Welcome to New Faculty and Staff!


Every year a new crop of faculty and staff join our community.  We are thrilled to welcome this bunch to Athenian!

Pictured above (from left to right): Lauren Railey, Jenny Staller, Mary Shaver, Kyle Ennis, Lalitha Kameswaran, Micole Schwantes, Alex Rosenboom, Don Paige, Leslie Lucas, Sanjev deSilva, Robyn Matzen, Andrea Cartwright, Elizabeth Newey, Stephanie Robles, and Jane Son.


Andrea Cartwright, US Faculty – Humanities

Andrea grew up in Danville, and left the bay area to attend UC San Diego.  She discovered her passion for education while working as a substitute teacher.  Her teaching credential is from Chapman has an MA in Education from Brandman University. Most recently, she taught English at Presentation High School in San Jose.  There, she embraced technology in the classroom by piloting their 1:1 program and earned a certificate in digital education from Fresno Pacific University.  Beyond the classroom, you can find Andrea on a running trail or in the kitchen, cooking up some tasty vegan treats.


Sanjev deSilva, US Faculty – Humanities

Sanjev brings over 15 years of expe­ri­ence in education, youth devel­op­ment, and com­mu­nity ser­vice to The Athenian School.  His life’s mis­sion is to empower young peo­ple to be lead­ers and to cre­ate pro­gres­sive change in their com­mu­ni­ties.  Sanjev has a BA from San Francisco State University in International Relations and a minor in Ethnic Studies.  Sanjev’s broad array of experience includes serving as a counselor, resource specialist and camp director for Project Avary’s summer camp for children of incarcerated parents; as an after school instructor/coordinator and mental health resource specialist at Oakland public schools; and in Sri Lanka as a program director for Books for Asia. Sanjev comes to us most recently from The Mosaic Project where he was the Director of Youth Leadership.

Sanjev is also an accom­plished Hip-hop/Reggae artist. His music is another tool for cre­at­ing pro­gres­sive change and is a reflection of his work in the education field.


Kyle Ennis, Live-in Residential Faculty

Kyle is an Athenian Middle School alumni.  Kyle majored in Western Philosophy at University of Durham in England.  He then worked at Prism Designs and is familiar with CAD design.  Kyle is passionate about 3D printing and is prototyping Möbius Chess, which will be printed soon.

Kyle’s hobbies include playing pool, chess, lacrosse, and multiplayer strategy video games; writing comedy novels; and playing drums.  He is interested in returning to college to pursue a Master’s in Philosophy. Kyle says his thesis idea is “’On the Applications of a Voxel Based Internet Browser,’ which will combine programming, psychology, and architecture to demonstrate how a three-dimensional web-browser can be used as a social, economic, cultural, scientific, and especially educational medium.”


Lalitha Kameswaran, US Faculty – Math

Lalitha began her professional career as an engineer, researcher, and software developer in India and in the U.S.  She has a BA in Engineering from Bharathiar University and an MA in Computer Science from Chochin University, both in India.  After many years in the engineering world, Lalitha discovered a love for teaching and earned her MA in Teaching from University of San Francisco in 2013.  Lalitha has taught math at private, public, and International Baccalaureate programs.  Lalitha believes strongly in applying mathematical concepts to real-world problems and is excited to join the Athenian learning community.

Lalitha’s hobbies and interests include cooking healthy meals for her family, gardening, traveling and watching sports.


Leslie Lucas, Chief Operating Officer

Leslie is an accomplished finance and operations executive with over 25 years of experience, primarily in the high technology industry. For the past 12 years, she has worked in small to mid-size venture-backed software companies responsible for a wide range of functions.  In these roles, Leslie has quickly adapted to each new environment and developed lasting relationships with the Board, the CEO and management team, and many other employees throughout the company. She especially enjoys juggling a variety of responsibilities that are both tactical and strategic in nature.

Leslie graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Economics. She earned her CPA (no longer active) while working for Peat Marwick, now KPMG, in San Francisco for 5 years, then joined Oracle Corporation when US revenues were ~$500 million.

Leslie is married to Craig Lucas, a roofing estimator, with whom she has a 4th-grade son, Jack. Leslie, whose father was a career naval officer, moved frequently growing up and spent many years on both coasts of the country. As an adult, Leslie has traveled extensively for both work and pleasure. She enjoys boating, scuba diving and cooking.


Robyn Matzen, Assistant to the Office of the Head of Upper School

Robyn began teaching 7th and 8th-grade language arts and social studies in 2008. In addition to teaching, Robyn was a middle school advisor and oversaw 8th-grade fundraising efforts and the high school application process at Beacon Day School.  Robyn was the Dean of Students and middle school social studies teacher at Archway School from 2013-2015. Robyn holds a Master’s degree in educational leadership from Cal State East Bay and a Bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in psychology from Saint Mary’s College of California where she has also completed her multi-subject teaching credential coursework.

In her spare time, Robyn enjoys chasing after her 1-year-old and spending quality time with her friends and family. When she needs some peace and quiet, she enjoys reading novels and painting watercolors.


Elizabeth Newey, Advancement Associate

Elizabeth Newey is an Athenian Alumna, class of 2011.  In her time at Athenian, she enjoyed being part of the Dance Team, studying abroad through Round Square, and teaching sophomore health with other senior leaders.  She attended Pitzer College and obtained her B.A. in Political Studies with Honors, studied abroad in Turkey, and worked as an au pair in rural Western Australia.  Along with her studies, she spent four years working in the Advancement office at Pitzer College.  She is excited to bring some more alumni spirit to the Advancement Office, and contribute to the success of Athenian in a new way.

Elizabeth is an animal enthusiast with a special fondness for dogs.  She loves to hike in the Bay Area and enjoys cooking and reading. 


Don Paige, Director of Residential Program and Dorm Head

Don is joining Athenian as Director of Residence Life after 16 years of teaching history and humanities in independent schools.  The last six of those years were spent at the College Preparatory School, where he also coordinated the freshmen advising program and coached girls’ basketball. Prior to College Prep, Don worked for a decade at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, where he taught history, coached basketball, and directed the summer camp programs. Don has a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from the University of Georgia and another Master’s Degree in United States History from the University of North Florida.  The James Madison Fellowship named Don as a junior fellow in 1999, allowing him to study the early Constitutional Period at Georgetown.

Don will be joined on campus by his wife of 13 years, Mandy Paige, and two children.    His family enjoys cooking all types of food, from smoking meat to baking muffins, and there will be a steady stream of delicious smells wafting from his apartment.  Finally, the Paiges are avid baseball fans.


Lauren Railey, Middle School Head

Lauren is a committed educator with over 16 years of teaching experience in the Bay Area. She has taught at Town School, Mark Day School, and, for the past 12 years, Head Royce School. Her experience in the classroom ranges from first to ninth grade and includes middle school science and English. Her passion, however, is middle school history, where she enjoys bringing history to life through simulations, role-plays, and debates. Lauren has served as both eighth-grade dean and history department chair (grades 6-12) at Head Royce School. Her teaching and leadership responsibilities have afforded her the opportunity to engage deeply with middle school students, their parents, and with talented colleagues to pursue her vision of student-centered education in a rigorous K-12 environment.

