Ten Maryland schools have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Friday.
Six elementary schools received the honor: Crofton Meadows in Anne Arundel County, Woodholme in Baltimore County, Ring Factory in Harford County, Rachel Carson in Montgomery County, Whitehall in Prince George's County and Pocomoke in Worcester County.
Four parochial schools also received the designation: St. Augustine School in Howard County, Notre Dame Preparatory School in Baltimore County, Father Andrew White S.J. School in St. Mary's County and St. Peter's School in Montgomery County.
"Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential," Duncan said in a news release announcing the designees. The work of Blue Ribbon schools "reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future."
The designees must rank among the highest performers on state assessments, or in the case of private schools, national standardized tests. Schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds can earn the designation by significantly increasing achievement among their most challenged populations.
All will eventually receive blue ribbons to display in their schools, joining 7,000 recognized schools around the country. But some began painting blue to their schools immediately.
More than 400 blue tongues ornamented smiles at Crofton Meadows Elementary, where the PTA celebrated by treating students to blue frozen drinks.
"It was definitely a community effort making our school a Blue Ribbon School," said Derek Burns, principal of Crofton. "Our staff and our parents understand the magnitude of the award more than the kids, but the kids understand excitement. We're very proud of them."
Within hours of the announcement, a virtual blue ribbon adorned the logo on the website of St. Augustine School, the first parochial school to open in Howard County 155 years ago.
The small Catholic school of 261 students is among 50 private schools across the nation, in addition to more than 200 public institutions, that will be recognized by the Department of Education in Washington in November.
The school, which goes from prekindergarten through eighth grade, qualified for the honor because of its high performance on the national Stanford 10 test.
St. Augustine Principal Patricia Schratz said the Blue Ribbon designation was an affirmation of her teachers, who keep students engaged.
"Our teachers really believe that it's their responsibility to teach the way students learn, not students' responsibility to learn the way we teach," she said. "And I believe that's not only why our test scores are high, which is only one measure of success, but why we're a school of excellence."
At the school's foundation, she said, are character and kindness. The school hosts programs like Character Counts and Rachel's Challenge, an anti-bullying organization started in honor of the first student killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
When Schratz asked for suggestions from her teachers and students about how to answer the question of what sets the school apart, she said the responses were uniform.
"We're a community with not only a long history, but deep roots and deep ties to one another," Schratz said. "Everyone is looking out for everyone, and I think that makes us exceptional."
twitter.com/EricaLGCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun