All posts by Krissy Vick

Johnson students in garden

Mud and imagination in the Johnson garden

2019 marks my eighth year in the Johnson Garden. One of the things that makes both Johnson and the garden program here so special is the sense of ownership that teachers and students have taken. Over the years, as the Garden has grown so has the overall participation across the school, and in turn, the opportunities for learning have similarly expanded. This year, every teacher at Johnson, across all grades (even the 3 year old pre-K class) scheduled weekly or biweekly garden time before the school year had even started!

Each year, teachers bring both their students and their ideas, thereby making the Garden better for themselves as well as the next class and the next generation of students who come into this space. Our new and growing Science Center and Mud Kitchen, the idea for which came from a former Johnson teacher, is one such project. The Center continues to be a work in progress and has already been well-used. The roof is finished and we have a running sink which will soon use rain collected from the roof. Additionally, we have an erosion table, a word puzzle and a spinner for games and random selection.

photo collage of kids in Johnson garden

This fall also saw the addition of a water feature with Cat Tails and a sarracenia, a carnivorous pitcher plant. The sarracenia has been a particular point of fascination for our students who like to peer down into the pitchers and catch sight of captured flies and other flying insects. We are looking to add some small fish to eat mosquito larvae.

We are growing a variety of greens (lettuce, kale, collards, spinach, red cabbage, sorrel) as well as broccoli, carrots, radishes, beets, beans, squash, tomatoes. In addition to the vegetables, we are currently rich in herbs and have basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, mint, stevia, lemongrass, lemon thyme, lemon balm, sage and lavender! Students love to explore the sheer variety of tastes and smells.

Over the course of this year, we are planning to continue to transform our upper bed area into a Pollinator Garden with wildflowers, bulbs, butterfly bushes and clover trail.

Excerpt from City Schoolyard Garden September 2019 Newsletter
Written by Rick Harden

screenshot of NBC29 story on bus stop meet and greets

Bus stop meet and greets connect schools and families

screenshot of NBC29 story on bus stop meet and greetsWhether dropping in to visit schools or hosting Parent University information workshops or swinging by bus stops with breakfast and books, our family engagement team is always looking for ways to connect schools and families.

Throughout the year, Family Engagement Coordinators Velvet Coleman and Bianca Johnson can be seen visiting neighborhood bus stops at their morning bus stop meet and greets. The visits have been widely-received by the community since they began in August 2018, and it is not uncommon to see principals, teachers, and administrators stop by to help greet students and their families.

“Strong relationships between our families,  our schools, and our communities benefit us all,” said Coleman. When students see us in their community and in their schools, they now recognize us, and this helps build relationships.”

For more on how our family engagement team is making connections, visit

Related news coverage:

wideshot of Story Pirate performance

PTO brings Story Pirates to Greenbrier

wideshot of Story Pirate performance
Photo credit: Aven McKinley

On Monday, the nationally-known Story Pirates made a stop at Greenbrier Elementary School to perform in two school assemblies after their scheduled performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Known for their live performances, hit radio show and podcast, the Story Pirates are leading advocates for arts education, particularly in Title I schools.

PTO co-presidents Aven McKinley and Andrea Swift said they would like to find a way to bring the acclaimed group back next year for all elementary students to enjoy. For more about the Story Pirates, visit

Related news coverage:

Paschall, CJ. “Arts Education Advocates Stop by Greenbrier Elementary School.” NBC29 WVIR – WVIR NBC29 Charlottesville News, Sports, and Weather, 16 Sept. 2019.


Sylvia Elder accepts dedication plaque.

New track dedication celebrates legacy of Coach Curtis Elder

Sylvia Elder accepts dedication plaque.The Charlottesville High School community held a dedication ceremony for the new Curtis Elder Track and Field Complex at CHS to honor the rich legacy of former CHS Track Coach Curtis Elder.

“The power to win must come from within,” was just one of Coach Elder’s many inspiring mantras for his players, and one he took to heart.  During his 44 seasons of coaching, Coach Elder’s teams won 253 track meets, 20 district and 20 regional track championships, and 7 state track championships.  He was also nominated for national track coach of the year in 2005 and in 1999 and was honored by track coaches across Virginia for his contributions to the sport.

Elder family at ceremony.During the dedication ceremony that included members of  the Elder family, the CHS football team, and many friends, colleagues, and former students, Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins remarked, “We can count the number of wins and championships, but we will never be able to count up all the lives touched by his mentorship and leadership in our schools and in our community.”

