"Potomac students provide 3,280 sandwiches feeding 820 people in need."
This could be a news headline. But it isn't. It's a quiet, modest matter of course that happens naturally at The Potomac School each month.
Students in all four divisions make sandwiches, which are distributed on McKenna's Wagon. Martha's Table, an organization with which Potomac has partnered for a quarter century, runs this mobile soup kitchen.
As a parent, I can tell you that the kids are eager to participate in this endeavor! The weekend before Sandwich Day, I get a list from my two sons with items they have signed up to bring. They give me clear directions about getting healthy whole wheat bread and a "good kind of ham."
But students don't just make sandwiches. In fourth grade, they visit Martha's Table to learn more about local efforts to break the cycle of poverty and engage with young children at the Healthy Start Center, an accredited preschool for low-income families.
In eighth grade, my sons experienced a service learning day at DC Central Kitchen, where they prepared food, unloaded boxes, shelved items, cleaned up, and more. The service day was preceded by a hands-on simulation earlier in the week led by the Capital Area Food Bank, during which students learned about poverty locally and discussed food insecurity and the devastating impact it has on families. I will not forget the sadness on my son's face when we were sitting at the dinner table that night. He looked at the food, put down his fork, and said, "How can anyone in this wealthy city accept that more than 20 percent of residents live in poverty? This is crazy!"
We had been supporting several local organizations for many years, but seeing one firsthand that day certainly opened my son's eyes in a different way.
Potomac's partnership with Second Story (previously Alternative House) engages students in 7th and 8th grade throughout the year. Potomac students meet with children from Alternative House four times a year and spend time together, whether enjoying an outdoor game day or the annual Halloween party.
In addition to addressing poverty and homelessness, Potomac's service learning program also provides support in other areas, examining themes such as literacy, the environment and the elderly. In the Lower School, students are introduced to a different theme in each grade. In 2nd grade, for example, students spend several days throughout the year with senior citizens engaging in intergenerational conversations.
On Earth Day, my 8th grader planted greenery and flowers on campus, working alongside younger students to foster a relationship across age groups. And on Community Action Day, my 9th grader spent time at a pre-school center playing, reading, and interacting with young children, noting how eager they had been to talk to him and how much he enjoyed the experience. Shortly after, he participated in an Anacostia River in a cleanup and awareness event, and he is already looking forward to his junior and senior years, during which students develop year-long, needs-driven partnerships with a local nonprofit.
If we want to educate responsive global citizens who are compassionate and engaged with their communities, we need to start at an early age – just as Potomac does. And it is of particular importance for a school in one of the wealthiest areas in the DC region.
Academic rigor is important for a quality education, but to raise balanced young adults who care for others and their environment, it is key to have students actively investigate their community's needs and engage in real-world problem solving. This is something Potomac takes to heart and has expanded upon significantly over the past years, making service a core element of each child's education.