Lauren majored in political science and Italian at Middlebury College and earned her Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Brown University, where she studied with professors aligned with Ted Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools. Sizer’s emphasis on experiential and project-based learning, as well as social justice and equity, heavily influenced her beliefs about teaching and learning. Lauren sees herself as a life-long learner and frequently takes advantage of local and national professional development opportunities.

Lauren is married to fellow educator Ben Ladue, with whom she has two daughters, Luciana and Alessandra. Originally from Colorado, she enjoys skiing, running, swimming, and exploring the Bay Area with her family.


Stephanie Robles, US Faculty – Science

Stephanie attended U.C. Davis where she received a B.S. in Animal Biology and an M.S. in Avian Science. Stephanie’s research work focused on animal welfare, particularly meat and egg chicken welfare.  While doing earning her degree, Stephanie co-taught undergraduate classes and decided to go back to school to earn an MA in Secondary Science Education from the University of Connecticut. Stephanie is joining us from a public school in Milford, CT.

Stephanie and her husband are excited to be relocating back to California and is eager to teach Biology and the new Anatomy and Physiology classes.


Alexandra Mattraw Rosenboom, US Faculty – Humanities

Fourth-generation from Morgan Hill, California, Alexandra has been teaching for nearly two decades.  She studied literature at UCLA, University of Chicago, and University of San Francisco and holds a BA in English, an MA in Humanities, and an MFA in Poetry.  She cut her teaching teeth at Marva Collins Preparatory in Chicago’s South Side and then developed her deep love of high school teaching during her thirteen-year tenure at The Harker School in San Jose.  While teaching high school, Alexandra has relished her work with sophomores and seniors in courses such as AP English and British Literature as well as courses she designed, such as 19th Century American Women Writers, 20th Century American Poetry, and 20th Century American Drama.

A musician as well as a published poet and critic, Alex is also a mother of two children and lives with her husband in Oakland where she and her family enjoy hiking, camping, curating art events, and acquiring vintage wares to complement their 1890s Victorian home.


Micole Schwantes, MS Faculty – Math

Micole is a third generation Californian and has lived in both the Bay Area and Southland.  She attended UC Irvine as an undergrad and later earned her Math Credential at Cal State Northridge.

Micole has taught in LA County and Orange County before moving to Australia with her husband where she earned her Master’s in Education at Southern Cross University.  After a few years at home with her three kids, Micole returned to the classroom at Charlotte Wood Middle School.

Micole is an avid jogger and has worked her way up to completing a half marathon.  The Schwantes family snowboard and ski in the winter.  She likes to cook, explore art museums, walk her Golden Retriever, and garden.


Mary Shaver, Staff Accountant 

Mary worked her way from up from a receptionist to an accountant by taking night school classes and seminars and taking on additional responsibilities.  She now has over 19 years of accounting experience.

Mary likes to travel when possible, and go bowling, camping, hiking, and walking.  Mary and her husband attended the San Ramon Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy and now volunteer for SRPD.


Jane Son, Live-in Residential Faculty

Jane is an aspiring teacher from Torrance, California. After graduating from University of California, San Diego in 2011 with a BA in International Studies, Jane obtained a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate at UCSD-Extension and taught English in South Korea for three years.

Jane likes to watch TV shows and movies, read mystery novels, do arts and crafts—especially scrapbooking—and travel around the world. Jane is excited to live and work at Athenian.


Jennifer Staller, MS Librarian

Jenny received her B.A. from U.C. Davis, majoring in English and minoring in global religious studies. She then spent a summer earning her publishing credential from NYU and went on to work in the textbook publishing industry before turning her sights to becoming a librarian. She completed her Master’s degree in library science at San Jose State, focusing on youth services. Since then she has worked in Marin County as a public librarian, working primarily in teen services planning programs and encouraging reading among youth grades 6-12. She also worked as the Assistant Librarian at Miller Creek Middle School in Marin County, where she got to explore new ways to get middle schoolers excited about books and the library.

In her spare time, Jenny volunteers at the California Academy of Sciences as a docent and she loves exploring San Francisco, where she lives. Of course, reading is one of her primary passions, and she loves nothing more than gushing about her favorite books to anyone who will listen.


Larry Smith, Director of Facilities

Larry comes to us with many years of facilities management experience.  He was most recently the Senior Facilities Manager for Cushman & Wakefield where he was responsible for the World Headquarters of their largest global client, Symantec Corporation.   Larry has experience managing multi-building campus environments and leading large facilities teams and operating budgets.

Larry lives in Danville with his wife, two children, and their Labrador retriever.  In his spare time, he likes spending time at his children’s sporting activities and watching the Oakland A’s.

Athenian Launches Two New Heads of Schools

Athenian prides itself on attracting and developing faculty and staff who are committed to quality education and are often leaders in the field.  After nearly 20 years of combined service, two Athenian administrators will become Heads of Schools at independent schools with similar missions.  We will miss them dearly and we couldn’t be prouder of these educational leaders! 

Originally published in The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper, March 2015

by Irena Volkov ’16

The Athenian School’s beloveds Sam Shapiro and Jessica Lee will spend their last semester here at Athenian and will embark on new challenges of becoming Heads of School elsewhere this coming fall.Sam Shapiro Pic

Sam Shapiro, Athenian’s current 9th Grade Dean of Instruction, Assistant Director of Admission, and Humanities teacher, will be the new Head of School for the Marin Montessori School as of July 1st, 2015.

Marin Montessori School is an elementary and middle school located in Marin County, and is attended by about 270 kids, starting as young as 18 months up to 15 years old.

Shapiro knew he was interested in becoming a head of school after participating in the Fellowship for Aspiring School Heads, a program from the National Association of Independent Schools.

Eventually, Shapiro was recruited to be the Head of Marin Montessori.

“This year just felt right in terms of being ready for a new challenge and feeling ready to take on the challenge of heading a school,” Shapiro said.

Although he is ready for the challenges of being a school head, Shapiro claims that he is “about 88% excited and about 12% terrified.”

Shapiro was 26 years old when he first stepped onto the Athenian campus and has taught at Athenian for 14 years, serving as a Humanities teacher, World Cultures teacher, World Literature teacher, the 9th Grade Dean of Students, the Dean of Instruction and the Assistant Director of Admissions.

“I’m worried about what it’s going to feel like to not be a part of…to be an Athenian anymore,” Shapiro said. “I really kind of grew up here.”

Shapiro is also worried about how this change is going to impact his family and is sad to leave the Athenian community.

“I love Athenian, my son is an Athenian student now so I get to see it through his eyes,” Shapiro said. “This is my community, it’s my second home, and it’s where I’ve grown up. I’ve literally lived here for many years, and on-campus too… [I have] good friends here, and I love my work, so it’s sad.”

