An independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, DC

Potomac School News

A community that cares - supporting Ukrainians in need

On Saturday, April 23, a sense of purpose filled the air in the Spangler Center as members of the Potomac community worked together to support Ukrainians in need. The meal-packing event, attended by more than 100 people, was spearheaded by the Parent Association Service Learning Committee and Upper School students in Potomac’s Global Perspectives and Citizenship (GPAC) program who have been studying food insecurity around the world. With events in Ukraine top of mind, the parents and students took action to organize this meaningful service initiative in partnership with The Outreach Program, a nonprofit organization. 

Convoy of Hope, an international relief agency, picked up the more than 21,000 meals that were assembled at the event and will deliver them to displaced Ukrainian families. We thank Potomac parents Kristin Jensen, Katy Moser, and Gretchen Speigel and GPAC students Ali O’Brien ’23, Nuna Endale ’24, Arya Kumar ’23, Madeline Magielnicki ’24, Grace McMiller ’23, Alex Meek ’23, Ayanna Nayar ’24, Clay Turner ’24, and Abigail Woldgebriel ’24 for their leadership. It was wonderful for everyone involved to learn about GPAC and see the sophomores and juniors from that program serving as terrific role models for our community. View photos here.

Nine speech and debate students named Academic All-Americans

In April, the school honored nine Potomac Speech and Debate Academic All-Americans at a special lunch hosted by John Kowalik and Doug McLane. The four seniors and five juniors were presented with their certificates. For Potomac to have so many Speech and Debate Academic All-Americans is an impressive achievement: only about 1.5% of the 150,000 student members of the National Speech and Debate Association are named Academic All-Americans during their high school careers.

Pictured above: (front row) Shelby Willcox ’23, Samira Abbasi ’22, Olivia Eads ’23, Isabel Brittin ’22, Pippa Westland ’23, and Coach Kayla Williamson; (backrow) Mr. Kowalik, Ben Joel ’23, Connor Rooney ’22, Natalie Roots-Nowakowski ’23, Genevieve Evans ’22, Mr. McLane, Head Coach Harry Strong, and Coach Jeremy Metz

Potomac girls varsity basketball team wins ISL A division

Congratulations to Potomac’s girls varsity basketball team, who recently finished one of the strongest seasons in program history (21-2, 11-1 ISL). The highlight was a 62-40 defeat of Georgetown Day School in the ISL A Division championship game. The only loss up to that point was to GDS in overtime earlier in the season. In the championship game, Catherine Letendre ’25, Kayla Rolph ’22, and Zora Burrell ’25 each scored in double figures (15,13, and 12 respectively).

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa visits Potomac and meets with students

Journalist Maria Ressa, recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, visited The Potomac School on March 31, one day after testifying to the U.S. Senate about the state of freedom of expression in Asia.

Ressa spoke to students, faculty, and staff at an Upper School assembly and met with a Global Perspectives and Citizenship class.

She covered a wide range of issues, touching on freedom of the press, social media manipulation, moral integrity, surveillance capitalism, and emergent human behavior. Her remarks included candid stories about her experience moving from the Philippines to the US as a child, an interview that she conducted with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and the 10 arrest warrants outstanding against her in her native country.

Discussing ethics and journalism, Ressa spoke about the importance of “holding your moral line.” She told the students, “As you all move on to take leadership positions, situational ethics will make it seem harder. Know where your integrity lies, and where your North Star is.”

Maria Ressa was one of two journalists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2021, in recognition of her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” In addition to her work as a journalist and author, Ressa is the CEO of Rappler, a digital-only news site that is leading the fight for press freedom in the Philippines, where she now resides. In 2018, she was named to Time Magazine's “Person of the Year” list. The themes of her work – integrity in journalism, courage in the face of disinformation and authoritarian rule, the fight for democracy, freedom of expression, and the push for human rights – provide compelling fuel for thought and action. 

Head of School John Kowalik notes, “Ms. Ressa’s presentation was an incredibly exciting and enriching learning experience for Potomac’s Upper School community. We are grateful to her for sharing her time and insights with us.”

Potomac student's mind-controlled 3D arm design earns him top honors

Potomac senior Ben Choi has been named a Top 40 Scholar in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and mathematics competition for high school seniors. Chosen from a pool of more than 1,800 highly qualified entrants from across the nation, Choi will participate in the final weeklong competition in Washington, DC, this March.

