Presentations of Learning

Athenian’s ongoing efforts to focus on mastery as we define student success has led us to experiment with when and how students receive feedback on their learning. In addition to written grade reports, parents are invited to attend conferences with their students’ teachers at the end of the first quarter. Students receive feedback directly from their teachers and then self-reflect with their advisors. Depending on the grade level, students then prepare a presentation of their learning so far this year.

Middle School

Sixth graders don’t receive grades at all in the first quarter. We want students to focus on areas of strength and growth rather than letter grades as they transition into middle school. Instead, sixth graders get comprehensive rubrics with comments from each of their teachers that assess their development across the following learning areas:

  • empathy
  • readiness to learn
  • collaboration
  • quality of work
  • demonstration of learning
  • mindset

Students then reflect with their advisors on the rubrics and develop a Presentation of Learning for their parents. They share strengths and areas of growth for each class and conclude with three general goals: academic, social, and how they will contribute to the community.

Unlike former models in which each teacher would share something about the student, now students are at the helm of these presentations. Students are at the center of this process and have active ownership of their growth and development.

6th graders also have the opportunity to share coursework including their identity shields with their parents. Aa part of an introduction to the tools in the Carter Innovation Studio, students craft wooden shields that represent various parts of their identity. Guided through a number of reflective exercises, students choose areas of identity to focus on in each quadrant of their shield, such as family, social, academic, athletic, religious, physical, or community identity. They learn how to use the laser printer, 3-D printers, and hand tools to assemble their shield and they write a poem or short prose.

Upper School

The Upper School has a similar student-centered model for conferences. All Upper School students reflect with advisors to prepare a self-assessment of what is going well in each class, what they could do better, and what specific actions they can take to improve. In addition to assessing their classes, they examine co-curriculars, social life, health and wellness, time management, and their home life. During conferences, all students in 9th grade and many students in 10th-12th grades present their reflections to their parents and advisor.

By scaffolding the reflection process with written feedback from teachers, in-person meetings with advisors, and student-written reflections, students are central in the evaluation of their own learning. These models encourage students to think creatively about how they can improve with attentive support from the adults in our community.

Senior Story: Overcoming Shyness

Last year, seniors started delivering Senior Speeches at Morning Meeting. This Senior Speech is by Julie Qian ’20 and was delivered in early September.

Julie Qian ’20

A few days ago, my friend and I were talking and he asked me, “What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you?” I could easily respond because there has been this one mortifying memory that’s haunted me for the longest time.

This story took place three years ago, when I was a new 9th grader at Athenian and let me tell you, I was painfully shy. You can ask any senior right now what they thought of me at that time, and they would tell you that I was either really quiet or that they didn’t know who I was because I was so quiet. Besides this, I joined the Athenian swim team even though I was incredibly nervous to go into a sport without knowing a single person.

The swim team has a wonderful long-standing tradition where we have a specific chant at the first home meet of the year. A 9th grader is selected to help perform part of the chant, and for some reason even though I was a quiet little thing, I was chosen to do so. I was really nervous, which only made things go downhill because I completely butchered the chant. I’m in front of my team, the other team, a second swim team, a ton of parents, and some students watching the meet when I just mess up the chant. I thought about this event for quite a few days after.

Me speaking to you right now shows how different I am as a senior now. I’m not sure if it’s clear to you all, but I’m not really super nervous speaking right here. This change isn’t that I used to be shy and now I’m no longer shy, but rather that I’m confident in who I am and the kind of person I want to be. Math classrooms forced me to accept that I’m going to be wrong a lot—honestly, maybe the majority of the time—and it doesn’t matter if the entire class hears me give a wrong answer. In lit classrooms, I was forced to present my ideas even if I thought they weren’t worth hearing. I held more responsibilities running clubs and helping as an ambassador or working on The Pillar newspaper.

This time you have here at Athenian is the perfect time to find your confidence and your growth, in whatever avenue you choose to do so.

To those of you who are really confident, you have the opportunity to be the one to reach out to others in your grade. I hope you haven’t judged shy people to be someone who isn’t worth knowing because some of them turn out to be the wittiest, kindest, and most wonderful people. You’re missing out.

