Blue Ribbon Schools receive local, state recognition
Story by Christina Leslie | Correspondent
Proving yet again that, in the Diocese of Trenton, Catholic Schools Have it All, local elementary schools were recognized by state elected officials with official proclamations noting their selection as members of the class of 2018 U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools.
The clergy, faculty, staff and student bodies of St. Catharine School, Spring Lake; St. Dominic School, Brick; St. James School, Red Bank, and St. Jerome School, West Long Branch, recently received framed accolades at school assemblies and town council meetings from mayors, Assembly members and senators for their accomplishments. The fifth diocesan Blue Ribbon Award winner, St. Leo the Great School, Lincroft, will be feted later this month during a legislative session at the Trenton State House.
The national Blue Ribbon Schools Program was created by the U.S. government in 1982 to honor schools that have garnered high levels of student achievement or made significant improvements in closing the achievement gap among student subgroups. This year’s crop of 300 public and 49 nonpublic schools was revealed during a video announcement Oct. 1 by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Though the national video recognition was appreciated, there’s nothing like a plaque and a firm handshake to celebrate a win.
Frances Koukotas, diocesan director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic Families, contacted legislators in the five schools’ districts to notify them of the Blue Ribbon designation and invite them to those schools to deliver a proclamation. Her goal echoed Christ’s urging his disciples that “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:15).
“Parents should know of their great decision to choose Catholic schools and learn that five of our Catholic schools were awarded the Blue Ribbon designation,” Koukotas said. “Children should feel the importance of what they had helped to accomplish and enjoy it. They have the right to see the rewards of that service to the schools, and the presentations in the schools give the award extra credibility.”
St. Catharine School hosted Sen. Robert W. Singer and Assemblyman Sean T. Kean at a Dec. 6 prayer service to recognize their Blue Ribbon distinction. The two elected officials presented a proclamation to the student council executive board and shared their personal experiences of, and strong support for, Catholic education.
Principal Robert Dougherty expressed his appreciation for the visit, saying, “It helps shine a bright light on the accomplishments of our students and staff as well as our wonderful school community.”
St. Dominic School alumni Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin accompanied fellow Assemblyman David Wolfe to the Nov. 20 Thanksgiving prayer service in the Brick Catholic school. They presented principal Carol Bathmann a resolution by Sen. James R. Holzapfel and signed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, Speaker of the General Assembly.
McGuckin noted St. Dominic was the only Blue Ribbon award-winner in Ocean County for 2018, and has further distinguished itself by being included in the Exemplary High Performing Schools category.
The school was recognized at a Brick Township Council meeting that evening. Brick Mayor John Ducey proclaimed Nov. 21 “St. Dominic Blue Ribbon School Day” before an appreciative audience of students, faculty, parents and townspeople.
Bathmann declared, “I want to congratulate all 464 students and a faculty of about 50. They come to school every day with a smile on their face. Our teachers give 200 percent and … they give a faith-filled education to our students.”
St. Dominic pastor Father Brian Patrick Woodrow credited the faculty, volunteers and staff for making a difference for the future. Pointing toward the students, he said, “The future is bright, and it’s because they do it with academic prowess, the likes of which is nationally recognized with a blue ribbon.”
Faith and Country
The Dec. 12 Blue Ribbon celebration in St. Jerome School combined the best elements of love of God and country. Following an opening prayer by Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, the school community sang “America the Beautiful.” Eighth-grade student James Miller led his fellow students in prayers for those who serve the country, and state Sen. Vin Gopal congratulated the St. Jerome School staff, students and parents on their continued accomplishments.
The senator presented a joint legislative resolution to principal Filippini Sister Angelina Pelliccia, who invited the legislator back to the school for Career Day, slated for Catholic Schools Week. Continuing the patriotic theme of the day, the students sang “God Bless America” at the close of the senator’s visit.
“[The students’] enthusiastic participation in a very special ceremony, planned just for them, truly reflected the honor and pride they felt in being presented Sen. Gopal’s recognition,” Sister Angelina recalled. “It was truly a Blue Ribbon Day for the St. Jerome School family.”
The same day, St. James School hosted the senator at their general assembly, held in the Red Bank grammar school gym. Msgr. Philip A. Lowery, pastor, as well as fellow clergy, staff and the entire student body witnessed Sen. Gopal bestow the award from the State and General Assembly saluting the teachers, students and administration for their outstanding dedication and commitment to education.
JoAnn Giordano, school principal, proudly accepted the award from Sen. Gopal, saying, “St. James Elementary School has a long tradition of providing an excellent Catholic education, and we are proud to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. This accomplishment would not have been realized without the commitment and dedication of our parents, students and staff. We are thrilled and look forward to continuing educating our future leaders!”