Community Service in the Age of COVID-19: A Letter from Mark Friedman

Dear Athenian Community,

The coronavirus has disrupted many aspects of our lives, including ways that we work with people outside Athenian to create better communities. The needs haven’t gone away—and there are some new ones—so our challenge is to find new ways to work together. Given the circumstances, we are thinking creatively about how to take action in our local neighborhoods. Remember that the coronavirus isn’t the only thing that’s contagious. Kindness is also contagious. 

Below are some ideas for how to make a difference: 

  • Support an elderly neighbor who needs someone to shop for their food and medicine. (If you live in Oakland or Piedmont, there is an organization called Oakland at Risk that matches senior citizens and helpers. They currently need help getting the word out to the elderly. You can print out their flyer and distribute it, door-to-door, in your neighborhood. If you’re willing to support a senior, you can put your name and phone number on the flyer.)
  • Help an elderly neighbor care for their pet by walking their dog and/or getting pet food.
  • Provide online tutoring to an elementary or middle school student.
  • Pick-up trash or clean up a local park. Maybe you can do this with friends if you maintain 6+ feet distance between yourselves.
  • Organize a fundraiser to support an organization.
  • Volunteer at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties. The food bank is considered an essential service; they are still functioning and they need volunteers. You can sign-up online to help at their warehouse in Concord. Please step forward only if you’re asymptomatic and healthy.
  • There is a severe blood shortage because blood drives have been cancelled. To donate blood, you must be in good general health and feeling well, weigh 110+ pounds, and be at least 17 years old (or 16 years old with parental consent). Contact the blood donation arm of the Red Cross for more information. 
  • This link will take you to a variety of volunteer opportunities that happen completely online.
  • The Berkeley Mutual Aid Network matches people who have needs related to this crisis with people who can help. 
  • Finally, this list of organizations in the East Bay that provide essential services shows ones that still need volunteers, though some volunteer requirements may be age- or experience-specific.

People often respond to disaster with incredible compassion. This Is How You Live When The World Falls Apart is an article in last Sunday’s New York Times about the amazing ways people responded to the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.  Rebecca Solnit’s excellent book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster is a longer work at  the same phenomena. Rebecca lives in San Francisco and the first part of her book describes how people here responded to the 1904 earthquake.

Let me know what you’re planning and we will write our own story of caring for each other.

Mark Friedman

Community Service and Round Square Director

Beloved Teacher Trainer Helps New Faculty

Bonnie Mennell has offered confidential training to new teachers for the last eight years.

Beloved teacher trainer Bonnie Mennell completed her final weeklong visit to campus last week, following eight years of meaningful work with new teachers at Athenian. The Vermont-based coach has helped faculty members hone their skills and find their paths, ultimately strengthening the student experience.

Bonnie Mennell exudes peacefulness, and teachers greet her with smiles or hugs as she makes her way across the Athenian campus. 

Over the last eight years, Bonnie has provided confidential training for new faculty. She works on a cycle of meeting the teacher, attending a class, and meeting again to discuss any observations. She focuses on the positive, asking “Who is this teacher, where are their skills? Where are they alive?”

Bonnie finds that most teachers know exactly what is happening in their classrooms, but still benefit from discussing it with a supportive person. 

“98 percent of what’s going on the teacher is already aware of so my work is to really validate their self awareness, their self reflections, and to continue that process,” she says.

Born in Topeka Kansas, Bonnie grew up in a military family, moving to different US cities and later living in England and Germany. Since 1975 she has worked at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. Over the years she has visited California to work with teachers at Athenian and Sonoma Academy, but this week marked the end of her work with both schools as she moves onto other endeavors, including consulting for Snapchat. 

Even as she leaves our campus, Bonnie hopes the teachers she has worked with will be a source of support to their peers and bring into the culture any positive aspects of the work they have done together.  

