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

Service Learning

At Potomac, service learning connects our core values, curriculum, and service opportunities with identified community needs. It brings academics to life by creating meaningful experiences that empower students to think critically, use their creativity, and integrate learning with action.

Through service learning, students broaden their understanding of the world while using their talents and interests to effect positive change. We aspire to live Potomac's core values – courage, humility, integrity, perseverance, and respect – through service learning and to inspire a life-long commitment to service.

Potomac has a longstanding tradition of voluntary service to others, rooted in its mission. In 2014-15, we began the transition from community service to service learning, exemplified by more meaningful experiences that provide greater context, student voice, opportunities for reflection, and reciprocity with partner organizations.

What Distinguishes Potomac’s Service Learning Programs?
Our K-12 service learning initiatives

  • connect to the curriculum
    A defining element of service learning at Potomac is connecting our service themes and learning experiences to the classroom curriculum across all four divisions.
  • integrate student voice and choice
    We create meaningful experiences by drawing upon students' skills, interests, and talents to shape and lead service learning initiatives.
  • respond to community needs
    Working in collaboration with partner organizations, we develop our service initiatives purposefully, by learning about and responding to clearly defined community needs.
  • follow a series of intentional steps: planning, action, reflection, and sharing
    We strive to develop initiatives that benefit the community while providing valuable learning opportunities for Potomac students; this is accomplished by providing preparatory context; leading thoughtful, reinforcing reflection; and sharing experiences with others through discussion and demonstration.

How do we define the service “scope”?
Service begins at home within the Potomac community and extends outward to the local, regional, national, and international communities of which we are all a part.

What are Potomac’s service learning themes?
Potomac has defined four themes around which its service learning initiatives are built:

  • hunger, homelessness, and poverty
  • the environment
  • literacy
  • the elderly

Who do we partner with in our local community?
Many service learning initiatives are conducted in collaboration with local community partners, including Share of McLean, Cornerstones, Alternative House, and Martha’s Table.



Potomac Community Unites to Raise Funds for Hurricane Relief - Learn More

This fall, the Potomac community came together to respond to the unprecedented hurricanes that affected Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. K-12 service learning student, faculty, and staff leaders identified initial ideas at the start of the academic year, igniting a coordinated school-wide response with age-appropriate activities in each division.

Lower School students and families were invited to participate in a Loose Change Drive. In LS classrooms, students collected, sorted, and counted the donated change and discussed the many ways their contributions could help individuals and families in need. Middle school students were encouraged to earn their donations by performing jobs at home or in their neighborhood; they also had the option of donating their allowance. Intermediate School students “put themselves in the shoes of others” and donated their daily snack money to the relief effort.And students in the Upper School were encouraged to identify one personal sacrifice, for example refraining from purchasing a Starbuck’s coffee or a song on iTunes, and donate that money to hurricane relief.

In total, all four divisions collected more than $4,600 to donate to relief efforts for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. At an assembly, Upper School students heard from Peter Macias of the American Red Cross, learning about the organization’s on-the-ground emergency recovery and relief work. In addition to participating in these school-sponsored activities, many members of the Potomac community -- including students, faculty, staff, and parents -- posted other ways to support relief efforts on the Service Connection, Potomac’s online resource for sharing outside-of-school service opportunities

Third Grade Service Learning Committee Leads Schoolwide Coat Drive

The six members of the third grade Service Learning Committee led Potomac’s annual K-12 Coat Drive to benefit Cornerstones this fall. Their work began in September, when they participated in a Skype interview with Mr. Nate King from Cornerstones to investigate the needs of our longstanding community partner.

New this year, the Lower School leaders partnered with members of the Upper School Honor Council to spearhead this schoolwide drive, creating a video to help the Potomac community learn about Cornerstones’ mission and encourage donations from students in each division.

Their collaborative work to communicate the importance of this effort resulted in the Potomac community donating 276 winter coats and 103 hats, gloves, mittens, and scarves to benefit Cornerstones’ Winter Coat Closet, providing warmth to individuals and families in need in northwestern Fairfax County.

Click here to see the video messages created by the LS and US leaders.

Fourth Grade Students Visit Martha’s Table to Learn about Potomac’s Longstanding Sandwich Day Partner - Learn More

Each fourth grade class visited Martha’s Table this fall. Now in its fourth year, this grade-level service learning initiative is an opportunity for Middle School students to learn about the various programs that support our partner orgqaization’s mission to build stronger children, families, and communities by increasing access to quality education programs, healthy food, and family support.

To prepare, the fourth graders researched our partner on the Martha’s Table’s website. They also read Christine Applegate’s Crenshaw, a story about 10-year old Jackson and his family, who have fallen on hard times, and an imaginary friend who helps Jackson cope with the family crisis.

