Three archdiocesan elementary schools were honored with Blue Ribbon awards from the U.S. Department of Education this year, two of them for the first time.
This year’s Blue Ribbon winners are St. Anne, Barrington, which also received a Blue Ribbon in 2006; St. Daniel the Prophet, 5337 S. Natoma Ave.; and St. Juliana, 7400 W. Touhy Ave. The awards were announced Sept. 29.
The awards, announced every fall, go to schools based on overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps between student subgroups. All three Archdiocese of Chicago schools were honored as high-achieving schools.
Holly Gross, who is in her first year as principal of St. Daniel the Prophet, said the whole school was excited to hear about the award, which was celebrated immediately with a dress-down day and a no-homework weekend.
St. Daniel is among the largest elementary schools in the archdiocese, with 690 students, and it’s not resting on its laurels, Gross said. It’s already deep into plans to kick off a new STEM program later this year.
She thanked the pastor, Father John Noga, for being a strong supporter of the school and helping with the process of applying for the Blue Ribbon award.
“He’s done a lot to bring the school forward,” Gross said.
After a couple of months at the school, Gross said she has been most impressed by the students’ demeanor.
“We have kids who are exceptionally polite, who are exceptionally friendly,” she said. “They go out of their way to greet you.”
Not surprisingly, their parents also are warm and supportive, Gross said.
Katrina McDermott, in her fourth year as principal at St. Juliana, also cited strong family support as a hallmark of her school.
The school’s Northwest Side neighborhood is home to many police officers and firefighters who don’t work 9-to-5, and that’s apparent when students are dismissed.
“When I go outside at pick-up time, we have so many dads waiting for their kids,” McDermott said. “I haven’t seen that many dads at other schools.”
There are also several families where the grandparents and parents of current St. Juliana students are alumni. “It’s a real family school,” McDermott said. “People move away and then come back so their kids can come to school here. When we want to do something, we don’t lack for volunteers.”
She also said the presence of the pastor, Father James Wallace, emphasizes the school’s Catholic identity. Wallace teaches the seventh- graders religion once a week and makes a point of going to games and other school events.
“He’s here and present,” she said.
McDermott said the school started its celebrations of the Blue Ribbon award on Oct. 3 with an out-of-uniform day for its 456 students.
“The kids, they work so hard, and the staff work so hard,” Mc- Dermott said. “It’s a testament to everything we do.”
St. Anne now is a two-time Blue Ribbon recipient, having won the award in 2006.
“I am just so proud of the students, the teachers, and the level of excellence that we are in this place in 2016,” said principal Dawn Kapka, who is in her sixth year at the school. “It speaks volumes about the level of superior academics not only here at St. Anne but across the archdiocese.
The new Blue Ribbons are among more than 90 awarded to 73 Catholic elementary and high schools in the archdiocese since the awards program began in 1982. Archdiocesan schools have received more awards than any other school system — private or public — in the country.
St. Anne celebrated with an ice cream social Oct. 3 for the students, she said. There will be more celebrations for staff and the community to come.
“I’m hoping that the whole community celebrates with us,” she said. “It’s an award for all of us: students, teachers, parents, the faith community, the community as a whole and the Archdiocese of Chicago.”
All three schools said they will have special events after Nov. 7 and 8 when the Department of Education will formally recognize the 279 public and 50 private schools selected this year at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
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