Three schools in North Central Florida have won the National Blue Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education.
The Caring and Sharing Learning School in Gainesville, Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary in Ocala, and Madison Street Academy of Visual and Performing Arts in Ocala received the award, the department announced Thursday.
Nine other schools across Florida also received the honor.
The award is given annually to schools whose students “achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap,” according to a news release from the Department of Education.
That gap is the difference in academic performance between different groups of students based on race, family income or other factors.
At the Caring and Sharing Learning Center, students sometimes face additional difficulties outside of the classroom.
As a Title I school, it receives additional federal funding because of its high number of low-income students, and more than 93 percent of its 175 students receive free or reduced lunches based on their household incomes.
But fifth grade teacher Mabis Muhammad said economic status isn’t an excuse for poor grades.
“We expect for them to do well, regardless of their background or where they come from,” she said. “I think that their performance really demonstrates that fact.”
Caring and Sharing fifth-grader Assata Rellevent said the school receiving the award was met with cheers from students throughout the school as they watched a live stream of the Department of Education announcing the winners.
“I was just so surprised because I knew that some people had been working hard,” Rellevent said.
Rellevent is one of the school’s safety patrol officers, who help the school operate at the start and end of each day. She said she has dreams of one day attending the University of Florida and then starting a career.
“I’m thinking about either being a writer for children’s stories or being a dancer and having a dance career,” she said.
Despite some facing challenges outside school, Caring and Sharing’s students come ready to learn, Principal Curtis Peterson said.
“You couldn’t control who you were born to. You can’t control where you live,” he said. “But what you could control is what you want to do when you step foot on campus.”
Peterson offered a message for parents on how they can best help their children succeed: “You maybe don’t know all of the math or all of the language arts, or you maybe weren’t successful yourself in school. However, you can be successful by making sure your child gets here.”