Family comes together to make it through a challenging year

The Sander family enjoys a host of outdoor activities in their Suntree neighborhood.


A feeling of community is part of what prompted Maria and Andrew Sander eight years ago to raise their young family in Suntree.

The couple met when they were working as research scientists at MRIGlobal in Palm Bay, then briefly parted ways when Andrew went back to school to become a physician assistant. He popped the question before he left, and the couple was married in 2006, when Andrew was halfway through his studies.

Andrew started splitting his time working between Holmes Regional Medical Center and Palm Bay Hospital as an ER physician assistant. Maria found work on a casual temporary basis as an animal keeper at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando. The couple then decided to move to Suntree.

“We love Suntree because it’s close to everything,” said Maria Sander. “The shopping, restaurants and the parks. Just the community feeling of it. Our church is here, and our friends are here and our gym.”

Andrew and Maria have four children: Elijah, 8; Sam, 6; Eva, 4; and Jacob, 2. The couple also recently acquired their foster parent license.

The couple’s oldest son, who is a second grader, and Sam, a kindergartner, are homeschooled. Dad Andrew was homeschooled in a family of seven.

Currently on furlough from Disney, Maria volunteers by teaching classes at Trinity Fitness. She also spends several hours each week preparing lessons for a class of 6 and 7 year olds she leads at a faith-based homeschool cooperative called Classical Conversations.

“We do worship songs as a community and do devotions,” she said. “We learn Latin, science, history, geography and English. We also do a group science project or experiment every week, art, drawing, learning to read music, learning about musicians and composers. It’s a good way for them to be with kids and in a classroom setting. We do field trips as well.”

For their children, the couple believes in teaching basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Maria carries the brunt of the homeschool teaching, Andrew said.

Maria said Andrew is a big help when it comes to keeping the two younger children occupied while she homeschools the older ones. Andrew enjoys teaching the kids about basic tools and home repair.

“American history,” Elijah said when asked about his favorite subject. He also enjoys basketball and football.

“I like writing,” said Sam, referring to writing the alphabet.

They also learn from the outdoors.

“The kids are excited about going outside to learn things,” Maria said. “We bought some milkweed and started raising Monarch butterflies. We have been raising them since March, and we have released over 100 in our neighborhood.”