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

Caroline

Extracurriculars:Service Learning Club leader, peer leader, FOCUS, lacrosse, field hockey, and robotics.
Favorite Class: Math! I love that in math there's always a clear answer and a clear explanation.
Favorite Thing About Potomac: The school emphasizes a well-rounded personality instead of focusing only on academics. It makes the school day more fun and less stressful.
Memorable Potomac Moment: Every first day of school, the seniors welcome the lower-schoolers to Potomac with cheers, signs, and silly outfits.
Aspirations: I want to work in service some day and use my talents to help my whole community.

caroline
11th GRade

The leaves turn yellow and orange, the wind bites slightly, and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils drifts from my backpack, which is loaded in preparation for everyone's favorite holiday: the first day of school.

By twelfth grade, the first day jitters have significantly died down. I think this calm is largely due to the fact that I already know my courses and teachers. At the end of junior year, seniors are able to pick electives to fill their 12th grade schedules. While I'm still enrolled in a range of core classes -- history, English, science, math, and foreign language -- my courses are more specialized to match my interests.

As I enter school, Mr. Lindsay, my advisor, hands me my schedule. Though I already know my courses, my classmates and the dynamic of each class remain mysteries to me.

A Block: Free! I simultaneously jump for joy and sigh with relief. Having A block free means I can sleep in and arrive at school at 8:55, another senior privilege. I can finish last minute homework because my free block is in the morning. But once I discover that many of my friends have A block free too, finishing homework in the morning looks a lot less promising. It's my last chance to spend free blocks with my Potomac friends!

B Block: AP Physics. I chose to take physics because it allows me to apply the math I've learned and loved over the past several years of high school. Even better, my advisor and mentor, Mr. Lindsay, teaches the class. Seniors aren't required to take a science course, but the plethora of options prompts most students to add at least one to their schedule. Other science course options include AP Biology, AP Chemistry, Environmental Science, Astronomy, and Forensic Analysis.

C Block: Comedy and Satire, my English elective. At Potomac, there is no English 12 course. Instead, seniors choose semester English classes from an array of specialized topics. Some English courses center more on literary creation, like Writing Fiction or Speech; some center more on literary analysis, like Mystery and Detective Fiction, and my class, Comedy and Satire. I chose Comedy and Satire because I knew every class would be full of jokes and good energy. I also had some inside information on this class and knew that it would be taught by one of my favorite English teachers. Score.

D Block: AP Statistics. My senior year schedule allowed me just enough space to fit in an extra math class. Statistics is a course open to all students in grades 10 through 12, which creates a unique class dynamic. I've loved getting to know students from other grades, and I'm grateful for their extra help during free blocks!

E Block: Ancient Greek. This class is especially dear to me because students requested it and Mr. Dwyer took on the extra work to make it happen! Last year, five other juniors and I took on the challenge of AP Latin. After a rigorous course translating Caesar and Virgil, we decided we needed a break from Latin studies. We asked our Latin teacher, who had been a classics major in college, if he could teach Ancient Greek the following year. Mr. Dwyer heartily agreed, and currently we are working through an Ancient Greek textbook together. It feels a little weird to start over with a new language and alphabet, but the experience has reminded me how much I love studying foreign language. Our class is able to connect the Greek vocabulary and grammar not only to English but also to Latin, tracing the language's roots to their very source. And don't worry, once a week we work as a class to translate Latin so that we don't lose our skills!

F Block: Lunch. Plenty of good food and good friends here. F Block is also my slot as a peer helper in the MSC2, the Math and Science Collaboration Center. Located just off of the library, the MSC2 is a vibrant space for collaborative work, complete with couches and whiteboard tables. During F Block, I serve as one of the tutors for any students who drop by asking for math or science help. The MSC2 has also provided me with a fun group of lunchmates; we're often eating, working, and laughing all at the same time.

G Block: Religions of the East, my history elective. Similar to the English program, seniors can choose from a variety of 12th grade history courses. Some of the most popular are Economics and American Civil Rights. I chose Religions of the East because God has shaped my life through Christianity, and I want to learn how others' lives through their faith. Before I started the course, I didn't realize how much I didn't know about Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. I've learned a great deal, but what strikes me is how similar the Eastern religions are to Christianity. Religions of the East has inspired me to continue my study of religion in college.