According to Regeneron, Choi was selected based on the “scientific rigor of his project” – An Ultra-Low Cost, Mind-Controlled Transhumeral Prosthesis Operated via a Novel Artificial Intelligence-Driven Brainwave Interpretation Algorithm – and his “potential to become a world-changing scientist and leader.”

Choi is a student in Potomac’s selective Science and Engineering Research Center (SERC) program, which offers students the opportunity to do high-level independent research projects. He says that he was initially inspired to develop his non-invasive, low-cost 3D prosthetic solution after watching a documentary about neural interfaces being used to control prosthetic limbs. Choi explains, “I was really impressed by the applications and the technology, but I was also alarmed that these implants required risky open-brain surgery and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I thought it could be possible to develop a less invasive and more cost-effective approach.”

Choi says his ultimate goal is to make his prosthesis “accessible to all” – a driving factor in his decision to use 3D printing technology when developing the initial prototype, which he began working on in fall 2020. Since then, he has continued to make advancements to the 3D printed prosthetic arm that he developed. The arm, controlled by a brainwave-detecting headband placed on the forehead, has moved out of the prototype phase and will soon enter clinical trials.

Over the past year, Choi’s focus has been on fine-tuning the device. His work has included assessing volunteers, collecting data, and creating neural networks – systems that use AI algorithms to make predictions – to input and verify the data. Through trial and error, he has been able to improve the arm’s accuracy of movement to 95% as compared to a natural human arm. Choi works with mentors Dr. Isabelle Cohen, Upper School science teacher at The Potomac School, and Dr. Ji Liu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Stony Brook University in New York.

In addition to advancing to the Regeneron Top 40, Choi has earned a variety of national and international awards for his research and work. They include winning runner-up in the PolySpectra "Make It Real" Global Design Challenge (December 2020); MIT THINK Scholar Award (January 2021); U.S. Air Force Special Award for Research (March 2021); IEEE Innovation Award (March 2021); and being named a Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finalist (April 2021).

Regeneron Science Talent Search alumni include winners of 13 Nobel Prizes, 11 National Medals of Science, six Breakthrough Prizes, 22 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, and two Fields Medals. The full list of Top 40 scholars selected by Regeneron and Society for Science can be viewed here.

Potomac Presents Inaugural Service Award to Habitat for Humanity Volunteer

On January 14, The Potomac School announced the recipient of its inaugural Potomac School Award for Exemplary Service, designed to recognize individuals in the wider community who are making an important difference through service to others. Ericc Powell, a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Metro Maryland, received the award during a school-wide assembly honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Powell’s time with Habitat for Humanity has spanned nearly two decades and given him opportunities to serve international, national, and local communities. He volunteers as a skilled craftsman on Habitat construction sites and supports the organization’s ReStores, where donated items are sold to support Habitat’s mission. 

The Potomac School Award for Exemplary Service honors an individual outside the school community whose efforts reflect the school’s core values, demonstrates generosity of spirit, and can serve to inspire Potomac’s students.

Head of School John Kowalik notes, “Ericc Powell has devoted his life to service. After college, he cycled across the country to raise money and awareness for affordable housing – a cause that he remains passionate about today.” Kowalik adds, “In discussing his commitment to volunteerism, Ericc asserts that ‘meaningful service is not working for others, but working with others in partnership.’ That’s something we want our students to understand – the importance of building relationships and working together to effect positive change.

Powell has been employed with AmeriCorps, the federal agency for volunteerism and national service, since 2009. As a training specialist, he currently trains AmeriCorps members and supervisors in the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, which fights poverty in the United States.

Upon receiving the award, Powell said, “I am grateful that through my friendships, through my education, through my work with Habitat, I’ve been able not just to build houses and homes, but also to build relationships and communities, and be part of something greater.” 

Candidates for the new award were nominated by members of the Potomac School community and vetted by a nine-person selection committee that included parent, student, faculty, alumni, and trustee representation. 

Two Potomac Seniors Named Regeneron Science Scholars

Yanna Bravewolf ’22 and Ben Choi ’22 have been named Top 300 Scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and mathematics competition for high school seniors. This year, 1,804 students from 603 high schools across 46 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and eight countries entered the competition. 

