An Independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, D.C.

Alexandra

Passions:I have dedicated my work life to development and education having worked for the United Nations, World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education. I am very passionate about increasing the opportunities that every child in the world has a chance for a decent education and build the foundation for a good life out of poverty.
Outside work, I love spending with my family and we all love to travel the world - one new country each year, if we can. Seeing different cultures and meeting different people expands horizons and makes you grow in so many ways. It's something I want my children to carry with them. I am also passionate about art and about food and rarely ever leave a country without taking a small art piece of that culture with me and without having explored a local market for new spices and foods.
Favorite Thing About Potomac: Teachers who are passionate about their subjects and love teaching kids. And, of course, the wonderful campus that's so conducive to getting intellectually inspired by the surrounding nature.
Memorable Potomac Moment: Getting phone calls and e-mails from three different Potomac moms inviting our son to meet his new school mates, asking how they can help us to settle in, giving advice. They were just there for us when we needed them. It was the first glimpse at the wonderful warm Potomac community.

Alexandra
Mother of 8th and 9th grader

"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.

"What do you expect of teenagers these days?"

"Do you generally have a positive or negative image of today's teenagers?"

I am sitting in a classroom in Potomac's Upper School, taking part in an event focused on drug and alcohol prevention. Two students, one junior and one senior, are facilitating this particular session. There are no teachers.

About 15 freshmen and 15 parents are in the room – our group was determined at random, and similar small groups are meeting around the building. I recognize a few of the students and know some of the parents in our group. The session is part of a three hour evening mandatory for all freshmen and strongly encouraged for parents.

At first, there is a lot of silence, shyness, and maybe a bit of embarrassment in our group. I wonder what 14-year-old wants to talk about drugs and alcohol with the parents of his or her friends and classmates.

"Parents," our facilitators ask, "if you were getting a tattoo, what would it be?" Most parents answer politely that they would never get one, some come up with great ideas, and all wonder if anyone actually has one. When we finish the round, there are smiles all over the room, and everyone feels more comfortable. Our facilitators do a great job warming us up, making everyone feel safe, establishing the ground rules. We are assured that everything said in this room will stay there.

"Students, to whom would you turn if you had a problem with alcohol or drugs or knew of someone else who does? Your parents, your friends, older high schoolers, relatives?"

Some answer that they would likely only talk to peers or maybe older teenagers if they had a problem. The facilitators then explain the importance of having a trusted adult with whom to talk, be it a parent, a friend of the family, or a teacher. They talk about their own experiences, everyone opens up. I am amazed by everyone's openness – and learn so much about the enormous pressure today's teenagers face.

Yes, several say, they think that they will try alcohol before they are 21. And yes, many say, there is a lot of pressure around the issue of alcohol – from parents, the school, from friends. It's tricky, some students observe, learning not to give in to pressure and knowing what you want and don't want. It's not easy to balance it all.

Now the parents start talking about their own experiences, remembering how hard it can be to stay "good." Some talk about the serious health implications drug and alcohol abuse can have and how it can affect the developing brain of teenagers, and some advocate for restraint. Others wonder how teenagers can possibly learn to deal with alcohol in a responsible way if they are never allowed to test it out. How can we then be surprised about college binge drinking?

Parents and students alike begin to understand the complexity of this issue, and the concerns and interests of both sides, and we begin to develop a common platform.

When we leave the classroom, most of us are in thought, quiet. We parents continue to be concerned for the safety of our teenage children but now have a better understanding of the students' thoughts and feelings. The freshmen know that parents are there to help and that their concern is genuine. When I see my son, who had been in another classroom, we smile at each other, like allies.

For me it was another Potomac moment where I understood the strength of the community – the genuine interest in one another and the willingness to listen. This event was part of just one evening (and Potomac does much more in this respect), but many things said that night still stay with me.

