Monotheism Day: Visiting Houses of Worship

Bringing their Social Studies lessons to life, the 7th grade spent a recent Friday exploring houses of worship of the three major Monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  They met with religious leaders at each temple and church who shared with the students the basic tenants of the religion.

As 7th grade is the year many Jewish young people come of age with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah service, it so happened that one student was going to have her Bat Mitzvah that weekend.  As the students were looking at the Torah (the holy scripture), the Rabbi invited Sydney B. ’21 to read her Torah portion.  With encouragement and a blessing from several boys–Ethan B., Matthew W., and Bernie B.–who had already completed their Bar Mitzvahs, Sydney read from the Torah in front of her class.  This bringing together of the personal and the educational in front of one’s classmates was a powerful experience for all the students.

Building Rome in a Day

by Lauren Railey, Head of Middle School

Rome5This fall, as part of their study of ancient Rome with Sven Miller and Matt Zahner, students investigated the impacts of the great ancient civilization on modern history: roads, sewer systems, the calendar system, central heating, and more.  This year, students had the opportunity to physically construct for themselves many of the city structures the Romans pioneered.  

In small groups, the students researched, designed, and created either a Roman shoe, an aqueduct system, an arch, or a model Roman city.  With the help of Maker Studio expert Lori Harsch and several Upper School students, the seventh graders spent a few days in the Maker Studio learning how to use tools they had never used before to recreate various aspects of Roman life.

FullSizeRenderSven Miller, one of the planners of the day, described three anecdotes of student groups applying their knowledge and solving problems in the course of their building.  One group who was working on building a model Roman city began by researching the types of structures a Roman city would have.  They quickly found many CAD files that they could print on the 3-D printer or laser cutter.  However, they encountered the issue of scale.  Some students, eager to see their city come to life, sent CAD files to the printer and saw enormous models of a coliseum being printed next to a tiny model of a library.  Realizing the problem, they had to decide as a group what a millimeter would equal in their model world and then use their math skills to scale the CAD files to print at the correct size.

An aqueduct group was given the task of crossing a culvert up on the hill by the baseball field.  They brainstormed in the classroom before they realized that they needed to go walk up the hill and look at the culvert directly to measure it in real life.  They created an inverted trapezoid and used their geometry skills to figure out the correct angles to build an aqueduct that could cross the culvert.

Finally, one of the arch groups realized that the central problem in building the arch was determining the correct angles for each piece of the arch.  They began by measuring a model of an arch and tried to copy it.  That led them to realize they would need to use geometry to figure out the supplementary and complementary angles.  Using trial and error, they determined that they needed to have an odd number of blocks with a central keystone for pressure.  They did calculations and determined that 9 blocks yielded the most workable numbers.  They then made the cuts in the blocks in the Maker Studio using the measurements they had calculated.

All in all, the students engaged in a challenging, hands-on variety of activities that engaged their minds and bodies as they “built Rome in a day.”


Middle School Robotics Teams “Trash” the Competition

by Lauren Railey, Head of the Middle School

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

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

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

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

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

Dia de Los Muertos, Rodan, Panathanaea, and Coding!

Pacific Worlds Exhibit copyby Lauren Railey, Head of School

Due to a long weekend mid-October followed by two weeks of conferences, Middle School students had not participated in a Focus Day since October 9. However, on Friday, November 6, students participated in exciting Focus Days that connected deeply to our curriculum in the Middle School.

Eighth graders enjoyed off-campus field trips based on their languages of study.  Spanish students toured the Dia de Los Muertos exhibit at the Oakland Museum. In addition, they had the opportunity to visit the Pacific Worlds collection, where they viewed artifacts and participated in hands-on activities that connected back to their sixth grade social studies unit on Polynesian Cultures.
Stanford 3 copyStanford 5 copyFrench and Chinese students traveled to Stanford to visit the Rodin exhibit and toured the French and Asian exhibits at the Cantor museum on the Stanford campus. The docent leading the French students spoke entirely in French!


Seventh graders participated Panathanaea, a culminating unit for Ancient Greece in which students broke into various city-states, dedicated altars to their patron gods or goddesses, competed in Athenian’s own version of the OlympiPanathanaea 3 copyc games, prepared Greek food, and were challenged by Plato’s ethical dilemma of the Ring of Gyges. Lastly, our thespians performed Aeschylus’ tragedy The Oresteia for friends and family. On to Rome: Carpe Diem, as they say!

Sixth graders spent part of the day learning Scratch programming (a first experience with coding for many of them) and created their own animation sequence. They also worked on pattern recognition skills and developed their own patterns to try to stump their classmates and teachers. Learning how to code helps students develop a different set of analytical reasoning skills that can be applied in both the classroom and the tech world. Students will have further opportunities for programming in various electives and future Focus Days.Scratch copy

A Pumpkin Patch in the Middle School Library

by Jenny Staller, Middle School Librarian

All students who came into the Middle School library this week got to enjoy a very special Halloween treat in the form of our first-ever literary pumpkin patch. Students were invited to decorate a pumpkin based on a favorite book or character from literature and bring it into the library, where they were put on display for all to enjoy. At the end of the week, the Middle School’s Library Advisory Board voted on winners for each grade, which was an agonizing task considering the amount of talent and creativity that was on display. Winners received Amazon gift cards (and bragging rights), and all participants got Halloween prizes for their hard work.

This activity combined students’ love of reading and books with artistic expression, and it was a pleasure to see how differently students interpreted the book-inspired theme. Some students chose to illustrate a favorite scene from a book, others made their pumpkins into characters, and a few even recreated a book cover they loved. Each pumpkin was completely unique, and students used a variety of materials in their creations, including pipe cleaners, marshmallows, feathers, construction paper, and felt. Because of their tremendous efforts, other students flocked to the library every day before school, at break, and at lunch, to talk about the pumpkins and the books that inspired them. The pumpkin patch included the entire Middle School community–one parent even commented that her whole family got in on the fun and created pumpkins together based on the book theme.

This was a fun event for students and staff, and it hopefully marks the beginning of a new Athenian tradition!

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

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

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

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

First Middle School Focus Day

by Lauren Railey, Middle School Head 

The school year is officially underway! On Friday, despite the heat, middle school students enthusiastically participated in a variety of activities across the grade levels during our first Focus Day.

Eighth graders participated in a survival skills crash course on Robinson Crusoe Day. Students engineered their own telegraph lines and communicated with each other using Morse Code, made solar stills to recover water, and used pulleys and levers to rescue a teddy bear trapped under a tire filled with 200 pounds of weight. In the afternoon session, they practiced using a grapple hook to make a water rescue in the pool.

Seventh graders spent a day engaging with Scratch programming. Students learned basic coding in the morning and designed and brought projects to life in the afternoon. Programs that students developed included original video games and animation clips. It was a first experience with computer programming for many of our students.

Sixth graders kicked off the year by participating in our annual Equity and Inclusion Day, designed to foster tolerance and inclusion. In a variety of workshops, students identified and challenged cultural assumptions and stereotypes, and even wrote song lyrics with messages of hope. The day ended with time to relax and enjoy new friends in the swimming pool.

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.

Studying Physics at Great America

By Daizy Asaravala, Middle School Science Teacher

The principles of physics came to life as California’s Great America amusement park was turned into the world’s largest classroom. Eighth grade students experienced the laws of physics and made calculations and observations on speed, acceleration, velocity, force, inertia, potential and kinetic energy. They discovered how math and science applied to amusement park excitement during a new Focus Day: Physics, Science, & Math Day at Great America.