By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 5, 2010
Before tackling weighty topics like cellular respiration, food production and environmental degradation for a roomful of high schoolers, Sandra Reinhardt has to take care of the “Baa Gees.”
Named Maurice, Robin and Barry, like the musical Bee Gees, the three rams are part of her morning routine. Feed them and replenish their water. After school, repeat.
“I have so much wool in my basement right now it’s ridiculous,” Reinhardt said, pausing as she canned pickles.
Reinhardt’s home of 12 acres includes the rams and 20 or so chickens.
She is also the chairwoman of the mathematics, science and technology department at Monsignor Donovan High School, an independent Catholic school in Athens. She brings her after-school interests to her students, helping to raise the school’s environmental awareness and working with students to pay for young people’s education in Haiti.
“It’s great. I love it there,” Reinhardt said of the school.
Raised in Glen Ellen, a Chicago suburb, Reinhardt is the oldest of three children, with two brothers, a physicist and a geologist. Her father worked as an engineer, which she guesses may be why all the children found careers in the sciences.
“I like getting to the bottom of things. I like to know how and why things are the way they are. I’ve always been that way. I’m a full-blown skeptic and I like to make decisions with full knowledge. Science satisfies that part of my nature,” she said.
She teaches high school biology, along with a combined class in anatomy and physiology.
“What they are learning is about themselves and their immediate environment,” she said.
Reinhardt said she brings in current events to help students grasp the importance of science. Her biology classes study cellular respiration and fermentation. Students put the lesson to work when they make wine, which is used during Mass at the high school.
“It certainly gets the kids to take both the body and blood of Christ if they have a hand in (making) the wine,” she said.
Reinhardt and her husband, Joseph Eldridge, have three children. They live in Jefferson, outside of Athens.
It’s a family affair during the spring shearing season with Reinhardt and her husband cutting the rams’ wool. It takes about 20 minutes with electric sheers, down from more than an hour when she did it by hand. The kids help out by dipping the sheep after their haircuts.
“I don’t think it’s messy. The hair stays in a big mat. It’s not like clipping a dog where the hair flies all over the place,” she said.
And the chickens? She’s had home-raised chickens for eight years. Reinhardt swears she’ll never buy store eggs again.
She turned to teaching at the suggestion of friends. And Monsignor Donovan High School is the only place she’s taught. The benefits from the teaching and spiritual aspects outweigh any disadvantages, she said.
“We go to Mass as a group. We get to pray as a group. As a Catholic, those things are really important to me. The students are wonderful children and the parents are involved,” she said.
Reinhardt has helped shaped the school’s environmental outlook.
In 2009, two students approached her about improving recycling at the high school. After talking it over with school administrators, and with the help of the Athens-Clarke County Department of Waste Services, the Green School program got underway. Monsignor Donovan is one of 14 schools in the county program.
It means that environmental concerns are taught in different courses, from language arts and science to religion and math. At least five teachers teach 20 lessons that cover recycling, beautification and conservation.
“It is a conscious thing at our school. We discuss environmental issues at school, watch films and research different issues. I try to help them understand that they have an influence on how their world can be,” Reinhardt said.
She expected BP and the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to be major discussion topics when school begins in August.
Most of the students’ trash is recycled. Reinhardt said she takes home much of the foods, like apple cores and other compostables.
“I either take them home to the animals as a treat, or I put it in our compost,” she said.
Another of her projects is getting students involved with area farmers markets. This fall the school will be part of the Jefferson Farmers Market.
Food from the school garden is picked and sold, along with student-made crafts. The money raised this way has sponsored a year of education for two children in Haiti.
The doors for the next school year at Monsignor Donovan open soon and Reinhardt is spending the final days of vacation rewriting lessons plans.
“I want them to discover the concepts and build their own understandings through activities and laboratory work. I just want them to do the work, not me, because then they will build deep understanding of the ideas and concepts of the subject that will last a lifetime,” she said.