H Block: Advanced Topics in Math. After calculus, Potomac's mathematics department offers this specialized course. Each year, one the math faculty member takes on ATM, designing a unique curriculum around a specific field of mathematics. This year, Mr. Lijoi is teaching number theory. Number theory is essentially the study of cool facts about numbers. We don't try to apply numbers to the outside world; we just look at their inner beauty. I love this class because of its collaborative nature. Mr. Lijoi expects us to work together completing homework and problem sets. As the last class of the day, it anchors my day with fun and enthusiastic learning.

"And Caroline in goal," Coach Smalley says, as she finishes the second half lineup. The whistle blows. The girls JV lacrosse team huddles on the Episcopal High School field. "Potomac on three. One, two, three! POTOMAC!" That's when we take the field.

Fully padded, I jog over to the goal and hit each corner with my stick, a pregame ritual. Courtney, an amazing defender and team cheerleader, complete with eternal positivity, shouts, "you got this, Caroline!" from her ready position 10 yards ahead of me. In this particular game, Potomac is up 9-3 at the beginning of the half, so tensions are low as we prepare to play the game we love. But whether we're up 6 or down 6, what's always constant is our determination to leave everything on the field.

I started my sports career when I entered Potomac in 9th grade. Before Potomac, I had never played a sport because I didn't see myself as an athlete. Potomac's policies helped me expand this view of myself. Instead of attending regular gym class, Potomac students are required to play on a team (or participate in a different afterschool activity) for a certain number of seasons. In order to fulfill this requirement, I signed up to play field hockey in the fall of my freshman year. Mr. Thomas advised me in this decision, claiming that the field hockey program welcomes girls who have never played the sport. After the first season I was hooked, not just on field hockey, but on athletics in general.

Since then, I have played three seasons of field hockey, and I am currently in the midst of my third season of lacrosse. Each season brings a new attitude, new challenges, and new teammates. Especially notable are my amazing teammates on the current girls JV lacrosse team. The 28 girls, who range from freshmen to juniors, always make practice interesting. Without our connection through sports, I would not have met many of them, but every day they add a little bit of happiness to my life on and off the field.

At the start of junior year, I hadn't signed up to play lacrosse. I knew that with AP tests, SAT stress, and college searches, I would have the typically busy junior spring. But after an exercise-less winter (due purely to my laziness), I figured that a sports season would lift my spirits. Our 3:30 to 5:30 practices help me sweat out the academic stress of the day. Through exercising a different part of my brain, I feel physically tired but mentally energized after games and practices. Lacrosse also provides me with a different goal than the need to excel during the school day. Though I sacrifice two study hours a day for practice, JV lacrosse has been a stress-lessening blessing as I tackle junior spring.

Every time I step on the field with my lacrosse stick, I remember the decision to play field hockey that began my athletic life. I remember that my 8th-grade self never believed that I could be both a student and an athlete. I think of how scared I was to start field hockey freshman year, but also how overcoming this nervousness has paid off immensely. I remember that all those decisions led to this exact moment. As the players line up to begin the draw, I take my position at the top of the crease, stick head and confidence high.

Potomac's entire campus measures about 90 acres, but what makes the school especially unique is how many of those acres are maintained as woods. Behind the Upper School lies a forest complete with nature trails, outdoor classrooms, and Pimmit Run, a stream that flows from Fairfax County into the Potomac River. When I applied to Potomac, I was unaware of the role the campus landscape would have on my quality of learning and the character of the school. But as a student here, I have come to learn what a blessing nature is on a school campus.

