Our Alumni

Ryan Oberweis-Manion

Portrait of an Alumni
A Parent’s Perspective

When Ryan was 4 years old, my husband and I discussed my concern that he really struggled to remember the sounds for each letter. My husband dismissed my concerns with evidence that he was “just like him” at that age.

At Athena, Ryan saw he was not alone in his struggles.

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By 5th grade Ryan was struggling. He would bring home spelling words and spend 6 evenings of the week learning them. We commended his hard work and did all we could to help but memorizing sequences of letters was not working. Soon, he had started to refuse to do any writing. We learned afterwards that the teacher was using peer editing and he was made fun of during recess for his inability to write. Not surprisingly with that as the backdrop, he had begun to misbehave in school which we knew was not our child’s temperament.

When we found Athena and we signed up as quickly as we could. Ryan attended Athena Academy from 2017-2019. At Athena, Ryan saw he was not alone in his struggles. Ryan was able to see that he was actually very smart and that his dyslexia helped him to think about the world differently. I believe the small class size allowed Athena’s teachers to really create custom benchmarks for the children based on where they were at. Ryan learned to use technology as a tool to help him compensate for his learning differences. He began writing again and we saw his confidence slowly return.

"Ryan is a true success story. At his first parent teacher conference after leaving Athena, I had 3 teachers complimenting Ryan."

As parents Athena also taught us. We learned how to help Ryan manage his strong emotions and how to be there for him when they popped up. Athena also prepared us for how we would need to advocate for Ryan in a post-Athena world.

Ryan is a true success story. At his first parent teacher conference after leaving Athena, I had 3 teachers complimenting Ryan. They said things like “We wish that every child would ask questions and communicate so clearly with us” (self advocacy!). Today Ryan is attending St. Francis and while he is getting grades any parent would be proud of, we are most gratified to see his independence, his good judgment, his kind demeanor towards friends and not least of all, his big dreams.

We never would have thought this scenario was in the cards four years ago.  Athena played a pivotal role in Ryan’s transformation.

Sophia

Portrait of an Alumni
A Teacher’s Perspective

Sophia Kaprielian started at Athena Academy in 2016 in the 5th grade and graduated from 8th grade in June 2020. Throughout her time at Athena, Sophia’s creative spirit made quite an impression on her fellow students and the faculty. Her love of theater was evident and the Athena community loved to see her beautiful Victorian outfits and hoop skirts on free dress Fridays. Her confidence and grace inspires all to break out of the mold and wear (or do) something you enjoy.

Her confidence and grace inspires all to break out of the mold and wear (or do) something you enjoy.

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Sophia is an incredible actress and was in several plays over her years at Athena Academy! From the Peninsula Youth Theater down the street, to hilarious Middle School Plays Disorder in the Court and Daze of Olde, it has been a joy to watch her acting skills improve with every performance.

For each 8th grade graduate, it is an Athena Academy tradition for teachers to say a few words about each student. Here’s a bit about Sophia from one of her teachers.

I’ve taken each letter in your name to describe all the things that come to mind when I think “Sophia” and I think your friends and family will agree. So here they are:

"Your parents were so proud of you and so excited that one day your dad put a protractor in with your lunch!"

S is for super awesome baker! On behalf of myself and the rest of the faculty, I want to appreciate all the baked goods you’ve prepared for us over the years. From chocolate cakes to gluten free cookies, the one ingredient that was always consistent was your thoughtfulness. I could tell it was baked with love everytime. I hope you continue to pour your heart into everything you make in life.

O is for onion stenched miscreant, and other shakespearean insults! For the past couple of years I haven’t seen you without a book in your grasp. Usually a collection of Shakespeare plays or some other title related to them. Your connection to Shakespeare makes sense to anyone who knows you. You share his style of combining sass and class into a creative and unforgettable personality.

P is for perfect handwriting. There’s not much else to say about it. Your cursive handwriting is gorgeous. I’m very jealous.

H is for hoop skirt! You wear these beautiful Victorian outfits because you like them and you enjoy it. But I want you to know that in sharing your unique sense of fashion, you inspire others to explore new possibilities for themselves. Younger students see you on free dress Friday, sporting your hoop skirt with confidence and grace, and it gives them the courage they need to break out of the mold and wear or do something they enjoy, even if they’re the only one. Never underestimate the power and influence of your uniqueness.

I is for incredible acting! I have been lucky enough to see you in several plays over the years! From the Peninsula Youth Theater down the street, to hilarious Middle School Plays, it has been a joy to watch your acting skills improve with every performance. I hope you continue honing this talent, and I will be waiting for a ticket to your Broadway debut!

A is for angles! When you first joined my class several years ago, you made it very clear that math was NOT YOUR THING. Challenge accepted. We started with a geometry unit that was difficult not to enjoy. I taught you about shapes and angles and how to use a protractor and you were hooked. Your parents were so proud of you and so excited that one day your dad put a protractor in with your lunch! We laughed so hard about that together and decided that it must be for measurement emergencies. And the “Emergency Protractor” was born. I always want you to be prepared so I’ve created this emergency protractor case for you, just break the glass in case of a measurement emergency! But really, when you look at this, I want you to remember that there’s nothing you can’t do. Sometimes in life, you may just have to look at a problem from a different angle.