With a very rich and joyful Athenian experience such as Shapiro’s, he would like to leave Athenian with one lasting wish.

“Always stay very clear on the power and purpose of an Athenian education, which I see as rich learning through powerful experience and reflection, and, most importantly, staying a culture of kindness,” Shapiro said.

Lee, who has been Head of the Middle School for the past five years and is also serving as Assistant to the Head for Advancement, will also soon be facing the challenges of being Head of School in Washington D.C.

Lee will be the Head of a kindergarten through 8th grade school that “has a similar mission to Athenian,” Lee said. “It’s what’s called a ‘progressive school’, so it’s really hands-on and experiential.”

Lee Family PicAccording to Lee, the K-8 school has a very diverse student body and adult community, which is why Lee feels the school is a good fit for her.

Lee came to Athenian from a K-8 school because she felt that middle school was where her heart was, but also loves being around elementary-aged children.

“I love being around the little kids,” Lee said. “The little ones are so cute and they just say what they think, there’s no filter, and it’s just so fun to talk to them. So I’m really excited about that.”

Lee was originally recruited for this job by a recruiter last March, but she had declined the offer because she didn’t think her husband, Humanities teacher Steven Lee, would want to move their life to Washington D.C.

Jessica told the recruiter, “I eventually want to be a Head of School but I’m happy at Athenian, so unless it was the perfect school it wasn’t worth leaving.”

After being called by the recruiter a second time, last August, both Steven and Jessica decided to fly to D.C. for two days to allow Jessica to be interviewed and Steven to explore the city.

After the trip, Steven said to Jessica, “you know what, we’re ready for an adventure.”

Steven is anxious about living in a new city and not knowing anybody because both Jessica and Steven’s families live in California, and they both feel loved by their communities.

Steven thinks this change is a great opportunity for Jessica and has a plan to “help Jessica and be a house husband, while keeping my eyes open for possible positions in schools,” Steven said.

Jessica is very excited about the new adventure and can see herself doing a lot of great work at the new school.

“I’m excited to live in a city, I’m excited for Liam [her son] to be in a different environment,” Lee said. “I think it’s important to push yourself outside of what you know you can do, so it’s the kind of challenge that I know will be fun.”

Jessica has been a proud representative of The Athenian School and is really sad to leave the Athenian community.

“I think about being in D.C. or I think about being here,” Jessica said. “I don’t think about leaving here because it makes me sad.”

Jessica and Steven have had wonderful experiences at Athenian because of the team-like community and the “neat” students.

“I really appreciate the community here because the people are very special,” Steven said. “We’ve had such a wonderful experience so it’s going to be hard to leave.”

When asked about her final words to the Athenian community, Jessica would like to say, “Thank you. I’ve had such a great experience here and have felt so welcomed, even in the hard things and good, and I think my children have gotten a good education here, so thank you.”

A Teacher’s Powerful Story of Pain and Love

By Eric Niles, Head of School

I have long felt that telling one’s story is a critical part of connecting with students.  When I was teaching classes rather than administrating, I always set aside the first day of class to tell my story, to make myself more real and human to my students.  My story has dramatic and poignant moments, but nothing like the story of Mark Lukach, one of our Upper School Humanities teachers, and his wife, Guilia.  It talks of pain and love to their deepest extent.  It is human.  It is his story, and our students should know that his life, his teaching, is impacted by his unique experiences.  And they should know that we adults don’t get to his place without deep sorrows, missteps, and concerns.  As we echo Kurt Hahn‘s words to our students embarking on the Athenian Wilderness Experience (AWE): “There is more in you than you know.”  The adults in their lives can let them know how true that is.

It is a long read, but well worth it.

Honoring 72 Years of Combined Service to Athenian

At the end of this school year, Athenian said a fond farewell to three long-time faculty who are entering retirement. Robin Oliver, 34 year French teacher, Cindy Kanstein, 24 year science teacher, and Karen Sanford, 14 year art teacher, have each contributed so much to The Athenian School. Thank you for everything you’ve done for the Athenian community! Enjoy your retirement and come back and visit us!

The Upper School newspaper editors wrote tributes to Karen and Robin in The Pillar in May, reprinted here.

Bon Voyage to Robin Oliver

DSC_0040This June, Robin Oliver will be attending her last Athenian graduation as a faculty member. After 34 years of teaching, the beloved French teacher’s career is coming to a close.

Oliver was living in New York when she heard about Athenian in 1979.

“I thought Athenian was the most beautiful school I’d ever seen; it was so lush and green, and miles away from civilization,” Oliver said. “I had read about the school and its mission, and thought that is sounded like a fantastic place to be.”

The school was much smaller when Oliver began her teaching career. All of the students and the majority of the teachers lived on campus, and the environment was much more relaxed. Oliver would spontaneously take her advisees to ice cream after school on occasion.

“It felt like a big family as opposed to a school,” Oliver said.

In her first year at Athenian, the schedule was designed so there were three two-hour classes a day, and Oliver taught French, Spanish I, and ESL. Oliver taught ESL for 19 years, and has been solely teaching French for the last 14 years. She served as the department chair of the language department for 27 years, and also has taken multiple interim trips to France.

“Robin is the nicest woman on the entire planet,” Ali Hirt ’15 said. “She cares about each and every one of her students. The letter she wrote for me on AWE was so sweet, it made my day!”

Robin’s AWE letters to her students reflect how much she cares about them and her passion for the school.

“My favorite part about being at Athenian is teaching and being here with the students,” Oliver said. “They make every day fun; I’m never bored here. I’m always surprised by the intelligence, the compassion, and the things my students are doing.”

The community at Athenian is one of the parts that make this school unique.

“I really believe a community is a good place for a person to learn, for both students and adults,” Oliver said. “I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.”


Sculpting Her Future: Art Teacher Karen Sanford to Retire

20140610_182537After 14 years at Athenian, art teacher Karen Sanford is retiring at the end of the year. Sanford started teaching at Athenian in 2000 along with Niki Stefaneli, and over the years she has taught 3D art, ceramics, sculpture, Humanitas, and the fine art quarter of the freshman art rotation.

Sanford grew up in Orinda and went to Miramonte High School, which is where she first got interested in art. She had a teacher who taught arts and crafts, which really intrigued her.

For college, Sanford started out at the University of California Santa Barbara as a sociology major, but she missed art and so she switched her major. She continued her art degree at California College of the Arts in Oakland, and then took a break for a while. During that time, she worked as a plumber for fifteen years (“I like to make stuff, so it was a making stuff thing,” said Sanford), and then finished her art degree at Cal State Hayward before getting her teaching credential at St. Mary’s College.

The moral of the story is that “you can get a degree even if you don’t do it in a straight line,” Sanford said.

After completing her teaching credential, Sanford taught both 2D and 3D art at various middle schools for six years before coming to Athenian.

“Niki Stefaneli and I got hired at the same time, in 2000…and because we got to decide who wanted to teach what, we decided that I would teach the 3D stuff and Niki would teach the 2D stuff,” Sanford said.

