Nia Simpson Memorial Courtyard comes to life thanks to members of the Ridgefield High School community

Last weekend, Ridgefield High School students, staff, and parent volunteers brought their shovels and rakes, their vision and leadership, their brains and their brawn to finish the Nia Simpson Memorial Courtyard. Nia was a beloved student leader, athlete, and member of the Class of 2024, who passed away last October after a mysterious illness.

RHS student government advisor and social studies teacher, Jennifer DeJulio was there on Sunday to meet volunteers and work with Student Body President Hannah Yu, Senior Class President Abby Seal, Community Outreach Officer Eliza Forrest, and Student Government Advisors Cassie Fowler and Dr. Jaclyn Aaron, to direct the Herculean effort of creativity, heart, and muscle. While no one had time to count, estimates put the number of volunteers between 75 to 100—working for hours on a variety of projects that needed to be completed before the September 28 opening.

One of the tasks the group assembled to accomplish was the installation of a Native Plant Garden to attract butterflies and provide beauty. RHS dad and Vice President for Horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, Todd Forrest, led the garden team, stripping sod, amending soil, and planting trees and perennials—offering a crash course in garden design, plant identification, and grit. He credited his friends, the Garden of Ideas owners Joe Keller and Ilsa Svendsen, for helping acquire and deliver the native plants at cost. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Forrest said. He also called out seniors Abby Seal, Rebecca Avelar, and Henry Sullivan as particular student standouts in terms of their stamina, overall enthusiasm, and effort.

Nia’s mother Safiya Simpson took her turn with a rake, arriving directly from an overnight nursing shift. Families loved seeing Ms. Simpson and sharing their plans for the Courtyard’s September 28 opening. Over the course of the year, the Simpson family has worked closely with Ms. DeJulio and student leaders and inspired all of RHS with their grace, generosity, and compassion.

It was not just the Class of 2024, however, who rolled up their sleeves on Sunday. Ninth-graders Leah Smuckler and Kate Sullivan were among the first to arrive. Junior Rose Idone and her mother Tauna were among the last to leave—digging deep, alongside Mr. Forrest, Jenn DeJulio’s mother, and Dr. Aaron, to move a large mulch pile after hours of gardening.

Students also got their hands dirty in other ways—painting kindness rocks, washing windows in the student center, and adding stickers to donated books for the reading nook. Throughout the day, everyone remarked on the stunning “Create a Life of Purpose” mural that students Lexi Barriola, Chloe McKinstry, and Donnelly Rodgers finished in late August.

Artistic talent, teamwork, thoughtfulness, generosity, and quality kids and adults who care and take time for each other, are just some of the aspects that make our RPS Community special. Sunday was a great showcase of this wonderful community—the Nia Simpson Memorial Courtyard is a lasting testament to Nia and to our community’s strength, beauty, and unity.

Submitted by Ridgefield, CT

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