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The Athenian School (Danville, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > The Athenian School



Nov 2012

My son is now a 9th grader at the Athenian School. He entered the middle school at the beginning of 7th grade after seven years at Park Day School in Oakland. I wasn't sure how the transition would be for him, but I feel as though our family absolutely made the right decision. His transition went something like this: On the day before shool started, I was sitting with him on a bench waiting to go to an orientation meeting. (As a side note, the campus is spectacular! He takes the bus from Rockridge BART and loves it.) A boy walked up to my son and said, "Hi, my name is Daniel. Are you new here? Would you like to come and sit with us?" He pointed to a group of five or six other boys. My son walked over the group and introduced himself. That was his transition to middle school.

Athenian's academics are first-rate. I feel as though my son was challenged, but in a very positive way. The teachers and staff keep really close attention to what the students are doing, both academically and socially-emotionally. There was a comment about no teacher/parent conferences past the first year, but we did have a wonderful conference with all of our son's teachers and the Head of the middle school. He was in 7th grade. Every child who is new to Athenian has a conference with his/her parents and teachers. It is an invaluable look into a child's middle school life.

The Middle School offers an amazing weekly event called "Focus Fridays." On Focus days, there are no academic classes. Instead, the students spend the day on a field trip, on a collaborative project on campus (for example, measuring the volume of the swimming pool), or participating in activities that coincide with the current curriculum. Greek Day and Mock Congress are two such events. The kids and the teachers dress in costumes, and they share an amazing hands-on experience that mirrors the academic work they are doing.

As the parent of a Latino child who lives "on the other side of the tunnel," I cannot praise Athenian enough for its ability to hold students and help them thrive at an often-difficult time in their lives. To see an 8th grade boy standing alone on stage belting out songs from "West Side Story," (an annual tradition at the end of their 8th grade year) speaks volumes to me about how confident and willing to take risks the kids are. To me, it was nothing short of amazing..

My son is now in the Upper School at Athenian and could not be happier. School is the center of his Universe. He has friends he will have for the rest of his life. He ran cross-country this year and had never been a runner before this fall. We love Park Day School and feel as though it provided him with social and emotional skills he will use for the rest of his life. Athenian includes the best parts of Park along with excellent and challenging academics in one of the most beautiful campus settings on the planet. Pleased Parent of an Athenian


Recent experience with Athenian Middle School?

April 2012

My husband and I chose Athenian for our 6th grader, based in part on the many people (graduates and parents) we'd talked to who absolutely raved about it. After a bit less than a year, we're not as impressed as we'd expected to be, though we're not sure we really have good information. As with most middle schools, parents don't help in the classrooms, so we don't get a first-hand idea of what goes on, and we happen to have a kid who isn't great at discussing the details of what happens in class on a day-to-day basis. We have met one parent who had attended Athenian and loved it, but whose child had a nothing-special kind of experience there recently. That parent thought the change might be due to a recent transition in leadership and the accompanying departure of many long-time teachers. I'd appreciate hearing from current or recent Athenian parents or students about their experiences and opinions, including any insights you might have about what kinds of kids Athenian might and might not be a good fit for. The tuition is a struggle for us and we're trying to make a decision about next year. Thanks. What to do?


We have kids in middle school at Athenian and I feel like I could have written your letter. The former middle school head was stellar, and I am not feeling that way about the replacement. There is no parent teacher conference after the first year. A couple of teachers seemed pretty weak. There have been some great things about middle school at Athenian, like some Focus Fridays, and most of the teachers have been good. However, the level of communication between the middle school and our family has been very weak. Sadly, the school has not seemed interested in feedback from us. I would be happy to discuss our experiences and decisions off line.
Oct 2011

Re: Middle School for son with advanced math & science
You should look at The Athenian School out in Danville. They place kids in math based on ability, not by grade level. They are a 6-12 school, and definitely have 6th graders in Advanced Algebra, Geometry and higher. I don't know how they will address his ability in science, but you could discuss that with the school. There is a bus that has stops in Berkeley and Oakland, so you don't have to drive out there every day. It's an amazing school in many ways, their math placement policy is only one great aspect. Athenian Parent


