Reflections on a Difficult Week and Our Commitments for the Road Ahead

Dear Athenian Community Members:

Athenian began in 1965 as a school that was fully integrated and coeducational when parts of this country still had segregated schools. Though countless battles in service of equality have been fought and won, the prevalence of stories like those of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery remind us that brutality against Black Americans endures.

Athenian was a safe haven during those early years of extreme uncertainty and national violence, but it must be more than a safe haven now. It must rise to the challenge of training us to be leaders of the equity and justice we champion within our school.

Our COVID-19 response served as solid evidence of our ability to pivot quickly in the face of urgency. We recognize that the anti-racism work we have intended to do within our own community is overdue. To this end, we as a school will recommit to DEIC (diversity, equity, inclusion, cultural competence) with the urgency these issues deserve. The following steps will be our start:

  1. All faculty and staff will read White Fragility as professional development this summer.
  2. Key members of faculty and staff will participate in and support both student-facing and staff/faculty-facing affinity and DEIC work.
  3. We will create virtual affinity spaces to be held outside of the school year, beginning this summer.
  4. The administrative team will do professional development with consultants who specialize in issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural competence. They will work to improve our systems.
  5. The school will mindfully plan and gear more events toward affinity groups throughout the year, while also framing the DEIC events calendar at Athenian to begin with an acknowledgment of our diversity in the fall, build towards inclusion week in both divisions in January, and culminate in a cultural competency seminar at the end of the school term.

I want to assure you all that Athenian stands with you in solidarity with justice and peace. 

With great respect,

Eric F. Niles

Head of School

The Athenian School

Three Class of ’11 Alumni Talk About Returning to Athenian as Faculty/Staff

The start of the 2020-21 school year will mark a happy event: three alumni from the same class, together as staff or faculty on campus. Lauren Dominguez ‘11, former Assistant Dorm Head and continuing Assistant Coach for the swimming and freshman/sophomore basketball teams, and Donald Sherwood ‘11, Swim Coach, will be joined by former classmate, Samantha Bishop ‘11, in the coming year. 

In sitting down to chat with them, the questions were obvious: why did they choose to come back to work at Athenian? And, what is behind the special relationship between the Class of 2011 and the School?

Samantha, who returned to Athenian as a Summer English Language Program (SELP) teacher in 2019, will teach Pre-Algebra in the Middle School in the coming year. “There are so many opportunities Athenian creates to build relationships with students,” she said. “I’ve taught in public schools, where the opportunities just aren’t the same. I’m really looking forward to Focus Days and field trips. This is why I teach. I love the relationships I form.”

A chance to make meaningful connections also tied to Lauren’s decision to come back. “Everything in my life, I can trace back to something I learned or something I did at Athenian. The idea of being part of that experience for a current student is so appealing…Living in the dorms is fun, because I get to know students outside of their academic environment. The multicultural aspect of the dorms was perfect for me.”

Love for Athenian culture also factored into what made Donald a great candidate. Associate Director of Athletics, Josie Chapman, talked about what impressed she and Athletics Director, Darek Cliff, during the hiring process. “Darek and I were immediately impressed by his approach to “being Athenian.” We knew that he would embody that as a coach.”

Though not an Athenian teacher, Aaron Wiener ‘11, also works in education and is a longtime moderator of the Class of 2011 Facebook Group and an organizer of numerous online events. Aaron shared sentiments about the cohesiveness of the class of ‘11 when we talked to him in late April. “Overall, people are excited to be in contact and are liking the events; internationally-based people want in on the action and we’re working around time zone logistics.” 

Other reflections centered on the exhilaration of bridging past and present. “I have loved watching the physical changes of Athenian,” Lauren said. “I also love that so many teachers from my time are still here,” Samantha remarked. “When I saw this during the application process, I figured it was a good sign.”

Finding the Silver Lining

Three of Stephanie McGraw’s Women’s Studies students created this
video to raise funds for women impacted by the pandemic.

By Stephanie McGraw

Like many people, I cycled through the stages of grief repeatedly as I adjusted to sheltering in place; sometimes I experienced denial, shock, anger, and sadness all in one day. I felt overwhelmed as I began navigating teaching my students remotely. How would I keep my students engaged via zoom lessons? Would students come to my virtual office hours? How would I help students who were struggling?

In true Athenian fashion, my students helped me answer these questions as we traversed through our new reality of distance learning. Through honest conversations (and many exit-ticket reflections), I slowly learned how to teach remotely. As the weeks progressed, I realized that the way I taught in the classroom, which favors extroverted students who process verbally, isn’t the best way to reach all students. With the asynchronous modules my students worked on outside of class, I suddenly saw my introverted students in a new light; while they might not necessarily participate in an in-person class, they were the stars of our online discussions. And since more of my student work was conducted in writing than in the past, I realized that these quieter students were engaging with my class on a much deeper level than I had realized. With distance learning, I was able to truly *see* these students in ways I hadn’t before, which has made me re-imagine how I’ll teach once we’re back in the classroom.

Some parts of my curriculum, however, seemed impossible to adapt to online learning. Three students in my Women’s Literature course, for example, were supposed to do a service-learning project with the Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) in SF for their honors project. But HPP closed due to the shelter in place order, so this project was no longer an option. Talking to my students, I tentatively suggested that they just read a book and write an additional paper for their honors project. What else could they do? Not surprisingly, my students rejected this option (though they also wanted to read the extra book—we’re now in a book club together, reading Chanel Miller’s Know My Name). Instead, they decided to still do community service (two volunteered at Monument Crisis Center, and one is going to lead writing workshops for children), and they wanted to raise awareness about the ways in which the Covid pandemic is disproportionately impacting women.  

