DELTA JUNCTION - The elementary school in Delta Junction has been honored as a Blue Ribbon School by the federal government.
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The designation, an award given to only 287 schools across the nation this year, honors the top schools in America as far as student test scores are concerned or those whose students - especially those classified as "disadvantaged" - made leaps in performance on standardized tests.
"I didn't really understand what a big deal it was until I started working with (the application) and then I was thinking, 'Wow, our little school is amazing,"' principal Michelle Beito said. "It's ranking us as one of the top schools in the nation. If you're looking at the community and you see that the elementary school is a Blue Ribbon School, that's pretty impressive."
Delta Junction Elementary School has about 400 students in grades kindergarten through fifth. Half of those students are eligible for free or reduced school lunches and nearly 30 percent speak limited English, with many coming from Slavic families.
Because of the school's size and limited resources, it only has a part-time English language learner teacher to work with struggling students. But despite that handicap, Beito said, other staff members have stepped up and instituted unique initiatives to help the students achieve.
"There's really a team approach in this building," Beito said. "We truly believe that every child in our school is everyone's responsibility. We all take responsibility for every child in the building. It's very impressive. They are an exceptional staff."
The teachers and staff have a put together an intervention program in the past few years to target those students falling behind in reading or math and getting them additional help. Additionally, the school has a "leveled" approach to reading instruction whereby students - especially those who don't speak English well - are grouped together not by grade but by reading level.
The efforts are paying off if the test scores are an indication. In the 2004-05 school year, 62 percent of the elementary school's third-graders struggling with English were deemed proficient or advanced in math. The next year, 86 percent of the third-graders in that particular subgroup tested proficient or advanced. The students with limited English proficiency, or LEP, at the fourth and fifth grade level - the other two grades at the school that take standardized state tests each year - also showed double-digit increases in math and reading scores.