When Sanford first started here and taught the freshman art rotation, there was one quarter for 3D art and one quarter for 2D art, and health was after school, which was “very insane for poor freshmen,” Sanford said. Eventually they combined the two quarters of art into one in order to make room in the schedule for Health.

Sanford said that her favorite class that she teaches at Athenian is her 3D art class.

“I’ll miss that class a lot because that’s where I get to have them for a whole year and we get to do really interesting group projects,” Sanford said, including the stained glass currently hanging in front of the library.

Sanford with miss certain aspects of teaching at Athenian.

“I’ll miss the community the most…I really love my colleagues. I like that practically my entire social life can just be right here which is really nice, and we all seem to have common goals. It’s okay for everybody to be different and we still care about each other and take care of each other,” Sanford said.

When Sanford compares the Athenian of 2000 to the Athenian of today, she notices a few cultural differences.

“I think we’re a little bit more organized, we have a few more processes for things,” she said. “And unfortunately, I think kids are more stressed out about college and about getting all the right things in a row so that they can go on to the right place…things were a little bit more free-flowing, I would say, than they are now.”

Sanford is looking forward to making more art in her retirement, as well as traveling a little bit. After school gets out in June, Sanford is going to Portugal for a few weeks to visit Sally Baker, who used to be an art teacher at Athenian as well.

When asked for any parting thoughts for the Athenian community, Sanford said, “AWE and graduation are two of the greatest things that we do, so keep doing those things and keep being an awesome community!”

Cindy Kanstein and Wet Duck Retire

DSC01614After 24 years in the Middle School, Cindy has taught hundreds of students 7th and 8th grade science. Cindy was instrumental in creating Friday Focus Days, a unique learning model that allows in-depth, experiential activities every Friday. Generations of students remember Pool Volume Day, Softballs in the Gym, Soda Can Day, and Newtonian Olympics, to name a few.

Cindy taught 7th and 8th grade science, health, and sex education.

Any of Cindy’s students will remember Wet Duck, the character she used in word problems. Cindy’s word problems didn’t just teach physics; they told an intriguing and often funny story, such as the “Fowl Saga.”

Cindy’s legacy at Athenian will live on every Friday in the Middle School.

Physics Problems-More Speed & Velocity 2 copy Wet Duck Flies Again! copy Wet Duck-The Fowl Saga copy

Why is a Stanford Researcher Studying our Faculty? Mindfulness & Meeting Our Changing World and School

by Sam Shapiro, 9th Grade Dean of Instruction, Assistant Director of Admission, Humanities Faculty

I turned off my phone and stashed it in the glove compartment of my car. I didn’t look back as I locked the car and walked to the front door of the retreat house. Finally, after six months of eager anticipation, I was here to spend nine days in silent, mindful meditation. After I signed up for the retreat in January,  the more my “to do” list overflowed with tasks, no matter how stimulating and rewarding they were, the more I couldn’t wait  for this time in a forest in Northern California, for simple, quiet, undistracted awareness of my moment-to-moment existence. Yes, it was going to be difficult. Silence? Mindfulness meditation?  For nine days? Still, what a welcome contrast from my otherwise hyper-scheduled and pressurized life.

For a few days, it was exactly what I needed. I was alive and unburdened. But on the fourth night, as I fulfilled my volunteer duties of washing dishes, I felt the urge to talk to the person who was working alongside me. The silence between us suddenly felt awkward. And in the awkwardness, I did what we have all grown accustomed to doing to fill life’s moments of shiftless waiting: I reached to my pocket for my cell phone. My inbox would give me relief. Of course, my phone was still locked away in my car’s glove compartment, but that didn’t stop me from reaching anyway. I sought to numb this unfiltered, uncluttered, and perfectly fine moment of life. Pavlov’s dog heard the bell and drooled. I felt mild social anxiety, and sought a screen. Disappointed in myself, I turned back to the dishes. I had come here to escape my inbox, and yet after only four days, I found myself yearning for it.

The Pressing Question

At the Athenian School, we’ve been asking ourselves a new and vital question:  given the hyper-connected and distracting culture in which we work and educate young people, how can we harness the benefits offered in such a technologized and high-octane world, and do it in a way that promotes and cultivates focus, compassion, efficiency, and wellbeing? More bluntly, how do we avoid the opposite:  adults and students who are harried, distracted, disconnected, too busy to care, and ultimately shallow as thinkers and citizens.   The solutions to the challenge are of course myriad, but one we’re particularly excited about, and about which much movement is gathering in our school, is mindfulness. Based on ancient contemplative traditions, this potent antidote to the stressors of modern lives is a simple yet challenging practice that offers a deep dive into your physical, mental, and emotional experience. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the most well–known pioneer of the secular mindfulness movement, defines it as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

In the last two decades, researchers have revealed numerous compelling values gleaned from mindfulness practices. So much so, in fact, that courses in it are now being offered around the world to very diverse audiences: mindfulness classes for hospital patients suffering from chronic pain; for employees of Google, Goldman Sachs and Exxon; for inmates in juvenile halls; for worshipers at synagogues and churches; for kids in Oakland public schools; and now, this year, for Athenians.

Light Up the Mission

Why the enthusiasm? The demonstrated benefits of mindfulness continue to impress and inspire. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently discovered that people practicing mindfulness experience actual alterations in gene expression, allowing for stronger resistance to stress and increased resiliency. Other well-documented positives include increased gray and white matter in practitioners’ brains, stronger immune system functioning, greater emotional stability and well-being, greater potency of focus, increased standardized test scores, and stronger capacity for and tendency to act compassionately when encountering others in distress.

This last listed benefit—that mindfulness practitioners act more compassionately—is especially noteworthy: in a study by professor David DeSteno of Northeastern University, he found that when faced with what seemed to be a suffering patient in a medical  office, the subjects who were engaged in an eight-week mindfulness training course did something remarkable: while only sixteen percent of non-meditators intervened to help the patient in pain, fifty percent of those involved in the mindfulness training program got up to help.  This was especially impressive, because helping meant resisting the deleterious “bystander effect,” and acting on their own when everyone else in the waiting room ignored the struggling patient. We should pause and take this in: how many of us are in schools whose mission mentions the idea of developing caring, engaged citizens? While we know from recent research that activities like reading about characters through literature increases students’ tendencies to empathize with others, to feel their feelings, empathy isn’t enough. Brave, compassionate action is a whole new level: it moves us beyond just emotionally comprehending other’s struggles, to actually striving to alleviate the suffering itself. Our school’s mission enjoins us to aim this high. Now we have a practice we know fires up that noble aspiration to life.

