Ecologist, Teacher, and Dancer Joins Upper School Science

You may have noticed that Collegiate has a few new teachers this year. One of the new teachers, Mrs. Sandra Marr, is teaching AP Biology, biology, and ecology. She is a fan of messy gardens, photography, dance, and insects, and she is a great addition to Collegiate.

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Mrs. Marr holding an insect she caught. Photo by Allison Grainer

Mrs. Marr grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she attended school through junior year. After junior year, her family moved to Richmond, and she attended Douglas Freeman High School for her senior year. In school, Mrs, Marr’s favorite classes were science, math, and theater. As well as being interested in math and science, she enjoyed performing arts, including theater and dance. She started teaching after-school dance programs during school, starting her teaching career. As a senior in high school, Mrs. Marr wanted to be a neurobiologist and continued on to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to continue that dream. But, after experience working in the lab and finding out about the killing of mice for experiments, she decided that neurobiology was not for her. She began working at the Pittsburgh Zoo and also tutored in her free time. After deciding to not be a neurobiologist, Mrs. Marr switched and majored in Biology and was close to double majoring in Psychology. After finishing all her coursework in a mere three years, she did a semester abroad in Australia. With her Biology major, Mrs. Marr returned to Richmond and worked for a year and a half at Maymont as an animal keeper. During this time, she was awarded a grant to go to graduate school. Furthering her love of biology, and specifically insects, Mrs. Marr chose to go the prestigious University of California at Berkeley to study insects.

Mrs. Marr’s first “real” teaching position was at Hermitage High School. After working there for seven years, she took time off to be with her newly expanded family. During her time off to be with her children, Mrs. Marr started her own program, teaching homeschooled children science. often outdoors. She taught to a diverse age group, often including students, their siblings, and her own children. As a lover of dance, Mrs. Marr sought and found ways to connect nature and science with dance. As well as working with children, she also mentored other science teachers in a program called VISTA. She taught them to combine teaching with creativity. During her time off, Mrs. Marr applied several times to work at Collegiate.

Mrs. Marr says she was blown away by how amazing and smart the teachers at Collegiate are. When asked what she liked about Collegiate, Mrs. Marr spoke of the interactions between the Lower, Middle, and Upper schools. Being a mom to a kindergartener and a second grader, she gets a special view of both the Lower and Upper schools, “From little people to big people” she says, referring to the unique connections Collegiate students make with each other. Specifically, she spoke of the whole-school gatherings, such as Convocation and Pep Rally, and how these connections make something “feel really special about this community.” Mrs. Marr went on to connect Collegiate students’ interactions between ages to her homeschool teaching where she had many different ages together, creating a positive learning environment.

During our conversation, Mrs. Marr pauses to reassure a AP Biology student before continuing on to a different topic, dance. A passion of hers, dance has been temporarily put on the back burner because of her teaching. However, Mrs. Marr still participates in a dance group known as Claves Unidos, or United Rhythms. The group does African-infused dance with some Latin and modern influence thrown in.

Mrs. Marr believes in the importance of connections between people and nature. Ecology, arguably her favorite class, is about the connections between nature and people. With only a few people in the spring class, she offers the spots up to anyone interested. She says, “When you take people outside, there is something that happens that can’t happen within walls”. This is evident in her current ecology class’s frequent trips outside. Mrs. Marr has recently been spotted returning to the North Science building, in rain gear and rubber boots, sporting a net and bucket. Her class gets outdoor, hands-on experience. Mrs. Marr also explained that through outdoor experience she wants to make a difference. She would like to expose people to insects and reduce the fear of them in general. She also wants to encourage the use of gardens and reduce the use of harmful pesticides. A supporter of environmental change for the better, Mrs. Marr makes a wonderful addition to the teaching staff at Collegiate.

About the author

Allison Grainer is a senior at Collegiate School. She Is interested in outdoor sports such as rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and sleeping.