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Seven Catholic elementary school in the Archdiocese of Chicago were recognized this year by the U.S. Department of Education with its National Blue Ribbon Award.
The awards were announced Sept. 26.
They bring the total number of Blue Ribbon Awards won by archdiocesan schools to 109, more than any other school system, public or private, in the country.
Recognized for the first time this year were: Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts, 1439 W. Wellington Ave.; St. Benedict Preparatory School Elementary, 2900 N. Leavitt St.; Sts. Cyril and Methodius School, Lemont; and Old St. Mary’s School, 1474 S. Michigan Ave.
Recognized for the second time were St. Athanasius, Evanston; Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy, 720 W. Belmont Ave.; and St. Raymond School, Mount Prospect.
“I am thrilled to see seven of our Catholic schools being recognized by the U.S. Department of Education,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools. “This incredible honor validates the hard work and dedication of our students, families, principals, teachers and staff in these schools, and throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago.”
All seven schools were recognized as “Exemplary High Performing Schools,” meaning they are among the state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
What makes them special, however, goes far beyond their academics, principals said.
“We really focus on fostering the whole child,” said Mary Eileen Ward, principal of St. Raymond, which was last recognized in 2009. “We strive not only to be excellent academically, but we also focus on faith and on service, and our service goes beyond the St. Raymond community.”
Winning the Blue Ribbon, she said, helps spread word about all the good things St. Raymond is doing and recognizes the effort school staff and students make.
Shane Staszcuk, principal of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy, said the Blue Ribbon helps his school stand out in its Lakeview neighborhood, which has several high-quality public and private schools.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel received its previous Blue Ribbon in 2013.
“We’ve got a great story to tell, and this is a good way to get the word out to our community,” Stasczuk said.
With 240 students, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy is small enough to form a tight community, with all staff knowing almost every student by name, but large enough to offer a variety of classes and extracurricular activities.
Shirley Tkachuk, principal Sts. Cyril and Methodius, said the school’s 135-year history sets it apart,
“We’ve got kids who are the third, fourth generations of their families going to school here,” Tkachuk said. “We have teachers who are alumni who have come back.”
The school also has a close relationship with Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish, which gives students ample opportunity to grow in their faith, she said.
“We’re a great Catholic school, and this will help us to get the word out,” she said.
Most of the schools celebrated the announcement with impromptu events — St. Raymond had a “blue food” day in which students were encouraged to have a blue food item in their snack or lunch — and will hold more formal celebrations after the awards are presented in Washington, D.C., in November or in Catholic Schools Week in January.
The seven archdiocesan schools were among 312 public schools and 50 private schools from across the country to win Blue Ribbon recognition this year.
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Students from De La Salle Institute and Southside Occupational Academy Hub celebrated their state unified basketball championship April 19 with a pep rally featuring a video tribute, professional sports mascots, the band, cheerleaders and even a scrimmage.