Sarah Sandora ’97, Ma’01 — A Leader in STEM Education for Connecticut Schools

Sarah Sandora ’97, Ma’01 — A Leader in STEM Education for Connecticut Schools

As a senior at Hamden Hall Country Day School, Sarah Sandora ’97 was asked to write an essay on where she saw herself in five years.

“I said I wanted to be a high school biology teacher… in Connecticut,” she said recently, laughing at her youthful certitude. “I wanted this. I really wanted this.”

‘This’ is a more-than-20-year career as a science education standout in Connecticut schools from Guilford to Wilton and now Madison, where she took a post last year as district curriculum coordinator for science. In her new position, she’s in charge of a complete reimagining of science education from Kindergarten through grade 12.

“The whole kit and caboodle,” Sandora said with a smile. A Madison resident, Sandora also holds an MA in curriculum and instruction from Fairfield’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

We’re all friends with this Fairfield University connection here in town, collaborating together on science education, and we also have kids in the same grade. There’s a really cool alumni thing going on here in Madison.

Since Sandora knew she wanted to be a teacher from a very young age, along with that came a passion for learning, especially when it came to biology.

“Biology, really, is everywhere,” she said. “You can never stop thinking about it. There’s always something more to wonder about.”

Now the seasoned teacher is finding ways to inspire that same sense of curiosity in the students she leads. On a recent Thursday, she was in her office tidying up after joining a second-grade class on a trip to a nearby farm as part of a new math and science interdisciplinary assessment she created in the science curriculum.

Surrounded by donkeys, chickens and pigs, farmers Stephanie and Greg Lesnik — who happen to be 1997 Fairfield alumni, too — had challenged Sandora’s students to experiment, measure, analyze, and graph data in order to create a planting guide based on their data.

“In second grade. In second grade!” said an enthused Sandora.

“Young students are so innately curious,” she said. “They’re natural-born scientists. If you can get them young, you get them comfortable with science — and making mistakes. That’s OK. That’s how young kids learn.” She should know: She and her husband, Scott, a special education teacher, are parents to 12-year-old Regan and 7-year-old Sam, the latter of whom was on the farm trip. She’s also happy to be stepmother to sons Jack, 20, and Joey, 16.

Sandora knows that gender is a perceived barrier to excelling in the sciences, math, and engineering. While she didn’t have a problem honing her own science skills when she was in school, she started a Women in Science club for students at Guilford High School.

“In my classes I don’t see any differences. I have so many young women who want to go into science,” Sandora said. “But it’s always something that’s in the back of my mind.”

An avid tennis player, Sandora was on the Division I team that won the MAAC championship during her undergraduate years. She still loves to compete, playing USTA mixed doubles matches all over New England with her husband.

On the academic side, Sandora credits Fairfield with having uniquely prepared her to be a certified teacher as soon as she graduated.

“They were able to customize my education toward becoming a Connecticut teacher,” she said. “I was able to jump right into my career after earning my BS, and then I returned to Fairfield at night for my master’s while teaching at Wilton High School.”

In exposing her students to science, Sandora has collaborated with another former Fairfield classmate, John Reh ’97, to make connections at Sikorsky for physics students, and with fellow alumna Deborah (Wnek) Thomas ’85, a Madison sixth-grade teacher. Coincidentally, all of these alumni – Sandora, the Lesniks, Reh and his wife, Megan ’98, and Thomas -— happen to have children in seventh grade this year.

“We’re all friends with this Fairfield University connection here in town, collaborating together on science education, and we also have kids in the same grade,” Sandora said. “There’s a really cool alumni thing going on here in Madison.” lF “We’re all friends with this Fairfield University connection here in town, collaborating together on