Tuesday's celebration of North Harford Elementary School being named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School for 2016 was all about the school's 410 students, but as local and state leaders reminded them, it was also about 56 members of the faculty and staff, as well as the Harford County Public Schools staff who support them and the many parents and community supporters who helped them get to Blue Ribbon status.
"It takes a community to have a really, really good school," Board of Education President Nancy Reynolds said during the Tuesday morning celebration in the Pylesville school's gymnasium.
Students, faculty and staff wore blue T-shirts with the Maryland colors in the center in honor of the Blue Ribbon achievement.
North Harford Elementary is one of six public schools in the state selected by the Maryland State Department of Education as Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools for 2016. It is the only public school in Harford County to receive the honor this year.
Fountain Green Elementary School, near Bel Air, was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School during the 2014-2015 school year, and it was named a National Blue Ribbon School in the fall of 2015.
Maryland Blue Ribbon status is awarded based on the school's overall standardized test scores, the level of academic achievement by low-income and special-needs students and parent involvement and community outreach programs.
"Congratulations," HCPS Superintendent Barbara Canavan told the students. "You guys worked hard; you deserve this celebration, and keep working as hard as you have been."
Jack Smith, Maryland's interim state superintendent of schools, encouraged the students to "give all of these adults a big round of applause" for their support, including the faculty and staff in the gym as well as Parent-Teacher Association leaders and the school system, county and state dignitaries.
North Harford Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School because of its "impressive record of student achievement" and its "co-teaching" methods to help students who learn at varied levels, according to a HCPS news release.
The school was named a Maryland Green School in 2014 for students' initiatives to protect the environment, including a way station for migrating Monarch butterflies, after-school programs such as the fifth-grade STEM Club and its partnerships with surrounding high schools, according to the news release.
Smith also praised the school's "tremendous family involvement" through its PTA.
"You find the people that have helped you, and you look them in the eye and say, 'Thank you,'" Smith told the students.
The principal, Lisa Sundquist, reminded the students that state officials also look at the achievements of past students when evaluating schools for the Blue Ribbon award, such as those who have moved on to middle and high school.
She acknowledged representatives of the neighboring North Harford Middle and High.
"We're just thrilled to be part of this legacy of achievement and excellence on the North Harford campuses," Sundquist said.
The principal, who has led North Harford Elementary for four years, also recognized the school's past administrators who attended the ceremony, including retired principal Frances Haslup, Sundquist's predecessor, and former Assistant Principal Becky Reese, who left North Harford last year and is the acting principal at Hall's Crossroads Elementary School in Aberdeen.
Both women attended Tuesday's ceremony and were welcomed with applause and cheers.
Sundquist told Haslup that the ceremony "is also a celebration and validation of your investment."
She said she owes Reese "a great personal debt of gratitude" for her efforts to push the students to be high academic achievers.
"We just could not do it without her," Sundquist said.
She praised the students for their "kindness and hearts that care for other people."
She also praised the teachers and staff.
"You are the ones who show our students, every day, what it looks like to come to school every day and do their best," she said.
Sundquist said Tuesday was National Teacher Appreciation Day.
The principal praised parents for their support, too.
"You support all that we do together to make sure that our children are prepared and ready to learn," Sundquist said.
Sundquist and five of her teachers traveled to Baltimore Dec. 14, 2015, under the impression they were going to participate in a roundtable discussion on standardized assessments.
Smith was at the meeting.
"He said, 'Congratulations, you're a Blue Ribbon School!'" Sundquist said Smith told them. "We were ready to talk, and suddenly we were speechless."
The school submitted an application March 18 to the U.S. Department of Education for National Blue Ribbon status.
Fifth-grade teacher Nevin Randle was one of the teachers who prepared the 30-page application. Randle, who has been at North Harford Elementary for 15 years, told the students he and his colleagues reflected on what he called "the three Cs – curriculum, collaboration and most importantly, community" that are what the school is about.
Randle led the students in a cheer of "We are...North Harford!"
"You make me so proud, each and every day that I walk through these doors," he said.