Service Learning Initiatives
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. In fall 2015, more than 200 coats and several dozen warm hats, scarves, and gloves were collected across the school community. Potomac’s Third Grade Service Learning Committee took a leadership role in publicizing this effort; the students researched Cornerstones and the clients the organization serves, then developed a video to promote the drive and help guide needs-based donations, creating an initiative that was responsive to specific community needs.
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. In 2014-15, we added an academic component to this effort, when all fourth grade students visited Martha’s Table to learn more about our community partner’s mission to alleviate poverty in the District of Columbia. The service visits entail a tour of the 14th Street facility’s programs, including food preparation and the community thrift shop, as well as an opportunity to engage with young children in Martha’s Table’s Heathy Start Program. This annual experience will help our Middle School students understand that Potomac’s longstanding Sandwich Day is not a stand-alone activity but part of a broader strategic effort to help people in need in our local community.
New Curriculum-based Initiatives
As part of our transition to service learning, faculty leaders in each division are championing new curriculum-based initiatives. In a Middle School outdoor education class, students are making contributions to online birding databases related to Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab in a “citizen’s science” project. Meanwhile, seventh and eighth grade students are conducting an oral history project with a grandparent or other older individual, inspired by Story Corp’s “The Great Thanksgiving Listen.” In a ninth grade biology class, students are relating cell membrane structure to the effect of malnourishment on cognitive functions -- connected to our hunger theme – and looking at how cell signaling changes during the aging process related to the development of Alzheimer’s – connected to our elderly theme. Such curriculum-based initiatives help to provide a context and foundation of greater understanding to underpin various service learning initiatives.
May Day and Grandparents Day
Many of Potomac’s longstanding traditions provide opportunities for focused service initiatives. Each May Day, students bring flowers to place at the base of the Maypole in celebration of spring’s return; this year, our sixth graders repurposed the donated flowers, creating 70 beautiful bouquets that were then delivered to residents at the Powhatan Nursing Home. In preparation for Potomac’s annual Grandparent’s Day, an emphasis on intergenerational music is included in the Lower School curriculum; for example, incorporating Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” into assembly presentations provides an entry point to discuss music history and encourage intergenerational dialogue. Similarly, in the Middle School, fourth graders were asked to write about a moment in their lives that might become part of history and then to interview a grandparent or other older adult about an important moment in history that occurred when he or she was a child. Fostering connections between generations and creating appreciation for the wisdom and experience that older people have to share directly supports Potomac’s service learning focus on the elderly.