What we Do

When we practice mindfulness meditation, as I do with my students at the start of every class and with teacher teams before I facilitate meetings, we sit in alert postures in our chairs, close our eyes, and we pay attention. Very close attention. In each moment we bring awareness to our bodies, our breath, our thoughts, our feelings, our senses, and we simply watch it all unfold without judging it or trying to change anything that arises in the theater of our inner experiences. Sometimes we have to watch our minds judging ourselves for judging ourselves, and we often see ourselves trying to change the impulse to change into one of not trying to change. These moment of “meta-cognition-on-steroids” get really interesting. Spend just a few minutes watching your mind, emotions, and body, and you’ll realize that simply within, there is never-ending richness to observe, consider, experience, understand, and, ultimately, with which to make friends. A common misunderstanding is that mindfulness is about getting rid of stress and discomfort. Rather, the truth is that mindfulness will often put us into the center of such inner storms. However, by—to adapt Kabat-Zinn’s definition of the practice—purposefully  and nonjudgmentally paying sharp attention to that storm, moment-by-moment, noting carefully its nature and allowing it to be, something usually settles; the push and pull of our judgments and inner conflicts that wage within ourselves, tend to calm. And by allowing our thoughts, emotions and sensations to rest in an attention of acceptance and curiosity, we do become friendlier with ourselves. Often while practicing mindfulness I’m reminded of the first few lines of Darek Walcott’s poem, Love After Love: “The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat…”

Instead of seeking to flee and distract ourselves away from our moment-by-moment experiences, we sink into them with interest and acknowledgment, and from this, a greater sense of ease is bound to develop. Do this mindfulness practice every day for about twenty minutes, and, in fact, as the research keeps showing: blood pressure lowers, attention sharpens, and greater emotional stability takes root. Why wouldn’t we want to offer this to our school’s community?

Bringing Mindfulness to Athenian

Our initiatives with mindfulness started when about thirty Athenian employees signed up to participate in optional eight-week training courses (one in the fall and one in the winter) with Kate Janke, founder of the Heart-Mind Education Project and a professional mindfulness coach.  Meeting with Kate for an hour every week to learn and strengthen mindfulness practices, participants then spent twenty minutes each day on their own, practicing guided mindfulness by using MP3 recordings Kate pre-recorded.

Athenian participants were enthusiastic about their experience with the training, and Director of Learning Services,  Jeannine Morales, became intrigued too.  She had read about mindfulness’ efficacy for increasing focus and reducing anxiety, natural benefits that would be great for students. We drafted a model of a training course for students—once-a-week for six weeks, with ten minutes of individual MP3 practice per day—and offered it to the community. Thinking we would need a minimum of six students to sign up to make the course fly, we were delighted when eighteen kids responded with the desire to enroll.

There is now a growing body of Athenian parents requesting the mindfulness training for themselves—clearly our school’s parents face a similar panoply of pressures and distractions—and this parent class is in the works. Finally, in June, Kate and I will offer a residential mindfulness and compassion retreat for anyone who works in the life of a school—public or independent. This will function on two levels, giving individual faculty and administrators the chance to unplug and rejuvenate, and, offering guidance and silent practice periods through which to strengthen valuable mindfulness and compassion practices. These benefits can then be brought back into work lives and school communities next fall.

Growing Interest

This recent focus on mindfulness at Athenian has drawn interest from others in the field: recently, a researcher in educational policy from Stanford University began studying the Athenian adults involved with our eight-week mindfulness course. She is examining the influence of the program on teachers’ and administrators’ stress levels, effectiveness, and well-being. Based on what adult participants reported to us in anonymous evaluations at the end of the first eight-week session in the fall, the researcher will likely find clear benefits:

“From day one of this course, I feel that my ability to focus, be more present and have more patience was improved significantly and I’m motivated to continue this practice into the future.”

“I found our once a week meeting to be something I looked forward to with my colleagues. I felt closer to the colleagues with whom I shared this experience …”

“Allowing myself to participate in this training has given me the reminder that I can practice mindfulness whenever and wherever I intend, i.e., that this is a practice when done at its best is not only added to but also integrated within my daily life.”

“Since beginning this practice, the time it takes me to fall asleep each night has decreased significantly… Also, my partner noticed the positive change, noting how I stop and think before speaking, keeping our conversations on course where before they might have become full blown arguments.”

“Mindfulness practice allows me to see the bigger picture, to be more patient and more accepting of things how they are.”

“This training was a wonderful gift.”

A Personal Connection

My own relationship with mindfulness began when I was a senior in college. As part of a research project for an independent study with a professor, I participated in a hospital-based, eight-week mindfulness training program modeled on the one Kabat-Zinn pioneered at the University of Massachusetts’ medical school. Soon after graduation, I spent the next year practicing mindfulness for thirty minutes every day as I lived in Sumatra, Indonesia, and worked in the field of H.I.V./AIDS prevention. During that year, I had countless instances when I could see that this practice brought my life to life: I tasted, spoke, smelled, felt, thought, and lived more clearly, more openly, more effectively, and with greater satisfaction. After a year of consistent practice, I had a distinct feeling that my brain, the structure and hardware of my thought processes, quite literally, had changed. Too embarrassed to ever say such a wild-sounding statement then, I now write it without bashfulness, for in the last few years, numerous studies have shown just that: due to the plasticity of the human brain, the regular practice of mindfulness meditation creates real, positive changes in a its wiring and structure.

After my time in Indonesia though, I got married, started a career in independent schools, had kids, became a commuter, and dropped my regular mindfulness meditation practice. It always lived as something that nudged at me as I raced through my long days and sleep-deprived nights, reminding me that this practice had once improved my life tremendously. In the last few years, mostly because my own children are older and more self-sufficient, I’ve come back to the practice, and attended two extended residential mindfulness retreats. This year, practicing mindfulness with colleagues, and even just spending the first sixty seconds of each class and meeting I run in silence and in settling, has been a surprising gift: the discussion and work is more focused and thoughtful, and the shared awareness that we are engaging in learning and endeavors worthy of close attention and communication, well, it is just right.

Linking to our History


Dyke Brown drafted his vision for the ideal Athenian students and what they would receive from their education. Included in this “mandala” are: Understanding of self and others, bodily capability, aesthetic and spiritual capabilities, understanding of nature, understanding of society, understanding of humanity, and rational ability.

Fifty years ago Dyke Brown, Athenian’s founder, envisioned a school in which students experienced intellectual growth, fitness of body and character, commitment to humane values, aesthetic sensitivity, and readiness for adult citizenship and leadership. While mindfulness is not a panacea—in fact, beware of anyone who promotes one approach to education that is a cure-all—it is striking that an ever-increasing body of research is showing that mindfulness practices can play a vital part in cultivating each of the core qualities which Dyke Brown hoped to see in Athenians: stronger cognitive abilities, healthier bodies, greater awareness of and compassion towards others, and more potent sensitivity.  Athenian has always been forward-looking and ready to wisely embrace change as the world in which we teach and learn changes itself. Our incorporation of mindfulness practices into the life of our school is another example of this, and another reason I am proud to be part of this creative, smart, and brave project called The Athenian School.

