It is quite an honor, and Corpus Christi School in Lansdale and Nativity of Our Lord School in Warminster are receiving it.
There are, give or take, 130,000 elementary and high schools in the United States. Just 304 of them were named 2011 National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. Of the 14 Pennsylvania schools to receive this recognition, only two were non-public — Corpus Christi and Nativity of Our Lord.
“Your status as a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School affirms the broader commitment you have made to expand the horizons of knowledge for all your students by equipping them to explore these horizons wisely,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a congratulatory letter to the honorees. “You have demonstrated that, working together, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community leaders can nurture all students to reach their full potential. You remind us that with determination and effort, anything is possible.”
At Nativity of Our Lord, principal Roselee Maddaloni, who is starting her second year at the school, gives credit to her predecessor Susan Klunder, now retired, for laying the groundwork for the award. The mere fact that the two non-public schools singled out are archdiocesan parish schools, “is a credit to Catholic education,” she said.
Her school, with 499 students enrolled, has a very strong curriculum that is followed by all grades adjusted for their level. “We start them very young,” she said. “We have Spanish Pre-K to grade eight. We have a lab-learner program, a very strong science program and honors math.”
Michelle Rich-Bonn, a graduate of Nativity and mother of four of its students, is thrilled to see the school receive the Blue Ribbon Award.
“Nativity has always had the vision to not only stay current but also be progressive in all areas of education and extracurricular activities,” she said.
But it’s not just academics; Rich-Bonn points to the excellent CYO sports programs, a strong music program, arts program, student government and many social events that make it a special place.
“This award further proves that the work our faculty and staff do is among the best in the country,” commented Sara Welsh, an eighth-grade student council member. “I am blessed to have the opportunity to learn in such an excellent environment.”
Corpus Christi, also a first-time winner, with 504 students, is almost identical in size with Nativity. That may not be a coincidence; as relatively large (but not huge) schools they can offer a whole menu of academic and social programs but still retain that important personal touch.
“We have scouts, honors math, robotics, tap dancing in grades 1-4, a band and a strong orchestra,” said Corpus Christi principal Wanda Costello, who is in her 11th year at the school. “We participate in Reading Olympics and the science and math bowls offered by the diocesan high schools. We have a strong faculty always looking to improve the program.”
If there is one thing that is emphasized at Corpus Christi, it is the Catholic values reflected in strong social outreach. Each grade has a particular charity they focus on. It could be Manna on Main Street, working with Heifers International to provide livestock from chicken to cows in Third World countries; it could be assistance to Mothers Home or sending care packages to the military.
Last year, Costello said, the student council raised $4,500 for St. Joseph’s Villa to honor the 60th anniversary of Sister Anne Jose Campbell, who had a long association with Corpus Christi.
“It is faith in action,” Costello said.
Barb Casee, who has two children who graduated from Corpus Christi and one child currently attending the school, said, “I have a strong opinion on what Catholic education should be, and this is the epitome of it. In addition to the academics and teacher involvement there is a strong sense of community, a partnership with the administration, parents, faculty and students.”
The formal award ceremony for the 2011 Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence will be held in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15. The awards have been presented annually since 1982. Schools who have won the Blue Ribbon may apply for it again after five years.