Athenian Students Visit Pixar Studios

This October, ten Advanced Filmmaking students and their teacher, Peter Tamaribuchi went to visit one of the most successful film studios in history, Pixar Studios in Emeryville. They got an inside look into Pixar’s production process and their facilities. Here are the reflections of Katie S. ’22, one of the students who attended the trip.

When I first walked into the secretive Pixar studios, I was surprised by the familiarity of the place. I was greeted by rolling hills, soccer fields, park benches, and even a swimming pool, making me feel like I had just stumbled onto a college campus rather than one of the most iconic movie studios in history. Instead of the closed doors and endless rows of cubicles I had expected to see, I saw people riding their bikes around the halls, working collaboratively over a cup of coffee, and I felt an unspoken agreement to defy standard work expectations and focus on community.

From the annual scavenger hunts to the daily games of soccer, it was clear to me that Pixar had somehow found a perfect balance between producing incredible films and maintaining a happy, stress-free environment. But while those two may seem contradictory, it’s clear that they are like yin and yang: each essential to the other’s existence.

By focusing so vehemently on a stress-free environment, Pixar is able to cultivate a happy community, where employees can let their creativity flow without the stress and isolation of a traditional workplace. It is clear from Pixar’s unorthodox and obviously successful method that other companies and workplaces should follow its example and focus on the employee’s wellbeing rather than feeding off of stress and individualism.

Beat Boxing with Eric Strand ’16

by Kim Palacios, Associate Director of Advancement, Alumni Giving & Engagement

Athenian was delighted to welcome alumnus Eric Strand ‘16 as a visiting instructor teaching beat-boxing skills to the hOWLers. Strand sings with On The Rocks, the nationally-known all-male a cappella group at the University of Oregon and traces some of his love for performing back to his Athenian roots. This September marked the fourth time that Eric visited campus to lend his expertise to student programs. He has also organized performances of On the Rocks on the Athenian campus. 

Eric’s visit is the latest in a series of alumni/hOWLers partnerships organized by Choir Director Emily Shinkle, whose track record of building two-way relationships between Athenian alumni and current students, and bringing alumni back to perform has been stellar. “I’m always happy to see former hOWLers continue on with singing in college and I love it when they want to come back to share what they’ve learned and inspire our current singers,” she remarked. 

Beyond bringing Eric back to serve students, Emily and the hOWLers have traveled to the Oakland elementary school where Melissa Barry Hansen ’85 is a 5th-grade teacher, teaching them how to sing in rounds, and two-part harmonies. An Alumni Cabaret held in January 2018 brought young alumni back for a vocally-focused variety show. Emily is currently in discussions with a cross-functional team to co-organize a new performance event that would feature a mix of students and alumni. Stay tuned for possible news!

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.

Visiting Artist Exposes Fine Arts Students to Four Printmaking Techniques

by Kim Palacios, Associate Director of Advancement, Alumni Giving & Engagement

Athenian was pleased to welcome Madalena Parreira, master printmaker and set designer, to serve as our 2019-20 Artist in Residence. Fine arts students in grades 9 through 12 were exposed to four new methods of printmaking under her instruction this fall. An alumni-supported Artist in Residence Endowed Fund provides a guest-instructor opportunity for an artist every year. The students’ diverse, personal, and visually-interesting prints made for an alluring display in the Center for Visual Arts (CFTA).  

Madalena was invited as a result of her long-term artistic collaboration with fine arts instructor, Sally Baker, who previously studied at Ar.Co (Center for Art and Visual Communication) in Lisbon, Portugal. Prior to serving as current head of printmaking at Ar.Co, Madalena taught art in secondary schools and colleges in Europe and the U.S., including for the United Nations International School in New York.

The program focused on four techniques. In the two weeks prior to Madalena’s arrival, Sally presented outstanding artworks in each technique and carefully explained what each printmaking processes entailed:

  • Silkscreen. A seventeenth-century method that uses stencils to block the passage of ink through a thin mesh; seen in the work of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.
  • Etching. A sixteenth-century technique that uses acids to etch line and tone drawings onto metal plates; seen in the work of Rembrandt, Piranesi, and Goya.
  • Lithography. An eighteenth-century technique of printing on stones that was widely used to print stamps, maps, and packaging; seen in the work of Delacroix and Kathe Kollwitz.
  • Collography. A twentieth-century technique that involves creating plates from textured materials and printing in intaglio or by roller; seen in the work of the late Cuban artist Belkis Ayon.

