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

Sandra Heard

I worked as an architect and community organizer in Pittsburgh, Pa. before I started my career as an educator in the D.C. area. I also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, where I learned to value cultural diversity and began to seriously examine the histories of peoples in the US and abroad.

As a doctoral student and lecturer at The George Washington University, I taught classes on race, gender and identity formations as well as social and political movements in urban America. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Potomac’s juniors and seniors to create academically rigorous and nurturing learning environments.

Sandra Heard
Chair of the History Department and US History Teacher

I enjoy planning new lessons or restructuring old ones throughout the school year. Not only do I think about content when designing curriculum but also I consider the kind of mood and tone I'd like to set with each lesson. I'm forever looking for ways to get students excited about history, too. In my years as a teacher, I have found that some of the best classes are those that allow students to study art, film, or music to reveal the significance of social, cultural, and political issues.

In my U.S. History course, we are currently exploring a unit titled "Cold War and Civil Rights." The central questions for this unit include: How did the Cold War emerge and what was its impact on the U.S.? What effect did conformity in the home and workplace have on Americans in the 1950s? Why did the modern civil rights movement occur in the mid-twentieth century, and how did it influence U.S. race relations during this time?

On Monday, May 1, we focused on the construction of the ideal woman, the nuclear family, and Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique. To prepare students for this discussion, they read and examined a portion of Friedan's book over the weekend. To help frame the lesson, I opened the class by reviewing how many historians agree that magazines and television shows created images of the happy housewife and gainfully employed husband who lived in suburbia during the 1950s. I made sure to inform students that a noted scholar has argued that media helped to produce the idea of the upstanding man and woman who supposedly protected their family from threats by residing in the Cold War suburb.

After sharing what historians have said about popular portrayals of femininity and masculinity in the 1950s, we viewed an episode of Leave It to Beaver called "The Black Eye." While screening this primary source, students looked for examples of the blissful homemaker or a sense of female dissatisfaction that Friedan spoke of in the Feminine Mystique.

Students seemed intrigued and entertained when watching Beaver and his family interact with each other and their neighbors. After the screening, many also demonstrated their knowledge of Friedan's central thesis and the main reason she wrote her book. When asked what is missing from the episode, some students stated that there is no evidence of fear or anxiety about the Cold War in Beaver's community. Two or three students remarked that "The Black Eye" shows that there was racial segregation in the U.S. during the 1950s, because it depicts a homogenized white neighborhood that is devoid of people of color.

At the close of Monday's classes, I hoped that all students connected with the material in some meaningful way. I also reminded myself that I can check-in with students tomorrow and the next day to see if they are linking past issues to contemporary events and their own lives. I look forward to the rest of the week!

The day after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, I attended DC's Women's March with family and friends. To get to our destination, we traveled by city bus and walked about 16 blocks to the National Mall. Around 10 am, the middle of the Mall and its adjacent streets were jam-packed with people from around the country. Although the event was called the Women's March, many men and children were also present.

The most memorable part of the day was seeing the variety of signs that folks created to express their First Amendment rights. Countless signs highlighted pro-choice positions, and some displayed pro-life stances. Quite a number of signs, such as ones with the phrase "Stronger Together," urged participants to fight for justice and equality despite their social or economic status. There were a slew of signs that put forth cheeky humor about the incoming president.

But for many, the March was not necessarily a protest against the Trump administration. Instead, it was a way for thousands of women from various backgrounds to come together with their allies to support one another. Women also marched to show the president that a sizeable portion of the electorate back policies that protect the environment and the rights of historically marginalized groups.

I never got close enough to the center stage where invited speakers rallied the troops. As I moved slowly through the thick crowd, though, I was happy to be part of a peaceful movement of people. I was thrilled to be among individuals who appeared to share my desire to create a more humane society that respects difference and diversity of thought.

After participating in such an historic occasion, I read commentary from a few critics who stated that the March lacked a coherent theme or purpose. And judging from all the signs that highlighted competing statements, it seems that the critics have a valid point. But it is possible, as defenders of the event have stated, that the Women's March was dedicated to addressing the intersectionality within women's lives. In other words, the organizers of the March wanted to stress the multiple ways that women experience discrimination because of their gender, class, racial, ethnic, and/or religious identities.