“My wish would be that teachers who I’ve had the fortune to work with can think about carrying those ways of being with other teachers,” she says. “They can be an inquiring supportive peer to their peers, so can they observe each other and offer inquiring support.”

2020 Kindness Challenge

By. Ananya Goel

The Upper School community is currently participating in a 21-day Kindness Challenge through KindSpring. 

Ten days into the challenge, I have felt that our community has been more present, more grateful, and more generous. Beginning my day with an act of kindness certainly puts me in a happier, more positive frame of mind that stays with me through the day. I hope that everyone is experiencing something similar. Around two hundred members of our community are now participating in the challenge, and I hope others will continue to join.

All participants will receive a daily email with inspiration and ideas, as well as the opportunity to share their experiences with one another and support each other along the way. In the following weeks, there will be some time dedicated to group reflection during Advisory (Friday Feb. 14th and Friday Feb. 21st). The challenge will culminate with a joint reflection to gather feedback and discuss other ways to create community around positive values. 

The idea of the Kindness Challenge is grounded in the belief that when we commit ourselves to cultivating certain values, we unleash a ripple effect that has the power to transform our lives and the world for the better. When we consistently practice these values together, our efforts encourage and reinforce each other in remarkable ways. Thank you for creating the time for students to meaningfully participate in the challenge. I hope you will join and participate as well. Please let me know if you need further information.

A quick check-in with AWE Co-Director Phoebe Dameron

It’s almost time for the spring AWE trip and Co-Director Phoebe Dameron and her team are immersed in planning. Students are preparing as well – those who are not currently doing a sport are in PE classes twice a week and all are gathering clothing, boots and other personal items that they will need on the trail. Athenian provides things like backpacks, sleeping bags and group cooking equipment. And — of course — lots and lots of food.

“We are ordering hundreds of pounds of food and packing hundreds of pounds of food,” Phoebe says.

Meals for 50 students can get complicated with food allergies, but planning ahead makes it possible to meet dietary needs. 

A total of 14 instructors will lead 5 groups of 10 students as they follow previous routes in the Death Valley National Park. “Following the same routes allows us to know what kinds of elements we might encounter and how to manage those safely,” Phoebe says.

There is plenty of work to do in the office, but Phoebe can’t wait to get back outside. “The best part of our job is to be out there, so that’s what excites me every time.”

Athenian Parent Educates Students About Toxic Compound Group PFAS

Dr. Rula Deeb, an Athenian parent and environmental chemist, talked to environmental science students today about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals known to cause a variety of cancers, ulcerative colitis and high cholesterol.

“I wanted students to know we had a person of this expertise in our community,” Upper School Science teacher Catherine Corey said.

Her students are studying both environmental health and human health and the presentation opened their eyes to a toxin in plain sight. PFAS is everywhere, and it’s not going away – the extremely stable compound is found in 99 percent of all American and Western Europeans’ blood. It latches onto proteins, so exposure can come from touching the chemicals but also from eating proteins like milk and eggs. Students were asked to do a PFAS count of items in their homes containing the toxin – clothing, carpets, food wrappings, and even the food they eat.

“So it was really both educational as well as alarming, because it’s so ubiquitous,” Ms. Corey said.

International Night at Athenian – Delicious Food and Fantastic Performances

International Night at the Athenian School was a huge success! An amazing meal followed by fantastic student performances made this a truly special evening. Thank you to all the parents for coordinating a beautiful potluck dinner and to International Student Coordinator Michelle Park and Choral Director Emily Shinkle for facilitating the talent show. Hats off to all the student performers who shared their talents with the school community.

Spotlight on Engineering: The Appliance Dissection Project

A dessert and hot chocolate reception was hosted this week on campus in the Carter Innovation Studio to showcase the work of Upper School students in engineering and architecture courses. Students taking 3D Art and Architectural Arts with Monica Tiulescu, and students taking Applied Science & Engineering, Engineering I, and the Art and Science of Making with David Otten, exhibited a range of projects. 

