Six area schools have been named among the best in the country, honored with the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence award by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
In New Jersey, Glendora Elementary in Gloucester Township won the honor.
In Pennsylvania, Benjamin Rush’s Arts Academy in Philadelphia; Council Rock High School South in the Council Rock School District; New Hope-Solebury Middle School in the New Hope-Solebury School District; and two Catholic schools, Corpus Christi in Lansdale and Mother Teresa Regional in King of Prussia, received blue ribbons.
Last year, seven local schools won this honor. Schools can be recognized either for their overall academic excellence or for their remarkable progress in reducing achievement gaps among students.
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The six local winners, all of whom won for their exemplary overall performance, are among 297 schools nationwide to win the award, announced Friday. Schools must go through a thorough application process and their applications must be approved by the state Department of Education.
Cardona hailed the Blue Ribbon harvest.
“As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will only be as strong as the education we provide to all of our children. Blue Ribbon schools have gone above and beyond to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional and mental health needs,” the secretary said in a statement. “These schools show what is possible to make a lasting and positive difference in the lives of students.
Latoyia Bailey, director of the Benjamin Rush Academy of the Arts, was pleased with the win, she said.
“Every time I think about how hard our staff and students have worked for this, my heart races and I smile from ear to ear,” Bailey said in a statement. “It’s not every day that an arts school is also recognized for its academic excellence.”
Rush Arts celebrated its victory at a ceremony attended by Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. Monday morning.
Cardona himself stopped by Glendora Elementary on Friday to dance with the kindergartners and congratulate the teachers in person. Principal Patrick McCarthy was delighted that the school had been honored so publicly, especially in the midst of the pandemic.
What makes Glendora special? Strong parental involvement and family atmosphere, plus a faculty that goes the extra mile.
“It’s blood, sweat and tears that they put in,” McCarthy said of his staff. “All educators – we bring our extra change when we need it for things. We devote these hours at night, before school, when we need it. Teachers here, like all over the country, do all of these things.
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That little Glendora, with just 232 students in kindergarten to grade 5, has been recognized, still seems a bit surreal, McCarthy said.
“To have a school like Glendora recognized for this, I’m so proud,” said McCarthy.
Christine Pagan, principal of Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School in King of Prussia, immediately informed the whole school of the honor by watching a video from the Ministry of Education. She lived the moment with a second class.
“They were so excited, they were just jumping up and down and hugging me,” Pagan said. “My phone was exploding. I knew how bad it was, but you don’t really feel it until you’re sure it’s you.
Achieving national blue ribbon status was a school goal, Pagan said, one they took seriously even through COVID.
“We did it during the pandemic; that’s when we got really tough,” Pagan said. “We worked very hard through this, we never closed. We were adamant that these children should go to school, get an education. We have improved our game in recent years. I noticed some areas of reading and math that we needed to work on, so we did.
Pagan said she looked forward to hanging a giant banner in front of Mother Teresa, who educates 290 K-8 students.
“There’s this sense of pride, ‘Wow, our school did this,'” Pagan said. “The last few years have been so stressful, we have something we can really celebrate now.”