Winning a National Blue Ribbon award is a familiar feeling for the two archdiocesan schools that were honored this year.
The awards honor high-achieving schools and those that close achievement gaps; of the 367 schools honored across the Unites States this year, 50 are non-public schools.
This year, Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, an independent Catholic school, received its fifth Blue Ribbon Award and Prince of Peace School in Lake Villa received its second award. Both schools were recognized in the high-achieving category.
“We are incredibly proud of the two Chicago-area Catholic schools for being recognized with distinguished Blue Ribbon awards,” said Greg Richmond, superintendent of Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools. “The benefits of a Catholic education develop a child holistically through faith formation, academic achievement and the importance of civic and community engagement. With the challenges of a global pandemic, it’s gratifying to know the efforts of our teachers, administrators, students and their families have been deservedly honored.”
Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago have won 119 Blue Ribbon Awards.
Leaders of the two schools credited the hard work of their students, the dedication of their faculty and staff and the support of their families and school communities for their success.
“I would absolutely say that the first thing that makes our school special is our amazing and dedicated staff,” said Stephanie Stoneburg, principal of Prince of Peace School. “Most of our teachers have been here a decade, if not two.”
Prince of Peace last received a Blue Ribbon award in 2014.
At the same time, she said, the school is always moving forward, this year opening a new STEM lab.
The award, she said, validates all the work the school does and lets the wider community know how good it is.
“We are a small Catholic school with one class at each grade level, almost the closest to the Wisconsin border,” Stoneberg said. “We wanted to shout out loud about our excellence.”
Jason Huther, principal of Carmel Catholic High School, said some of his school’s students are familiar with the award because their elementary schools are also Blue Ribbon recipients. When he made the announcement, following a Mass for the feast of St. Matthew that was streamed to students in their classroom, he made sure to explain its significance.
“It is one of the highest awards for secondary schools,” Huther said, adding that students are justifiably proud. “They know they’re a part of that success. Student engagement and student outcomes is a large part of it.”
Carmel received its first Blue Ribbon Award in 1985 and its most recent until this year in 2007.
This year’s award, Huther said, has a lot to do with Carmel’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last year we were devoted to in-person education as all our Catholic schools were,” he said. Carmel went further, offering students opportunities to interact in-person at events such as dances.
He also credited the culture at the school, which has about 1,100 students.
“They are enthusiastic students, they are faith-filled, and we try to really encourage that culture,” Huther said. “No matter your talent, your interest, we’re going to be able to foster that. We can help a student find something that he or she is interested in so that he or she can thrive.”
The school’s history of success speaks to that culture.
“The biggest thing that five Blue Ribbons shows is that we are committed to continuous improvement,” Huther said. “You are putting yourself out there to be evaluated and analyzed. It’s also a lot of self-evaluation and self-reflection.”
That in itself makes applying for the Blue Ribbon award worth the time and effort.
“You’re going to have professionals, really knowledgeable folks in the education community putting your school under a microscope,” he said. “If you get the award, great. It’s going to affirm what you’re doing. If you don’t, you’re going to get a lot of feedback.”
The 2020 National Blue Ribbon award comes as a validation of the efforts of the eight Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago that were honored this year, school leaders said.
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.
Eight Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago won Blue Ribbon awards from the U.S. Department of Education this year, extending a streak of success in the national school recognition program.