Six area schools have been named among the top in the country, honored with the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence distinction by U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
In New Jersey, Glendora Elementary, in Gloucester Township, won the honor.
In Pennsylvania, Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush 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, were awarded Blue Ribbons.
Last year, seven local schools won the honor. Schools can be recognized either for overall academic excellence or for stellar progress in closing achievement gaps among students.
The six local winners, all of whom won for overall exemplary performance, are among 297 schools nationwide that won the prize, announced Friday. Schools must go through an extensive application process and their applications must be approved by the state department of education.
Cardona hailed the Blue Ribbon crop.
“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 an enduring, positive difference in students’ lives.”
Senior Amyah Snead (center) celebrates with fellow students as the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush is designated a National Blue Ribbon School Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pa.
Latoyia Bailey, the principal of the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, was gratified by the win, she said.
“Every time I think about how hard our staff and students have worked for this, my heart flutters and I smile from ear to ear,” Bailey said in a statement. “It’s not everyday that a school for the arts is also recognized for its academic excellence.”
Rush Arts celebrated its win with a ceremony attended by Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. and Mayor Jim Kenney Monday morning.
Students and faculty gather as the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush celebrates its designation as a National Blue Ribbon School Monday.
Cardona himself stopped at Glendora Elementary Friday to dance with kindergartners and congratulate teachers in person. Principal Patrick McCarthy was delighted that the school had been honored so publicly, especially amid the pandemic.
What makes Glendora special? Strong parent involvement and a family feel, plus a faculty that goes the extra mile.
“It’s the blood, sweat, and tears that they’ve put in,” McCarthy said of his staff. “All educators — we throw in our extra change when we need to for things. We dedicate those hours at night, before school, when we need to. The teachers here, as everywhere in the country, they all do these things.”
That tiny Glendora, with just 232 students in grades K-5, was recognized still feels a little surreal, McCarthy said.
“For a school like Glendora to get recognized for this — I’m so proud,” said McCarthy.
Christine Pagan, principal of Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School in King of Prussia, let the whole school find out about the honor at once, watching a Department of Education video. She experienced the moment with a second-grade class.
“They were so excited, they were just jumping up and down and hugging me,” said Pagan. “My phone was blowing up. I knew what a big deal it was, but you don’t really feel it until you hear for sure that it’s you.”
Achieving National Blue Ribbon status was a goal of the school, Pagan said, one that they took seriously even through COVID.
“We did this through the pandemic; that’s when we went really hard-core,” said Pagan. “We worked very hard through that, we never closed. We were adamant that these kids belonged in school, getting an education. We upped our game these past few years. I noticed some areas of reading and math that we had to work on, so we did.”
Pagan said she can’t wait to hang a giant banner in front of Mother Teresa, which educates 290 students in grades K-8.
“There’s this feeling of pride: ‘Wow, our school has achieved this,’ ” Pagan said. “These past few years have been so stressful, we have something we can really celebrate now.”