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

Leslie

Passions: I’m a storyteller. Traveling and learning about places and people makes me happy.
Favorite Thing About Potomac: After my daughter’s class performed their play, the MS head John Matthews asked the audience,: “What question launched the play?” and “What was the lessons of this play?” To find meaning in what the children presented and to discuss them is inculcated at every opportunity.
Memorable Potomac Moment: At the Friendship Assembly the MS head, teachers and staff performed the Shel Silverstein poem “Ation.” It was brilliant. Seriously.

Leslie
Mother of 5th grader

I am your quintessential eternal optimist. I believe adventure awaits around every corner. I see silver linings in adversity, change, and upheaval. And I feel the pure joy and beauty in perfect sunny days.

That ideal sunny day occurs every year at Potomac on May Day, which this year took place on one of the last days of April. The Middle School students entertain the entire school with songs and dances and poetry and pageantry. There's a May Day court, as well as accordion players and fiddlers and special guests.

This year the country of Bulgaria was featured, with songs and poetry dedicated to the awakening of spring and spoken in the native language. The children, in a bouquet of colors, danced in patterns reminiscent of those folksy Greek line dances, a white handkerchief in the raised hand of the lead dancers.

But my favorite moment of Potomac's May Day celebration is watching the skilled sixth graders weaving the colorful ribbons as they skip, duck, and circle around the maypole. Watching the weaving patterns emerge is always satisfying.

Last year on May Day it rained. Everything was brought inside, including the picnic lunches, which Middle School students enjoyed in their classrooms. The day was still festive and celebratory. But we spectators were squeezed inside the gym vying for the best perch to view the performances.

Squished as I was against the back wall of the gym, craning my neck to see the spectacle, I was annoyed when the woman beside me started texting on her phone. I turned to give her a quelling glare but my eyes fell on her phone and discovered that the text, unsent, was typed in Cyrillic. It said, "At a lovely celebration of spring at my granddaughter's school."

"Are you Russian?" I asked in Russian.

She whipped her eyes up at me. "Yes!" She kept staring. It's unusual for an American, much less a black woman, to speak her native language. "You know Russian?"

We chatted about my experiences and discovered that not only is her married surname the same as my mother-in-law's maiden name, but they both came from the same southern city in Russia.

"Oh my God," she breathed. "This is a miracle." And it was. She'd moved six thousand miles to give her family the best possible life and discovered the possibility of long lost relatives in the Chester Gym at The Potomac School because her granddaughter and my daughter were performing indoors on May Day.

"A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men," Herman Melville said. "And among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects."

And there is that feeling of miraculous serendipity about this campus. It's a small world made greater for the width and breadth of the student body. We are from everywhere, and yet for a little while, at least, we are all connected and happy to call Potomac home.

A few years ago, while living in Moscow, I remember being startled by a weatherman on Russian television who suggested that we move less so as not to deprive our bodies of oxygen. Apparently there was an oxygen deficit during that summer in Russia, and if you moved too much, you'd need a lot more oxygen than the atmosphere contained. His suggestion then was not to move. Thus in the West you have a movement to save the earth, while in Russia there was the concept of no movement—literally—to save air.

I am and always will be fascinated by the differences between Russian and American culture, which is why I signed up to co-host the Russia Table at Potomac's Around the World Day this spring. There are two other native Russian families who will host as well. As a two-decade veteran of the new Russia, I feel it's my duty to bring some levity and interesting perspective to our booth.

Around the World Day is an annual celebration of the diverse ethnicities and heritages of Potomac's students, faculty, and families. Last spring, this richly diverse community put together exhibits showcasing the culture, food, language, and history of nearly 40 countries. Students performed traditional dances, songs, music, and poetry.

Before my daughter (who is half Russian) came to Potomac as a 4th grade student, we had participated in a similar event at her old school. The first year we did the usual, putting together a trifold board featuring information about Russia and the Soviet Union for the children. Then we offered blini with a steaming samovar of tea. That was all well and good but absolutely forgettable.

After years of showcasing Russia's fascinating history and culture, I've learned an important lesson: people learn and remember best from having an experience. With the permission of the principal, I recreated the 45-second experience of walking through Lenin's Tomb, though I couldn't include a "body" in my display. I found a life-sized portrait of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin to use as my centerpiece and proceeded to recreate all the elements that make visiting this Red Square institution a visceral experience that happens in less than a minute. I stuck to all those key rules:

1.No cell phones, cameras, or bags.

2.No talking, whispering, coughing, sneezing, or laughing.

3.No stopping and no gathering around the portrait.

4.No veering off the marked route while viewing the portrait.

Adults and children alike were fascinated that you could indeed re-create this short sensory experience.

Last year, Russia—the largest country in the world—was not represented at Potomac. But, as Dylan sang, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

In August, my daughter tried out for a club lacrosse team. Even though she had been ambivalent about the travel team all summer, she was crushed when she didn't make it.

It was her first big rejection.

I said that a tryout is one snapshot in time, that it doesn't mean she isn't a good goalie. But it didn't matter. She was disappointed, sad, wretched. I said that if she wallowed in self-pity for more than a day that she would miss the knock, knock, knock of opportunity. She slammed her door.

The next day, she woke up and said, "So where's my opportunity?"

I muttered that I didn't mean it would happen literally the next day.

