Teachers all know that they are the ones who learn the most in the classroom.
This truism is demonstrated once again in the classroom of Katherine Potocki, a reserved, soft-spoken veteran teacher with a slight Southern accent, who teaches eighth-grade American history at Patapsco Middle School in Ellicott City.
In 1989, three boys brought a grocery bag filled with antique dishes, old bottles and pottery shards which they had found while playing in a local cemetery.
As the children and Mrs. Potocki investigated, they found that the old ceramics were "graveyard goods," household items placed as headstones on the graves of the poor who could not afford carved stones.
The boys, J. T. Derwart, Gavin Duffy, Joel Murray and David Cala, turned their investigation into a project in the gifted and talented program. Their photographs and explanation became a poster, which still hangs in Mrs. Potocki's classroom.
It was the first of many steps in Mrs. Potocki's interest in cemetery preservation, an interest she shares with all of her students.
Meanwhile, the Howard County Public Schools incorporated a research requirement into its eighth-grade gifted and talented curriculum.
In 1991, Mrs. Potocki's eighth-grade class decided to do its research project on a different graveyard that could scarcely be seen from the road.
Their subsequent investigations showed that the graveyard was Old St. Paul's Catholic Cemetery, a three- to four-acre parcel of 117 grave sites near the intersections of Frederick Road and Rogers Avenue.
Mrs. Potocki has since been instrumental in the formation of the Student Advisory Board, a group of students from seven schools, which meets with the adult Cemetery Preservation Board. Her daughter, Chris Potocki, a senior at Centennial High School, is active in this board.
With the advent of March's growing season, she will spend Saturday mornings in Old St. Paul's Cemetery with small groups of students, their parents and volunteers. The groups will work to restore the grounds by removing trash trees, planting ground cover and starting pathways. Stone conservator David Roberts will then be able to restore the many broken and damaged stones. An Adopt-A-Stone fund-raiser is being planned to help pay for this expense.
In addition, the reserved Mrs. Potocki is polishing her public speaking, testifying before the County Council on numerous occasions and before a state legislative committee. She will testify before the General Assembly again later this winter.
She is also making her project known to groups of educators. A presentation on her efforts to educate children on historic preservation was given to the National Middle School Association in Seattle. She will present it again in March to the Maryland Middle School Association.
People have started to take wider notice of the effort. The "big moment in her life" was the day when, having been voted "Teacher-Historian for the Year 1993" by the United States Capitol Historical Society, Mrs. Potocki celebrated the 200th anniversary of the laying of the Capitol cornerstone. Her escorts included U.S. Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
The eight boys of Grizzly Patrol from Cub Scout Pack 361 usually meet at First Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City. But on Friday, Feb. 4, they and their leaders took an exciting field trip to meet a requirement of the communicator badge.
The boys went to Baltimore's Television Hill and toured WBAL Channel 11 studios. After their tour, "they lucked out," says assistant leader Libby Bishop, and were invited to sit in the studio wings while the cameras rolled, taping the noon news program.
While Mrs. Bishop and leader Dale Clark looked on, the boys, normally the wiggly sort, sat quietly, hardly moving until the taping was over.
After the taping, news anchor Liz O'Neill chatted with them, telling them how much she enjoyed Ellicott City when she lived in the county.
The boys who are busy earning their communicator badges include Jeffrey Beaser, Adam Bishop, Alex Chin, Danny Clark, Phillip Kendall-Kuppe, Ryan Molesky, Eddie Ryland and Collin Wallace. They are first-year Webelos Scouts who attend Centennial Elementary School.
The modest unpainted structure standing at the intersection of Rogers Avenue and Main Street in Ellicott City, "the Colored School," is a monument to teachers and children who spent years there. It is also in serious disrepair.
In an effort headed by history buff Beulah Buckner of Columbia, the Afro-American History and Genealogy Society has dreams of restoring the school. Where children and horses once walked across a wooden bridge, Mrs. Buckner sees a reinforced brick driveway crossing the Tiber River to a parking lot. A vestibule surrounding the building will allow wheelchair access, and a new building will house records for genealogical research. Two existing outhouses will be restored, giving an authentic touch.
Dreams aren't free; the genealogy society's fund-raiser involves selling personalized paver bricks. You can buy a paver brick for $25, a parking lot brick for $50, a brick for Prestigious Plaza for $100, and a step for $1,000.
Call Mrs. Buckner at 730-3172 for more information, or send your order to P.O. Box 2774, Columbia, Md. 21045. If you're curious about the genealogy society, meet with them at 4 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Miller Branch.