I’m Julie Qian and that’s my senior story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gratitude and Meaningful Contributions

I am particularly grateful for our Athenian community this week. As our neighbors to the north battle unimaginable devastation, Athenians immediately jumped into action, creating supply drives, taking in the displaced, saving animals from shelters, and coordinating a school-wide response. When tragic events happen nearby, Athenian’s founding values of service and community hit home for all of us. I know that it takes a commitment to send your student to Athenian, and I am humbled by how easily and eagerly Athenians extend their commitment to our broader community.

As these events unfold around us, we must remain clear of vision and purpose. Our founder, Dyke Brown, started Athenian on the belief that “intellectual fitness in combination with moral virtue and concern for societal needs and civic responsibilities is the only way to truly educate our young.” I believe in the Athenian mission now more than ever. I see our students and alumni responding to crises in the world by wanting to help, and they know—even the 6th graders—that they can. We must continue to offer an Athenian education because we need young people who believe in goodness, who want to serve society, and who are committed to the well-being of humanity. Brown’s insight from sixty years ago remains true: “This is the kind of person our nation and the world needs, and this is the goal of The Athenian School.”

I am reminded of a poem Dick Bradford often reads in the fall, Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost. Nothing that is beautiful can ever last, as is the devastating case in Napa and Sonoma. Loss is inevitable, and I want to teach our kids that the cycle of life and death reminds us how precious certain moments are, how much we have to be grateful for, and how each one of us can be a shining light in another’s time of darkness.

In the coming weeks, we will be reflecting with our students around many of these themes. We will encourage them to explore their feelings, to investigate life’s injustices, and to lend an able hand. We will leverage the resources of our School to offer aid where we can and to instill a sense of civic responsibility in the young people we educate.

Now, we simply want to ask you to think about what is meaningful in your life and where you can make contributions that support your values. I donate my time and money to humanitarian relief organizations, to support orphans in Uganda, and to Athenian, because I believe in those causes and I want to model for my children how just one family can make a difference. Please join me in reflecting on what is meaningful in your own life and where and how you and your family can make the world better than you found it.

Thank you for being a part of this community. Your children inspire me every day and I am grateful for the energy, joy, and love they add to the world.

With humble gratitude,

Eric F. Niles

Head of School

Bathroom Signs Changed

by Dylan Ratner ’17, originally published in the January 2017 student newspaper, The Pillar

When returning Athenian students arrived on campus this year, they may have noticed that some of the signs on single occupancy restrooms have been changed. An image of a toilet has replaced the stick figures previously used to indicate the gender for which the bathroom’s use was intended. The change came out of the work of a recently graduated student, David Meier ’16, who, upon returning from a visit to a college where all the bathrooms were gender-neutral, suggested to Dean of Equity and Inclusion Kalyan Balaven that the same system be implemented at Athenian.

“I put [David] in touch with [Head of School Eric Niles], and David and Eric went back and forth to dialogue on that and ultimately decided to change all 11image2 of the single-use bathrooms to be gender-neutral,” Balaven said of the process that led to the switch.

To gauge the receptiveness of the community to the change, an UNCENSORED discussion was held in the 2015-2016 Spring Semester on the topic of gendered bathroom signs. There, a significant majority of students voiced their support for a change and so, following the meeting, Meier, Niles, and Balaven worked to select a design for the bathroom symbol, ultimately choosing the image of a toilet.

“Originally there were some people who wanted to use the bifurcated, dress and no-dress stick figures, but then I asked, ‘Well who is wearing the dress? What assumption are we making here?’” Balaven said. “And so we settled on the toilet because it was the simplest to understand.”

According to Dean of Upper School Curriculum Gabe Del Real, the change is also important in that it

reflects Athenian’s values.

“It certainly speaks to the development of moral virtue, the height of which is justice, which is rendering what is due to someone to help them be more complete,” said Del Real. “In terms of the Pillars, this speaks specifically to International and Multicultural Understanding, with an emphasis on ‘multicultural.’”

Del Real also noted that in addition to mirroring Athenian’s values, changing the bathroom signs was also a move that kept our school aligned with current information about gender politics and thus was a natural complement to our forward-looking curriculum.

“I think this change shows the School’s continued commitment to the personal development of individual students informed by the most recent scholarship regarding the distinctions among the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality,” Del Real said.

That view of the change as respecting the multiplicity of people who are part of the Athenian community and evolving attitudes in the modern world is something felt among students as well.

