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Population: 82,530Median Income: $69,759Median Home Price: $177,000Households with Children: 38%Student/Teacher Ratio: 18:1Great Schools Rating: 9
When Kristy Payne moved here from Southern California 16 years ago, it was mainly to be close to her older sister. "But once I arrived, it was love at first sight," she says. With abundant parks, miles of walking and jogging trails, and a lake teeming with bass and bluegill, this Oklahoma City suburb has plenty of scenic charm. That's no accident: Edmond offers free programs on preserving the environment, and sponsors an annual Arbor Day fair with seedling giveaways as well as arts and crafts for the kids. "Even Aaron, our 4-year-old, knows what it means to be green," says Kristy, 37, a real estate agent.
But what she and husband Randy, 41, a police officer and SWAT team member, appreciate most is Edmond's volunteer spirit. Their son Austin, 16, and daughter, Madison, 14, both pitch in at a nonprofit group that provides clothes and furniture to the needy. Kristy helps throw birthday parties for children living in shelters, and Randy takes part in the Shop with a Cop program, helping to solicit donations and then escorting underprivileged kids to Walmart so they can buy Christmas presents for themselves and their families. "There's a real need to give back among all the people here," says Kristy, who's also a foster mom to a 6-month-old girl. "Small-town life doesn't get any better than this."
Good Deeds: The three local high schools have raised nearly a million dollars for charity so far this year. Students at Edmond Memorial brought in $528,000 to help kids with cancer by selling brownies and bracelets.
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Hampton Township, Pennsylvania
Population: 17,047Median Income: $75,999Median Home Price: $185,000Households with Children: 38%Student/Teacher Ratio: 16:1Great Schools Rating: 10
Kathleen Ganster likes nothing better than eating dinner alfresco and taking a stroll with her husband after work. So when the day is done, Kathleen, 52, and Paul Sauers, 53, drive home from their jobs in Pittsburgh—she's a journalism teacher, he's a chemist—and head for the Hampton hills. "A typical evening for us is to walk 5 miles—we keep shorts and hiking boots in the car—then grill dinner in the backyard and maybe invite friends over for dessert," Kathleen says.
Sometimes, though, they'll take in a Pirates or Steelers game with her kids, Eliza, 20, Kenton, 18, and Cole, 16. (Paul's daughters, Christina, 23, and Elizabeth, 21, are away at college.) "You don't have to plan everything," Kathleen says. "The beauty of living here is that there are so many options, and you don't get stuck in traffic going from one place to the next."
Hampton's stellar schools are another asset. Of the hundreds of area high school students who take Advanced Placement exams every year, 84 percent earn a score of 3 or higher. Eliza is a senior at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Kenton will attend the Honors College there this fall, and Cole is thriving at Hampton High, which ranks among the top 3 percent of high schools nationwide. "I'm curious to see where all our kids will settle down," says Paul. "Call me biased, but Hampton has everything anyone could want."
Good Deeds: This township really rallies around its teachers. When a middle school instructor lost his home to a fire last Christmas, students collected $12,000 through a talent show, gift basket auctions, and candy cane sales. After an illness paralyzed a math teacher, residents raised funds to make her home wheelchair-accessible, and neighborhood volunteers assist her in the classroom.
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Population: 25,263Median Income: $63,490Median Home Price: $152,000Households with Children: 31%Student/Teacher Ratio: 15:1Great 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.
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Population: 16,913Median Income: $73,165Median Home Price: $242,500Households with Children: 41%Student/Teacher Ratio: 19:1Great Schools Rating: 8
When a tornado whipped through this northern Colorado town two years ago, Ann and Randy West, along with kids Alex, 18, Jacob, 16, and Hannah, 15, were among the hundreds of volunteers who showed up with gloves, rakes, and garbage bags to help clean up. That summer, when Ann brought the family car in for an oil change before driving to Wisconsin to visit her ailing father, the repair shop did the job in 20 minutes—and refused to take her money. "They wanted me to get on the road and be with my dad," she says.
Ann, 49, and Randy, 52, an energy company executive, moved to Windsor in 1994 because of the good schools and small-town feel. With its neighborhood ice cream socials and front-lawn lemonade stands, the town has more than lived up to expectations. When Alex graduated from Windsor High in May, his parents asked which teachers he wanted to invite to his party. Alex named more than two dozen, going all the way back to kindergarten. "Everyone here reaches out to one another, and we're all connected," says Ann. "This is a place with a big heart."
Good Deeds: After the high school marching band was invited in 2008 to Obama's impending inaugural parade, the community raised $140,000, enough to send 78 kids—Alex (alto sax) and Jacob (trumpet) included—to D.C.