The appliance dissection project undertaken by the Engineering I class challenged students to understand the inner workings of a colorful range of mechanical devices. 

First, students were asked to individually choose an appliance that felt interesting to them. From there, each student was tasked to perform a careful dismantling of their appliance followed by an identification and study of how each component worked. In order to display their findings, students laid out each deconstructed item on a flat piece of cardboard and integrated written explanations of the purpose and function of each mechanical part into the display.

Items selected for dissection spanned several decades: a vintage radio, an Atari Video Pinball console, an Atari Super Pong console, a boom box, a soldering gun, a Black & Decker drill, a mouse, a color printer, and a digital camera were on display. Seeing the dismantled products side-by-side gave spectators the opportunity to observe key differences among the appliances. For example, the complexity and number of parts contained in a digital camera differed significantly from that found in a toaster.

Apart from the experience of dismantling a complex object and researching its components, learning also came from inviting students to think about what drives complexity in product design. The role that manufacturing capabilities and the availability of technology during any given era was also considered as a contributor to design thinking. Experiential learning is alive and well at Athenian thanks to our amazing faculty, students and the Carter Innovation Studio!

Athenian Students Get into Prestigious All-American High School Film Festival

Following the acceptance of their film into the All-American High School Film Festival, Olivia A. ’22, Frances F. ’22, and Caitlin S. ’22 reflected on their experience of making the film and seeing it screened in New York.

This past March, the three of us participated in the Filmmaking for Change March Term. We knew little about the intersection of activism and film going into this class and, over the course of the month, we learned the art of filmmaking.

Our film, Avoidable Trauma, focused on creating awareness around the effects of gun violence on school communities. The three of us have been passionate about this issue for a while and thought that media broadcasting would be a useful tool to educate others about this issue. We submitted our film to the All American High School Film Festival, which holds screenings in Times Square, where thousands of high school students gather every year to share their films.

Since we didn’t have any previous filmmaking experience, we were surprised to be granted the opportunity to view our film on the big screen, and once we found out that we were accepted, we wanted to do our best to attend. After working through many details, we finally got to go.

We got the opportunity to view so many incredible films and witness many students receive hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of scholarships to college. Even though we ourselves didn’t come away with an award, it was a privilege and honor to be able to attend such an inspiring event filled with many of the world’s future filmmakers.

It was also a good reminder to try something new, even if you have no experience because pursuing your passion through activism can change the minds of many. Activism can occur in many forms and is crucial to shaping the world of future generations.

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.

Athenian Men’s Soccer Wins the NCS Championship for the First Time Ever

With a final score of 4-2, and after a nail-biting second half, the Athenian Men’s Soccer team won the 2019 NCS Championship on Saturday. The unprecedented victory was won on Athenian’s field with more than four-hundred spectators holding their breath. The campus was packed with scores of students, dozens of alums, and a healthy showing of supportive faculty; Owls fans were deep, and “The Nest” was on fire.

The team was up 2-0 at half time, with a fast goal from striker Eiki H. ‘21 and an aggressive finish from Fraser C. ‘20. Matt B. ‘22 secured a comfortable third goal early in the second half off a header. When the opposing team caught up with a quick two goals, things were looking tense. The Owls persevered and held their ground defensively with a strong line led by Nathan Mc C. ‘21, and Rushil R. ‘20.  It was the amazing ball passed by Rabee H ‘20 that Eiki H. ‘21 put into the back of the net that secured the victory.

Overall, it was a great season for the Owls, who only lost a single game and won the BCL League Championships outright. They went on to become league tournament champions and got the number one seed for NCS, which gave them the home-field advantage during the tournament journey. They thrived under the leadership of Coach Matt Zahner, and Assistant Coaches Adam Thorman and Anthony Aguilar ’14, and the full support of an Athletics department led by Darek Cliff and Josie Chapman.