“I think it has been a long time coming with this change,” Zoe Kusnick ’17 said. “We already have students for whom this change is really necessary and important for their comfort at school and I am glad to see we have finally implemented it to a degree.”

Concussed: Learning for Living

 

The moment the soccer ball slammed into my head, everything went white and then black. When I first opened my eyes, a blurry, light, and dizzy world surrounded me. I will never forget that view of the world. – Emma Cottrill ’17

At Athenian, we believe the best way to master academic subjects is to experience their application firsthand. Our academic program resonates and sticks with students because we all learn by doing, by applying what is learned to real world situations. Whether in or out of the classroom, this approach allows our students to incorporate their learning with their living, laying a strong foundation for a life of intellectual exploration and meaningful contribution.

Inspired by a freshmen Interim trip where Emma Cottrill ’17 bonded with classmates and teachers over photography, she continued to study photography throughout her Athenian experience.  Emma’s final photography project created a digital gallery of photographs and reflections on her recovery from a traumatic concussion. Emma begins her piece with the following:

My life changed forever the night I was hit in the back of the head with an over-inflated soccer ball. The impact from the ball caused my head to whip forward. Simultaneously, the momentum forced me to the ground, where my head violently slammed into the turf. Concussion was the immediate diagnosis, but the two-week normal recovery morphed into months. Isolated. Bored. Angry. Initially, I hated that this happened to me, but eventually, I recognized that I could resent the accident or embrace it.

My approach to the world altered after I got hurt. Before my injury, my life was black and white. Numbers and science drove my beliefs, and I required proof for acceptance. However, after my injury, the gray areas became more interesting to me. Less rigid, more whimsical, I embraced the magic in the daily simplicities. I found energy and inspiration in the imperfect.

In Concussed, I photograph all aspects associated with my concussion: the way I see the world, my view of soccer, the doctors, the medicine, my brain, and who I became.

Emma describes herself on her project’s website, “In addition to the creativity that comes with photography, I also enjoy structure and procedure and a rigid schedule. I love my Chemistry and Math classes, and I am a competitive swimmer who is training intensely with a goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials.” Emma’s work reveals a mastery of photographic theory, a comprehensive understanding of concussion science and medicine, a facility with meaning-making, and a great capacity for self-reflection. As a senior, Emma applied her many skills learned through years of scaffolded Athenian experiences to conceptualize an independent, self-expressive project, applying her usual rigorous and creative approach.

This is just one example of what is possible here. Each one of Emma’s 83 senior classmates could tell their own Athenian story revealing how they have discovered “there is more in you than you know.” We could not be more proud of our students.

 

Coming of Age at The American Indian Film Institute Festival

By the Indigenous Gothic Literature Seminar: Lily H. ’17, Julian L. ’18, Bill L. ’18, Nat M. ’18, Jordan M. ’17, Harry M. ’18, Poppy N. ’18, Matthew T. ’18. Photos by Nat M. ’18

The Indigenous Gothic Literature Seminar taught by Andrea Cartwright visited The American Indian Film Institute Festival in San Francisco on Thursday. There, we spent the day viewing films created by different Native American filmmakers, including students from the AIFI Tribal Touring Program Youth Series.

The films tackled issues of cultural appropriation, loss of tradition, stereotyping, and reservations, while simultaneously celebrating varying Native cultures through creation stories and dance.

As a class, our favorite films were two documentaries that focused on coming of age: the first was Ohero: Kon Under the Husk, a documentary about two Mohawk high school girls participating in a four-day fast as part of a coming-of-age ceremony.  We drew some parallels to own experiences on AWE.  The second documentary we enjoyed was Little Wound’s Warrior, which unpacked a recent suicide epidemic on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota through interviews, mainly with high school students.

After our trip, we remarked that we now have a better understanding of the importance of including diverse voices and perspectives in media; for many, the festival’s slogan, “Defending Our Way of Life Through Film,” was particularly resonant.  Junior Natalie MacIlwaine observed: “I can now more clearly and directly see how the media is used as an outlet and way to express emotion of young people, as well as inform and further unify a community that shares similar feelings and culture.”  Senior Lilly Huang noted that: “As people who are minorities, often their voice is lost. When expressing their voices in such creative ways,  I think it really calls to attention what they want to say.”