Students and staff at Saint Margaret School in Bel Air have spent the past week celebrating the Catholic school's recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, with blue decorations on campus, treats such as blueberry muffins and wearing blue clothing and accessories.
The official public announcement of the honor, one of the most prestigious an individual school can receive, was made Tuesday morning.
The celebration at St. Margaret culminated Tuesday afternoon with blessings of the 10-foot blue ribbons placed at the Hickory Avenue campus for students in preschool through fifth grade, and the Churchville Road campus for grades six through eight.
"It just reinforces what we felt all along, that we are an excellent school as far as academics and our Catholic identity, our outreach programs," said Cecilia Pleiss, the school's director of admissions and marketing.
The Blue Ribbon designation is bestowed by U.S. Department of Education officials upon private and public schools around the country "where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' academic achievement," according to the department's web page on the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.
It's the first time St. Margaret, which was founded in 1911, has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon School.
The school has about 650 students and 84 members of its faculty and staff, Pleiss said.
St. Margaret is one of three schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to receive the honor this year and is one of 18 schools overall in the Archdiocese to be named a Blue Ribbon School, according to an Archdiocese news release. St. Joseph School of Cockeysville and St. Mary's School of Annapolis also received the honor this year.
St. Margaret School is part of Saint Margaret Parish of Bel Air. Msgr. G. Michael Schleupner, pastor of Saint Margaret, led the blessing ceremonies for the banners on Tuesday.
St. Margaret is one of 11 schools in Maryland to be named a Blue Ribbon School for 2013 and the only school in Harford County, according to the Department of Education's website. Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air was a Blue Ribbon School in 2012.
"It just shows everyone else out there what we've known all along, what a great school [it is], what a great opportunity for the children to learn and to thrive," Pleiss said.
She said the designation benefits the school, as well as the Town of Bel Air, as it makes the town more attractive to potential new residents.
"It's a kudos for the whole community, too," Pleiss said.
St. Margaret Principal Madeleine Hobik said the school's standardized test scores were in the top 15 percent for public and private schools across the nation.
School officials also emphasized St. Margaret's Catholic identity and its many community service projects, several of which were initiated by students, Hobik said.
She said the projects take place "not only within the school community, but within the local community and the global community as well."
Hobik said students have collected new and "gently-used" shoes and then delivered them to families living in some poor communities in Appalachia.
She said students also make rosaries for inmates at the Harford County Detention Center and serve senior citizens during functions at the school.
Hobik said students choose a Catholic saint each year "and look at their virtues and use those virtues as a role model for us."
St. Margaret was also recognized as a Maryland Green School during the 2012-2013 school year for its environmental outreach efforts.