Holden High Marks 50 Years with Celebration, Open House

(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Three cheers for 50 years! Holden students show their spirit as their school reaches its golden anniversary L-R: James Barron, Pierre Grigsby-Olson, Walker Cammack, Eve Lyford, Colette Aguilar Udall, and Catalina Alexander.

    To mark 50 years of offering Orinda students an alternative approach to education, Holden High School this month hosts a celebration featuring a premier screening about the school and a reunion of past luminaries.
    A brunch is planned for Oct. 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with an open house until 3 p.m. The first 50 people to register will receive a limited edition 50th anniversary bag.  All events are free.
    In addition to the video screening, there will be raffle prizes and a chance to meet key stakeholders including Holden founder Carolyn Cogan and past school directors, according to Mawiyah Johnson, the school’s marketing manager.
    When Cogan, an Orinda teacher, founded the school in 1969 there were just seven students and classes were held at an Orinda pool house. Shortly thereafter, Orinda Community Church partnered with Holden and has hosted the school since the early 1970s. 
    “Holden has been offering a revolutionary approach to education since its founding. In the early 1980s, it integrated weekly 1-on-1 counseling sessions in the curriculum and in 2008 launched its ‘Transition Program’ that empowers students toward a successful post-high school life whether it be college, internships or jobs,” says Johnson. “Holden was founded on the belief that children learn best in a small, nurturing environment where everyone is seen, heard, and valued.”
    Today, Holden has 36 students: 11 freshmen/sophomores and 25 juniors/seniors.
    Johnson says Holden serves students from the greater Bay Area who have struggled in mainstream school settings as many have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and/or have experienced traumatic life events.
    The school, Johnson says, fosters success for those who have written off traditional education environments. It aims to use a holistic education approach, instills students with academic and personal confidence, and has small class sizes, typically a 5:1 student/teacher ratio, she says.
    The strategy paid off for Holden senior Walker Cammack. “Before Holden I hated going to school so much that I had trouble falling asleep at night. I have experienced a lot of anxiety and depression through my life,” he says. “Before Holden, I felt like I was mentally holding my breath all the time.  I actually like coming to school now. Here there is a tiny, welcoming environment where you can be yourself and you can find someone like you. I thought I was weird, but then I came here and found people just like me.”
    Holden doesn’t have a principal but rather four co-directors. One of them, Kristin Lemoureux, says, “For many young people who have struggled in school, the issue is not their capacity to learn, but a negative relationship to ‘school.’ Many have developed an aversion to school and learning over the course of years of busy work, standardized tests and curriculum, lack of connection and sense of community; not being seen, understood or respected.  For 50 years, we have been radically changing young people’s relationship to school and learning, sending lifelong learners out into the world.”
    The anniversary celebration is open to the public and will be held at Fellowship Hall of the Orinda Community Church, 10 Irwin Way. To learn more go to https://holdenhigh.org/. 

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