Photo | Lagniappe
There was singing, dancing, hugging and even a few tears at Eichold–Mertz Magnet School of Math, Science and Technology last week as students and teachers celebrated being one of 2019’s “Blue Ribbon” schools — the highest award given to any public or private school by the U.S. Department of Education.
Every year, top educational officials nominate schools in their state for the Blue Ribbon award, which is based on a school’s overall academic performance on standardized tests and high school graduation rates, or on its progress in closing achievement gaps among subgroups of students.
Of the 362 schools recognized by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Sept. 26, all six of Alabama’s Blue Ribbon recipients were deemed to be “Exemplary High Performing” schools.
The award Eichold–Mertz received makes it the 14th Blue Ribbon school in the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS), something Deputy Superintendent of Academics Lakesha Brackins said speaks to the level of academic performance at Eichold–Mertz and other schools throughout the district.
“We know Mobile County is the largest district, but when you have 14 schools that have been national Blue Ribbon schools of excellence, that means something good is going on,” Brackins said. “We want to celebrate their successes [at Eichold–Mertz] but we also want to capitalize on it throughout the county.”
Academically, Eichold–Mertz has performed well for a number of years. For the past two years, it received a perfect 100 on its statewide school report card — a feat only four schools in Alabama managed in 2018. Asked about the level of sustained success, Principal Michelle Dubose Adams was quick to credit the teachers, staff, students and parents as well as the flexibility provided by the MCPSS central office.
“This is 27 years of the belief that if you provide a quality education, children will learn. I don’t care what socioeconomic status they come from or what their ethinic background is, the desire and the commitment from them and their parents makes all the difference in the world,” Adams said. “I have some students who are brilliant — they have IQs higher than yours and mine combined, but I also have children who are the hardest workers you’ll ever find in your life, and they make the difference.”
Yet, Adams said her staff doesn’t just focus on grades and performances on standardized tests. She also emphasized the importance of connecting with students and focusing on their development, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well.
That philosophy was on full display after the students found out the school received the Blue Ribbon award last week, as one by one, dozens of students lined up to get a hug from their teary eyed principal.
“One of the first things you know is your parents. You love your parents and you want them to be proud of you,” Adams said. “Well, we play a role in our students’ lives, too. It’s our belief in them that propels them forward, and we want them to know that we love them, and we want them to make us proud.”
One common thread among Eichold–Mertz and several other Blue Ribbon schools in Alabama is that they all have established pre-K programs that lead directly into their kindergarten classrooms. Over the last several years, Alabama has put millions into its First Class pre-K program, which has been ranked as one of the nation’s highest-performing early childhood programs for more than a decade.
Speaking to Lagniappe last week, State Superintendent Eric Mackey said he isn’t surprised that several of this year’s Blue Ribbon schools have dedicated pre-K classrooms. He said the Alabama Department of Education is a “big proponent” of the programs and wants to see them continue to expand.
“This year about 40 percent of those students are in a First Class pre-K program, and we’re proud that about 80 percent of those are tied to a public elementary school,” Mackey said. “We would really like to one in all of our public schools because it truly builds a continuum from pre-K into kindergarten and all the other grades that really helps us hone students’ skills and makes the school better as a whole.”
One of the other things Adams highlighted about her schools is the diversity of the student body. As one of MCPSS’s seven magnet programs, Eichold–Mertz has students from five different continents who speak 16 different languages. She said that diversity is one of the school’s strengths.
“We’re from every continent in the world with the exception of Australia and Antarctica — we have children from Cameroon, Kenya, Taiwan, Nepal, Istanbul … you name it,” she said. “In this climate, many times people feel that diversity might have an adverse effect, but it doesn’t. This is a true melting pot, and I believe we’re a shining example of what the rest of our world could look like.”
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