But the day after that I got an email from the Washington Revels—I had never heard of them—asking if my daughter would audition for their signature event, the professionally staged and directed Christmas Revels.

As it happens the Potomac School's involvement with the Revels dates back more than a half century, when Revels founder Jack Langstaff, who also happened to be Potomac's music teacher after whom the school's auditorium is named, gathered his students to create theatrical celebrations of the winter solstice and spring's rebirth. Langstaff's lasting idea, the Christmas Revels, began in 1957 with a show in New York. Today there are Revels troupes spread all over the United States, and they all draw on local talent.

For more than 30 years, the Washington Revels has had Potomac students in their choruses for children (grades 3-5) and teens (grades 9-12). The rest of the cast is made up of professional adult performers.

And that's how my daughter ended up trying out again, a week later, for her first professional theater gig, and learning that as Einstein said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." She was cast in the Revels children's chorus, which means she will perform in not only the Christmas show but also the May Day performance at the National Cathedral's annual flower mart.

I'm not going to lie—commuting to Silver Spring every Wednesday can be a slog. She has rehearsals for 10 Wednesdays after school at Revels headquarters. That's round-trip across the bridge and back twice in rush hour. She and three other Potomac students (2 other middle schoolers and 1 lower schooler) made the chorus. We parents formed a carpool that has proven to be another boon. My 5th grader has gotten to know and like these schoolmates because she regularly travels to Maryland with them.

Tech Week, the week before the show opens at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, will include five weekday rehearsals after school until 10 pm! My daughter still has to do her homework and keep up. For her, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She'll perform before more than 10,000 people in eight shows in two weekends this December.

To me, Potomac is a door where opportunity is always knocking.

In April, Georgia congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, the cowriter of his graphic novel March, came to Potomac to speak. The congressman surrounded by all the Middle, Intermediate and Upper School students said, "You are beautiful. You are the future."

During the question and answer session, someone asked, "What effect did music have, if any, on the Civil Rights Movement?"

The former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and only surviving "Big Six" leader of the civil rights era paused, then he said that music had played such a powerful role in the movement and that without music there would not have been a movement.

This advocacy of music by this key historical figure struck me as profound and helped me connect the dots.

At Potomac I've discovered one of the most salient characteristics of the school is how powerful a role music plays here, The emphasis on music and performance is a necessary part of the education, as essential as reading or math.

My husband (who studied physics in Moscow but played drums at Berklee College of Music) says that the right brain is in charge of creative and intuitive thinking, and the left-brain manages logic, mathematics, and memorization. The sides are not equal; they are physically separate but joined by a connector, which allows communication between the sides that helps balance thinking and functioning.

Becoming a musician requires using both sides of the brain. Music, you see, is the great equalizer.

At my daughter's class play in September the prerecorded musical selections that started and ended the program were considered and thoughtful. We entered to the strains of "Moondance" and left the auditorium to "Fly Me to the Moon." These songs hit all the right notes in James Thurber's playlet Many Moons.

Every assembly has had some musical aspect to it. At the Sharing, Friendship and Halloween Assemblies there were performances by all middle school grades from primitive drummers to recorder and bell ensembles. There were powerful singing voices and intricate instrumentals.

At the Christmas Assembly there were strings and orchestral pieces, soloists and choruses.

At the Around the World performances, there were student virtuoso pianists and singer-stylists. There were chaotic dances and mad drumming and a lot of laughter.

As the year ends my rising fifth grader is in the process of choosing the instrument she will play for the next two years. It's an exciting time for her. The future seems rosier just because she has to figure out whether she'll do Band, Bells or Strings.

Because at Potomac music is an everyday tradition with wonderful mentors who use all the tools they can to engage both sides of the brain.

I asked my daughter’s fourth grade teacher Mrs. Furr if parents could establish a regular gig reading aloud to the children. I borrowed the idea from a New York City private school where the program is mandatory until the fifth grade. We’d have a few goals:

  1. Read great books to the children every Friday.
  2. Make the 15 minutes fun and exciting. Reading isn’t a chore. Have the kids guess who’s coming to read to them.
  3. Leave the books in the classroom for the children to enjoy and in the process create a awesome classroom library.
  4. Learn a little bit about each other in the process.

One of the toughest parts about starting a new school is being new. Here was a way to show the students a little bit about each family. It’s a guessing game with a surprise story read as a reward at the end.

By the fourth grade the students are already independent readers. But they still also love being read to. There are a slew of great benefits to doing this. They gain in fluency, comprehension and passive vocabulary accumulation. They are introduced to poetry and books they themselves would never choose. They learn tidbits about mom and dad and even some of their teachers too.

It turns out that our class of kids are constantly surprised that the adults in their lives have had other lives—were even kids themselves—before these curious 9- and 10 year-olds existed.

One mother gave a clue that she was an actress before she married and had children. Her daughter was flabbergasted and impressed. Another student was shocked that her mother had hiked in the Hawaiian Islands without her.

Most dads give harder clues, like, "I grew up in a place in America that initially was governed, in succession, by two different countries located in continental Europe." (If you guessed Louisiana you were the only one.) His son did know his dad. He guessed immediately that it was his father who had eaten alligator, rattlesnake, and turtle.

It is miraculous to see a child awaken to new information, grasp the mystery and the ramifications of their parents’ choices, and be changed.

And then there’s this. At this age the children still see their parents as rock stars. Take advantage of that lingering hero worship and read on!