Letter to The Editor: "Village School Grows - but Where?"

By Nikki and John Ramagli and Joanna Horton McPherson

After the closing of the Big Park Community School (BPCS) families longed to have a place in the community where our kids could learn together. We had the vision to create a neighborhood school in a dedicated space, and that vision became the Sedona Village Learning Center (SVLC), an early childhood program currently located on the former BPCS campus.

Going on our 2nd year our kids are thriving at SVLC. As working parents, we are grateful to have an excellent school right in the Village. It is what every parent dreams of for their children: caring teachers, hands-on curriculum, and a Nature Program focused on experiential, outdoor education. We have several community partnerships providing music, literacy and the arts.

As board members, we have seen our school grow. We were recently awarded a $180K grant by the AZ Department of Economic Security and we are part of the Arizona tax credit school tuition organization that offsets the cost for eligible students. We’ve had requests for additional grades beyond preschool, and there is clearly a strong desire for the school to continue growing. Our ultimate goal is to fulfill these requests and expand to serve more children, however this is not possible in our current location.

Despite our best efforts, our 2022 lease at BPCS was only granted through May. This forces us to relocate… but where? It is our mission to meet the community’s needs and to be a place that families can rely on.

Our search for a space in the VOC has been ongoing for months, to no avail. Although a wonderful option has been found in Cottonwood, staying local is important to our families, donors and friends. Many have fundraised to provide tuition assistance for dozens of families. Former Big Park principal and SVLC volunteer Russ Snider notes, “This is an exemplary program with an outstanding staff. Students are learning in a fun, creative classroom which is so important in their early childhood development.”

The new VOC branch of the Sedona Public Library also located in the BPCS facility, was excited about having kids next door. Library Director, Judy Poe says, “We were so happy to find the library available, and the fact that SVLC is next door made it doubly attractive. Schools and libraries just go together like peanut butter and jelly." Marcia Hansen, Youth Services Librarian, hopes the SVLC kids stay nearby. She says, “We have so many more stories to share together.”

A good school draws new people and families. One local parent, Erika Christensen, says “during the pandemic, we came to visit my mom, our kid’s ‘Grammy,’ who has lived in the Village for decades. Luckily we discovered the SVLC and chose to stay due in large part to our child’s love of this school.”

During our Halloween party, kids were dressed in costumes, painting pumpkins. We all felt the true spirit of celebration for our school. For us, this dream is worth fighting for, and it’s the vision we have bringing families together in our community

We are reaching out now to the Village community for help: we need a space that will provide us with a good, long term home to continue growing in the Village. Our search criteria includes correct zoning for a school, support from neighbors, access to nature and an outdoor area, sufficient square footage, and affordability. Those wishing to help find a new location, please contact parent-volunteer Garin Marschall at NeighborsForSVLC@gmail.com.

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