By Martha Nodar

Nancy Jones, advocate, founder and executive director of the 25-acre, nonprofit Blue Heron Nature Preserve in North Buckhead near the intersection of Roswell Road and Lake Moore Drive, welcomed a new school to the preserve this summer and is now promoting the preserve’s first arts exhibit this fall.

“We are very excited to be launching this new venture,” she said.

Tucked away and protected from the traffic congestion of Roswell Road, the Blue Heron Nature Preserve hosts a natural habitat to nongame wildlife, a community garden, a preschool with an after-school program and a bird conservation society, all in a stretch of natural land near Nancy Creek.

A wooden bridge at the entrance with a “5-mph”sign eases the transition from the street traffic to the preserve’s peaceful surroundings, serving as a backdrop to the Little da Vinci International School.

Lessons in creativity

Founded by Soraya Rouchdi, the school’s name is recognized as Leonardo’s place of residence during his early years—Vinci, a small village in Tuscany, Italy, near Florence. Leonardo’s lack of surname is the result of an old tradition at the time. Leonardo da Vinci simply means “Leonardo from Vinci.”

“I wanted the school to have a name that was associated with creativity,” Rouchdi said. “I thought of Leonardo’s younger days growing up in Vinci. He was a critical thinker and remains an inspiration. I want to expose the children to the gift of not only learning a foreign language, but also to appreciate art, history, other cultures, and themselves.”

Carolina Escobar said she had been searching for a small, educational program with a holistic approach for her 3-year-old son.

“I learned about the school through word of mouth,” Escobar said. “I was intuitively impressed with Soraya’s great enthusiasm and educational philosophy from our first meeting. When I go to work I have peace of mind knowing that my son is taken care of.”

Roudhdi said the classes are tailored to each child’s ability rather than age. While the preschool program accepts children 18 months to 5 years-old, the after-school program targets elementary school children, 5 to 14.

Rouchdi also said she plans to take the students on a group field trip to the High Museum to enjoy Leonardo’s exhibition and to learn more about the master.

Arts exhibit debuts

Meanwhile, the preserve debuts its first arts exhibit with two receptions planned this month The exhibit ends Jan 1.

Art teacher Diane Evans’ “Stately Silhouettes,” consists of a collection of 15-20 pieces of mixed media and collage emphasizing the different trunks of the trees found at the preserve. There is no charge for admission, but donations are always accepted.

A percentage from the sale of the paintings will benefit the preserve, where the Atlanta Audubon Society ensures a safe haven to a myriad of birds. Jones said the blue heron not only “often resides at the preserve, but also visits nearby neighbors,” rendering it a “good ambassador.”

None of this would have been made possible without the consistent support of volunteers and the involvement of community icons, such as the City of Atlanta, the North Buckhead Civic Association, Oglethorpe University, and many others.

Oglethorpe’s biology professor Roarke Donnelly said his department has directed several student service learning projects at the preserve over the years as a requirement for some biology courses at the Brookhaven university.

“These projects allow Oglethorpe students to transform knowledge from the classroom into practical experience… while performing a service to the community,” Donnelly added.

For additional information about the preserve, visit: To learn more about the school, visit: