Wycallis Elementary school has long been a bit different than most area grade schools, thanks to kid-friendly construction that includes a lobby with log cabin style walls and a clock bigger than many of the students. Last week it it earned a distinction no other school can ever obtain: First in Luzerne County to be designated a national Blue Ribbon School.
It’s no small accomplishment, considering the Blue Ribbon program has been run by the U.S. Department of Education since 1982. That’s three decades before a Luzerne County School made the grade. In that time about 7,000 schools earned Blue Ribbons nationwide.
Superintendent Frank Galicki said the district has been aiming for Blue Ribbon designation for about a decade.The designation hinges in part on high scores in state reading and math tests. This year’s winners were judged on test results from 2011-12 and 2012-13, which means it was the current fifth-grade students who helped nabbed the honor.
But Wycallis has been posting strong results since the tests were first implemented nearly 20 years ago, so it not simply a case of a particularly bright batch of students passing through the classrooms. Clearly the school has found the right chemistry to improve academic achievement, even as it’s enrollment of special needs and low-income children — two groups that statistically struggle with standardized tests — increased over the years.
Some of that chemistry is likely things like the “Response to Instruction and Intervention” model Principal Reinhert said helps adjust individual lessons to a student’s needs, or the way teachers incorporate fun into lessons such as the living wax museum that gets kids to study and dress like famous historic people, or the relaxation tricks of dance parties and “circuses” that are done the day state tests are taken.
But the real trick, one suspects, is fostering collaboration and sharing strategies among teachers. As reading specialist and coach Caitlin Cooper said, “The recipe for our success is that it’s not academics first, it’s taking care of each other and taking care of the kids.”
That’s exactly the kind of thinking you would expect to win a Blue Ribbon.