationally to New Orleans, Ashland, Pinnacles National Monument, DC, and Hawaii. Look for more photos in the next week.

Women’s Self-Defense: Protecting yourself from real-life threats.

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Monterey Bay: Elephant seals at Año Nuevo, tidepooling, and the Aquarium




8th Grade Trip to Washington, D.C.: Witnessing U.S. History in the nation’s capital.

Students read prepared essays on men and women of courage buried in Arlington National Cemetary

Students read prepared essays on men and women of courage buried in Arlington National Cemetery

Walking with the Arlington guards

Walking with the Arlington guards

Snow in DC! The 8th grade's first snowball fight.

Snow in DC! The 8th grade’s first snowball fight.



Maui: Searching for a Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, surfing, and soaking in the sun.

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia '17)

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia ’17)

New Orleans: Discovering the birthplace of jazz, Athenian’s ad hoc jazz band will perform at a local event.

New Orleans (photo by Jonothon '16)

New Orleans (photo by Jonathon ’16)

Eating and Cooking Locally: Tasting the Bay Area food scene and cooking a locally-sourced, organic meal.



Kitchen Chemistry: Making microwave muffins, liquid nitrogen ice cream, and glow-in-the-dark jello. (Plus pancakes, caramel, soft pretzels, silly putty, and several experimental creations. For example, what does a muffin without baking soda taste like? Or can you make strawberry sorbet out of just strawberries?)

Kitchen Chemistry: making caramel

Making caramel


Fun with liquid nitrogen

 Engineering and Design Outreach: 5th graders from Montair Elementary came to tool around in the Maker Studio, with the guidance of members of the Robotics team.

Teaching 5th graders how to rivet on an airplane part.

Teaching 5th graders how to rivet on an airplane part.

Using the lathe

Using the lathe

5th graders driving the robot

5th graders driving the robot

Building styrofoam gliders

Building styrofoam gliders

5th graders from Montair came to tool around in the Maker Studio, with the guidance of members of the Robotics team. Here they are driving Athenian's 2012 competition robot.

Here they are driving Athenian’s 2012 competition robot.

Industrial Arts at The Crucible: Welding, mold-making, jewelry-making, metal-smithing, and more.

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Check out previous interim trips and activities:

Interim 2013: Mountain Biking, Puerto Rico, US China, San Francisco, Bodega Bay

Interim 2013: China, Puerto Rico, Ireland, DC, Bow-Making, Kitchen Chemistry

Interim 2013

Athenian Interim

7th Grade China Trip

Community Honors Bob with Environmental Pledges

DSC_0870Bob Oxenburgh, Director of Finance and Facilities, will be retiring at the end of the school year after nearly a decade of service to The Athenian School.  Among Bob’s many accomplishments and contributions: creating a “shadow endowment” for the school by money saved from greening efforts; getting Athenian 70% off the grid; converting 60% of waste haulage to recycling and compost; and much, much more.  Thank you Bob for all that you have done for us!

In honor of Bob’s retirement, The Athenian School community organized an environmental pledge campaign.  More than 160 individuals committed to adding one more sustainable activity to their daily routine.  Watch the video above to see all the pledges!

Read more about Bob’s tremendous contribution to Athenian:

Athenian's Energy Usage 2012 copy 2

AWE Death Valley 2013: Photos from the Course

A behind-the-scenes look at The Athenian Wilderness Experience: climbing Mt. Ubehebe, learning how to cook on a camp stove, rock climbing, crossing the “Racetrack,” pitching tents, reading maps and navigating terrain, clearing trails, and of course, hiking.

Thank you to Haley, Grace, Gabby, Helen, Ethan, Rafi, and Phoebe for sharing your photos!

Jump to:

Desert Rain

Group 1: Haley, John, Anna, Addison, Victor, Kristin, Michaela, Gabby, Garrett, and Tanner

Instructors: Poe and Tova



Sailing Stones

Group 2: Grace, Hannah, Zach, Anika, Anthony, Reiko, Will, Krishna, Jack, and Emily

Instructors: Joe and Rafi aka “Trotter”

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Group 3: AJ, Anthony, Shawna, Amanda, Alex, Lakin, Noah, Tara, and Rachel

Instructors: Nika and Liam

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Group 4: Jamey, Acaciah, Emily, David, Quyen, Chloe, Natasha, Helen, Alex, and Chris

Instructors: Pete and JoLynne

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Death Valley: Scenery and logistics


The Racetrack

The Racetrack


Logis Sho and Tyler '13 working hard on logistics

Logis Sho and Tyler ’13 working hard on logistics

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Found geode

Found geode

Mail cairn

Mail cairn

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Caterpillars in a web.

