Park Elementary School was filled Monday afternoon as parents, teachers, faculty, students and local and state dignitaries gathered to celebrate the school’s honor of being named a National Blue Ribbon School. Park was one of two schools in Rhode Island to receive the honor this year and is the first public school in the history of the city to achieve it.
In order to be nominated, schools must meet the eligibility criteria of being an Exemplary High Performing School or an Exemplary Improving School. Park met the Exemplary Improving School criteria. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, www.ed.gov, “These are schools with at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds that have reduced the achievement gap by making the most progress in improving student performance in reading (English language arts) and mathematics on state assessments or tests referenced by national norms in at least the most recent year tested.”
Parents and community members eagerly waited with cameras and video recorders as students filed in, all wearing blue ribbons for the occasion and gathered on either side of the podium, after which Principal Marilyn Feeney welcomed everyone and introduced the special guest speakers that included Governor Lincoln Chafee, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, Mayor Scott Avedisian, Superintendent Dr. Peter Horoschak and Aba Kumi, director of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, who came from Washington, D.C. to honor Park.
“Park is a special school; all the students know this,” Chafee said, quoting lyrics from the school song, which was printed on the back of the program. “Congratulations on this Blue Ribbon designation.”
Gist said she was excited to be celebrating at Park because, as she told the students, the Blue Ribbon honor is “a really big deal.”
“It’s important to know why you’re having this day and have all these important people here, such as your governor and your mayor, to celebrate with you and your teachers,” she said. “I want to thank you for your hard work. Not many schools in the country get this; there were only two in Rhode Island this year.”
Gist said it takes everyone in the community working hard to accomplish such an honor.
“You got this award because you have understanding families. Look across the room and see the proud parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends – you have a community that supports you. You [also] have wonderful teachers,” she said, inviting students to extend their hand toward their teacher and say “thank you” in unison. “Your school has a community that came together as a school to do an amazing job and work hard.”
Kumi, who presented Park with a citation from Secretary of State Arnie Duncan, said Park was one of 315 schools throughout the country to receive the Blue Ribbon award.
“There are more than 138,000 public and private schools in the United States and less than 7,000 have achieved this,” she said. “We want to shine the spotlight on Park because you’ve demonstrated to us that you have the leadership to achieve this kind of excellence.”
Kumi said a special thank you to parents and community members “who work hard each day to make this possible.”
Kumi closed with some words for the students.
“Work hard, listen to your teachers and do your homework,” she said with a laugh. “That’s important because one day you will be leading this country to greatness.”
Many in the audience were unaware that Park was the first public school in Warwick to be named a Blue Ribbon School until Avedisian highlighted that fact.
“What’s happening here today is more important than us being here,” he told the students, adding that when he became mayor, the first classroom he read in was at Park. “For the first time in the city’s history, a public school has received this recognition; it’s huge. We’re happy with you and we’re happy for you.”
Horoschak said Park has led the way for Warwick public schools.
“I hope as you go through school and grow up that you’ll remember you’re a part of a Blue Ribbon school,” he told the students. “This is a great way of showing how good you really are.”
Also in attendance were Terri Medeiros and Eugene Nadeau of the School Committee, Warwick Senator William Walaska, former school committee member Paul Cannistra, City Councilwoman Donna Travis, who presented a citation, as well as representatives from the offices of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative James Langevin, all of whom couldn’t attend.
Following the speaking portion of the ceremony, it was the students’ turn to praise Park. Each class celebrated in their own way.
Sixth grade students recited lessons they’ve learned at Park such as, “Our motto is always be kind, here hard work you’re sure to find,” or “Here at Park we surely know determination and perseverance will help us grow.”
Fifth grade students each held up one letter at a time, spelling out “Blue Ribbon School” and said a word that each letter stood for describing Park. Fourth grade students took turns listing off trivia and facts about the state, including how many cities and towns it contains, naming the capital, the population and identifying state senators and representatives as well as the mayor of Warwick. Third grade students sang a song celebrating Park School and the Blue Ribbon honor. Second grade students shouted out words that describe what makes a Blue Ribbon student. First grade students sang a song to the tune of “Bingo” but changed the lyrics and replaced “B, I, N, G, O” with “P, A, R, K, School.” The kindergarten students also sang a song, “School is Cool,” which mentioned learning to read and write, and the letters from A to Z, as well as making friends and getting along.
Before closing out the ceremony by singing the school song, “Park Elementary is a Special School,” sung to the tune of “Old McDonald,” Feeney listed the top 10 reasons why Park is a Blue Ribbon School, which included origin, state assessments, curriculum, student council, mentors, PTO, parents, teachers, students and team work, saying, “Together, everyone achieves more. No one stands alone at Park.”
Following Feeney’s words, everyone launched into the school song, with the chorus, “Park is a special school, all the students know this,” but adjusted the last line to “Park is a Blue Ribbon School, and all of us know that.”
Nadeau said it was a pleasure to be in attendance for the ceremony.
“With events like this, it’s too bad the whole city couldn’t attend and be aware of it,” he said. “For them to be the first in Warwick is quite tremendous. This was a wonderful event, and to have everyone turn out for it is a tribute to them. Especially during the week of Thanksgiving, this shows we have good schools to be thankful for.”