School revels in Blue Ribbon surprise

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
The Holy Family School student body sang and gestured the hand motions to the song "Awesome God" at the end of an assembly Tuesday afternoon in which the students learned their Jasper school was the winner of a 2013 National Blue Ribbon award. It was announced earlier that morning that they were awarded their first of such award that was given out to about 180 buildings across the country this year.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — The excitement at Holy Family School was so strong Tuesday that even former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Cinderella and the late Mother Theodore Guerin stopped by to check it out.

The walls and tables were decorated with blue streamers and balloons and the school’s 197 students in preschool to eighth grade were dressed in blue T-shirts as they arrived in the school auditorium for a convocation about a mystery award. The staff and parents who were seated at one end of the room already had heard the good news, but the students were still in the dark.

Principal Sally Sternberg reminded the students of their entrance to the school earlier that morning, when all of the teachers and administrators waited in the hallways and outside with pompoms and excited faces to greet everyone as they arrived. Then, the students got a special treat — blue cake — to enjoy at lunchtime.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Holy Family School Principal Sally Sternberg, standing left, and Bishop Charles Thompson announced to the student body Tuesday that the school was awarded a 2013 National Blue Ribbon award. Teachers dressed as Cinderella, seated left, a nun and Peyton Manning to be on hand for the announcement.

As Sternberg addressed the students, suddenly peals of laughter broke out. Their teacher, Charmaine Oxford, entered the room dressed as Mother Theodore Guerin, a Catholic nun from Indiana. She said she had heard the news that Holy Family had received a big award.

“Would you mind if I stayed and joined you to see the good work the Lord has done?” she asked before taking a seat in the back of the room. She soon was joined by

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Holy Family School teacher Shelley Weinzapfel played the role of NFL quarterback Peyton Manning as one of a handful of pretend visitors who stopped by the Jasper school Tuesday for the surprise announcement that the school was a 2013 National Blue Ribbon award recipient.

other teachers dressed as Cinderella, Si from the popular television show “Duck Dynasty” and Manning. All of them said they had received an invitation to celebrate a great honor at the school.

Finally, Sternberg directed the children to watch a video on a large screen. Photographs of students working hard on projects in the classroom or playing happily outside flashed by as dramatic music played. Then, the children learned what all the excitement was about: Holy Family had been named a National Blue Ribbon School for 2013.

“I am ecstatic at your hard work and your dedication to using your God-given talents to do the best that you can every single day. Sternberg said, adding that only 286 schools in the entire country had the same reason to celebrate that day.

But Holy Family is even more special than one in 286, she explained.

“There are 50 that are private schools like us that are being recognized. So now you’re not one of 286, you are one of 50,” she said. “But you’re not just one of 50, because you’re also one of 12, and doesn’t that sound even more awesome? One of 12 schools in the entire state of Indiana. I am so proud of every one of you.”

Diocese of Evansville Bishop Charles Thompson along with Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Schools Daryl Hagan and Diocese Assistant Superintendents Gwen Godsey and Michelle Prior cheered from the back of the room. Bishop Thompson took the stage to congratulate the entire parish on a job well done.

“It takes a village to raise a child. It takes the power of the school community to win this award,” he said before asking the students to bow their heads in prayer. “This is what we do best as Catholic schools, praying and always being witness to Jesus in our midst.”

“It’s a source of great pride not only for Jasper and the people of Holy Family, but for the whole diocese,” Bishop Thompson said after the convocation ended. “There’s a great community here.”

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Bishop Charles Thompson exchanged a fist bump with Holy Family School fourth-grader Luke Hasenour after the assembly Tuesday afternoon at which the students learned their Jasper school won a 2013 National Blue Ribbon award.

Before the students — who received cheers from the crowd for their pass rate on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam that ranked in the top 15 percent in the state — were dismissed, they joined voices in praise with the song “Our God Is an Awesome God.”

Fifth-grader Ellery Wurster wore a big smile after performing the song with her friends.

“I thought it was really good,” Ellery said of the assembly. “We really like Bishop Thompson being here because we didn’t really know he was going to be here.”

Pine Ridge Elementary School joined Holy Family on the list of winning buildings for 2013. Only five other local schools have won the award since the program began in 1982. The former Marian Heights Academy in Ferdinand was honored during the 1986-87 school year. Ireland Elementary School won in 2009, Chrisney and Otwell elementary schools won in 2011 and Ferdinand Elementary School won last year.

Contact Claire Moorman at

(Earlier - 9/24/13)

Holy Family, Pine Ridge nab Blue Ribbon award

Holy Family and Pine Ridge Elementary schools have joined an elite group of schools nationwide recognized for their high academic achievements.

Both local schools were named winners of the 2013 National Blue Ribbon, awarded to only about 180 buildings across the country, this morning. They were invited to receive accolades from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during a live chat online.

“We are extremely excited. I am so very proud of all of my students and my staff for all of their hard word and dedication toward making this a great school,” Holy Family Principal Sally Sternberg said. “We couldn’t do it on our own. It also entails the support, generosity, time and talent that all of our parishioners and our parents give as well.”

This is the first Blue Ribbon for both Holy Family and Pine Ridge. Only five local schools have been honored with the ribbon since the program was established in 1982. The former Marian Heights Academy in Ferdinand was recognized during the 1986-87 school year. Ireland Elementary School won in 2009, Chrisney and Otwell elementary schools won in 2011 and Ferdinand Elementary School won last year.

“Most of our staff, they’ve been here for quite a while. They are just as excited as can be that their hard work is being recognized on a larger level,” Pine Ridge Elementary Principal Ryan Haas said. “I’ve always known that we’ve done great things here at Pine Ridge.”

Photo courtesy Ann Patterson
Holy Family staff waved cheerleading pompoms at students as arrived this morning to celebrate the school's 2013 National Blue Ribbon award.

Pine Ridge has 243 students enrolled in kindergarten to fourth grade.

To win, schools must have made adequate yearly progress in each of the two years prior to and the year of nomination. A school must be classified as either high performing or as improving. A high-performing school has students who scored in the top 15 percent in the state on standardized assessments of English and math. To be categorized as improving, schools must have a student population comprised of at least 40 percent from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those students must have made significant gains on state assessments in English and math for the past five years.

Sternberg said that Holy Family’s high-performing rank was more difficult to achieve than it is for some other schools because the school serves 149 students in kindergarten to eighth grade. Six grade levels are tested on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exams each year at Holy Family, and the small class sizes mean that if one student fails the test, the pass rate percentage for which the school is judged drops significantly. The average enrollment per grade level ranges from about 15 to 20 students.

“For them to accomplish that is just amazing,” Sternberg said of the students, who were not going to be told about the award until a schoolwide convocation this afternoon. The staff told the kids to wear blue clothing to school and waved cheerleading pompoms at them as they walked down the hallways this morning.

At Pine Ridge, Haas traveled from room to room of the building this morning to explain the significance of the award to the students. He said the school’s new goal should be to maintain at least a 95 percent passing rate on both sections of the ISTEP, which he said can be accomplished with good instruction from the teachers and determination from the kids.

“Our students work so hard and so do our teachers to make this a possibility,” he said.

On Wednesday, Pine Ridge students will dress in blue and lunch will include blue cupcakes. Haas hopes to schedule an assembly later in the year to continue the celebration.

Holy Family likely will host a party in celebration of receiving the Blue Ribbon in November after Father John Boeglin, Sternberg and a teacher representative travel to Washington, D.C., to accept a plaque noting the achievement. Haas plans to attend the ceremony as well.

Contact Claire Moorman at

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