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La Verne, California
Population: 32,163Median Income: $76,569Median Home Price: $387,000Households with Children: 36%Student/Teacher Ratio: 26:1Great Schools Rating: 9
Nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains 30 miles east of Los Angeles, La Verne has abundant hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. At Heritage Park, residents not only enjoy summer concerts but can also pick oranges in historic citrus groves. "You're with family and friends, out in the sun and having fun—what's not to like?" says Lynn Del Toro, 54.
Husband George, 55, who manages a local water municipality, thinks of La Verne as a cozy little village. "The best thing about living here is the friendships we've built," he says. The couple, along with son Lucas, 15, and daughter Noel, 11, go on vacation with neighbors and spend holidays with families from the kids' schools. La Verne's teachers go all out for their students. Lucas' high school freshman class, for example, didn't just read Homer's Odyssey. "They acted out scenes in our city pool on a floating stage made of recyclable 2-liter soda bottles and set the whole thing to 1980s music as part of a cross-curriculum English, science, and social studies project," says George. "That's a production no one will forget!"
Good Deeds: Kids of all ages put in hundreds of hours every year doing fundraising and volunteer activities. At Oak Mesa Elementary School, students made 100 blankets for two area hospitals, while students at Bonita High raised $3,000 for Haiti relief by collecting donations on campus and at basketball games.
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Round Rock, Texas
Population: 88,519Median Income: $80,576Median Home Price: $162,052Households with Children: 48%Student/Teacher Ratio: 16:1Great Schools Rating: 7
Located 20 miles outside Austin, this town calls itself the sports capital of Texas. And as Norma and Gene Saldivar can tell you, Round Rock really delivers. Old Settlers Park—just one of 34 here—covers 570 acres, with dozens of baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and tennis courts, plus miles of walking and biking trails. The Saldivars' weekends revolve around taking daughters Amron, 17, and Sammie, 16, to varsity volleyball and softball games, where a good time is had by all.
"We always see lots of people we know," says Gene, 43, a data manager who moved his family to Round Rock (aka Silicon Hills) 12 years ago because of its high-tech industries. "Sometimes a dad will bring a grill and the entire team will eat out there. Parents here are involved with their kids, whether it's sports or school." Norma, 43, a FedEx courier, is co-president the volleyball booster club, and Gene coaches Sammie's team. "My husband is somewhat shy, and I'm not the take-charge type, so this is definitely out of our comfort zone," she says. "But everyone is so supportive and makes you feel you can do anything."
Norma, in fact, has yet another nickname for her hometown. "I call it the promised land," she says. "Living here is a blessing."
Good Deeds: Some 200 businesses have joined the Partners in Education foundation, which raises $250,000 a year to support Round Rock's schools. Most of the money goes toward grants and supplies: Teachers at McNeil High, for example, recently received Wii consoles to help special education students develop coordination skills.
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Simpsonville, South Carolina
Population: 17,216Median Income: $59,755Median Home Price: $119,900Households with Children: 37%Student/Teacher Ratio: 17:1Great Schools Rating: 7
Karen Trice, 42, wasn't too keen on leaving northern New Jersey for this Greenville suburb when her husband got a job in the area in 2002. But Vernon, 44, a computer technician and consultant, wasn't complaining. "Here, a four-bedroom house with a quarter-acre of land costs half what it does around New York City—and there are great schools too," he says. "That, to me, was the big ticket."
Now a stay-at-home mom to Jackson, 14; Skyler, 12; Arley, 8; Aja, 7; and Aaron, 4, Karen has since come around to Simpsonville's many charms. The kids take swimming, soccer, and gymnastics classes at the Y, slide and surf at Discovery Island Waterpark, and catch hi-def movies at the brand new IMAX theater. The local elementary school has 1,200 students, but it's warm and personal, thanks to administrators, teachers, and parent volunteers working together.
Even Mauldin Middle School, where there are five music bands, offers a supportive environment. "Jackson plays clarinet in the wind ensemble," says Karen. "It isn't an easy age, but this is the kind of crowd you want your 14-year-old to hang out with."
While she sometimes misses the diversity of the big city, Karen loves Simpsonville's small-town lifestyle. "We've planted new roots here," she says. "It's quiet, easygoing, family-friendly—there's definitely a nice vibe."
Good Deeds: Hundreds of volunteers turn out every year at Freedom Weekend Aloft, a four-day spring festival with hot air balloon rides, concerts, and crafts that raises up to $50,000 for programs that provide health education for women and help tween girls develop self-esteem.
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Population: 45,295Median Income: $66,888Median Home Price: $177,000Households with Children: 47%Student/Teacher Ratio: 20:1 Great Schools Rating: 7
The population has quadrupled in the last decade, but for Debbie and Mark Bennett that just means there's more Meridian to love. "It's still a place where people value a low-key, no-fuss lifestyle," says Mark, 54, a real estate agent. "Everything is comfortable here."