These three students taught me that they can still do amazing work remotely: they collaborated together online to conduct research and plan their project; they collectively created an educational video about Covid’s impact on women; and they partnered with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project’s women’s shelter so they could raise money to help women in need. Watching these students engage in this project, and learning, daily, from all of my students about how to best teach them remotely, has been the Covid silver lining I’ve been searching for.

To learn more about how Covid-19 has impacted women please Alekhya Maram, Catherine Knierim and Amanda Kang’s campaign page.

A Summer of Service in Uganda for Athenian French Teacher

For most Athenian teachers, the good work they do through the school year doesn’t stop when summer rolls around.  Some teach at Athenian’s Devil Mountain Summer Camp, others go to leadership conferences, and many work on independent creative endeavors.

But one Athenian teacher chose to spend her summer on the other side of the world (for the second summer in a row) caring for AIDS orphans in Uganda.  Mary Eid, Athenian’s Middle School French teacher, is a living example of what we hope all Athenian’s can master: a life of purpose and personal fulfillment.  Mary and her husband will be in Uganda for a month.  Mary’s work in Uganda is in support of Children of Grace, an organization closely connected to the Athenian community.  Founded by Mary Ann McCoy and directed by her husband Mike McCoy, an Athenian trustee, Children of Grace offers “hope to Ugandan AIDS orphans through education, healthcare, and empowerment programs to enable a better future.” Mary was inspired by the organization and its mission and chose to dedicate the only free time she has during the year to serving those in need.

As often happens within the Athenian community, when one person invests their time in an issue, others quickly join in supporting their efforts.  Mary Ann and Mike McCoy adopted a young Ugandan orphan in 2002, Zahara Nakibuule-McCoy.  Zahara attended Athenian’s high school and graduated in 2009.  Zahara’s community service project while at Athenian involved coordinating an Interim trip to Uganda and teaching women about charcoal conservation.  Zahara also took several of her Athenian classmates to Uganda to share her roots with them.  Another young woman adopted by a family local to Athenian will be attending Athenian in the fall.  Additionally, Eleanor Dase, former Head of School at Athenian, is a board member for Children of Grace.  With Mary’s recent trips to Uganda, and the presence of Ugandan students in Athenian’s student body, the ties between our communities continues to grow stronger.

Mary shares the following about her experience so far in Uganda:

I am volunteering in Uganda for 2 weeks with Children of Grace, an organization founded by Mary Ann and Mike McCoy (Athenian Trustee) in 2001 to provide support for orphans in Uganda. Through child sponsorships, Children of Grace funds the education, health and social welfare needs of over 750 Ugandan orphans. This is my second trip here and the friends I made last summer have welcomed me back with open arms.  This summer I am part of a team from Danville and Santa Barbara teaching in two primary schools and running a weekend volleyball clinic for high school students. Yesterday, we volunteered at an infant orphanage in Jinja called the Amani Baby Cottage and we worked on the construction site of their new location.  This was my first visit to the Amani Baby Cottage and it was a touching experience.

If you are interested in supporting Children of Grace, please visit their Getting Involved page.

To learn more about Zahara’s story, read an article from SFGate about her road to success.


Food for Thought: The Athenian School Community Cookbook

The Athenian Parent Association is selling Food For Thought, Athenian Community Cookbook 2012.  Get one before they sell out!  This amazing premier edition cookbook is a compilation of favorite recipes from parents, students, alumni, teachers and staff and it has truly captured the Athenian flavor!

The books were constructed using recycled paper products, are $25 apiece, and can be ordered by sending an email to The book is a great keepsake and makes a wonderful gift!

From the Introduction: “Food for Thought began as an Athenian Parent Association Fundraiser suggestion in the fall of 2011.  The idea was to create a collection of recipes, culinary adventures and kitchen lore from Athenian families and campus events–a cookbook to reflect the Athenian community around the world.  We hopes that Athenians would not only embrace Food for Thought, but also pass along their recipes and stories to create this special cookbook…It is our sincere wish that you enjoy exploring and sharing Food for Thought with friends and family.”

Learn more about the APA here.

Athenian Interim

Every year, The Athenian School community takes a brief break from the packed schedules of academic classes, sports, and performing arts to explore areas of interest outside of the classroom.  In the days leading up to Spring Break, students have the opportunity to travel both nationally and internationally, explore the Bay Area, or learn a new discipline on campus.

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This year, Athenian’s interims included:

International trips: Galapagos Islands, El Salvador, France (MS and US)

National trips: New York City, Ashland Theatre, Disneyland, White Privilege Conference, Monterey Bay Surfing (MS and US), Pinnacles Nat’l Monument (6th grade), Washington, DC (8th grade), and 26 days of AWE (11th grade).

Bay Area: Sites of San Francisco, San Francisco counterculture, Welding, Scuba certification

On-Campus Exploration: Digital SLR workshop, Zen, Sewing, Chinese martial arts, Games, Lyricism, Filmmaking, Basketball camp, Iron Chef Athenian, Earth care and Permaculture

Service and Adventure Trip to the Galapagos Islands

 Learn more about Athenian Interim here.