“Selected not only for their research skills and commitment to academics, our two scholars presented innovative projects that set them apart as promising young scientists in the years to come,” said Dr. Isabelle Cohen, Upper School science teacher and advisor. “While both students truly enjoy the scientific process that led them to these amazing results, they are equally motivated by the notion that their work might benefit others in the future.” 

Continuing his work, which began in fall 2020, Ben sought to make further advancements to the 3D printed prosthetic arm he developed. The arm, controlled by a brainwave-detecting headband placed on the forehead, has moved out of the prototype phase and will soon enter clinical trials. Over the past year, Ben’s focus has been on fine-tuning the brain-controlled prosthesis. His work included assessing volunteers, collecting data, and creating neural networks – systems that use AI algorithms to make predictions – to input and verify the data. Through trial and error, he was able to successfully improve accuracy and movement to 95%, as compared to a normal arm. Ultimately, Ben’s goal is to make his “prosthesis accessible to all” – a driving factor in his decision to use 3D printing technology when developing his initial prototype.

Yanna is fascinated with both the field of bioengineering and using technology to serve the greater good. She was mentored by University of Pennsylvania professor Saar Gill and spent the summer before her senior year working in his lab, becoming immersed in her research. The idea behind her project was to develop a potential therapeutic approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease. Using immune system cells that she genetically engineered, Yanna found that the modified cells were able to remove the amyloid-beta protein, a destructive molecule that contributes to memory loss in the brain. The use of such modified immune system cells could have therapeutic benefits in treating Alzheimer’s. 

Both Yanna and Ben are part of Potomac’s Science and Engineering Research Center (SERC), a program that provides students with the opportunity to do high-level, independent research projects.

As a result of being named Top 300 Scholars, Yanna and Ben will each receive a $2,000 award. The Potomac School will also receive two $2,000 awards to be used in support of STEM-related activities. On January 20, the Regeneron Science Talent Search will name this year’s top 40 finalists, who will then compete in Washington, DC, for more than $1.8 million in awards during a week-long event in March. We congratulate Yanna and Ben on their accomplishments and wish them continued success!

The full list of scholars can be viewed here.

Potomac Seniors Win on 'It's Academic'

Panthers for the win! Congratulations to our Potomac Upper School students for winning the high school quiz show It’s Academic on September 26. Seniors Ben Choi, Ainsley Ganti, and Hadley Husisian faced off against tough competitors from Maret School and Mt. Vernon High School. They were coached to victory by US math teacher Nicholas Tkach. 

It’s Academic, on NBC4 in Washington D.C., is in its 61st season and has been recognized as the world’s longest running quiz show by The Guinness Book of World Records.

The match aired on Saturday, November 20, at 12:00 pm on NBC4. Test your own knowledge and watch the replay.


Senior Recognized as Future Leader

Senior Kennedy Ferguson’s artistic talents, community awareness, and compassionate heart recently earned her recognition on WJLA TV’s “Future Leaders” profile series. Kennedy shared that she has turned to art as a way to communicate feelings and clear her head. "It’s really therapeutic and then it’s also like a form of expression," she said. 

Her goal is to use her talents to express, inform, and influence. "Making art to connect people to those things that I care about is something that’s really important to me," she said.

Over the summer, Kennedy interned with an illustrator and one day aspires to see her art in a museum.

In addition to drawing and painting, she crochets, runs cross country, writes and publishes poetry.  She shares that animals are another passion of hers and she “dreams to work at an elephant sanctuary in South Africa as a zoo vet or a biologist.” 

Kennedy is in good company in this year's "Fellow Leaders" cohort. Fellow Potomac Panther, junior Ben Joel, was also later recognized as a "Future Leader" for his non-profit tutoring organization, Intutorly. 

Read Kennedy’s full interview and see examples of her artwork.


Amelie McKinney Wins the Highest Business Prize

Potomac fifth grade student Amelie McKinney won the Highest Business Potential prize for the 10-11 age group at the Acton Children’s Business Fair on Sunday, September 12. This is the largest entrepreneurship event for children in North America, giving children the opportunity to showcase their very own businesses. Amelie’s venture ‘Science Power: Experiments for Kids’ included instructions and materials to complete three electrical experiments, as well as three additional bonus experiments. 

The prize is awarded to the business that the judges determine has the greatest potential outside the business fair. Originally started in Austin, Texas, the Acton Children's Business Fair has grown to over 455 fairs around the world, serving 23,022 young entrepreneurs in 206 cities and 12 countries.