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Mustangs Take Blue Ribbon

Meadowland Elementary School is one of nine Virginia schools designated as a Blue Ribbon School.

Second-grade teacher Lora Buckman can be sure that her students are reading outside of class.

For one, Meadowland Elementary School principal Dennis Young encourages the students to participate in monthly reading incentive programs, book clubs and reading circles.

"Mr. Young always makes it an adventure for reading. They love it," Buckman said. "Our participation is always high."

For another, students are asked to set and reach their own reading goals. "Our whole school is based on the concept of having students involved and taking responsibility for reaching specific goals in a variety of programs, so that their success is driven by their own efforts," Young said.

The students' success on the state Standards of Learning (SOL), which measures student learning in core academic subjects, caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education.

"Reading is the key to all studies and to the curriculum," Buckman said. "It's all the programs together. They feel more confident they can do their best on the test."

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT of Education issued the Blue Ribbon Schools designation for the first time this year, recognizing 215 elementary and secondary schools nationwide. In Virginia, Meadowland is one of nine schools to be chosen as Blue Ribbon Schools for the 2002-03 school year, as announced by U.S. Sen. George Allen (R) earlier this month.

Blue Ribbon Schools are included in President George Bush's No Child Left Behind program to recognize schools that scored in the top 10 percent on state assessments and schools with 40 percent disadvantaged students that showed dramatic improvement on the assessments.

Meadowland fits in the first category with scores in the mid-90s on the mathematics, science and history SOLs and a score of 92 on the English assessment. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires each state to measure student progress in reading and language arts and in mathematics from the third through the eighth grade and once in the upper grades.

State Superintendent Jo Lynne DeMary nominated Meadowland and six other public schools last spring for the Blue Ribbon designation and asked the schools to submit applications for final selection. The state's private schools used a separate nominating process.

"We were very surprised because there's over 2,000 schools in the state," said Young , principal of Meadowland since its opening in 1979. "There are more than seven schools that meet the requirements. We are just representing other schools that are similarly successful."

MEADOWLAND'S READING programs are designed to encourage students to read consistently. "All the programs are based on reading goals and getting incentives for them. Every level you reach, you get something," Young said.

A monthly reading incentive program, along with an annual play and student-teacher basketball game, provides students with awards and activities tied to a theme for meeting reading goals. For instance, in September the school held a family activity night, called Get Smart By Reading, to encourage students to sign a commitment card to read throughout the school year. In return, the students received a Meadowland temporary tattoo and a package of Smarties.

The school's other reading programs include reading circles that allow students to share what they like about books they read in small group settings and the Mustang Book Club, named after the school mascot, to encourage students to read a certain number of books to get their names in wood, bronze, silver and gold corals.

In addition, a variety of mathematics programs help students develop their problem-solving and mathematics skills, such as through the Mustang math club, problem-solving competitions and a math enrichment program for students to do additional math exercises at home to reach preset goals.

"They [the students] understand when they have to do any activity, whether it is a test or otherwise, they need to give maximum effort," Young said. "Our students score as well as they can because they are more geared to doing their best."

THE OTHER VIRGINIA schools named as Blue Ribbon Schools include Mount Eagle Elementary School in Alexandria, Short Pump Elementary in Richmond, Walsingham Academy Lower School in Williamsburg, Clover Hill Elementary in Midlothian, Cool Spring Elementary in Mechanicsville, Lancaster Primary in Lancaster, Linton Hall in Bristow and Mount Airy Elementary in Gretna.

"This honor underscores the tremendous advances Virginia's students have made since the launch of our Champion Schools Initiative with high academic standards and accountability," Allen said, according to a statement. "Students, teachers, administrators and parents should be extremely proud that these schools serve as exceptional models in academic accountability, high standards and innovation."