Dec 2010

Re: Middle Schools - Visited Several - Perceptions
If you're looking for academic rigor, and a place where your son can choose electives, you should look at The Athenian School in Danville. Their academics are fantastic, and kids are placed in math by ability, not by grade. There are 6th graders taking Advanced Algebra for example. They offer three languages, integrate the coursework, have a variety of electives, and their emphasis, unlike most of the other private (and public) schools is on learning. So many of the schools care only about academics and achievement. Athenian educates the whole person. There is a bus from Rockridge Bart that many students from Oakland/Berkeley take every day, so don't be put off by the drive. My daughter is thriving in the rich environment Athenian offers. Happy Athenian parent


March 2010

Hi - our daughter is heading to Athenian next year as a ninth grader, which we are all very excited about. She just shared with us that the only thing about Athenian that concerns her is her participation in the Athenian Wilderness Experience in her junior year. We would so appreciate hearing from families whose kids have participated in AWE. I'd like to give her some feedback from other Athenian students who have been through this program so that she doesn't have to spend her time dreading what's down the road, but can instead enjoy the wonderful education that Athenian has to offer. Specifics would be great (where they were, how long they were gone, what they learned, any hardships, epiphanies, long- lasting value, etc.) Many thanks. Heading to Danville


My daughter did AWE last year in Death Valley. It truly was one of the high points of her Athenian experience. In fact, she chose to participate again this year as one of the logistics coordinators. Feel free to get in touch if you'd like more info. LH
My daughter graduated from Athenian four years ago. She dreaded the AWE experience and was terrified about the solo. She was in tears leaving for the trip. After a rocky start, she did fine and ended up feeling that it had been a growth experience, though not one she'd prefer to repeat. Feel free to contact me for more info or to put our daughters in touch. Rachel
Our daughter will be attending Athenian next year as an incoming freshman too. I have heard that AWE (Athenian Wilderness Experience) is a life changing event that everyone just raves about. My daughter is no athlete, but I think one of the great things about AWE is that everyone supports and assists everyone else on.

I'd be interested in the responses that you get, especially if they are different from what I have heard.

Anyway, welcome, and I look forward to our girls having a great upcoming year at Athenian! leslee


My daughter, who is not a very athletic or out-doorsy, loved the Athenian Wilderness Experience (AWE) so much that she signed up to be a student leader the following year. That allowed her to experience the high sierras and the dessert. It is an extremely challenging experience, both physically and emotionally, but it is very thoughtfully planned to ensure the students' safety and well-being. The students learn such valuable life lessons, e.g. the importance of team work, self-reliance, respect for nature, and how to be happy with less. It really gives them a positive perspective on life. Please tell your daughter not to worry about it. AWE is still a long way off, and by then she'll be ready for the challenge. mother in awe
The AWE experience at Athenian is incredible! It takes place during one of the most stressful times for students-junior year-and it is a great way for the students to step back and really assess what is important. The leaders are highly trained and completely reliable. I cannot stress too much how fantastic this program is. The students come back with new skills, confidence, and clarity. Even kids who have never camped before do just fine. My son said it was the high point of his years at Athenian (a wonderful school, by the way!). Your daughter will be fine and she shouldn't worry! alumni parent
The Athenian Wilderness Experience is everything the school says it is. Your daughter will get specific training throughout the Junior year and more intensively before the trip. This will be timed whether she takes the Spring trip to Death Valley or the Summer trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As a parent the way I reconciled my concerns is that the school has a long history with this experience and it is the hallmark of an Athenian graduate. If any school knows how to do this, and do it properly, it is The Athenian School. AWE is not a laid back school camping trip, but a life changing maturing experience. My daughter in her core knows that she can accomplish many difficult things because she completed AWE, and is a true ''Athenian''. However it will help your daughter if she stays in good physical shape thru high school, nothing extreme, just stay active. If the family already does not do outdoors walks on weekends, might be a good time to start. As a family we were doing many long walks in the months before her experience just to build up her endurance, personally I miss the walks. a parent of an Athenian alumna
Our daughter graduated from Athenian three years ago and so went on AWE four years ago as a junior. Not only is Athenian an amazing school, but AWE was one of the highlights of her experience there. It definitely wasn't easy but the students are well prepared and carefully monitored yet allowed their space. She went on the High Sierra AWE which takes place in August before the senior year. She made some lifelong friendships, learned much about herself, learned cooperation and leadership skills. They are able to experience things such as rock climbing, rapelling, and outdoor survival skills that she wouldn't normally have been able to gain on her own. She still talks about AWE often and routinely draws upon those experiences in her current college life. If you'd like to talk to me further about Athenian and AWE, please contact the moderator who can give you my contact information. Happy Athenian Parent
First, welcome to the Athenian community! Your daughter is so lucky to be able to go to school in a nurturing environment that educates the whole child in a gorgeous natural environment. You will also have the opportunity to be part of a wonderful community. My child graduated last year.

