Schools honored with National Blue Ribbon status

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Holland Elementary first-graders William Flamion, left, Arianna Montgomery, Karson Hoagland and Waylon Hensley play on a bounce house during the school’s celebration at Holland Park on Thursday. The school was named a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School. “We are all doing good,” Arianna said. “And we have the best teachers.”


Holland Elementary students filed out of the school building and over to Holland Park where a grand party awaited them.

The festivities included a picnic lunch complete with cake, a dance party and hours of playground time, all in celebration of the school earning the National Blue Ribbon School designation.

The U.S. Department of Education awards National Blue Ribbon School status to public and private elementary, middle and high schools to honor overall academic excellence or progress in closing the achievement gaps among subgroups. To be considered, schools must first be nominated by the department of education in their state.

Since the award was created in 1982, only about 8,500 schools across the nation have won. This year, 362 schools nationwide were given the awards — 12 of which are from Indiana — and three of them are local. Ferdinand Elementary in the Southeast Dubois County School Corporation, Holland Elementary in the Southwest Dubois County School Corporation and Lincoln Trail Elementary from the North Spencer County School Corporation all received the honor.

Holland Elementary second-graders Piper Nichter, left, Alivia Elshoff, Lylah Rasche and Emma Sherman play on the playground during the school's celebration at Holland Park on Thursday. They are celebrating after being named a 2019 Blue Ribbon School.

For Ferdinand Elementary, this was the second time earning the recognition. The school previously won in 2012.

“This recognition is very prestigious, and we’re very honored to have it,” said Tyler Lemen, who was principal at Ferdinand Elementary during the application process last year.
Lemen is now the principal at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School.

Ferdinand Elementary earned its way to the award through a nomination from the Indiana Department of Education, but Lemen said that was only the first step. Following the nomination, the school had to complete a detailed application process that spanned weeks.

“You’re trying to show in words why you are deserving of the national award,” Lemen explained.

Ferdinand’s application team focused on the cutting-edge teaching strategies and ensuring the teachers are lifelong learners themselves.

At Holland Elementary, a three-teacher team worked together on the school’s Blue Ribbon application. Second grade teacher Darla Werne served on the committee and said that they focused on the school’s culture.

“We support [students’] academic, social and emotional growth,” Werne said. “We try to care for the whole student.”

Holland Elementary kindergartners follow their teacher, Jessica Lechner, to the bounce houses during the school's celebration at Holland Park on Thursday.

She noted that that work permeates the whole school, with each staff member taking a personal interest in the students.

The Holland teachers also included the community’s support in their application.

“It means a lot to the community,” said Jeremy Marshall, a fourth and fifth grade teacher who served on the committee. “It’s taken everyone to make this work.”

At Lincoln Trail Elementary, Principal Ben Lawalin also credited the community as a whole with making the award possible at his school.

“We’re so blessed with terrific kids, and we have tremendous parental support,” he said. “Our kids for the most part show up ready to learn.”

Lawalin also noted the culture of excellence throughout North Spencer that helped his school reach the high performance level needed to earn the reward. All the schools work closely together to ensure success, he said. In fact, this week, he’s been working with administrators from the corporation’s other three elementary schools — Nancy Hanks, Chrisney and David Turnham — on curriculum mapping so that all four of the schools’ instruction aligns.

Since the Blue Ribbon Schools program was created in 1982, several local schools have earned the award. Chrisney Elementary won in 2011, Holy Family Catholic School — which is now Holy Trinity — won in 2013. Ireland Elementary received the award in 2009, and Otwell Elementary School, which has closed, earned the status in 2011.

This year’s award winners will be recognized in Indianapolis on Nov. 4 and in Washington, D.C. Nov. 14 and 15.

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