Zooey

Portrait of an Alumni
A Student’s Perspective

Before I knew I had dyslexia, the school I went to just said I was slow and a year behind. It was very challenging. I gradually figured out how my brain works. The whole intake information and then regurgitating it on a test never worked for me. It was always the projects that I really thrived in but they didn't have many of those in 5th grade, so I spent the whole year struggling and thinking that I would have to re-do a grade. It was a tough time.

"That encouragement correlated to me wanting to stay driven on one new project for longer and my attention span increased for things that I enjoy."

Zooey Kirchner

When I started at Athena Academy in 2015, it was very different. They encouraged a lot of freedom. There were way more options. Not just with creating projects, but just being a student. I spent so much time in the makerspace! I remember playing with the PVC pipes and making fun projects.

I remember, specifically with art, I found my dedication there. I spent every year of my three years at Athena on the same art piece. I made these miniature stick figure men and I would plaster them everywhere. My art teacher encouraged me to work on the same project. Most teachers would say take a week or two and then move onto something else, but she encouraged me to expand more, branch off or add more guys here or there. At the end, my art piece was 18 feet long by 4 feet high. That encouragement correlated to me wanting to stay driven on one new project for longer and my attention span increased for things that I enjoy.

"Being a very visual person, it was so much easier to interact with my work. That was important for me to stay engaged with it because I had attention span issues."

At Athena, I remember the original chromebook and I used a touchscreen Microsoft display. Being a very visual person, it was so much easier to interact with my work. That was important for me to stay engaged with it because I had attention span issues. I made my first stop motion animation video at Athena Academy. That’s how I found my love of editing and videos. I spent a whole year on one project that turned into 15,000 photos. Athena was way different than any other school I have ever imagined or asked for. To actually have freedom and feel like I was learning something.

Also, the sense of inclusion in small classes was great. The amount of help and 1:1 time I got from the teachers was incredible. Individual attention to develop my passion, both personal time and 1:1 time to get help when I needed it. Athena Academy has helped shape me into what I have become today.

Today, Zooey is studying at Design Tech High School on the Oracle campus and working for a cutting edge VR tech company.

Victor B.

Class of 2018
Portrait of a Graduate

In retrospect, we first noticed something was amiss in preschool. Was Victor a lefty or a righty? He seemed to use both sides to write but both seemed equally laborious. In Kindergarten, he stayed with the left side so we encouraged it with left pencil grips and lefty scissors and assumed his awkward writing as just a handedness issue and would improve with practice. He kept up with classwork and was engaged and participated in the classroom until third grade, when the writing expectation increased in both volume and content. Tests were taking a long time to complete and homework was difficult.

"The way teachers at Athena teach, I felt I was actually learning instead of sitting and struggling."

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We began the process of testing and ultimately Victor was diagnosed with receptive/expressive language disorder, dysgraphia and dyslexia. It was frustrating for him to be in a classroom all day being taught in one way, only to come home to relearn the material in a way that he could comprehend. It was labor intensive, and was a big focus for our whole family, but we kept it up as it got him through 4th and 5th grade. Middle school loomed. Our prior strategies were not going to be enough and we knew we could not sustain the pace and keep up.

Thankfully, Victor's developmental pediatrician suggested Athena Academy. Victor shadowed for 2 days and came home excited, comfortable and relaxed.

"Not only Victor but our whole family underwent a transformation we could not have anticipated."

Victor was at Athena Academy for all 3 years of middle school. For Victor, the anxiety and frustration of not understanding and being understood was gone. Project based learning gave him the ability to use concepts immediately to practical and relatable purpose. Specifically trained and experienced teachers, smaller classroom size, 1:1 and small group learning meant he was taught at his pace and at his level. The Social Emotional Learning piece was huge. Having the age appropriate support for Victor and our whole family was restorative. A potentially tumultuous start to puberty was smoothed out with open communication and the ability to listen and feel understood.

Victor was at Athena Academy for all 3 years of middle school. For Victor, the anxiety and frustration of not understanding and being understood was gone. Project based learning gave him the ability to use concepts immediately to practical and relatable purpose. Specifically trained and experienced teachers, smaller classroom size, 1:1 and small group learning meant he was taught at his pace and at his level. The Social Emotional Learning piece was huge. Having the age appropriate support for Victor and our whole family was restorative. A potentially tumultuous start to puberty was smoothed out with open communication and the ability to listen and feel understood.

Today Victor is a freshman at our local high school. Athena Academy prepared him for this transition very well, from communication regarding accommodations, testing for appropriate class placement, and by giving him the strategies to advocate for himself and being able to explain his learning differences to others. He is working at grade level for math and English with an English support class. Victor is joyfully playing the baritone saxophone in the marching band and is relating to his peers and teachers with a sense of ease. We are thankful Victor was able to attend a school that met him where he was and helped elevate his educational experience. We would hope every child have the same opportunity.