Welcome to 2014: Dick Offers Hope for the New Year

As I reflected on the world at year’s end, I was struck by the idea of seemingly  intractable problems – that there are those we can do something about – and those we can’t .  An example of one where I feel I have no control is the fact that we are in the middle of a drought. This is a cause of anxiety to the old river guide in me – and as someone who knows all too well the dangerous game we play each year in California with our water.  The Tim Holm trail is bone dry, with little scraggles of grass trying to grow in the dust.  The maddening thing about a drought is, you can’t do anything to change it.  Conservation is critical, but it doesn’t ease the ache I feel for the once green hills.

And it seemed at year’s end that the world has devolved into a state of constant violence and conflict.  From our own political system, to countries and cultures across the globe, we humans seem less and less capable of finding common ground.  We seem to be moving farther and farther away from each other and the nature that bore us all. Yet, unlike the drought, there is something we can do about that.  And I thought of the poem that Maya Angelou wrote for the 1993 inauguration and our need to take responsibility to step forward into peace by connecting with each other.

-Dick Bradford, Head of Upper School and Academic Dean

On the Pulse of Morning

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot…
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours- your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

by Maya Angelou

Welcome New Faculty and Staff!

Athenian welcomes a great new group of faculty and staff to start the 2013-14 school year. Among the new faculty, two are fluent in American Sign Language, one speaks Bengali, and one is from France. There are 10 Masters degrees among them in 10 different fields and two are published authors. As you see this impressive group on campus, give them a friendly “hello!”

Staff / Student Services

Jeannine Bourhill Morales, Director of Learning Services

Master of Arts, Counseling, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA
Education of Consulting Program, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Bachelor of Science, Special Education, Hearing Impaired, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH

Jeannine Morales will be working with MS and US administrators and faculty to develop skills and tools to assist students with learning challenges. She will also do professional development for teachers regarding learning styles. Jeannine’s work experience has included positions at The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, CA and Walnut Creek, CA, the International School of Prague in Prague, the Czech Republic, South Elementary School in Hingham, VT, Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union in Manchester, VT as well as Austin School for the Deaf in Brattleboro, VT.  Jeannine is fluent in American Sign Languages and Signed Exact English. She has directed programs and taught children and adults of all ages who have learning differences and or disabilities.  Jeannine has organized and led international and domestic school trips for groups of students in British Columbia, Santa Barbara, Australia, Poland, South Africa, China, and Nepal.  Jeannine is an active volunteer with the AIDS Action Committee, Habitat for Humanity, and the Literary Network of Los Angeles.  On top of that, she is a certified Water Safety Instructor/Swimming Instructor.

New Faculty – Middle School

Julia Chambers, Middle School Librarian
M.L.I.S., Youth Librarianship, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
Bachelor of Arts, Political, Legal, Economic Analysis, Mills College, Oakland, CA.

Joining Athenian as Librarian for the Middle School, Julia is eager to inspire students and teachers to develop a passion for reading and learning.  While serving as Head Librarian at Berkwood Hedge Elementary in Berkeley, Julia implemented a number of creative events and programs to promote and enhance literacy curriculum, such as book talks, read-aloud sessions, poetry workshops, author/illustrator visits, summer reading events and field trips.  Julia also led child-focused learning centers at the Children’s Community Center in Berkeley, CA and she is an accomplished author and journalist having had numerous articles appear in magazine publications and periodicals such as Sunset, Woman’s Day, Shape, Parenting, and The San Francisco Chronicle.  Julia is the author of a best-selling series entitled The Go-Girl Guide, a collection of non-fiction lifestyle books for women.

New Faculty – Upper School

Allison Angelico, Foreign Language – Spanish

Master of Arts, Spanish Language and Culture, University of Granada, CLM, Granada, Spain
Bachelor of Arts, Spanish, Gordon College in Wenham, MA

Allison has been teaching beginning to advanced level Spanish at Salem Public High School in Salem, Massachusetts for the past several years.  She also served as a Spanish Interpreter for World Language Services in Lynn, MA. Prior to that, she studied abroad at the University of Seville in Seville, Spain.  Allison has also been an active volunteer in humanitarian service-based projects domestically and internationally.

Marielle Decker, Science – Environmental Science

Master of Science, Science Resource Management and Conservation, Antioch University New England, Keene, NH
Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA

Marielle has a wide range of experience in environmental issues as well as an in-depth knowledge of botany and horticulture.  As part of her college studies, she conducted soil studies in Costa Rica and developed a full-scale mangrove restoration project in the Bahamas.  Marielle then launched into a career that has included work as a field guide and lecturer, naturalist, sustainability consultant, and a horticulturalist at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  Marielle has also actively participated in resource management and conservation projects and assisted the Land and Water Team of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Molly Gowen, Science – Chemistry
Master of Science, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences – Geophysics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
Bachelor of Science, Physics, Mathematics, Centre College, Danville, Kentucky

Molly has taught and tutored science and mathematics subjects including earth science, astronomy, environmental science, chemistry, evolutionary biology, calculus and physics.  In her recent role as Museum Educator at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, Molly taught K -12 science and math workshops.  She developed professional development programs for secondary educators in Saudi Arabia and traveled to Saudi Arabia to deliver and implement the programs directly.  Molly also developed curricula at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky for weekly summer camp attendees and trained new summer camp educators on practicing teaching techniques and executing lesson plans. Molly is fluent in American Sign Language.

Evan Hansen, Humanities
Master of Fine Arts: Writing/Poetry, Columbia University, New York City, NY
Master of Education, Education/Secondary Language Arts, Portland State University, Portland Oregon
Bachelor of Arts: Greek and Philosophy, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY

Evan is a writer, poet, artist, teacher, and, oh – boys’ soccer coach! Evan has designed courses and instructed high school students with a broad spectrum of academic proficiencies and backgrounds. At various public schools in Portland, OR (Lincoln High School, Franklin High School and Roosevelt High School), he taught courses such as American Literature, Creative Writing, Global Studies, World Literature, Poetry and two of the soccer teams he coached qualified for the Oregon High School State Tournament.  Evan also designed curriculum and taught graduate students at Columbia University. He taught art and writing to students at Wadleigh High School in Harlem, New York City.  More recently, Evan has been teaching Middle School English and Social Studies at Cascade Canyon School in Fairfax, CA.

Emily Howland, Foreign Language – Spanish
Bachelor of Arts, English and Hispanic Studies with a minor in Media Studies, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN

An alumnae of two well-known bay area independent schools (The Urban School and the Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco), Emily’s post-secondary education and unique background experience in education, leadership, journalism, human rights advocacy and volunteerism will enrich not only students enrolled in her Spanish classes at Athenian, but the Athenian community at-large. Emily has planned and led community service and language immersion programs in Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Peru.  As Director of Gap Programs (through Adventures Cross Country in Mill Valley, CA), Emily developed and implemented curriculum based on academic themes such as Environment and Conservation, Microfinance and Economic Growth, Literacy and Education, Urbanization and the Movement of Peoples, and Public Health.  Emily also worked at Marin Horizon School in Mill Valley, CA, Envision Schools in San Francisco, and Aim High in San Francisco. Emily is an avid outdoor lover.  She snowboards, cross country skies, hikes, camps and is a triathlete.

