Maggie Giles is exactly the type of dynamic, creative and hardworking young woman that would command Huntington High School art teacher Robert Potter’s respect. A member of the Class of 2018, the teenager is headed to SUNY College at Purchase.
Ms. Giles captured a scholarship presented annually in memory of the beloved teacher and skilled artist at last month’s senior academic awards ceremony in the high 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 devotion to the young people of the community.
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, a willingness to challenge oneself and an ability to inspire others.
Huntington alum Maggie Giles is headed to SUNY College at Purchase.
“I’m honored to be this year’s recipient of the ATH’s Robert Potter Memorial Scholarship,” Ms. Giles said. “His passion for art continues to inspire me and my peers to push our creative boundaries. After growing up surrounded by artists and creators, I’m grateful for this award, which will help me further explore my passion in the arts at Purchase. The art department has provided me with a second home during my four years at Huntington, and I’m so thankful for their support in my future endeavors.”
Ms. Giles is a gifted artist in her own right. She was mentored over the past four years by high school art teacher Kristin Singer, who provided a home away from home for the teenager in her art room.
A top musician and member of the high school pit orchestra, Ms. Giles has held the top executive offices of Huntington’s’ Key Club chapter, served as an event chair for the Relay For Life and volunteered with Natural Helpers and Habitat for Humanity.
Ms. Giles considered Emerson, Fordham, Syracuse, Fashion Institute of Technology, Marist and SUNY New Paltz prior to finalizing her plans to attend SUNY Purchase.
Ms. Giles is politically attuned and can intelligently discuss current events and the top political issues of the day. She is a social activist who energetically participates in the public square. She said the key to her success has been “utilizing all the resources available to me by taking advantage of all the opportunities I could find.”
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. Giles 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 then district director of fine and performing arts Joan R. Fretz, 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.