Students were able to choose the type of printmaking they would explore within their respective groups; workshops were designed according to their choices. Following Madalena’s arrival, students watched live demonstrations of each step as precursors to developing their own prints.

We are pleased to report that the program was also viewed as a success by the artist herself, who remarked, “It has been an enormous pleasure to spend these days with such inquisitive and talented students. I was particularly impressed with their warm, polite and welcoming attitude from the first day, as well as their commitment and sustained effort and focus in all sessions. I have rarely seen young artists demonstrate such mutual respect and interest in learning.”

Faculty Play Pokémandala Go

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

Haiku About the Center for the Arts

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

Hands oozing in clay
Bodies swirling to the dance
Creating magic

Metaphor made real
Heads hidden among the trees
Student legacies

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

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

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

art lives here always
reflecting what’s in our souls

Clay bust enigma
Dancing acting and building
Magic happening

Methods for Calculating How Many People Can Fit in the Peanut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Land

golden rolling sacred
ground squirrels

So many stories
What’s truth?

Monte mistranslated mountain, thanks invading Spanish.

Blessed abundance
Invaders besieged
Global redemption

Alluding Spaniards; Murrieta’s hideout; inspiring growth.

Devilish beauty; “nothing gold can stay”

Mountain breeze
Our Home

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.

Interim Adventures Near and Far

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

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

DSC08440 DSC08438

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




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

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

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

Walking with the Arlington guards

Walking with the Arlington guards

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

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



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

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia '17)

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia ’17)

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

New Orleans (photo by Jonothon '16)

New Orleans (photo by Jonathon ’16)

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



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

Kitchen Chemistry: making caramel

Making caramel


Fun with liquid nitrogen

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

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

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

Using the lathe

Using the lathe

5th graders driving the robot

5th graders driving the robot

Building styrofoam gliders

Building styrofoam gliders

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

Here they are driving Athenian’s 2012 competition robot.

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

DSC_0347 DSC_0358 DSC_0314 DSC_0320 DSC_0234 DSC_0350

Check out previous interim trips and activities:

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

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

Interim 2013

Athenian Interim

7th Grade China Trip

What’s New in the Art Department

By Drama Instructor Peter Tamaribuchi, Assistant Director Sophie Needleman, and the Art Department

Technical Theater


Props for Seussical which premieres Friday, February 28 at 7:30pm.

Tech Theatre Arts introduces students to the behind-the-scenes workings of putting on plays, concerts, benefits and special events. Student crews focus on scenery, props, lighting, sound, costumes, and production management. They are a part of every event in the Center for the Arts (CFTA) theater, setting up the space and running the shows. Work on the upcoming Winter Musical, Seussical, is now in full swing in preparation for our performances February 28th and March 1st. The student crews are working together creating all the elements of the incredible world of Dr. Seuss!

Distracted Review: A Total Success

distracted1We surveyed the audience and 75 percent responded that the production was excellent. Some highlights include: “The level of acting was outstanding,” “great job with some sophisticated material,” “the comedy was well delivered,” “I loved the story and the acting, everything,” “Just watching the kids put it all on the line was awesome ”

We also raised about $1000 in donations. This is a fall play record and we are so thankful for all of your generosity. This will go to making sure we keep bringing you more quality theater and film that contributes to our Athenian community.

distracted3On closing night, there was a couple who came to see the play even though they had no affiliation to the school. Their 11 year old child was just diagnosed with ADHD and they said that the play deeply resonated with them. We directed them to Jeannine Morales, Athenian’s Learning Specialist, who helped them find more resources for their child. It is so exciting to be a part of a production that can actually help improve the lives of so many of our community members.