Jessica K. Jones, Live-in Residential Faculty – Girls’ Dorm

Master of Arts, Communications Studies, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO
Bachelor of Arts, Communication Studies (Dance Minor), Bachelor of Arts, Psychology (Sociology Minor), University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO.

Joining Athenian in a new role as an upper school faculty member living in the Girls’ dorm, Jessica has directed Summer Camp Programs geared for 13 to 17 year old girls and boys. In fact, she has just wrapped up spending the summer of 2013 as the Director of the Counselor in Training Program at Coppercreek Camp in Greenville, CA.  Jessica is a natural leader, having served as a recruitment counselor of a PanHellenic Society and Vice President of Alumnae Relations for her college sorority to teaching ballroom and social dance classes at University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, CO,. Jessica has also served as an orientation leader at new student and visitor orientations and has taught public speaking classes. 

William Kim, Science – Chemistry and Physics (and new on-campus resident)

Bachelor of Arts, Chemistry, La Sierra University

William has worked in the corporate environment as a product manager and technical analyst. He worked at the Loma Linda University of Southern California School of Radiation Technology Sciences where he developed curriculum and taught graduate level courses. As a Science teacher at Marywood Palm Valley School in Rancho Mirage, CA, William has greatly enjoyed developing curriculum and teaching science courses to Middle and Upper School students.  William and his wife, Brittanee, will be moving into one of the new Mary Mae homes on campus.

Mark Lukach, Humanities – History
Master of Liberal Arts, History, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
Bachelor of Arts, History (English Minor), Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Mark has taught U.S. History and World History at St. Paul’s School for Boys in Brooklandville, Maryland and more recently at Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, CA.  He has also coached swimming and soccer. Mark is a writer who has published/distributed his articles, reviews, stories, and biographical sketches of his life through a variety of media – print, online (via blogs, podcasts, forums, etc.) and radio.  When Mark isn’t teaching or coaching, he may be pursuing one or more of his hobbies such as writing, reading, surfing, traveling or video editing.

Imrul Mazid, Humanities – History/World Cultures (and new on-campus resident)
Master of Arts, Sociology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY
Bachelor of Arts, Sociology, Bachelor of Arts, Economics, University of California Davis, Davis, CA

Imrul speaks Bengali fluently and recites Sufi poetry.  In addition to these unique skills and interests, Imrul has taught a wide range of courses to a diverse group of students at Year-Up – a non-profit education organization dedicated “to close the ‘Opportunity Divide’ by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.” He was program manager at SAYA! (South Asian Youth Action) in New York – a youth development organization dedicated to South Asian youth. Locally, he has taught at Making Waves Academy in Richmond, CA and East Oakland School of the Arts, in Oakland, CA.  Regardless of whether he is teaching students to develop their reading comprehension, analytical writing or critical thinking skills, or mentoring them to develop leadership skills or taking a stand on moral, ethical, or social issues, Imrul engages students and ignites their interest.  Imrul will be joining the Athenian residential community in one of the recently built Mary Mae homes.

Amandine Nelaton, Foreign Language – French teacher
Master of Arts, Secondary Education, Master of Arts, Foreign Languages, French and RESOL, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
License (Bachelor of Arts Equivalent) in Anglophone Studies, University of Blaise Pascal, Clermond – Ferrand, France

Armandine has lived and attended school in France.  Upon moving to the US, she has taught beginner to advanced level French language courses to high school students at The Washington Latin Public Charter School in Washington, DC, was a college lecturer at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV, and has been a freelance translator.  Amandine has assisted in coaching girls’ basketball teams and is an enthusiastic educator and mentor.

We Love Middle School!

Rebecca Mieliwocki hit the nail on the head. This is exactly why I love working in the Middle School. It takes a special kind of person to not only want to work with this population but to really love the work; and The Athenian Middle School is full of them.  –Jessica Donovan, Head of Middle School

This article in the Marshall Memo (for those of you interested in writings on education, it is a must) reminded me why I am so glad we have a middle school and so awed by the teachers who work with our kids.  Not only do they understand middle-schoolers, they want nothing more than to spend their days educating them.  It is a labor of love.  Thanks, as always, for sharing your children with us. –Eric Niles, Head of School

Teaching Middle School English

Excerpts from: “Focus: Teaching Middle-School English” by Rebecca Mieliwocki in Go Teach, March/April 2013 (Vol. 2, #4, p.12), http://www.futureeducators.org/goteach/2013/03/15/focus-teaching-middle-school-english.

“It took me about 11 minutes to fall utterly, completely in love with 7th graders,” says 2012 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki in this article in Go Teach. “I’ve finally found my place, the place where a teacher’s personality and energy is wonderfully matched to her audience.” This affair of the heart was an accident. When Mieliwocki returned from maternity leave, her high-school English classroom was unavailable and she was forced to travel to the “hostile, alien planet known as middle school.”

Why did she take so passionately to seventh graders? “Middle schoolers are vibrant, throbbing masses of insecurity, hyperactivity, creativity, indecision, certitude, compassion, and silliness,” she says. “Or, they try to render themselves into faceless, apathetic puddles of ‘Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, go away, leave me alone, you don’t understand, what do you know?’ All of them scream, ‘Come closer, understand me, find my potential, see me, love me.’ For the teacher who takes the time to make that journey to meet them, sometimes a bit past halfway, there is treasure.”

“I’m a 12-year-old dork who can still marvel at the wonder of our world, question the possibilities before us, and embark on crazy adventures with my 150 sidekicks,” Mieliwocki continues. “To survive as a middle-school teacher, you have to believe that wonderful potential lies within these not-quite-kids, not-quite-adults. They tune out, they act up, they crackle with energy and creativity, they break down, they lash out. They try on a new personality every day, and they want you to approve of all of them. You have to work harder than other teachers to swat aside their attempts to alienate you, to test you, to see how far they can go before you blow… Teaching middle school is the ride of a lifetime.”

Athenian Teachers Have a Lot to Share

Not only do Athenian teachers have a lot to share with their students, they also have a lot to offer the greater educational community.

Athenian invests in and even requires professional development, encouraging employees to widen and/or deepen their craft.  This year, the faculty decided to rearrange the  schedule to allow the entire Upper and Middle School faculty to attend the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Regional Conference, hosted at the nearby Head Royce School. Of the more than 200 presentations by faculty from 90 member schools, the faculty have the opportunity to focus on their individual goals.

Today, Athenians are presenting 11 workshops showcasing the breadth of innovation happening at the School. From institutional shifts (like support networks for students of color and design thinking in the Makers Studio) to class projects (coding a unique computer program or letting students design their own education), Athenian faculty are eager to share the successful outcome of their experiments. Take a look at their workshop topics below.