During their visit to Martha’s Table, the students toured the food preparation area and the organization’s used-clothing store, Martha’s Outfitters. They also saw McKenna’s Wagon, a mobile food truck that operates 365 days a year, serving hungry and homeless individuals in Washington, DC. In addition -- and always a highlight of the visit -- the Potomac students played on the playground with young children enrolled in the Healthy Start Program, Martha’s Tables accredited preschool program.

IS Students Host Young Children from Second Story for 12th Annual Halloween Party - Learn More

In October, 60 Intermediate School students hosted young children from Second Story (previously called Alternative House) for the 12th annual Halloween party. Each student paired with a buddy, and everyone enjoyed face painting, scary bingo, and Halloween cookie decorating. The guests from Second Story went “shopping” to select a Halloween costume for themselves and a sibling. The evening concluded with a pizza dinner for all, after which each guest received a goody bag filled with personal hygiene items, school supplies, and Halloween treats.

The Halloween party is one of four events throughout the school year where Potomac hosts Second Story guests on campus for an afternoon of fun. This year-long program provides an opportunity for Potomac students to develop relationships with these young people from our local community. Click here for the list of yearlong events with Second Story.

US Students Learn and Serve Through Fall Community Action Program - Learn More

Upper School students participated in the fall Community Action Program. Prior to their day of service, 9th and 10th grade students engaged in preparatory learning that helped increase their understanding of community issues related to literacy and hunger. On November 28, the 9th graders served at seven local child-development centers and Head Start programs, including Bright Beginnings and Higher Horizons, while 10th graders volunteered at five local organizations that address hunger and food insecurity, including DC Central Kitchen and Cornerstones Food Pantry.

In preparation for their Community Action Day, 11th and 12th grade advisories researched and selected community partners. On December 5, they served at 15 sites, including A Wider Circle, Leveling the Playing Field, and Rock Creek Conservancy. The juniors and seniors will continue volunteering with their chosen partner organizations this spring, with the goal of developing longer-term relationships.

To conclude their day of action, all of the students participated in on-campus projects of their choice. The 9th and 10th graders participated in service projects related to the themes of literacy and hunger, while 11th and 12th grade students selected from projects led by clubs and advisories. Below is a list of projects completed on both Community Action Days:

9th Grade Service Projects (literacy)

  • created 20 literacy kits to be used by young children in Cornerstones’ after-school programs
  • assembled 129 book bundles for A Wider Circle
  • read with 62 kindergarten and second grade students in Potomac’s Lower School

10th Grade Service Projects (hunger)

  • created 44 colorful placemats for Bethesda Cares
  • assembled 40 weekend food packages for local children served by Food for Others
  • made 582 bags of trail mix to distribute on McKenna’s Wagon

11th and 12th Grade Service Projects

  • made 320 origami cranes for Children’s National Medical Center, with the Service Learning Club
  • created 80 care packages and table decorations for a dinner at Mt. Zion Methodist Church for people experiencing homelessness in DC, with the FOCUS Club
  • helped to steward Potomac’s campus by clearing invasive species, with Students for Environmental Action
  • made 30 animal blankets and handmade cards to benefit the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, with Dr. Starling’s advisory

Parent Association Service Learning Committee Host First Feed-a-Family Event - Learn More

The Parent Association’s Service Learning Committee held its first Feed-a-Family event at Potomac this December, in support of the St. Lucy Project. More than 120 family volunteers worked together to assemble 525 chicken casserole meals and write notes of encouragement to individuals and families across northern Virginia who are facing food insecurity.

The Potomac community generously donated 2,625 ingredients needed to make the meals, and dedicated parent volunteers sorted and organized the food before the event. This new event was a meaningful service opportunity, offering Potomac families a chance to make a positive difference in our local community.

Click here for more photos.


ACE Everett
K-12 Service Learning Consultant

Becca Mahoney
Upper School Service Learning Coordinator
(703) 873-6140

Many Potomac graduates choose service professions, pursuing government,
teaching, medicine, nonprofit leadership, and more. We aspire to prepare leaders with a commitment to service, individuals who will use their knowledge and talents to make a lasting positive difference.


K-12 Coat Drive

The Lower School leads Potomac’s K-12 Coat Drive to benefit Cornerstones and their clients in need in northwestern Fairfax County. Read More...

Sandwich Day and Service Trips to Martha’s Table

Potomac has a two-decade school-wide tradition of monthly sandwich making to help feed individuals in need in Washington, DC. Read More...

New Curriculum-based Initiatives

As part of our transition to service learning, faculty leaders in each division are championing new curriculum-based initiatives. Read More...

May Day and Grandparents Day

Many of Potomac’s longstanding traditions provide opportunities for focused service initiatives. Read More...