It is not every day that hard-working students and teachers are awarded medals for their academic success; but that is just what happened to the students and teachers at St. Patrick School in Washington, Ill.
On December 5, 2012, the school celebrated its newly earned status as a U.S. Department of Education 2012 National Blue Ribbon School. Like Olympic athletes, the St. Patrick students eagerly stepped forward as school leaders and Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria solemnly placed official Blue Ribbon Schools medals around their necks. From kindergartners to the most recent St. Patrick School graduates (now high school freshmen), the students beamed with pride as they received their medals. The medals serve as a lasting reminder of the important role that students and teachers played in their school’s Blue Ribbon recognition, according to Monsignor John Prendergast, the pastor of St. Patrick Parish.
The Blue Ribbon Schools ceremony was also an opportunity for St. Patrick School to highlight its collaborative relations with the local community. Sharon Weiss, the school’s principal, involved community leaders including Mayor Gary Manier, who presented a City of Washington proclamation in honor of the school, and James Dunnan, district superintendent of Washington Community High School, who expressed appreciation to St. Patrick School for preparing students well for high school. In addition, the school honored Jim Fussner, a patrolman and community resource officer, by conferring upon him a Blue Ribbon Schools medal for his work with 5th-graders in the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program and his efforts to ensure school safety.
St. Patrick School is a Catholic pre-K through 8th-grade school with an enrollment of 276 students. Founded in 1951 by the Sisters of Mary of the Presentation of Maryvale, N.D., the school’s mission is “to foster the spiritual growth and academic life of its students, faculty, and staff, and to teach children, with the cooperation of parents, a Catholic way of life.”
In its Blue Ribbon Schools application, St. Patrick School leaders identified a number of activities that enhance their students’ academic achievement, including: creating curriculum committees, increasing instructional time for some subjects, developing a new writing program with corresponding assessment rubrics, providing focused professional development, creating and evaluating standards-based goals for school improvement, and enhancing and integrating technology to address students’ diverse academic needs. At the same time, the school made clear that the success of these activities was made possible because of “sacrifice” by teachers, staff, parents, students, and the parish, noting that “teaching children the meaning of sacrifice, that is, the giving up of something for the sake of others in serving the greater good,” is a core value at St. Patrick School.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program affords public and private elementary and secondary schools an opportunity to highlight their students’ academic achievements and overall school performance. Schools may be recognized as national Blue Ribbon Schools under two categories: 1) Exemplary High Performing Schools, and 2) Exemplary Improving Schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan congratulated the 314 schools that were awarded the 2012 Blue Ribbon Schools awards this past November, including 50 private schools that were nominated by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE), which administers the Blue Ribbon Schools program for private schools on behalf of the Department. More information about private schools applying for the Blue Ribbon Schools recognition may be found here.
Maureen Dowling is director of the Office of Non-Public Education in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.