Your daughter is normal to be nervous about the Athenian Wilderness Experience (AWE) at this point. You can let her know that she will receive training and conditioning before she leaves, so she will feel well-equipped to go before the trip takes place. As you get closer, the school provides more and more specific details. You can email me with questions if you like and you should have received a welcome letter signed by several current parents who will be very happy to talk with you as well.

AWE is about 26 days of incredible sights and experiences that can only be had by hiking in to wilderness country. The students are broken up into small groups and accompanied by high-trained instructors. They get increasing levels of ''independence'' depending on how they are performing. They have opporunities to truly learn about themselves on the eve of applying to colleges and embarking on their life goals. My child is still highly enthusiastic about the experience. Hope that helps...


The A.W.E.as it is called by the students was very valuable to my granddaughter. I thought for sure she would ask to leave and come home. Camping does not appeal to her in ANY way and this is much more than ''camping.'' It is a very hard trek to go through and the individual kids do spend some time all alone. She passed her time alone by sometimes singing, which could be heard by others, although she didn't know that at the time, and she was made fun of about that.

The school is also very ''clicky'' and she had no one in her group that was friends with her nor did they make her feel included during A.W.E. That is something the school definately needs to work on. They have to ''run in'' back to school from a mile or so when they get back. After such a long time with NO showers at all and exhausted she was among the first runners back to school, smelly, very dirty,smiling and crying at the same time.

It is something that all of the kids have to go through and they are put through conditioning training before hand. My granddaughter learned a lot about herself and what she can do if she has to do it and we still talk about her experience two years later. She is away at a great college and is relieved that the students in college are not the clicky, groups that you get in schools like The Athenian School. They don't live up to the way they promote their school. Judy


August 2009

Re: Public vs. private "real life" experience?
I recommend The Athenian School in Danville for consideration. Many people think it is ''too far to travel'' but the program and curriculum are so outstanding an extra 20 min or 30 min commute may be well worth it. Get your calendar out and plan some visits. Many of the schools have parent open houses way before students need to visit. Each school has its own educational philosophy, culture, and set of outcomes. Really look at the range of classes offered. Do they grade mainly on exams, or projects, or a combination? What learning styles are recognized and nourished?


March 2009

Re: A Kinder, Gentler High School???
Our daughter graduated from Athenian two years ago and it was a wonderful experience! She came in as a 9th grader and was a little concerned that about half the class was continuing on from the Athenian middle school and already knew each other (she didn't know anyone going to Athenian). However, this was never an issue. The faculty and staff go to great lengths to ensure that all the students get to know one another and treat each other with respect. There is great diversity at Athenian with students coming from as far away as Vallejo and San Jose, the whole range of ethnic and economic groups as well as international boarding students. My daughter has made many lasting life-long friendships from her years at Athenian. We moved to Moraga with the intention of taking advantage of the great school system there but for various reasons, sent our daughter to private schools ending with Athenian. We and she have never regretted her going there. If you'd like to speak with me off line, I'd be glad to give you more information, just ask the moderator for my e-mail address. Best of luck. Happy Athenian Mom


