Evanston's was recognized as one of 269 "Blue Ribbon Schools" by the U.S. Department of Education this Friday.
The award is granted yearly to schools around the country that demonstrate academic excellence or make great strides in improving student achievement. St. Athanasius was recognized in the first category, as “an exemplary high performing school.”
“We’re definitely thrilled,” said St. Athanasius principal Susan Castagna. “It does reaffirm the fact that St. A’s is a great school, and it helps the community know that.”
Founded in 1923, St. Athanasius School was one of 50 private schools selected nationwide. It is the first time the school has received a Blue Ribbon award.
“Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release. “Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future."
The selection process for Blue Ribbon Schools begins with nominations from the top education officials in each state and from The Council for American Private Education (CAPE). St. Athanasius was one of more than 100 schools that submitted applications to CAPE.
In her application, Castagna stressed the school’s academic excellence, its holistic education and its sense of community. The school’s 337 students in kindergarten through eighth grade consistently score near or within the top 10 percent in the nation. Many of the teachers have taught there for more than 25 years, she says, and nearly two-thirds have master’s degrees.
More than 90 percent of faculty members are involved in extra enrichment programs, whether that’s coaching athletic teams or teaching extracurricular classes during the school’s winter recess, according to Castagna. A technology assistant has taught about students about his hobby, sports statistics, while an office worker has taught knitting.
“We really try to teach students intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Castagna says. “I think that contributes to students’ sense of wellbeing.”
A community feeling extends to the parents and families, says Castagna. Parents have raised roughly $300,000 each year over the past several years to offer financial aid, and many alumni return to send their own children.
“St. A’s has been a strong school for a long time,” says Castagna. “We’ve just been getting better and better.”
The school held a celebration with students last Friday, Sept. 7, after the news was announced. Schools will also be honored publicly during a ceremony Nov. 12 and 13 in Washington, D.C.