Orchard Hill Intermediate School, part of the North Canton City School District, was named a National Blue Ribbon School on Thursday.
NORTH CANTON Students sat cross-legged in the gym of Orchard Hill Intermediate School, eyes glued to a video announcing the 2017 National Blue Ribbon Schools.
They clutched hands and crossed fingers, fidgeting with excitement, as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos explained the awards.
"We recognize and honor your success in the critical work of preparing today's generation of children for success," she said on the video, an edited version of an earlier live broadcast.
Then came the list of winners, shortened for the assembly. Some students read them aloud as they came on screen — Steubenville, Akron, Manchester. As Orchard Hill came on the screen, students exploded with excitement.
They were yelling; jumping to their feet; seeking out hugs and high fives from classmates and teachers.
"I was so surprised," said Principal Renee Manse. "Overjoyed. Surprised. Proud. Humbled."
The recognition was a school-wide effort, she said, citing teacher's work in implementing new intervention strategies and approaches to teaching.
"They worked hard. It was a team effort and that's what we're all about at Orchard Hill," she said.
The list of National Blue Ribbon Schools was released earlier Thursday in a live broadcast from DeVos.
The district wanted Orchard Hill students and staff to be able to share in the excitement, so they kept the announcement quiet, organized an end-of-the-day assembly and recruited Hoover High School's video production students to create an edited version of the live stream.
The Hoover High drum line worked up the crowd. Then students watched videos of pictures from around the school and taped messages from Superintendent Jeff Wendorf and Board of Education President Bruce Hunt, congratulating the school of their nomination before "cutting into the live broadcast."
"This is awesome," said Wendorf after helping to usher excited kids back to their classrooms. "It's great that we were able to involve the kids. It's their award, too. And it's fun to watch them be able to celebrate the announcement."
Orchard Hill was one of nine schools in Ohio, and one of 342 schools nationwide, to earn the Blue Ribbon designation, which is given by the U.S. Department of Education.
Awards ceremony later
The national designation, now in its 35th year, honors "public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap," according to a news release from the Ohio Department of Education.
Orchard Hill was recognized for being an Exemplary High Performing School, which means the school ranked among Ohio's highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or national tests.
It's an honor for a school to earn a nomination, Wendorf said. "We're just thrilled to get the recognition."
Blue Ribbon schools will be officially recognized at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., in November.
Orchard Hill was the only winner from Stark County this year.
Other Ohio Blue Ribbon Schools are East Garfield Elementary School in the Steubenville City School district; Ledgeview Elementary School in the Nordonia Hills City School district; Miamitown Elementary School in the Southwest Local School district; Nolley Elementary School in the Manchester Local School district; Toll Gate Elementary School and Toll Gate Middle School in the Pickerington Local School district; Waynesville Elementary School in the Wayne Local School district; and Wyandot Elementary School in the Dublin City School district.
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