Art teacher Robert Potter was a true original. Those who knew him best can certainly see the popular educator working closely with Huntington High School Class of 2016 member Holly Grabowski, who is just bursting with creativity.
The teenager was presented with a scholarship named for the beloved teacher and skilled artist during this year’s senior academic awards ceremony in the school auditorium.
Mr. Potter passed away suddenly in November 2010, dealing a terrible blow to his family, colleagues and students. The Associated Teachers of Huntington, the professional organization of the district’s teachers, decided to create a scholarship to honor the cherished faculty member’s memory.
The ATH plans to award a $1,000 scholarship for ten consecutive years. The criteria for receiving the scholarship states the recipient needs to display an ability to think creatively and to express their unique “voice” in their work, along with showing perseverance and growth in school work, willingness to challenge oneself and an ability to inspire others.
Ms. Grabowski is headed to the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, where she plans to study for a career as a music teacher. The teenager’s “never say die” philosophy has been integral to her academic and co-curricular success over the past four years.
From the Blue Devil marching band to being a contributing member of Natural Helpers and serving as a peer mediator, Ms. Grabowski always met the highest of standards. The recipient of numerous Pride Awards, she earned a perfect score on her All-State audition.
“It was such an honor receiving this scholarship,” Ms. Grabowski said. “I’ve heard so many amazing things about Mr. Potter and wish I was able to know firsthand how amazing of a person he was. I’m glad to have gotten this scholarship in particular since he was an arts educator and soon I’ll be a music educator, which both focus on students expressing themselves, which then results into something beautiful.”
ATH President James Graber said that Mr. Potter “epitomized the true educator and believed that all of us, teachers, parents and students alike, should work to inspire those around us. The selection committee that reviewed this year’s scholarship applications believed that Ms. Grabowski has the talent and enthusiasm to carry Mr. Potter’s torch forward into the world.”
Robert Potter Left Indelible Impression
When Mr. Potter passed away suddenly, teachers and students reacted with stunned disbelief. He left behind his wife, Jan and young daughter Isabel. Described as a “brilliant art teacher and one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege to know and work with,” by Joan R. Fretz, then district director of fine and performing arts, Mr. Potter left an indelible impression on the young people in his class.
When a student would hear that Mr. Potter would be their ceramics teacher, a smile would typically come across their face. The more students learned about the creative and caring teacher the more they wanted to be in his class.
Mr. Potter, who taught ceramics (pottery) and sculpture, began working in Huntington in September 2006 after embarking on a major change in his career as an artist. After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Pratt Institute, he worked for 17 years for famed artist Peter Maxx.
While employed as a practicing sculptor and studying for a master’s degree in art education at Adelphi University, Mr. Potter came to Huntington High School to observe art teacher Kristin Singer’s class. “We knew immediately that he was an incredible artist and teacher,” Mrs. Singer said. “We followed his career and after student teaching, we were thrilled to welcome him to our Huntington art faculty.”
Huntington art teacher Ayallah Jeddah came to Huntington the same year as Mr. Potter. “He was such an inspiration for all of us,” Ms. Jeddah said. “He cared so deeply about his kids and pushed them to express themselves. He made me want to be a better teacher. He was a true teacher through and through.”
Although he was only in his fifth year of teaching at the school, Mr. Potter had developed a notable devotion to everyone at Huntington High School. “He was a great listener and took time to help everyone with anything that they needed,” Ms. Fretz said. “He embraced every child that entered his classroom and took special interest in those who were not succeeding elsewhere. Everyone had a home in Robert Potter’s classroom. Students found a constructive and meaningful way of expressing themselves there. He encouraged them to create art that was symbolic of their thoughts, interests and beliefs.”
“Teaching was his calling,” Mrs. Singer said. “Rob was meant to be a teacher. He was so passionate about his work and helped his students think on a whole different level. In the short 4½ years he was with us, he touched so many lives.”
The Robert Potter scholarship award stands today as one of the most prestigious that any Huntington senior can win.
Robert Potter Scholarship Award Recipients
- 2012 Dania Merilan
- 2013 Aasad Miller
- 2014 Samantha Guzman
- 2015 Hannah Maiorello
- 2016 Holly Grabowski