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Hannah (age 5) shows the climbers how it's done

Hannah (age 5) shows the climbers how it’s done

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Joshua tree

Joshua tree


Letter from an AWE alum at the top of Mt. Ubehebe

Letter from an AWE alum at the top of Mt. Ubehebe

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Base camp

Base camp

Thank you to Phoebe, Jason, Tracy, Ethan, Poe, Tova, Joe, Rafaelle, Nika, Liam, Pete, and JoLynne for keeping our students safe!
Thank you to Phoebe, Jason, Tracy, Ethan, Poe, Tova, Joe, Rafaelle, Nika, Liam, Pete, and JoLynne for keeping our students safe!



Athenian Has an Orchard!

After weeks of planning and hundreds of volunteer hours preparing the hill slope, Athenian students planted over 100 fruit trees in a half hour this morning.

To learn more about the evolution of this project, take a look at the video above.

Saturday’s final preparation for the orchard (video by The Urban Farmers)

Read more:

Growing Our Own Food

The Urban Farmers on Athenian 


Growing Our Own Food

Last weekend, Athenian teamed up with The Urban Farmers to begin the process of planting a fruit orchard below Athenian’s baseball field.  Take a look at the video above made by Siamack of The Urban Farmers to see the progress that’s been made so far.  The next opportunity to get involved with this community project is this Saturday, February 2.  Sign up by clicking on the appropriate link here.

Orchard copy

Bounty Garden Overflows with Produce

If you were at Athenian before 2004, you may remember that the ceramics classes were held in the “greenhouse” next to the Main Hall.

Ceramics Studio, 1999

Once the Center for the Arts was created, ceramics moved to its own classroom and the greenhouse was converted back to its original purpose.  After several years, the Athenian garden now has an overflowing greenhouse full of organic produce, as well as a Bounty Garden and chickens.  There are 12 outdoor garden beds and an additional six in the greenhouse.  The produce, herbs, and eggs are used by the school kitchen year round.

Some of the many plants grown throughout the year include, in no particular order:
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Tree collards
Pole beans

The garden is also home to the industrial composter.  This past year, 4 tons of waste were diverted from local landfills while creating enough compost to grow more than 1,000 lbs of organic vegetables!  The extra compost was used to fill the Environmental Science Bioswale with natural soil amendment.

Watch a video about Athenian’s industrial composter and how students “harvest” compost:

If you are interested in the day-to-day happenings in the garden, check out the The Athenian Garden Blog.  Please note that the garden blog is a functional, digital Farmer’s Almanac: a tool used by resident gardeners to log garden care and plant growth.

Updated: Athenian Shines at National Green Ribbon Conference

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, Watch Live: Athenians to Speak at National Green Schools Conference Tomorrow.

This morning, at 8:30am EST, while those of us on the West Coast were still sleeping in our beds, Athenian was uniquely honored at the 2012 National Green Ribbon Conference in Washington, DC.  Andrea Falken, director of the Green Ribbon Award program, opened the conference with a profile of our school.    “The Athenian is the type of school that embodies the award,” she  began.  She outlined the key programs at Athenian, touching on composting, gardening, dish crew, and AWE (for which we will forgive her understandably pronouncing “awe”).  She joked of AWE, “I didn’t ask what detention might look like there but it sure sounded intimidating.”  She went on to introduce Andrew Reckers, the only student representative asked to speak at the conference.  She shared an anecdote revealing of Andrew’s character.  Andrew, disturbed by the use of high-polluting gas-powered machines on campus, purchased a push-mower for the school.  He diligently pushed the mower around campus between classes.  Infected by Andrew’s good humor and enthusiasm, students volunteered for mowing shifts, relieving Andrew of sole responsibility for Athenian’s many acres of grass.  Andrew’s passionate and humble leadership distinguished his high school career.

After Andrea’s opening remarks, Andrew took to the podium to introduce Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  With great poise, Andrew did not appear daunted by the task of speaking before a national audience.  Click play below to view the speeches (Andrew begins at 4:15).

Green Ribbon Conference

Congratulations to Andrew for the recognition of his work!  And Congratulations to Athenian for being an inaugural Green Ribbon School!  Go Owls!  Hoot hoot!

Read US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools: Highlights from the First-Ever Honorees.

Want to learn more about greening the school?  Participate in the Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Webinar Series.