We are very happy with Athenian. My child sounds like your daughter. Great at science and math, very kind, oblivious to social cues, high achieving academically. Your daughter would find many such kids at Athenian. The environment itself (in Mt. Diablo State Park) lends itself to relaxing as soon as you get there. It is a small, nurturing place where the teachers are expected to build strong relationships with students - and they do. The science learning is very hands-on with lots of experimentation. They are raising chickens in the working garden that raises fruits and veggies for the school kitchen. Many teachers live on campus. It is unlike any other school. There are great academic offerings, but nurturing the whole child into becoming the best person s/he can be is the focus. Athenian Mom
Nov 2008

Re: Which Private High School?
I recommend that anyone considering private high schools in the East Bay consider The Athenian School in Danville. Athenian is not as convenient as schools in Berkeley or Oakland but we are SO glad we chose it for our son. Athenian is a rigorous college prep boarding and day school (grades 7-12) with a beautiful rural campus and a really unique program that emphasizes the outdoors, internationalism, community service, and active community engagement from all students. Most of the students are from Contra Costa (or ''925,'' as my kids call it) but there is a good base of students from Berkeley, Oakland, El Cerrito, Albany, Montclair and Piedmont and a smattering from San Francisco and the South Bay and the East Bay students (who get there by school bus) have a lot of cache with their more suburban schoolmates. I can't say enough about the warmth, individualized attention, and support of the Athenian community which I have observed to be less competitive and pressure-filled than some of the other schools you may be looking at. It's not for everyone but it is the perfect school for lots of kids, my son among them. I can't tell you how many times I've wished I could have gone to a school like this one! He will graduate this year and we will really miss having Athenian in our lives. Athenian's website is athenian.org Nina


Jan 2008

I'd so appreciate feedback from anyone currently attending the Athenian School in Danville, or the parent(s) of any current students/recent grads. Is your child getting the education you'd hoped for? What are the strengths, weaknesses of the school? How is the faculty? What distinguishes Athenian from say, Head Royce or Bentley (other than the obvious boarding aspect)? We're thinking of taking the huge step of sending our daughter there as a boarding student, since we moved away from the Bay Area some time ago and she's missed being in an academically sound, socially rich environment ever since. I understand that most students enroll as incoming ninth-graders, and am wondering if there is a downside to applying as a tenth grader and missing out on that first year of high school with her peers? Any insights into academics, campus culture, social scene, problem areas would be most welcome. thanks!


As someone with a tenth grader at Athenian, who commutes early every morning from the East Bay, here's our take. My son turned down Head Royce and Bentley, which are close to our home. He (and we) perceived a real difference at Athenian. Put simply, they do ''walk the walk'' in balancing both challenging academics and the development of the person as an involved, caring member of the community and the larger world. The campus also feels open, peaceful and close to nature -- which appealed to my son. It is an amazing and supportive school, from the head of admissions to the individual teachers to the dean of the school. There do not seem to be cliques or a strong emphasis on sports, or a differential based on how much stuff you have or what car you drive, as there can be at the other private schools you mentioned. Most sports teams are basically walk-on, there are lots of performing arts and club opportunities for which new students are welcomed, and a transfer student would probably feel at home pretty fast -- esp. if she chose an activity or two to try.

As to boarding, there really is guidance and a supportive faculty presence after hours. (Several faculty have homes on the 75 acre campus.) My son finds the boarding option entirely unappealing, though, because he sees it as mostly comprised of a 'bloc' of international students with whom he has little in common. His loss I think. I am aware of some students in the larger California area (Sonoma, for example) who have kids boarding at Athenian. Good luck with your search. Happy With Our Decision


My son's in 9th grade at Athenian this year. He is not a boarder, but his comment when I asked for his opinion was that any boarder would be immediately embraced (his direct comment was that there was a girl boarder who was the most inclusive and welcoming person around, and that the boarders are a really tight group - not tight as in excluding newcomers, but tight as in getting on really well together.)

