The little school that could

Villa Heights Elementary is often referred to as “the little school on the hill.” It sits at the top of Pinckney, directly behind Cordelia Park. VHES is a Title I school with just 115 students. We may be small, but we sure are mighty! We are the neighborhood school for NoDa, Villa Heights, Optimist Park, and Belmont. Our school family is a tight-knit one, and boy oh boy, are we missing our family this year.

We may have entered a new calendar year, but the challenges of the previous year remain.
Even after COVID-19 becomes less prevalent, we know that “normal” is going to be different. Masks, social distancing, and spending as much time as possible outside will be constants in our lives for the foreseeable future.

In September, CMS released a report of 39 school buildings lacking outside air capability. Villa
Heights Elementary was one of them. After that report, I started thinking (as duly elected PTA president!) about how to compensate for the building’s shortcomings. VHES has some great green spaces on campus; we just need to figure out how to use them.

COVID-19 has reminded all of us that sunshine and fresh air have a huge impact on our physical and emotional well-being. This is even more important for children! When students and staff return to in-person instruction, spending time outside in the fresh air will be critical. Those VHES green spaces would be perfect for outdoor learning or just giving the kids a relatively COVID-safe place to be together.

Back in the fall, I learned that my friend, Scott Lindsley, attended VHES back in the day. Scott and his husband, Joey, are the owners of NoDa Company Store and we all know they have quite the eye for landscaping. When I learned about Scott’s time at VHES, I reached out to see if he would be interested in helping redesign the grounds at his old school. Scott and Joey were immediately on board, and that got the ball rolling and the brainstorms happening.

Our big idea includes a picnic area, nature trail, raised vegetable garden beds, a pollinator garden, and a small fruit orchard. We’re hoping to raise enough money to get some murals painted, too. It’s an ambitious plan, but we are confident in our community and our school families to help get this done. We want this to be something our students, families, and community can be proud of and enjoy for years to come.

We have some great ideas, but we just don’t have any budget (#everyPTAever). We are incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful community members and businesses who are donating both time and money to this project. We were not expecting to be able to announce our plans or even get started until closer to spring, but our amazing Villa Heights and NoDa communities came through (because of course they did!) and we were able to get Phase 1 started at the beginning of January.

We got 12 picnic tables put together that Saturday. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to Scott and Joey for helping get this project funded and off the ground; to our amazing Villa Heights Elementary families for pitching in; and to our incredible Villa Heights and NoDa neighbors for showing up on a chilly Saturday morning to help. We now have 12 (socially distanced) picnic tables on the blacktop for students and staff to use during outdoor learning, lunch, staff meetings, specials, or just taking a break and doing some work in the sun.

As the plan progresses, we are going to need continued help from our community. Thank you so much to all the local businesses and community members who have already donated money and time. I CAN NOT WAIT to see the kids’ faces in the springtime when they really get to enjoy all of these outdoor spaces, and do things like grow their own vegetables and study the life cycle of the butterflies in their pollinator garden. This is truly a labor of love for so many of us and has, at least for me, been a very bright light in an otherwise dark time.

If you want to help, please send me an email at or visit to donate. All donations will go directly to this greenification project and are tax deductible. I always love living here, but this project has made my love for community that much stronger. It truly does take a village and I am so glad to call this one mine.