Dr. Atkins also thanked Coach Elder’s wife, Sylvia, and family for sharing Coach Elder with CHS on long nights and weekends and praised him for modeling what the combination of high expectations, excellent teaching, and deep relationship can accomplish.

Mrs. Elder, herself a physical education teacher, school counselor, and department chair in Charlottesville City Schools for 37 years, accepted a wooden plaque marking the occasion from Atkins and CHS Assistant Principal and Supervisor of Athletics Rodney Redd.

Sylvia Elder remarks.“I am overwhelmed, ” said Mrs. Elder. “I spend a lot of time walking on this track because it makes me feel close to him. He would be so pleased to see this beautiful facility, knowing current and future athletes in our community will benefit from it.”

One athlete in particular that will be one of the first athletes to compete on the new track this spring is Elder’s grandson, a top high school runner in the state.  William Trent, who runs for Monticello High School, recently set a new state record in the 400 during the 2019 Virginia High School League Class 3 state track and field championships.

In addition to the track dedication, CHS plans to nominate Coach Elder later this year for the Virginia High School League Hall of Fame.

See more photo’s here.

Related news coverage:

Daily Progress

CHS Orchestra

CHS Orchestra String Ensemble invited to perform in Lisbon

The CHSO String Ensemble will be traveling to Europe to the 2020 Lisbon International Youth Music Festival which features more than 30 concerts in the best halls and open-air venues in Portugal and celebrates youth orchestras, choirs, symphonic bands and ensembles from all over the world.

Led by CHS orchestra director Laura Thomas, the 53-member ensemble will present a short public performance at Central Place on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville on September 25 at 12:30 p.m. to kick off their fundraising efforts. Rain date will be October 2.

The Charlottesville High School Orchestra has traveled to Europe five times, performing in international competitions and festivals, including our Italian and French sister cities and venues such as Chartres Cathedral, the Votivkirche, and Santo Stefano al Ponte. For more information, visit

More about the Lisbon International Youth Music Festival

At the Lisbon International Youth Music Festival, young musicians will gather to build friendships and share uplifting performances with 15,000+ music lovers. In addition to their time in Lisbon, the String Ensemble will travel to Spain to experience the art, history and splendor of Madrid culminating with an evening performance in a sacred venue such as the Baroque church of San Millan y San Cayetano or the Basilica de Jesus de Medinaceli. Perhaps most importantly, CHSO musicians will serve as ambassadors — a vital reminder of music’s power to unite and inspire.  For more, visit

CHS Orchestra

Graphic for Walker Buford United PTO community forum

Walker Buford United sponsors community forum

Graphic for Walker Buford United PTO community forumThe Walker-Buford United PTO hosted a community forum on September 11 in the Walker School auditorium for Charlottesville City Schools families.

Watch recorded Facebook livestream here:

Part 1
Part 2

The forum was an opportunity to engage in dialogue about planning and implementation of recent adopted changes across the district.  A panel of school representatives included school principals Dr. Adam Hastings (Walker), Dr. Jesse Taylor (Buford), and Dr. Eric Irizarry (CHS).  Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions about division-wide changes such as unleveling and differentiation, as well as other topics such as the gifted education program and how to become more involved with the PTO.

The next Walker Buford United PTO meeting will be at Buford School on Wednesday, October 9 at 6 p.m.

parents and child holding hands walking up steps of Venable School.

Back-to-School Night coming soon

parents and child holding hands walking up steps of Venable School.Please join us for our annual Back to School Night on Sept. 19, at 5:30 p.m. During Back to School Night, your child will show you around his or her classroom, demonstrate routines, and give you a peek into some of the work he or she is already doing at school. Other areas to visit include the library, art room (where you can sign up to view your child’s art on Artsonia), iSTEM lab, Spanish room, and music/PE.

Kindergarten families will have a different structure: drop off students on the back playground for supervision anytime before 5:50, and then head to your child’s classroom at 5:50pm for a more formal teacher presentation (about 20 minutes). Then visit any of the other open locations around the school.

At 6:30 p.m, we will have a brief welcome from Dr. Kershner and ribbon-cutting to celebrate our new playground equipment. This will be immediately followed by our annual Back to School Picnic on the blacktop. PTO will provide chicken and paper products. Families are asked to bring sides and desserts to share within their grade level (these can be dropped off on the blacktop prior to visiting classrooms). See this week’s flyer for more details.