Forgive me as I butcher a borrowed quote from Shakespeare, but “...I’ve come to praise public education, not bury it”.
In 1982, The US Department of Education created The National Blue Ribbon Program, a celebration of high standards in which schools in each state are honored for their excellence.
In March 2014, Lightspeed Technologies joined the sponsors of the Maryland Blue Ribbon Program, which is steered by the steady hand of Dr. Darla Strouse, Executive Director of Partner and Recognition Programs, Maryland State Department of Education. I was lucky enough to be invited to the party mid-way in the yearlong celebration for the Blue Ribbon Honorees (which started the previous fall).
There are numerous criteria for a school to be honored, and a lot of public schools are up for consideration. No more than six may be chosen, however.
The criteria and rules for the selection process are interesting enough on their own. This blog is not about that. It is about the creativity and collaboration it takes to produce good students and good citizens, and celebrating those achiements with pizza.
It was serendipitous that my Redcat classroom audio system and I met Dr. Strouse in the first place. And, there was no escaping her gravitational pull once we were in her orbit. I had known about these programs. Now I was learning why they are so important to the schools and their students. To be involved was truly an honor.
Lightspeed was efficiently brought on board in time for the grand event a week after I met Dr. Strouse. Each Blue Ribbon Honoree and their guests were honored at a gala dinner in Annapolis, Maryland’s historic capital city. After dinner, the honorees were escorted to the floor of the Capitol and recognized by the legislature.
Dr. Strouse is intimately involved in all aspects of every recognition program in Maryland. They are elaborate, fun and special.
The dinner was as lovely as it was crowded. I had my first introductions to the honored schools and the Maryland’s State Superintendent – Dr. Lillian Lowrey – she of excellent resume and complete charm.
The program was a blur as were the smiling faces of the honored schools’ personnel and their guests. I knew there had to be a way for me to see what made these educators award winners. And, in fulfilling my job as a classroom audio consultant, that dream came true.
I personally delivered our sponsorship donation – a Redcat - to each school prior to the Tours of Excellence. These delivery trips were an excuse to meet the principals and see the schools under normal school conditions.
My personal tour took me to Mountain Maryland: Allegany County’s Frost Elementary and Garrett County’s North Garrett High School; The Chesapeake Bay watershed: Anne Arundel County’s Linthicum Elementary, Baltimore County’s Western School of Technology & Environmental Science (HS) and lastly to the famed Beltway district of Prince George’s County’s Robert Goddard French Immersion Elementary/Middle School and Montgomery County’s Cashell Elementary School.
The unifying factors to all of these schools were the graciousness of the principals and the pride they showed in their schools from top to bottom. I felt special delivering a sound system but the Tour of Excellence really took things up a notch.
Each honoree created an assembly for visiting dignitaries – superintendents, local politicians, and sponsors. Dr. Lowery outlined the reasons each school was chosen. Dr. Strouse talked about the sponsors. Inevitably, the Pizza Party upstaged every other sponsor’s gift. After about the third tour, I got over my hurt feelings.
Most assemblies were held in the school gym. There was music – from orchestral to rap to a sing along of Pete Seeger anthems. The French Immersion School presented in several languages, including English for those less linguistically accomplished audience members.
After all was done, it wasn’t the music, the speeches or the pizza that made these schools great. It was the self-effacing principals (everyone one of them), their highly effective, collaborative staff and teachers. And, most important, the bright, shinning confidence and self-assurance that emanated from each student at the assembly.
This year’s festivities culminate with the National Awards (in November). I can’t wait to get started on the next cycle and be there for the entire party!
Elaine Freedman is a Classroom Audio Consultant working in schools in Maryland, Delaware, Washington, DC and Northern Virginia.
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