Fallston Middle School students erupted in cheers and chants of “Dr. Bess!” as State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon hung a gold “medallion of excellence” around the neck of their principal, Anthony Bess, Monday morning to celebrate FMS becoming a Maryland Blue Ribbon School.
Bess, who is finishing his second year as Fallston Middle’s principal, swung his arms in a “dab” dance move, eliciting more cheers from the students.
“If someone were to write a book, ‘The Seven Habits of Effective Schools,’ I think a lot of the things we do would be in that book,” Bess said.
State and local leaders were on hand for the celebration, held in the auditorium of the neighboring Fallston High School.
Fallston Middle was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School in December, one of six throughout Maryland that received the honor for the 2017-18 school year. It is the first middle school in Harford County to earn the honor in 17 years, according to Harford County Public Schools.
Salmon and other dignitaries rode a bus from the middle school to the high school for the celebration. As they arrived, the group was greeted at the high school’s entrance by faculty, staff and students.
The students cheered and waved signs with slogans such as “Welcome to Fallston” and “Cougar Pride.”
Laura Runyeon, vice president of the school board, lauded the administrators and faculty members, past and present, for their work with the students that culminated in the Blue Ribbon honor.
She encouraged students to value what they are learning in the classroom, beyond what they need for a high test score.
“Continue that beyond the doors of your middle school, and you will go far,” Runyeon said.
“You persevere, you help each other, you lift each other up, and you know when to celebrate and when to acknowledge when people fail and need something a little bit more than what they have right at that given moment,” HCPS Superintendent Barbara Canavan said.
Among those attending was former FMS principal Joe Mascari, who led the school from 2009 to 2016 prior to his retirement after more than 38 years with HCPS.
Mascari spoke during the celebration, and the students erupted in cheers when his name was announced. Fallston eighth-graders were in sixth grade during Mascari’s final year as principal.
He said the teachers “worked hard to create an environment where you could not only achieve in the classroom… but also flourish and develop into outstanding young men and young ladies.”
“It’s a special place here at Fallston, because you have so many things,” he said.
Mascari, along with Bess and Salmon, listed the multiple academic achievements, extracurricular activities, reading challenge wins, partnerships between Fallston Middle and other schools and community organizations and fundraising activities conducted by students and the PTA that helped the school earn the Blue Ribbon honor.
“I could go on and on and on about all the things that you do, both here in your school and in your community, to make it better for all of the people here in Harford County,” Salmon said.
Fallston Middle has 940 students in sixth through eighth grades and 65 teachers and support staff, according to Bess, who has spent 20 years with HCPS and served in the Air Force for 20 years before that.
“We understand the importance of creating a nurturing environment where students feel valued and know that there are always adults they can turn to for guidance and support,” he said.
The students also heard from Debra Lewis, a language arts teacher who has worked at Fallston Middle since it opened in 1993. She grew up in Fallston, attended Youth’s Benefit Elementary School through sixth grade and graduated from Fallston High, which she attended starting in seventh grade, before the middle school opened in 1993.
Lewis said the school is like a puzzle, and it takes everyone, including students, teachers, staff, administrators, parents and guardians to put it together.
“All of this, together, is what makes us Fallston Middle School, and that makes us a Fallston family,” Lewis said.