Sandy Dennin has been a fixture in the Middle School for 25 years. Her grace, elegance, and humility enriched the environment for all. She was a great presence for me in my first few years of teaching as she reached out to me with kindness and generosity.
I first met Sandy when I came to Sidwell in 1998 to interview for a teaching position in the fifth grade. At that time, Sandy was part of the fifth grade teaching team, sharing the responsibility of educating the youngest members of the Middle School. I can’t remember how many thousands of questions she answered for me but one thing that has stuck with me all these years was her willingness and interest in steering me in a direction that gave clear guidance on the “what” I was supposed to do as a fifth grade teacher, and at the same time challenging me to add my own creative spin on “how” to do assignments. Her mentorship was invaluable to my development as a member of the Sidwell faculty and community. She always gave her same encouragement and support to teachers and students alike.
In her first ten years at Sidwell as a fifth grade teacher, Sandy was lovingly known as Simply Splendid Sandra, Queen of Dennington. She firmly but gently helped her students tackle the many quests they were required to complete as part of the social studies curriculum. The kids began as “lowly pages, then progressed to humble squires, and finally, attained the status of knighthood.” Once their quests were completed, they would be “henceforth and forever more be known as a Knight of Dennington.” A moniker worth striving for! She began looking for a new adventure, and made the switch to sixth grade where she used her many talents to guide her students to meeting the more difficult demands of that grade. She always pushed herself and her students to do and be the best they could be. She continued using a gentle hand helping to guide her students to work to their full potential.
Sandy’s work in the Middle School was not limited to the classroom. To quote from Sally Selby’s tribute to Sandy at the End of the Year Meeting, June 2015:
“Sandy’s work has been recognized here by her receiving both the Goldberg Family Award for Teaching Excellence and the Alice Dater Chair. She was the Co-leader of the Russian Exchange Program, she served on the Principal Search Committee 11 years ago and several others since, she has coordinated the National Geography Bee, she has been on the Admissions Committee, Diversity Committee, and a rep to FacultyStaff Council, and she has served as the Middle School Social Studies and History Department Chair for the last two years. In addition to the trips to Russia, she took a sabbatical in the spring of 2010 and spent it traveling in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and she took the Minimester group to York England a couple of years ago.”
Sandy’s love of travel fueled her work to develop and participate in international travel Minimesters. Just a few of her trips included Puerto Rico where the group helped build houses, Russia, China, and Bootham, England. In addition, she created a venture grant for travel to Guatemala where she studied Spanish and sought to improve her knowledge of the history and culture of the Mayan people. On her sabbatical, she went to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru where she studies the Incas and Pacamama, which means “mother earth”. Along with Margaret Pennock, 7/8 science teacher, she piloted what now has become a consistent Minimester offering, a service trip to the Amazon.
Sandy introduced her love of travel to her students and to the other people she met along the way. Through her stories, her students learned how the lives of people from other places, while possibly very different, are in fact quite similar to their own. Through Sandy’s experiences, students could understand and appreciate the thrill of visiting other countries and learning about other cultures.
Sandy has always been a key supporter of the MS roof garden, the Linda Weiner Memorial Garden, named for her deceased colleague and friend, to continue Linda’s legacy through gardening. For several years, she also made time in her busy day to bring students to the roof garden in order to work the beds and plant flowers and herbs.
The genuine, heartfelt way she approached her work set a clear example for everyone with whom she came in contact to value and treasure each and every day. As Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently stated, “ Yesterday's the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.” Sandy made certain that her life “spoke” to that truth.
This graceful, calm, consistent, professional member of the Sidwell faculty says of her years here: “The kids are great and the parents have been supportive. This has been one of the best chapters of my life, and I have enjoyed every day at Sidwell Friends Middle School."
It has been our honor and privilege to know and work with Sandy. She is a creative and innovative educator who would never settle for the status quo, and who tirelessly worked to find imaginative new ways to inspire her students to learn and successfully navigate the challenging curriculums of 5th and 6th grades. We will miss seeing her every day around campus, but know with certainty that the adventures she has in retirement will be every bit as exciting as those she brought to the Middle School. Thanks, Sandy and Godspeed!
With love, and gratitude, for all of the creative, adventurous, global, fun and loving thoughts, ideas and memories we will always share, we hope that the next chapter of your life is equally rewarding, and that you will visit often when you happen to be in North America.