Every teacher has a different way to quantify the impact they have on their students. For Mary Darr, she’s always impressed with the change in maturity and intellect from the time her students enter 6th grade to the time they leave 8th grade.
“There is just a huge change between when they come to Briar and when they leave ready for high school,” Mrs. Darr says. As the gifted intervention specialist at Briar Middle, she is in the unique position of having students all three years they attend middle school.
She is among five veteran teachers who will retire at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. And, like the other retirees across Perkins Schools, she has had a significant impact on her students.
Mrs. Darr started as a 6th grade teacher at Briar Middle School in the fall of 1997 after teaching five years in the parochial schools. Admittedly, she was a tad nervous when she first started teaching middle school-aged children, but settled into the job “when I realized how much fun the students are.”
In 2009, she returned to school and earned her certification as a gifted intervention specialist. That opened the door for her to teach gifted English and social studies classes for students in 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grade. Many of those students go on to take advanced placement, college preparatory, and honors courses in high school.
Many of the same students are in extracurricular clubs and activities, such as Academic Challenge, Land Use Debate, Independent Study Fair, and the Power of the Pen, for whom she served as an advisor.
Among the writing assignments she gives her 6th grade students is a letter to themselves, as a 6th grader, to the person they expect to be when they graduate from high school.
“The 6th grade is the kindergarten of the rest of their lives,” Mrs. Darr says. The letters, she adds, are a “way of time-traveling back to the person you were before adulthood.”
When the letters are distributed to Perkins High School seniors, they can be emotional and elicit big smiles and sometimes tears, says Jennifer Ott, the PHS senior class advisor and high school secretary who delivers them.
“The kids love it,” Ms. Ott says. “It’s cool to see what they predicted for themselves.”
The letters will not end with her retirement. Students graduating from PHS over the next five years will receive their letters. (Ms. Ott has requested that Mrs. Darr come to PHS the next few years to hand-deliver the letters.)
Mrs. Darr also has been an influence on her colleagues as a mentor and a staff member responsible for professional development opportunities.
In retirement, she has a long list of activities planned, including traveling, volunteering, meeting up with other retired teachers, and skating – yes, roller skating, ice skating and skating of all kinds, she says.
“I’m not going to be sad,” Mrs. Darr says. “I’m ready to do something new, and I’m excited about it.”
Until then, she’s going to enjoy many “great discussions” with her kids in class.