Story and multimedia by Hannah Sung
Geneva Heights Elementary School, formerly known as Robert E. Lee Elementary, was once a neighborhood school mostly shunned by families living in the surrounding Lower Greenville, Vickery Place and Belmont neighborhoods.
That tide began turning a few years ago with community efforts to recruit families to the school. That solidified in 2016 when Wendy Hatchell gathered a bunch of parents at Buzzbrews for happy hour, along with the school’s principal. Next, they hired a lawyer and filed for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. The result is the Pre-Geneva Association, filled with parents of little ones who will attend Geneva Heights for preschool or kindergarten.
“A better neighborhood school is going to increase property values, so people are paying attention,” Hatchell says. “We’ve got people who don’t even have kids donating and coming to our events.”
Hatchell’s family was among those who gathered on a crisp Saturday morning in November at Glencoe Park for a play date to learn more about Geneva Heights. Moms and dads came for adult conversation and to tire out their kids.
They also shared common goals: making Geneva Heights a better place for kids, being part of a community and meeting other families in the neighborhood. Parents say the school’s dual-language program is a big benefit because the kids will learn about another culture. Ultimately, organizers hope more families move into the neighborhood because parents want to send their kids to Geneva Heights.
“Geneva Heights has been a diamond in the rough and overlooked, but we have brought a good spotlight on it,” says Lydia Wright, the group’s president.
The group organizes two big fundraising events each year. One of them is a cornhole competition, which raises a couple thousand dollars. Last year, the group launched what is now its signature event, Geneva Nights.
This year’s party will be on Feb. 21 at the Granada Theater. It will have an “Après Ski” theme, drawing on the school’s Swiss connections. Geneva Heights’ International Baccaulaureate curriculum originated in Switzerland. Event proceeds are donated to different after-school activities, printers and extra materials for students and faculty.
Organizers say these fundraising events are designed to help parents meet each other.
“When you start out as a mom, no matter what phase you’re at, it can be kind of hard to figure out your bearings,” Wright says. “It’s nice to have someone else who has a 1-year-old or someone who also has to wake up early.”
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