Submitted by Dr. Carrie Rowe, Superintendent of Beaver Area School District

For the past 37 years, the United States Department of Education has lauded schools across the nation that exemplify cutting-edge and innovative practices by naming them a National Blue Ribbon School. BASD’s Dutch Ridge Elementary School, a Title I school serving grades 3-6, is one of the 2019 winners of this prestigious award. After being named a Pennsylvania Blue Ribbon School last year, Dutch Ridge Elementary was then nominated by the state’s Department of Education for this national recognition, given to only 312 public schools in the nation this year. Notably, Dutch Ridge Elementary School is the only school in the county to receive this award in the past decade.

Dutch Ridge Elementary’s National Blue Ribbon School commendation is for “Exemplary Achievement” based on educational practices that have led to students making the quickest progress in the state in closing the achievement gap in all student subgroups. This means that while many schools across the nation struggle to achieve proficient scores on federally recognized standardized tests, Dutch Ridge Elementary School is not only exceeding the standard for Math, English Language Arts, and Science for the entire population, but also for minority students, English Language Learners, Economically Disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities.

The United States Department of Education published goals for all schools to achieve by the year 2030. Part of Dutch Ridge Elementary’s excellence can be understood by knowing that students in this school have already met all of the goals that others will strive for until the year 2030, including, high achievement in English Language Arts, Math, and Science; attendance rates above 94%, and 100% of students demonstrating meaningful engagement in career exploration and preparation aligned to the Career Education and Work (CEW) standards.

National Blue Ribbon Schools are considered to be on education’s cutting edge, pioneering innovative educational practices from professional learning communities and project-based learning to social and emotional learning and positive behavior systems. Remarking on Dutch Ridge Elementary’s practices Principal Justin Noel said, “Where focus goes, energy flows; Which is why it was so important that the changes we have made have had the full support of the teachers; their fingerprints are all over our success.” Assistant Principal Steve Katkich added, “When you have the talented students, dynamic faculty, and engaged community that we have, you have a formula for success.” Both Noel and Katkich agreed that Dutch Ridge has changed ‘the standard (of excellence).’

The key drivers that have led Dutch Ridge Elementary to such stunning success also include the implementation of new student supports, thoughtful changes to the school structure, and always remaining ‘data-informed but student-focused.’ To this end, over the past three years, Dutch Ridge has completely redesigned its building schedule, which has allowed for collaborative planning across grade levels for teachers and additional unique learning opportunities for students. The District’s Director of Curriculum, Cristine Wagner-Deitch, credits the building-wide emphasis of engaging in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) learning opportunities as being part of the change. “We want our teachers and students to know that taking risks and learning from our mistakes is a vital part of learning. By focusing on the 4Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity, then both students and teachers are destined for increased levels of success,” Wagner-Deitch said.

Two examples of STEAM learning and the incorporation of the 4Cs that have led to Dutch Ridge Elementary being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School occurred this year in a curriculum collaboration between Technology and Library Science. This was seen as a natural collaboration, given that in both curriculum areas students learn to critically analyze the quality and authenticity of materials and available resources. After conducting this analysis, students used the information to help them solve problems, develop new products, and explore entrepreneurship. One group of 6th grade students went on to design candy molds, program a 3D printer to create the molds, and then used the molds to make the actual chocolate candy suckers. The students then sold the chocolate suckers and donated the money they raised to a charity of their choosing. Another group of students built and programed a robot to assist with gardening and will soon be able to use the FarmBot in Dutch Ridge Elementary’s very own greenhouse due to generous grants from community supporters such as the Beaver Area Education Foundation and the Beaver County Educational Trust.

To learn more about the cutting-edge educational strategies and innovative changes that helped to make Dutch Ridge Elementary School into a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School, please follow us on Twitter @BeaverAreaSD or follow the hashtag #WeAreTheBobcats

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