Along with sons Tyler, 20, and Dustin, 18, the Bennetts like to kick back at Settlers Park, where families gather round with lawn chairs and blankets for free Friday night movies in summer. Debbie, 50, who co-owns a construction firm, gives the schools rave reviews. "The high schools let kids focus on specific interests, whether it's a vocational trade, computers, or the culinary arts," says Debbie. "The opportunities for students are tremendous, whether or not they want to go to college."
The Bennett boys attended a charter institution specializing in medicine. Dustin, who graduated in June, has already passed the state EMT exams and will start at the University of Idaho this fall, and Tyler is enrolled in a pre-veterinary program there. "The education system here doesn't just make people better students," says Debbie. "It also prepares them for the real world and helps each kid find a way to contribute."
Good Deeds: Meridian's Promise, a coalition of local businesses, nonprofit organizations, schools, and churches, sponsors events year-round, from town cleanups to job fairs, to teach kids the value of volunteering and help those at risk get the guidance and support they need to graduate from high school and succeed in life.
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Bristol, Rhode Island
Population: 21,630Median Income: $54,350Median Home Price: $247,500Households with Children: 29%Student/Teacher Ratio: 9:1Great Schools Rating: 9
When heavy rains pounded this New England town last spring, J.P. Cloutier, 43, a computer programmer and volunteer firefighter, worked round the clock dispatching emergency crews and pumping out waterlogged homes. He had plenty of assistance. "There were neighbors helping neighbors and kids carrying couches from basements for older residents," he says. "That's because people here know what it means to be a community," adds wife Trisha, 43, a dental hygienist.
The Cloutiers love everything about their hometown, including its scenic view of Narragansett Bay—perfect for corn and clam boils—affordable homes, and top-notch schools. "We don't have any bullying, alcohol, or other problems because the teachers really care about students and want us to succeed," says daughter Rachel, 13. She pays it forward by tutoring first- and second- graders in math, and also teaches catechism classes at St. Elizabeth Church with sister Lauren, 15. "We try to tell our kids that the world is going to remember you for what you leave behind, not for what you took," says Trisha. "Living in Bristol, where everyone gives back, makes it easy."
Good Deeds: All of the town's tenth-graders are required to do a year of community service. Working in small groups with adult mentors, teens have made videos on the dangers of drunk driving and presented them to middle schoolers. They also pitch in by helping to clean up the beaches and monitor water pollution in Bristol Harbor.
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Population: 32,306Median Income: $68,994Median Home Price: $144,000Households with Children: 28%Student/Teacher Ratio: 15:1Great Schools Rating: 8
For Daniel Byrne, 18, and all the other football players at Bettendorf High, community service is a competitive sport. Last year they split into defensive and offensive teams to see who could do more charity and volunteer projects. "Our side lost, so we had to work out while the winners chowed down on pizza," he says. "Rough for us, but good for the town."
Pitching in is the norm here. Daniel and parents Joan and John, and younger siblings Michael, 16; Thomas, 13; Katie, 11; and Joseph, 9, have all worked at soup kitchens, helped senior citizens during fall cleanup days and even sandbagged the mighty Mississippi. When families aren't busy volunteering, they often can be found at a park or museum, varsity game, or high school musical. "All the parents here attend athletic, artistic, and scholastic events," says John, 45, a marketing professor at St. Ambrose University in nearby Davenport. "Everyone's invested in their kids."
So are the schools. "We've had many teachers who've really gotten to know our children as individuals, and they've stayed in touch over the years," says Joan, 45, a physical therapist. "They've made a permanent, positive impression on our whole family."
Good Deeds: At Pleasant Valley High School cheerleaders formed a team that included seven girls with autism and Down syndrome. The Spartan Sparkles won the gold medal at the last two Special Olympics, and an offshoot program now helps schools around the country create similar squads.
How We Chose: With the help of Onboard Informatics, a New York City research firm that provides real estate, demographic, and other data, Family Circle initially assembled a list of 1,700 cities and towns with populations between 15,000 and 150,000. From that, nearly 800 localities with a high concentration of households with an average income of $75,000 were selected. We assessed which places best met our family-friendly criteria—including affordable homes, quality schools, access to health care, green space, low crime rate, and financial stability—and ranked them from top to bottom. Family Circle then selected the 10 winners from among the highest-rated towns.
Making the Grade: The Great Schools rating listed in each town's information box is based on performance on standardized tests by local elementary, middle, and high schools relative to other schools in the state, based on a scale of 1 to 10. A rating of 10 means that overall test scores are as good as, or better than, 90 percent of scores elsewhere. The ratings are provided by GreatSchools.net, a nonprofit Web site with a mission to improve education by inspiring parents to get involved. To find out how your child's school is doing, go to the site and enter your school's name and state for test results according to grade, stats on student-teacher ratios and diversity, and parent reviews.
Neighborhood content provided by Onboard Informatics LLC. Copyright © 2010 Onboard Informatics LLC. Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.