In our yearly roundup of perfect places to raise kids, we salute these communities for their affordable homes, green spaces, blue-ribbon schools, and giving spirit.
By Seema Nayyar
Median Income: $63,490
Median Home Price: $152,000
Households with Children: 31%
Student/Teacher Ratio: 15:1
Great Schools Rating: 9
It was serendipity that led Ted and Jennifer Gianaris to Edwardsville. In 1996 Ted had just graduated from law school, and the couple was looking for an affordable community within driving distance of his new job in St. Louis, Missouri. Then they noticed the "For Sale" sign in front of a charming Victorian house with a park nearby and an elementary school around the corner for their 6-year-old, Annie.
Today there are six kids in all—Annie, now 21; Jake, 14; Elliott, 12; Sophie, 10; Auggie, 7; and Abe, 5. Jennifer's three sisters and her parents, as well as Ted's, followed their lead and have moved here too. "My mom loves to go to the bookstores and to the YMCA to work out," says Jen, 45, a former nurse. "Even though this is a university town, it's the perfect place for all generations." Kids and grown-ups love the Y's new 116,000-square-foot recreational facility, which has an indoor climbing wall, tennis courts, and a roller skating rink (residents raised more than half of the $10 million needed to build it).
When the Gianaris kids aren't there for swimming or gymnastics, they're hitting the books at the town's top-rated schools. "I've even thought about taking some continuing-education courses at Southern Illinois University, where Annie goes," says Jen, who works as a volunteer in her kids' classrooms. "This is absolutely the best place to raise a family, and we just happened to find it," says Ted, 45. "How lucky is that?"
Good Deeds: Community volunteers solicited donations and helped transform an abandoned sewage facility into a 40-acre nature preserve with wetlands, prairies, and forests. And at school, students from all grades are asked to step up, whether it means visiting senior citizens or walking dogs for the Humane Society.