I'm just wowed by the place. He applied at 4 other schools and chose Athenian for a very simple reason that really is amazingly perceptive: ''It's how I feel when I stand there.'' Even if all the other places were the same, which they are not, that nebulous and pervasive feeling of wonder that the kids take in from being at the foot of the mountain every day puts them in a completely different frame of mind from kids at more urban schools. How could it not? And with that feeling as their baseline, the learning seems to happen at a whole nother level.

I also want to pass along his assessment of how happy he is at Athenian - this was after about 6 weeks of school. He gave it an 8 out of 10. When I asked him what would make it 10/10, he said ''if I could spend more time there''. How's that for an endorsement? He's a fairly reserved kid, but has made friends readily enough, is getting better grades while working harder than in middle school, and is very happy. We made the right choice.

As to what makes it different - read the website, focusing on the Pillars and Round Square references. They encapsulate a lot of what differentiates it. And do a campus visit if you can! very happy Athenian parent


April 2007

Re: Private Middle School for Nature Loving 6th Grader???
It sounds like The Athenian School in Danville, located in Mount Diablo, would be a great place for your daughter. It is like going to school at camp. Environmental protection and community service are two of their ''pillars''. It has a wonderful, nurturing environment with stellar, meaningful academics. There is a middle and upper (high school). My child started in sixth grade and loves it. There are many students from Lamorinda. They have bus transportation. Go to www.athenian.org for more information. Contra Costa parent


I recommend The Athenian School in Danville, it has bus stops on Shattuck and Rockridge. We found that what Athenian said about itself all turned out to be true. My daughter and our family was treated with a great deal of respect, and support during her four years at the school. Academically it is first rate without being cutthroat. There is a great balance between traditional subjects, art and sports. The AWE experience builds strong adults. The Director of College Counseling Jan Russell is a gift. The campus is beautiful, full of fresh air.

Arrange a visit even if it is not on your list. This is a great school to investigate and compare your choices to: http://athenian.org/admission/ From the website: ''The Athenian School's philosophy is guided by a strong belief in the promise of young people to shape a better world. It is based on a vision; a vibrant educational community that not only offers the core academic subjects - history, English, mathematics, science, languages, and arts - but also teaches young people to think critically and to approach learning with curiosity and resourcefulness.

Athenian is a community that strives to uphold the ideals of democracy, responsibility, and citizenship. Students have an important voice and are challenged intellectually, creatively, personally, and socially. When they graduate, they are well prepared for the demands of higher education and for a life of challenge and purpose.''

claudia


November 2006

We are now looking for private high schools. I have read the old postings. I would appreciate any info concerning amout of homework per night at Head Royce, CPS, Bentley High, and Lick in the high school. Also, I have heard some of the schools are extremely stressful to the poiont of making the kids unhappy or depressed. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
Thankful Parent


I would like suggest to adding The Athenian School to your high school list. www.athenian.org

One of the reasons we choose Athenian is that they have a sane approach to school work. There is no homework over vacations since the students voted this in. Teachers and student peer tutors are available to meet on campus to help students. Teachers also answer email questions. Homework is generally 3-4 hours a night. Papers are usually thematic and 5-6 pages in length. History research papers are 8-15 pages. I appreciate that Athenian teachers are looking for clear analysis over sheer volume in writing. They all seem to be very good at teaching writing as well.

There is generally time in the daily schedule to do homework, there is computer support as well. Students who take many art classes during the day have less study time. Students can take more than one art and/or music class and this helps keep my daughter sane so she brings her homework home. The physical education is also very comprehensive so she stays in shape, there is lots of clean air, open skies, and lots of places to walk.