Sarah B.

Class of 2017
Portrait of a Graduate

Sarah Burnett’s parents remember clearly the time that she visited at Athena Academy. When Sarah came home after the second day she said “I wish I could go back tomorrow, and never go back to my other school again.”

The relief that they felt was immense, to finally find a school where Sarah could heal from the damage done to her self-esteem. Like many undiagnosed dyslexics, she was feeling like she was “stupid” and “the dumbest one in the class”. At last they had found an environment where Sarah felt accepted for being exactly who she was.

Her parents looked at several schools which supported children with language based learning differences, but felt that each was missing a very significant social emotional component that would be integral to Sarah’s success.

Sarah

Sarah needed a different setting, a community that not only understood the very best ways to teach her, but one where social emotional learning was woven into the fabric of every lesson, and every interaction.

She needed a school which would help her explore her gifts and talents, and guide her back towards being the bright, enthusiastic child that she was before losing her confidence. Changemakers, the SEL program at Athena, was just what they were looking for.

After just a few short days at Athena Academy, Sarah found herself wearing her dyslexia proudly, and enjoying school again. Her love of learning and self-esteem were reignited.

"This is where I became the student I knew I could be."

When asked to describe Athena Academy, and the impact it had in Sarah’s life, her parents said:

“It’s a place full of big hearts, sharp minds, and wisdom. Athena Academy has the most amazing teachers to guide students, help them find their strengths, and discover the enormous success they can achieve. The change we saw in our daughter’s self-image was not only desperately needed, but transformational in many other aspects of her life. Athena Academy helped our daughter, and us as her parents. We can’t wait to see the person she grows up to become.”

Sarah’s teachers comment that she has a keen awareness of others, empathy and willingness to reach out to those in need. She has a strong sense of self, showing kindness and patience to peers in times of struggle, often sharing her own experiences.

Sarah attended Athena Academy for four years from fifth grade to eighth grade, graduating in June 2017.

Today, Sarah is at an international school and is flourishing. She is an advocate for her dyslexia, an independent learner, and a courageous, self-assured young woman.

Meet Some
of our Graduates

Ava

Ava joined the Athena Academy in the 6th grade after public school became more and more difficult for her with every passing year. We wanted her to be part of a school where she could thrive rather than fall further behind. The small classes enabled Ava to actively participate in class and stay engaged. The teachers understood her strengths and challenges and helped her grow academically, socially and emotionally. Ava so enjoyed the community of students and teachers that made her feel that she was not alone with her learning differences. As she moves on from Athena, she will take with her fond memories of the teachers, staff, friends and most importantly, her self confidence and self-esteem. We are so thankful we have been part of the Athena Academy.

Ava

"Athena Academy Graduates are ready to take risks, collaborate, and be changemakers in the world" — Athena Mission Statement

Jack

My son's experience at Athena Academy was transformative. When he was diagnosed with dyslexia — rather late, at the end of 6th grade — he had reached a profound low in his school journey, having been treated as if he were willfully underperforming when he knew he was trying his hardest. Coming to a school where his strengths were recognized, and where he learned that having dyslexia is not a negative, but just a fact of the way he learns, changed his course. He regained a love of school and made lasting friendships here. I am forever grateful for Athena!

Jack

"I'm so grateful for the five years I had at Athena, for my incredible teachers and for the amazing staff. I learned a lot over those years but the most important thing I learned at Athena is that I am a good student. I’m a good student and if there are barriers in the way to my learning at school, I need to remove them because I now know that it's those barriers, not me, not my learning disabilities, that prevent me from doing well." Jonathan

Maddy

Madeleine (Maddy) began her year at Athena Academy in February 2014 and graduated 5 and half years later in June 2019. Prior to coming to Athena, Madeleine was depressed and miserable at her former school. Her former school was unable to support her needs academically and most importantly emotionally. Since completing her education at Athena through middle school, Maddy has been able to blossom into a confident and happy person. She is transitioning to public high school wonderfully, she is academically challenged (as all dyslexics are) and it is difficult, but she has the confidence to know how to speak up for her needs and the spirit to never give up. The staff at Athena supported Maddy in sticking up for herself and believing in herself. Since the students are all also dyslexic everyone understands each other and have grown very close. Maddy considers the teachers and friends at Athena Academy as family and still enjoys popping in and visiting.

Maddy

Ben

At Athena, Ben found a like-minded and welcoming community to be a part of during some of the most important years of his life. Because of his comfort and belonging, Ben was able to sharpen his academic and social skills in a nurturing environment where he felt appreciated and respected. The creativity of the students and staff made Ben feel more creative and helped him be more successful at learning. Ben now enters high school with self-confidence and the tools to do his best work while exploring his other gifts. Athena helped Ben be more confident and a happier person.

Ben