Six Minnesota public schools and, actually, the whole state received terrific news on Sept. 21, when the U.S. Department of Education named them Blue Ribbon Schools. These six were among 325 nationally that were recognized either for “exemplary achievement gap closing” in reading and math or “exemplary high performing” in reading, math and high school graduation rates.
Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education provides extensive online information that allows anyone to study these schools. A quick review shows they have many powerful, practical ideas. Wouldn’t it be helpful if the Minnesota Department of Education or other groups would sponsor Zoom meetings where people can hear more about these schools’ efforts and ask questions of educators, families and students from these outstanding schools?
Here are a few things I learned from reading the schools’ applications, available online:
— Anoka-Hennepin Schools’ McKinley Elementary in Ham Lake describes extensive parent and community support. The school has a paid volunteer coordinator who helps bring in volunteers. This helps provide more direct assistance, enrichment and individual attention to students. The school’s PTO shares the cost of this volunteer coordinator. Much more information is here: https://bit.ly/3zCOXl5.
— Roosevelt Middle School in Blaine, also part of the Anoka-Hennepin District, starts every day with physical activity before academics. It has a strong adviser-advisee program so that each student is known well by at least one adult in the building. More information here: https://bit.ly/3i4ZQ9p.
— Minnetonka West Middle School in Excelsior, part of the Minnetonka Public Schools, recognizes, “Excellence is not just about test scores and grades.” Its mission is to “inspire and support the individual student, to build up their strengths, support their passions and intervene where academic scaffolding is needed.” More information here: https://bit.ly/3oagYOK.
— Twin Lakes Elementary School, part of ISD 728, in the Elk River area, is one of only 16 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) schools in Minnesota. The school makes use of its advanced facility to help students learn about conservation. It has a news channel featuring student and faculty presentations. Much more information here: https://bit.ly/3lStRui.
— St. Croix Preparatory Academy Middle School is a chartered public school, part of a pre-K-12 school in Stillwater. The school features a “classical, liberal arts education.” It also has an “additional emphasis on development of each student’s personal character and leadership qualities.” More information here: https://bit.ly/3EFegXs.
— Barnesville Elementary School, of Barnesville Public Schools, recognizes and uses students’ strengths and creativity. For example, it has fourth grade peer mediators who are role models for the younger students as they assist them in resolving conflicts and enforcing playground rules. More information here: https://bit.ly/2ZtewJ6
Now in its 39th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has recognized more than 9,000 schools. More information about National Blue Ribbon School Program is here: https://www2.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs.
You can read about each Blue Ribbon school here: https://nationalblueribbonschools.ed.gov/awardwinners.
The federal website is organized in various curriculum areas, such as arts, math, literacy, college and career awareness. It’s also organized into grade levels: elementary, middle, high school, K-12.
Here are two other examples of previous Blue Ribbon Schools that have ideas every school could use:
— Yinghua Academy in Minneapolis: Since it was started in May 2007, Yinghua Academy has hosted student performances for adults in which students “show what they know” in science and social studies.
— Friendship Academy in Minneapolis. The school holds a “Wax Museum” program for families and friends. On this day, students dress up like and give brief speeches about famous people they have read, researched and written about for several months.
The Blue Ribbon Schools program offers enormous opportunities to study and apply strategies that make a big positive difference in achievement and behavior. Shouldn’t we make it a high priority to make better use of the wonderful creativity and demonstrated excellence of these educators?
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JoeNathan9249 on Twitter.