From the time she was a sophomore in college, Perree Collier knew it was her destiny to work with children.
After graduating from Belhaven College, the Gadsden, Ala., native spent five years teaching in Gadsden City Schools and working on her master’s at the University of Alabama before her husband, Lynn, took a job in Rome. She soon began teaching at First Presbyterian Church Preschool and it was there that she first began to meet Darlington families, who were always happy to share the wonderful and exciting things going on at school.
When a job opened up at Darlington, it seemed like the perfect next step for Collier. She was hired in January 1998 by the late Larry Muschamp, then-principal of the Lower School, and enrolled her children – Elizabeth (’03), Bert (’05), and Patrick (’08) – that fall.
“The administration was very supportive, the teachers welcoming and professional, and the students articulate and engaged,” she said. “All of this confirmed that I was in the right place. As a member of a team, you sharpen each other, and I was very blessed to be sharpened by my colleagues.”
Collier initially taught Lower School math, science, and one year of kindergarten; however, it wasn’t long before she was pursuing her passion, teaching science to grades 3-5.
“Working with 3-5 grades involves changing gears from one age group to the next each day,” she said. “They may be close in age but are much different in emotional, social and academic maturity. Having a sense of humor is vital!”
Collier’s approach to teaching is simple. “Learning is more than just academics; it’s about knowing the children and meeting them where they are,” she said. “You care for them and hope to instill in them that love of learning. As much as I wanted them to have a love of learning, the children rekindled my love of learning. They taught me to see the beauty of simple things. There is something about seeing the world through the eyes of children!”
When Thatcher Hall opened in 2009, Collier made the move to Cave Spring Road with fifth grade to teach them science and language arts. Four years later, the rest of the lower grades have followed suit, bringing the entire Darlington student body together on one campus.
“Everyone is now together as one school, and it has been great seeing all the connections between different age levels – not only at the ELA-8 campus, but with the Upper School, too,” she said. “We needed to be together. The potential to build meaningful, lifelong relationships here at Darlington is something very special that can’t be found at other PK-12 schools.”
Most recently, Collier was instrumental in implementing Delta, a hands-on science curriculum that focuses on the experience of learning, teaching students how to observe, think critically and practice solving problems on their own.
“Students don’t just memorize information; they work with different investigations, observing the variables that might affect the outcome,” she explained. “They learn how to apply concepts to real-world situations at an early age. It also highlights the interconnectivity between science and math.”
In her 16 years of service to Darlington, Collier’s contributions are plentiful and lives she has impacted, too many to list. And while she misses seeing her students and colleagues every day, she is enjoying the change of pace that has come with retirement.
“It is hard to leave the school when it is in your blood,” she said, “but it has been nice to have more time to work in the garden, travel with my husband, get more involved in local ministries and relax. The icing on the cake is getting to spend time with my grandchildren, Annie Ruth and McCain.”
For those of us who miss seeing her in the hallways of Thatcher, it is comforting to think that Perree Collier’s teaching legacy will live on through her son, Patrick (’08), who joined the faculty as an ELA-8 history teacher and coach last fall.
“I wanted to be a wife and a mother, to teach school, and to be able to continue playing piano in some form,” she said. “I’ve been blessed to do it all.”
Note: This fall, Justin Merriam will replace Collier as science teacher in grades 3-5. He holds a B.S. in Early Childhood Education and an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education, both from Berry College. For the past 12 years, Merriam has taught at St. Mary's Catholic School in Rome.