Arts, Culture, and Identity: Freshmen Drama

ACI: Drama is the introductory drama class for all freshmen. The class is a beginning improvisation class where we cover the fundamentals like the three rules of improvisation, characterization and storytelling. 

aci dramaThis past semester, we had amazing success with our first two quarters of ACI: Drama. For the first time, freshmen put on their own improvisation shows for a live audience of invited guests. Over forty students during each show saw these classes perform exciting versions of Party Guest, Growing Shrinking Machine, The Bus and other improv games. For many of the class members, it was their first time on stage. We saw tremendous growth in every participant and the buzz among the audience was that they witnessed an impressive display of creativity and courage on that stage. It was so successful that students clamored for more. This spring, for the first time, we will be feature a Spring Improv Troupe with a mostly freshmen group performing. Stay tuned for more improvised brilliance.

Drama Arts Class

script julia

A sample from the class’s original script.

We have had a very talented Drama Arts class this year. Drama Arts is a full-year intermediate to advanced drama class. Budding dramatists have been learning the intermediate skills of performing including improvisation and scripted acting. They performed with the ACI Drama group in two performances and organized the new Spring Improv Troupe.

Their next project is an original film written, directed, designed and acted by the class. After generating many ideas, the class picked an exciting story idea by Julia Plafker ’14 about a teenager girl hacker who discovers that “the singularity” has already happened. The singularity is the moment when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and computers begin to dominate humans. We follow her journey to escape the tyranny of our new digital masters. Filming has begun this semester and we will be proud to present the final film during the Spring Film and Play Festival.

The Athenian School Video Storytelling Project: Pilot Year

filmingThis is the first year of the Athenian Video Storytelling Project. It’s an exciting real-world, project-based class where students write, direct and produce their own documentary films about Athenian stories that aim for professional quality. Films from this class will be featured both in the Spring Film and Play festival as well as the Athenian website. The class spent last semester training in film technique as well as researching ideas for their films. Now, they are in production, interviewing Athenian students, teachers and other community members, filming events and diving deep into their subjects: Athenian pillar of democracy, Athenian Wilderness Experience, ceramics and 3D art, humanities and the Darfur Benefit Show, the boarding experience, A Journey from Public to Private Schools and athletics and our soccer team.

Call for Volunteers

Extra support from parents in terms of donations and volunteering always makes our productions run extra smoothly. We are always on the search for parent volunteers and donations of food funds specifically. For anyone who is interested, please contact Sophie Needelman our Assistant Director and Parent Coordinator at!

Save the Date

seussicalFeb 28 and March 1: Seussical the Musical at 7:30pm

April 25: Faculty and Staff Talent Show West Side Story at 8pm

May 9: Spring Arts festival begins featuring art exhibits all over campus. Play and Film Festival at 7:30pm

May 15 and 16: Spring Concert at 7:30pm

May 17: Cabaret at 7:30pm

Migrants, Aliens, and Nomads: Exploring Identity at International High School

more flagsOn Thursday, September 25, Lisa Haney’s two Migrants, Nomads and Aliens seminars went to International High School in North Oakland, had lunch at a traditional Korean restaurant and then went into San Francisco to see the Migrating Identities exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  At the high school, students interviewed recent immigrants from an art class at the school, they shared flags they had made in a recent art project about immigration, then mixed groups of students created drawings based on what they had in common. The following short essays are compilations of student reflections on their experience.

On Immigration

Daniel, Azmat and international high studnetsDuring our field trip to Oakland International High School Azmat and I had the opportunity to interview two students, “Ahmed” and “Aricela” [from Yemen and Guatemala]. I interviewed a 15 year old boy from Togo named “John”, and “Josefina” a 15-year-old girl from Guatemala. I learned that both of them came to the US in order to have a better life and good education. I asked them what “better life” means to them, and they said it means they have a good education, a good job, so they can support their own lives. Josefina seems disappointed by the reality that she still does not enjoy as much freedom as she expected to do before coming to the US. Ahmed’s expectations and pre-conceived notions of the country led to some difficulty when he came to California.