With 35 percent (more than one third!) of 15-year-olds in the United States reporting that they have had at least one drink in their lives, and 23 percent of 12- to 20-year-olds saying that they have drunk alcohol in the past month, this is a topic that surely is on every parent's mind – and on every student's as well. Potomac does a good job of addressing this delicate and extremely important topic headfirst, in an innovative way that doesn't focusing on preaching or lecturing but is rooted in seriousness and understanding.

Entering high school is as exciting for most students as it is frightening for their parents. It's a step into a new world where our kids become more independent, more self-assured, more mature—and in many cases less open with their parents. It means letting go more than we probably ever did.

Our family made this transition in September when our son became a freshman, and we are learning together each step of the way. He was thrilled to join the Upper School and didn't have any problem understanding what looked to us like a pretty complex course system. He was excited about "free time" during the day, which at closer look we realized was actually study hall time meant to do homework. And he adjusted well to the very long high school days, which usually bring him home at about 6 pm. And then there's homework worth another two hours, resulting in a jam-packed day comparable to that of a working parent.

But here's the good news. The students like it! Why? Because they actually enjoy hanging out at school spending extra time with friends, and, yes, having 90 minutes sports practice in the afternoon which helps to decompress and free the mind.

The Potomac Upper School also does a wonderful job inviting parents along on the high school journey. This begins in 8th grade, when parents are invited to a 'get-to-know-the-Upper School night'. Listening to teachers, high schoolers, and parents, we realized early on that any travel sport outside of school would be tough, if not impossible, to fit into a packed school schedule. Our son made the difficult choice to quit his travel soccer team, on which he had played for several years. He still misses it, but the intensive training of a travel team along with the school practices and homework simply wouldn't be manageable.

Parents also attend an introductory night once the school year has started, and, of course, there's Parents Night, where we were able to meet with our son's advisor and other teachers while hearing about expectations and 9th grade course content. The academic rigor is great at Potomac and kids are being pushed—pushed hard—to grow intellectually and think innovatively. The goal is to develop resilient students who learn from failure, think out of the box, and don't give up. Their thinking is challenged in every single class – be it math, science, English, history, or art.

But what really counts is always the individual student. Classes are small, advisors care, and teachers ensure that every single student can learn at his or her own pace. In some classes, for example, my son learns alongside sophomores and juniors, while in other classes, he's primarily with other freshmen. This also helps to mix the older students with the newcomers – which is a really nice touch. Potomac is deepening this by matching freshmen with a senior buddy, a connection that lasts throughout the first year, sometimes longer – a great experience for both sides.

Besides the regular classes, offerings include music, chorus, and band, as well as less traditional offerings like pottery, drawing, architecture, and jazz composition. My son had a hard time choosing among these and finally decided on architecture for his first semester; one of the courses he takes with many older students. He loves learning about forms of architecture and mastered the first task of building a model for socially responsible housing.

And then, of course, there are extracurricular activities managed and organized by students. Clubs called range from chess to interpretive dance and science and engineering to model United Nations and also include social activities like playing tennis with autistic children. There's nothing that can't be done – it all starts with and relies on the students' creativity and perseverance to keep a club running.

So far, high school has been good, with a few up and downs as the first quarter comes to an end. We have even conquered Homecoming, another 'first' in a new phase of school—and we are looking forward to many more firsts to come!

Exploring the world with Potomac – that's what my kids did this past year.

When I picked up my 8th grader at the airport and asked him how the Spain trip was, he answered "Estupendo!" Great, in other words. His Spanish course had just spent 10 days exploring Spain – touring Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, Grenada and other wonderful places in a country, so rich in history and culture. When we stopped for a snack, he remarked that it was funny to order in English again. This was music to my ears, as I feared that they would primarily be hanging out with their friends and speaking English throughout the trip.

But thanks to a great team of teachers, they had a few hours of free time each day during which they were allowed to explore on their own. They ordered food (mostly successful), tasted new dishes (some surprises), learned about cultural differences (tipping is much less in Spain!), and opened their minds to something new each day. They came back full of impressions and joint experiences that they surely will carry through high school and beyond.

