I’m not originally from this area, but have lived in Grant Park since 2003. I was offered a faculty position in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech and moved here for that opportunity. I live just two blocks from the elementary campus on Grant Street, so I’m a neighbor too.
I was an ANCS parent from 2010-2019. My son, Ayden Leibert, attended the school from kindergarten through 8th grade. He is now a sophomore at Maynard Jackson high school. We initially chose ANCS (when it was the Neighborhood Charter School) because we wanted a school within the neighborhood that welcomed parent/community involvement and valued the sense of a school family. We also appreciated the emphasis upon creative, project-based learning and recognizing the whole child. I love how ANCS teaches kids to be engaged critical thinkers and informed citizens. Now that I have a child in high school, I recognize the long-term benefit of constructivist, experiential learning even more deeply and appreciate having a student with self-reflexive skills who is not afraid of asking questions and thinking independently. We have fond memories of many of the ANCS teachers and staff who genuinely cared about our son, and some of them still check in and send us photos from ANCS school trips and activities. There are so many special things at the school—the gardens and learning environment, emphasis upon health and well-being, wonderful school trips and experiences, the personalized attention students receive through smaller class sizes, and so much more.
I volunteered in a variety of capacities at the school and continue to serve on the board’s Fund Development committee. I started out as a Room Parent when my son was in Kindergarten and served on a variety of committees. When he was in second grade, I became the PTCA president for the elementary campus, and then led the auction in 2014 with my rock star co-chairs Renae Parent and Latha Erickson. I also served on the ANCS Governing Board from 2015-2018 as the Fund Development Chair. My husband, Mark Leibert, served as the Related Arts committee co-chair for two years, so as a family we were involved in the school quite deeply. After my son graduated from ANCS, Meeghan Fortson (the Fund Development chair at the time) requested I stay on the board committee for continuity. I’ve loved working with her and the rest of the committee so am still connected to ANCS through that opportunity.
Like many other ANCS supporters, I am sincerely missing Wonderball this year.. I attended so many auctions, it’s hard to remember the first one! I think our kindergarten year – it was the Right Brain Ball organized by Brittney Blackburn, Grace Burley, and Bibbi Ransom Camp. It was a fabulous event, held at the downtown old Macy’s building, and I remember being so impressed by how professional and large scale the event was and also how energized all the attendees were. In those days the teacher parade and raffle was a huge deal (I remember how the baskets included fantastic items including kayaks and a golf cart one year!), and I loved seeing the teachers and staff outside of campus.
The auction has always been the largest fundraising event for the school, even when it started out in its first year as a smaller scale event on the school grounds. It was always organized by parents, and while that’s a huge responsibility, being a part of it is a way to build new friendships, work closely with teachers and the school community, and also connect with many businesses and organizations around us. During my time, parental involvement was strongly tied to the school’s success and the auction was a critical event for sustaining us through a variety of tumultuous times, including recession years.. So being on the auction committee meant pretty intense leadership responsibilities and lots of volunteer hours and time at the school.
The auction used to have a changing theme and name from year to year. For example, the first time we held it in the Georgia Freight Depot it was organized by Amy Damiani and Cat Jaffin and was called the Fire Ball, because it was the ten-year anniversary of the fire in the elementary school building. This was also around the time when we incorporated mobile bidding for the first time. In 2014, we came up with “Wonderball” as the name because the school had entered a new decade and we wanted a theme that evoked a sense of wonder about the future. We also thought this name was broad enough that it could allude to different aspects of wonder and be a more long-term name for the event (which at the time was attracting over 600 attendees). At that time, we publicized widely around Atlanta, which meant doing things like painting the Krog tunnel really late at night or early in the morning. The event has always had so many different kinds of unique features and is truly a collaborative and creative venture.
When I became Fund Development chair, consistent branding for both the Wonder Ball auction and Gather and Grow annual campaign was a big priority, so we kept the name for the following auctions, which then had their own sub-themes. In recent years, I love ways the event has become even more of a party—with great bands, and DJs, and surprise elements. The auction really seems to capture the whimsical and creative aspects of the school, and I’m consistently impressed by how much heart and soul goes into its planning and how beautifully it brings us all together to celebrate and support the community.
What I will miss the most this year is seeing everyone dressed up and celebrating. Dancing, hugs, having that “wow” feeling when you walk in and see the space, the rush and frenzy of bidding…and of course all the cool items and event activities. The food and décor has always been impeccable–Drew Ihrig of Endive has been a key sponsor for as many years as I can remember, and he always creates the most amazing and delicious spread. And Eva Behrendt Phillips from Tulip creates such stylish and beautiful décor with her flowers. The thing I probably won’t miss is my feet aching and head hurting the next day!
Although we are unable to be together in-person this year, it is crucial that we still support the No Ball Wonderball campaign. The campaign contributes directly to the ANCS operating budget and is a chance to support the school and stay connected virtually. ANCS seems to be doing a great job at cautiously bringing students back into the building and supporting teachers as they maneuver the various transitions brought on by the pandemic. By participating in the campaign, you are contributing to the continuing success of the school and its valiant efforts to provide meaningful and critical learning experiences for students, even in this very unusual and difficult time. The pandemic has forced all of us to slow down and look carefully at our priorities—by participating in the No Ball Wonderball you are making a commitment to support ANCS and help sustain all its valuable programs and initiatives which also supports the broader community it holds. The history of our school is rooted in parental and community involvement which can take many forms including sharing your time and supporting the tradition of the annual Wonderball.
In closing, I want to thank all the volunteers and staff who help make events like this happen—whether live or virtual! And here’s to many more auction events in the future. Hope you can show your love to the school this week and keep the auction energy alive!