Now that the March is over, what's next? Will we marchers go back to our communities to enact positive change in our schools, workspaces, and local governmental offices? Will we make sure to vote in the upcoming mid-term elections? Will we contact representatives and senators to let them hear our concerns about issues that affect our lives? My hope is that we will exercise our rights as citizens to make our democracy more functional and responsive to the people. If we choose not to act, then the Women's March was a mere feel-good party, a spectacle, or a litany of signs that said everything and absolutely nothing at all. I choose to act!

Last Wednesday, November 9, was a hard day for me at Potomac. I was sleep-deprived but determined to do my best in the classroom. I told myself that I would ask my students whether or not they wanted to discuss the election and its significance. The first thing I did was put on a good face as I approached the Upper School, even though I knew that it would be difficult to manage my emotions.

When I walked in my first block; however, I realized that I was ready to give students the time and space they needed to talk freely and openly. After warmly greeting all in my classes, most confirmed that they wanted to discuss this contentious topic. Now, I've had many great moments in history courses with Potomac's juniors, but our conversations about why Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost the presidency were cathartic, satisfying, and hopeful. Students asked questions about how the Electoral College works and debated if this system is outdated or not. They said much about the media's role in shaping people's views of the candidates, while questioning why certain segments of the American population voted the way they did. At times, I wondered if it were best to encourage teens to give their opinions about two polarizing figures. Yet during each classroom discussion, students demonstrated maturity as they addressed the legitimacy of the working-class protest or revolt against the established elite in Washington, DC. Some showed sophistication when acknowledging that Trump has middle-class and wealthy supporters of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Others displayed great empathy and sensitivity while revealing their concerns about how a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled Congress might impact the lives of historically marginalized groups in the nation. A few wondered why a significant portion of the electorate did not cast ballots on November 8, essentially helping a supposed underdog gain a decisive victory.

In the midst of this commentary, I worked to maintain neutrality with the hope that all students would feel included and comfortable expressing their opinions. I also attempted to connect our discussions to the history lesson that was planned on that day: "Immigration and the Rise of Nativism in the U.S. During the Early 1800s." Most of all, I realized that in our conversations about contemporary politics, many of these young scholars were learning about how U.S. government works. They were preparing themselves to be active citizens of a representative democracy, which does not function properly without the full engagement and check from a knowledgeable and voting public.

How did I get here?

This is a question I often ask myself when reflecting on my journey from Jackson, Miss., to wherever I happen to reside at a given moment. Growing up in the Deep South in the 70s and 80s, I always dreamt that I would travel to places very different from my hometown.

After graduating high school, I landed in Starkville, Miss., where I attended Mississippi State University, discovered my love of solitude, and spent many hours in the architecture studio, sketching, shading, rendering, cutting, measuring, building, casting and exploring my ideas about spaces and places.

During my final year as an undergraduate, I started to think more and more about the larger significance of the built environment. Can we know something about the culture of a people by examining buildings? Do buildings convey social and political meanings? These questions and others occupied my mind as I continued my travels beyond my home state.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, I was again thrust into solitude because of language and cultural barriers. But I found solace in books, old masonry buildings, cobble-stone streets, and bike rides through dusty roads near the Haitian border. I also found joy and connection in the varied exchanges (in my broken Spanish) with the teachers, carpenters, storeowners and children who washed and swam in the river of my adopted village called Pedro Santana.

My next stop was New Orleans, a city like no other. In the “Big Easy,” I learned to take it easy as I walked through Uptown, the Garden District, Mid City, and the French Quarter; I particularly liked to stroll down Esplanade Street – that grand boulevard! I also found it easy to meet fabulous personalities in bookstores, coffee shops, and taverns and have great adventures in a warm city that is French, Spanish, Caribbean and African simultaneously.

After spending much time in the South, I headed north to Pittsburgh, to experience the cold steel city and its sports teams, many bridges, hills, great neighborhoods, and community-development scene. I enjoyed Pittsburgh’s architecture and helped to design some of its newer facades, homes and commercial spaces.

Now I live in DC with my partner and daughter, and I still wonder, “How did I get here?” I do not have a simple or straightforward answer to this question, yet I am pleased that I have been willing to simply go on a journey.

Along the way, I have met folks from all walks of life, made friends, nurtured a family, had at least three careers, and learned a lot from my time in the classroom with students at George Washington University and The Potomac School.