Many schools in the region offer trips abroad in 8th grade. But Potomac connects these trips with the languages the students are learning. Spanish learners travel to Spain, those who learn French go to France, Chinese learners explore China, and those who learn Latin get to go to Rome (and although the opportunities for speaking Latin may be limited, there are certainly enough monuments with Latin inscriptions to decipher!). It's a wonderful approach of connecting the hard work of learning a language with real-life application! Learning that sticks.

In April, our family travelled the world at Potomac's Around the World celebration. Students explore their diverse ethnic heritage and interests through performances and small booths that display information and food samples of their own or their family's national heritage – or they present a country they are simply interested in. Within three hours we travelled to dozens of countries, learning about what makes them special and tasting wonderful foods – soda bread and homemade butter from Ireland, cake from Germany, samosas from India, fried rice from China, stuffed grape leaves from Greece, sushi from Japan, hamburgers from then US and so much more! It's a delightful way to enjoy the diverse culture of Potomac's community and a learning experience for brain and taste buds alike.

Later in April, students were able to travel back in time when Congressman John Lewis visited the school. This travel was not to a pleasant time, but certainly one to learn from. Mr. Lewis shared a message of unity, peace, and nonviolence when he talked about his own school experience in a segregated country and the fight of the civil rights movement. Both of my sons were immersed in the graphic novel in which Mr. Lewis describes his lifelong struggle for civil and human rights. Meeting with him turned the graphic novel into real life for my sons.

I just found the questions my 7th grader had prepared for the Congressman. "When you first met Rosa Parks, did you see her as a friend or a person you look up to?" I don't know if he got an answer to his question, but I do know that listening to the Congressman gave him a lot of food for thought.

My last blog post was all about how the academic offerings and learning approaches of the Potomac School help my two boys thrive, how the Intermediate School constantly ignites sparks in them to learn something new – with enthusiasm and joy. So, this time it is going to be about the other side of school – about athletic and musical life at Potomac.

Having just passed the holiday period with all its beauty and unavoidable stress, there is one event I remember with fondness: the annual winter concert of the Intermediate School. Honestly, it’s a miracle to me how the teachers are able to get a bunch of 7th and 8th graders to join in perfect harmony for an evening filled with beautiful music.

They had only three months to rehearse and it was literally music in my ears: a string ensemble playing “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” by Mozart, a concert band swinging away with traditional and ethnic tunes, a chorus that grew above itself with songs by Cole Porter and pop band Bastille, and a handbell ensemble that sounded like the bells from heaven.

It is truly admirable how the music teachers get all this done – during a period where there’s so much other stuff going on in the lives if these students – from academics to sports to family commitments.

Now coming to athletics. When we joined the school in 2014, I was simply blown away by the many sports my then 7th grader would be able to test out (already anticipating how hard it would be to choose). He is an avid soccer player and, hence, the fall selection, was clear. Other options would have been cross country and football (girls also have tennis and field hockey to choose from). In winter, there is basketball, wrestling, squash and conditioning, which was what he chose. In spring, he discovered tennis as his new passion (hopefully for years to come!).There’s also lacrosse, track and field, baseball and softball.

His younger brother who is now in 7th grade can’t wait to be part of the track and field team in spring. In winter, he decided to combine conditioning with robotics – another great option! Most of the sports are competitive and yes, there are try-outs. But in soccer, for example, there are no cuts because the school offers enough teams. Win-win for everyone. The coaches are excellent which showed in the results: the soccer A-team lost just one game, the B-team was undefeated, the C-team lost two games.

In Upper School, there are additional sports options including swimming, volleyball, golf, yoga and ice hockey.

The Potomac School truly develops rounded personalities. It offers strong academics while understanding and nurturing the necessary balance with music, sports and many other sides of life.

It is not at all odd for kids to be interested in both music AND sports. Students are keen to explore everything that’s offered and they do – as I can see with my two sons. I can’t wait for the IS musical which will be performed at the end of the month. I am sure this will be another big hit!