I love the way Potomac utilizes its entire campus to further classroom learning and community building. In 9th grade biology class, we would often explore the woods for interesting specimens. I remember studying how the position of flowers affected their petal growth and scientifically evaluating the purity of Pimmit Run's water. The opportunity for hands-on learning through our campus enriched my comprehension of the subject matter. The same immersion process applies to other courses as well. Last week, my U.S. history class journeyed to the Morton Deck, a flat platform surrounded by trees and complete with a central fire pit. There, we read aloud the stories of John Muir, a naturalist author who wrote about the beauty of the West and the need to preserve flora and fauna. Hearing his accounts of the natural wonders of 19th century outdoors while immersed in our own natural world brought his sentiments to life. The woods of Potomac's campus serve both as actual subject matter to study and a peaceful environment in which to study, enriching the academic curriculum in countless ways.

The forest also helps develop community at Potomac. Lower School students read and play outdoors. In Middle School and Intermediate School, the students make use of the team-building apparatus, where they learn cooperation skills and the satisfaction of overcoming challenges. Upper School track and cross country teams (as well as most other sports teams) regularly run the nature trails, providing a scenic setting for their challenging training. One of my favorite moments in the Potomac woods was during the 2016 summer leadership retreat (I wrote a bit about my experience with the 2015 retreat in my first blog post). Our entire group convened around a campfire for s'mores as we reflected on our earlier exercises.

Nature connects students in unique ways through its beauty and serenity. Pimmit Run and its surroundings are a gift to Potomac families and faculty. The forest behind the school is a hidden blessing that transmits its exciting yet introspective nature to the Potomac curriculum and community.

New school year, new grade (11th!), new responsibilities, new fun times. I have to say, with all the excitement about entering junior year, the best part about being an upperclassman is an increased role in leading the high school.

One way I have been lucky enough to serve my community is through acting as a peer leader in Potomac's Conversations that Count program. Ms. Woods, the Upper School guidance counselor, created the Conversations that Count program to further educate teens on the important choices they may face in high school. The 9th grade discussion focuses on safety around drugs and alcohol, and the 10th grade conversation addresses sex and sexuality. Both sessions open with an informational lecture, and then the teens and parents move into a mixed-generation small-scale discussion of the new information. That's where peer leaders come in. Our job is to facilitate the discussions with thought-provoking questions, scenarios, and debate.

Last month, Potomac held the 9th grade Conversations that Count, and this was my first time serving as a peer leader. At first I was a little nervous. The discussion groups are randomly assigned, so I had no idea what my group would be like: indifferent, scared, shy, aggressive? Despite the negative adjectives that popped into my head, the combination of parents and teens that entered the room proved me wrong. I encountered engaged, respectful, and supportive people, and the parents and teens talked openly with one another. Even with different points of view, everyone was able to agree on safe and respectful protocol for dangerous situations involving drugs and alcohol. The Conversations that Count program is one of many ways Potomac educates its students beyond the classroom, and I am glad to be able to facilitate that learning.

Every year, the 10th graders participate in the Sophomore Trip, in which the grade splits into groups and explores careers around DC. I was lucky enough to be part of the cuisine group, and we explored restaurants, kitchens, and food pantries in the DC area to learn about a variety of careers involving cuisine.

My favorite locale was Glen's Garden Market, an organic grocery store in Georgetown. Glen's was started by Danielle, who met us at the market and explained her mission. Danielle always had a love of the environment, so she spent 10 years working for a senator, trying to pass a bill that promoted environmental sustainability. Frustrated with the government's inaction, Danielle left her job at the senator's office and opened Glen's as a small-scale solution to environmental problems.

Only locally sourced items stock the shelves at Glen's, which means that all the food comes from areas within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The store runs on wind power and supports small businesses that grow all-natural products. I found Danielle's story inspirational—she built a company through which she can achieve her goals. She followed her desire for environmental change, which led her to an occupation involving food.

As we continued on our trip, I noticed a similar quality in all the businessmen and businesswomen we met. They started with a passion that led them to careers in cuisine. At DC Central Kitchen, our tour guide explained that she had always wanted to help people in need, and she found this yearning filled by preparing meals for the hungry. At Chaia, a taco restaurant in Georgetown, the founder and owner noticed the lack of vegan food options in the DC area, and opened Chaia to provide vegans with more dietary-friendly foods.

In addition to exploring the (delicious) cuisine in DC, the Sophomore Trip opened my eyes to the foundation of any success: pursuing a true passion.