The social aspect is one of the best, something many people remark about. The students really respect each other, there is low or no pressure to date. The school takes its social ideals seriously and students learn to work supportively with each other. Staff and teachers will intervene if they see conflicts arise or go unresolved. (I really appreciate this. ) Advisory teachers are highly concerned with how well students are forming friendships and find ways to pursue their interests in activities. The Athenian Wilderness Experience has a profound effect on my daughter's self esteem, self assurance and maturation
Athenian Parent


Jan 2006

Re: Boarding school options
Our daughter is currently a junior at Athenian. She is a day student and we love it! She has attended since ninth grade. Athenian teaches to the whole child. They require community service, have a ''no-cut'' team sports philosophy, and there are a lot of theatre arts options. Athenian also offers many student clubs, study abroad options as well as having international boarders on campus. The classes are small and she has wonderful relationships with her teachers. We feel that she is receiving a wonderful education as well as experiences that many children her age don't get. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Leslie


April 2005

Any parents have children at The Athenian School in Danville? I would like to communicate with any parents of current or entering middle school children as well as any that started at middle school and continued to high school. My son was accepted for September entering as a 6th grader. I would particularly like to hear from those communicating from Oakland/Berkeley and those whose children come from a public school background. excited yet nervous Athenian Parent


I'm a teacher in the Upper School at Athenian. I can put you in contact with a friend of mine who has a son in the Middle School. Feel free to email me, and I can send you her email address. As an FYI, we have many students who commute in from the Berkeley/Oakland area (we have a bus that picks kids up in Berkeley and Rockridge). Most of the teachers also come from this side of the tunnel. Athenian is a wonderful school (although I'm obviously biased). I'm sure your child will be very happy there! Stephanie
the middle school is stellar- young committed staff that produces open, confident, and engaged-with-adults kids. the high school has real strengths, but has suffered great faculty turnover in the last two years. kids are upset at the lost of the best teachers and it may be time for new leadership at the top. anon
The upper school at Athenian is a wonderful school and you can be sure that your child will be challenged and happy there. With mostly one notable exception, the recent high turnover of teachers can easily be explained by pregnancy leaves, health issues and sabbaticals. However, there is the troubling premature departure of a dedicated, brilliant, beloved and highly respected teacher. Because of this departure I have to agree with one of the previous writers that the leadership of the high school is to be questioned. anon
Nov 2003

We are finding that we simply can't say enough good things about Athenian and its community. This is also something I find when meeting former students/parents of Athenian. The teachers and administration are extremely professional and caring. The curriculum is very challenging, creative and global in scope. The student body is international and the curriculum offers a strong focus on world culture, current events, and the United Nations through its Round Square affiliation and activities. Science, Math, English, Foreign Language and Arts are first rate. The school draws from a very wide geographic, cultural, racial and ethnic pool. In addition to Boarding students - three daily schools buses run from different points in the East Bay. We live in El Cerrito, and though I do not see her teachers daily, they return all phone calls and emails within one day so it is easy to communicate even complex information. There are regular events which bring all parents and faculty/staff together at the most beautiful country campus in Danville. Most of all my daughter feels included and is making great friends. c e c


Jan 2003

I am a resident of Oakland. Both my Athenian graduate boys now attend UC campuses and think highly of Athenian. I had no concerns about the faculty's teaching abilities. My children got an excellent education and were well prepared. From Athenian's website, the teachers have a bachelor's, many have master's, and some Ph.D.s. I recognize 33 of the 56 upper school faculty/administrators and 8 of 23 in the middle school. Also, the school offers invaluable parent/teacher conferences with parent, child, advisor, and teachers.

As for curriculum, Athenian ensures each student is ready for most four year institutions in the US-UC campus, Ivy League school, or CSU. The Academic Dean sends home a schedule recommendation, including electives. Students have access to honors (many) and AP (9) classes. For the most part my children got the courses they wanted when they wanted them.

Re. socializing outside of school, ''if there is a will, there is a way.'' My son had many friends in the East Bay as well as the ''affluent communities'' around the school. He visited their homes, attended parties, went on outings to SF, participated in community service, sports, and met at school if necessary. It took initiative and use of Athenian's bus service. My son maintains many of those friendships.

Athenian has a balanced budget and does not operate in the ''red.'' Donations help - like at nearly all schools and colleges. The Parents Association sponsors a successful auction and smaller events. I have seen many improvements from this, all making Athenian a better community.

If you WANT MORE OPPORTUNITY for your child to progress and develop, the Athenian is the school. Request an information packet or attend an open house - learn for yourself.

Parent of Athenian Graduates, 1999 and 2002


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