Institutional Innovation

Making a Makerspace – The Story of the Athenian School’s Makers Studio
Makers studioDavid Otten, Teacher, Science Chair

You’ve heard the buzz: MakerFaire, Make magazine, TechShop, hackerspaces, makerspaces, hack-a-day, Google Summer Maker camp, etc. There are many reasons the “maker movement” is surging beneath us, but how can independent schools capitalize on this energy and use it to enhance learning? In this workshop, we present the history of the Athenian School’s own Makers Studio: how it started, navigating hurdles, where we’re headed, and how your school can start one. We’ll also look at how digital fabrication can be used in the classroom (e.g. air rocket design, line-following robots, general science, etc.) through a number of student projects you’ll get to modify and assemble, time-permitting.

Moving from Diversity Days to Institutional Commitment 
Lizette Dolan, Dean of Equity and Inclusion

Join educators and school leaders in a dialogue that pushes past percentages and performances toward thriving 21st century schools. This workshop will propose some ways schools can foster a diverse, inclusive, and culturally competent school community. You will engage in activities to share best practices, and challenge existing behaviors, policies, and practices related to forwarding diversity initiatives. Activities will create the space to develop mission statements for diversity efforts at your school. You will consider the long-term and short-term goals for the institution, administration, faculty, and staff regarding cultural competency, student admissions and retention, the hiring and retention of historically-unrepresented groups, etc.

Win Win: Parent Library Volunteers
Jim Sternberg, Library Director


Want to do more with your library program but don’t have enough time? Do you have parents who want to help out at school and be more active in the learning community? This workshop will explore the mutual benefits of recruiting, training, managing and celebrating parents in school libraries.

Creative Community: Art and Service Learning
Stacey Goodman, Art Teacher


Community service is a key component in progressive K-12 education. Artists have also seen the value in engaging participants beyond the gallery and museum, creating multiple opportunities for building alliances between art organizations and schools. Teachers will be provided strategies and insights into developing a community service-focused art curriculum. Workshop participants will also be provided with resources for developing their own creative service learning projects for their classes.

Building Support Networks Among People of Color
Lizette Dolan, Dean of Equity and Inclusion

This workshop will offer practical techniques for self-identified people of color who want to foster learning and growing environments that acknowledge, respect, and celebrate the identities of all its community members. It is rooted in the premise that healthy ethnic identities enhance learning and collaboration, leadership and initiative, and personal success. We will examine the emotional and psychological effects of race and racism on historically underrepresented adults within predominantly white institutions. The interactive exploration of our own personal and professional stories will shed light on how internalized oppression impacts our professional lives. Participants will journal, work in small groups, create art work, and strategize ways in which we can build support networks within our schools while encouraging other adults in our communities to continually analyze thought patterns, belief systems, and emotional responses to the world around us.

 Classroom Innovation


Democracy and Relevance — Designing 21st Century Education with Students 
Will Grant, Humanities Teacher

Our students are facing a rapidly changing future that defies easy understanding and challenges fundamental ideas about education and school. The Athenian School has been in a four-year design thinking process with our students to rethink education — to reshape our school and classes to meet the demands of the future. The outcome has been profound student leadership, school wide projects and academically rigorous courses that are also deeply relevant to the students’ lives. In this workshop, we’ll share lessons learned about engaging students to become partners and leaders in designing our schools to meet the future.

Science Without a Textbook?
Genevieve Greene, Science and Math Teacher

The presenter will share how she changed her middle school science classroom from being a textbook-based class to a discovery-based class using the Lawrence Hall of Science Great Explorations in Math and Science. It has allowed her to dramatically reduce the amount of homework she assigns and gives students the opportunity to work in groups analyzing data and making authentic observations about the world around them. Come experience one of the activities and learn how to implement it in your class.

Flip Out! A Flipped Approach to Science and Math 
From http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/Megan Leich and Daizy Asaravala, Science Teachers

Come learn the basics about a flipped classroom, what it looks like, what it feels like and how to begin flipping your class. This session will provide tips and tricks to “flipping” chemistry and math classes. Different models for flipped classrooms will be discussed and concrete details will be provided, including methods to ensure students are getting the appropriate information at home, turning worksheets into activities, and a discussion about videos. While we will focus on high school chemistry and middle school algebra, most of the information is also applicable to other subjects.

Start Scratch-ing: Using MIT’s Scratch to Get Kids Programming

Digital CandyTodd Miller, Math Teacher

While our students are now all digital natives, few are adept at, or even aware of, how to write their own programs. Using MIT’s free Scratch drag-and-drop language, we took kids with no programming experience and had them writing interactive programs by the end of one day. In this session, this surprisingly powerful language will be introduced and we will go through the inductive lessons the presenter did with his students.

Making the Stage a Political Space 
Lizette Dolan, Dean of Equity and Inclusion


The presenter will share her eighteen years of experience fusing dance, drama, history, and education. She will share practical and effective ways to further the missions and visions of our schools through the performing arts. Ms. Dolan is a trained dancer and actor, received a BA in Dance, and a minor in Drama from UC Berkeley, has danced with several Bay Area dance companies, with Harvard Radcliffe, and has choreographed and taught extensively within independent schools and in small Bay Area theaters.

Gay Pride, Gender Outlaws and Radical Love — Teaching GLBTQ History in High SchoolUnity Day
Will Grant, Humanities Teacher

For the past four years, The Athenian School has been offering a gay and lesbian history class as well as integrating GLBTQ history into our core history classes. The class has had a profound, positive impact on our school. We’ll show how teachers can integrate gay and lesbian history into their courses in ways that are relevant for all students, not just students who identify as GLBTQ . We’ll offer our lessons learned about teaching GLBTQ history as well as sources you can use in your classes. The workshop will have an open discussion to develop strategies for teaching GLBTQ history, in your schools.

Karla Brundage Presents at American Book Awards

The Before Columbus Foundation, in partnership with C-SPAN, honors a select group of authors annually for “outstanding contributions to American literature.” This year, Athenian Humanities teacher Karla Brundage was asked to present the award to Rob Nixon for his Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Karla, an author herself, introduced Nixon: “Nixon has created a singular, remarkably rigorous and inventive style of literary criticism, illuminating the work of writer-activists both in America and around the world whose own powerfully decisive works are for highly original solutions and perspectives on the daunting, often intimidating, prospects of human extinction.”

View Karla’s presentation here or scroll to the right below to see the video.

From Before Columbus Foundation: http://www.beforecolumbusfoundation.com/aba.html

2012 American Book Awards

from booktv.org

About the Program

The 33rd annual American Book Awards presented by the Before Columbus Foundation. This year’s winners are Annia Ciezadlo, Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War, Arlene Kim, What Have You Done to Our Ears to Make Us Hear Echoes?, Ed Bok Lee, Whorled, Adilifu Nama, Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes, Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Shann Ray, American Masculine, Alice Rearden (translator) & Ann Fienup-Riordan (editor), Qaluyaarmiuni Nunamtenek Qanemciput: Our Nelson Island Stories, Toure, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now, Amy Waldman, The Submission, Mary Winegarden, The Translator’s Sister, and Kevin Young, Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels. A Lifetime Achievement Award is given to Eugene B. Redmond, poet and professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. This year’s American Book Awards were held at the University of California at Berkeley on October 7, 2012.