Kelia Human and Naomi AhnNihal Shah Amanda Wu Haley Carter

“Alejandro” from Mexico shared that language has been the most challenging for him after he arrived to the U.S. Not until we visited Oakland International school, I realized how much myself have accomplished in a foreign country. Seeing the students today in the school is just like looking back to myself two years ago. I felt the responsibility to facilitate the conversation since this is something I have been through. “Sameer” [from Yemen] said he wanted to communicate and get to know other countries’ culture and also practice his English more by talking to other people. I think that’s awesome because I used to think that new immigrants tend to stick with “their people” more than come out of their comfort zone to adventure new things or make new friends. The most interesting thing for me was when we all found out that we wanted to be in the health field when we grow up. We all had a desire to help make people healthier and feel better.

more chalk drawing

chalk drawing

On Identity

I am a “hybridity” of the Chinese culture and American culture. I have to be more like a Chinese around my Chinese friends while I have to be more American to be assimilated in the dominant culture in the US. As an immigrant and a hybrid, I have to define who I am and where I actually belong. However, I don’t want to define myself as only Vietnamese because I also have Chinese blood in my veins and now I acculturate American culture. After seeing [Saya Woolfalk’s] artwork, I want to come up with a new description about myself, my identities. While talking to Ahmed and Aricela I felt my perceptions and stereotypes about where they came from began to wear away. I began to realize how limited my world view has been. 

Poetic Reflection

Chimera from the Empathics series by Saya Woolfalk via YCBA

I am a junior emphatic, human-plant being which lives in a magical place where hybridity of all kinds is the norm. Hybridity refers to the process of two different things coming together to form third new things. Surrounded by other senior emphatics, I go on a process of hybridity: having my head going up toward the upper part of my body and growing my second and third heads. In modern days, people tend to focus on one thing. They often want one answer to every question. However, I hate saying only one part of myself to others. How do you hold both identities in this world where we want to focus on one thing? I believe there is no way to define one’s identity with one key phrase. In fact, I have multiple heads that form “one” body and my body consists of multiple arms and legs. People go through a complexity of identity when they confront cross-cultural context because having multiple identities is against the current norm. People always want to find which part of identity has more strength than others so that they can summarize their identity as one concept. Yet, people have to acknowledge the idea of hybridity that identity can be made of diverse, different cultural and social backgrounds. –by Naomi Ahn ’14

Perpetual Peace by Michelle Dizon via YCBA

I am many and I am free. Free to be anything, anyone, anywhere. This universe has four or more dimensions—it is impossible to be flat. I do not understand the desire to be one thing, one person, one identity. Why be one when you can be all? When you’re constrained by the desire for a uniform singularity you can never truly be a whole being. As an empathic I strive to understand and live as many cultures, identity, and beings as I can because the more I am the closer I am to being all of being. For any being, especially one as complex as a human being, to be ascribed to single identity is analogous to describing the seven billion people on this planet as simply ‘Earthlings’, and nothing more. You cannot generalize a world and you cannot generalize a human being. I refuse to be simplified—to be divided is to be conquered. I cannot be hidden. I cannot be denied. I am me and I am we. –by Daniel Atkins ’14

Kibaba na Unicorn by Wangechi Mutu via YCBA

I am Unicorn. I am the women with a feather boa hair. It reaches down my back and flows with the wind. I am here because I deserve to be. I have a commonality with these other women but we are not the same. We are individuals and define who we are. My crown signifies my royal birth. It is a great treasure and I am pound to wear it on my head. I do wonder if the women across from me comes from royalty as well for she also has what could be a crown on her head. Perhaps she and I have another commonality. On one side of me is buckethead. She is a simple women and plain but that does not mean she does not deserve to be here. On the other side of me is blue hair. Her hair is bound up unlike mine. It allows her to work without her hair flying into her face. Her hardships are hard, and more severe than mine. Her face may be beaten and bruised but her heart is strong. That is why she deserves her place here. That is why we all deserve a place here. Here, we are calm and can feel safe once again. With these strong women on either side of me I will not be harmed again. Together we stand and leave our traumatic experiences behind. –by Kelia Human ’14

Reflections by:

Anna Quach ’14

Naomi Ahn ’14

Kelia Human ’14

Daniel Atkins ’14

Amanda Wu ’14