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Athenian Blog & News

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Student Spotlight: Ryan Kang '23
November 11, 2022

Throughout his childhood,  Ryan K. ’23 took classical piano lessons. He was quite an accomplished classical pianist when he discovered Jazz as a 9th grader in Athenian’s Advanced Ensemble and Jazz Combo class. Jazz and improv spoke to Ryan in a way classical music never had. Unfortunately, in March of 2020, his first year as a member of the Jazz Combo, was cut short. Music, especially an ensemble involving wind instruments was out of the question in the early days of the pandemic. Outside of Athenian, students were feeling the loss of music too as many private lessons and school music programs were put on hold.
That summer, COVID restrictions continued. Never one to sit still, Ryan enrolled in a youth entrepreneurship program. Listening to family friends lament about the loss of their children’s music lessons during COVID, he came up with the idea of providing online music lessons that he then parlayed into his summer program project. This project blossomed into what Ryan fittingly named Meaning in Music, a program that brings music lessons to elementary school-age students online and free of charge. Now, two years in, Meaning in Music is a registered LLC and in process of becoming a fiscally-sponsored nonprofit. 
The organization is run by more than 20 volunteers–all Athenian students–with Ryan serving as the “executive director,” coordinating lessons, doing intake interviews with prospective students and families, and forming partnerships to bring music to students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to music lessons. “Once we formalize our partnership with a fiscal sponsor [Oakland Fund for Music], we’ll be able to connect with elementary schools in Oakland,” says Ryan. Up until this point, most of the students have come through parent Facebook groups and word of mouth. In fact, on the very first day of advertising the program in the summer of 2020, Ryan got 20 responses within the first few days of the Facebook post. “We want to reach more students,” says Ryan, and he thinks Meaning in  Music fulfills  a very specific and unmet need. “The program has been so successful because it focuses on connecting students to music they enjoy and teachers they can relate to,” explains Ryan. Ryan credits Athenian and music teacher Nora Free for igniting what he knows will be his lifelong love of music.
Ryan estimates they’ve provided 800 hours of lessons. His Athenian classmates and fellow volunteer music instructors have taught piano, vocal, drum, saxophone, guitar, and even ukulele lessons. Katie ’24, has been a Meaning in Music volunteer–flute instructor–since the start of the program.  She is quick to point out that she has gained as much as she’s given through this experience. “It has been one of the most rewarding service experiences that I’ve ever had…I think working with kids, especially elementary schoolers, teaches you a lot about yourself. Genuinely, I don’t think people, especially high-schoolers, realize how much there is to learn from kids because we assume we already know it all, having just grown up ourselves.”
Ryan is the first to acknowledge how much founding Meaning in Music has given him too. “I’ve learned something every step of the way; from building a website, marketing, interacting with students and their parents, and the process of forming a business or 501(c)3 nonprofit.“ He is committed to keeping the organization going next year when he goes off to college, and is already transition planning. Ryan is confident that the 10th and 11th graders involved in the program now, will be ready to step up and take the lead on the running the organization. As for his own involvement, Ryan plans to stay involved with what he considers the most rewarding part of the experience–sharing his love of music with kids.
Faculty Spotlight: Shivani Savdharia
November 2, 2022
After seven years at a single-gender middle school, Shivani Savdharia was ready for a change and leaning towards working with older students and in a coed setting. She was particularly interested in 6-12 schools where she’d be able to support students' transition from middle to upper school. The fact that Athenian was a 6-12 school all on one campus, was appealing. It was her visit to campus though that truly informed her decision to join the Athenian faculty this fall.

What were your impressions of Athenian during the interview process?
“Amy [Director of People and Culture] and Howard [Math Department Chair] were such amazing hosts–they checked in with me throughout the day and really showed an interest in my experience of the school,” says Shivani. Their curiosity about her professional interests, experience, and their genuine concern for the quality of her visit, made an impression. “I also felt an immediate ease with Meadow, [Assistant Head and Head of Upper School] who took a break from her day to meet me and walk me around campus. Having a walking interview really helped me feel comfortable to ask questions that may not have surfaced in a more formal interview setting. She also showed me where faculty and administrators live on campus–another unique aspect of Athenian.” Shivani adds, “I had two of my former students in the demo class [part of the faculty interview process] and I was able to see how much they’d grown since middle school–a testament to Athenian.” 
What surprised you most during your visit/interview?
“There was a humbleness about Athenian that surprised me,” says Shivani. Having learned about The Athenian School from afar, she’d noted the school’s commitment to environmental stewardship and academic rigor; coming to campus gave her a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what that looks like at Athenian. “I was immediately struck by a sense of familiarity. I noticed the open space, trees, and  trails. As students toured me around campus, they each shared their favorite place…it was apparent that learning happens in different pockets here, not just in the classroom.” She adds, “it was clear to me that the heart of this place isn’t the things, it is the people. Sure, there are some nice new buildings, but the school doesn’t chase the shiny objects, it really showcases the people that make up the school.”
What surprised you most once you started at Athenian? 
Shivani was quick to point out the strength of Athenian’s international community. Though she had read about it online, it took being here to really understand that aspect of the school. “I was surprised by the international community. As someone who travels a lot, who is from an immigrant, multicultural and multilingual family, this was a nice surprise.” Shivani was quick to get involved. She is the faculty sponsor for the South Asian Student Affinity Group and will be attending the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (POCC) later this month along with a cohort of Athenian faculty and staff. She is also eager to parlay her experience and background into supporting Athenian’s international students in the classroom and eliminating some of the obstacles for non-native English speakers in particular. Shivani notes, “there is a real desire for teachers and others at Athenian to recognize their bias and blindspots and people are really open to growth, even if they are not there yet.” She looks forward to joining the school’s professional development committee to train as a peer facilitator for the faculty’s upcoming work with Dr. Liza Talusan, author of The Identity Conscious Educator: Building habits and skills for a more inclusive school.
What are your hopes for the year and future years here at Athenian?
“I’d like to find ways to spend more time with colleagues,” says Shivani. Coming from a much smaller school, she was looking forward to connecting and learning from a much bigger team of colleagues across disciplines and divisions. The start of the year at an entirely new school has kept her focus on developing rapport with her students and with her Upper School math department. It is hard to find time for the adults on campus to collaborate with so many demands on the daily schedule–a perennial challenge at most schools. Looking ahead, she would like to connect more with student interests beyond the classroom -- in athletics and in the arts -- and, similarly, looks forward to building relationships with her colleagues throughout the school.  
Any other final thoughts or observations about Athenian?
“Athenian is a place that has values, where teachers are really seeing every single student. You can tell that when you walk around campus and in how students greet their teachers–by their first name–there is an informality that is comfortable and full of mutual respect.” She adds, “Athenian students say thank you to me at the end of every class! A true, genuine thank you!”
Student Spotlight: Sonya Surapaneni, Class of '23
October 20, 2022

“My internship with Youth Homes showed me a different path to making a difference. I worked behind the scenes on a lot of little projects that contributed to a big cause and real-world change.”