Sedalia Elementary School was lit up Thursday evening. Every parking space was taken. Cars were parked on the grass around the school and along the shoulder of the rural Graves County highway that runs past the school. Parents hurried their students into the school. Students urged their parents to “hurry up or we’ll miss it.”
Once inside, students and teachers dressed in grey and blue t-shirts hand out programs and blue wrist bands to the crowd shuffling into the gymnasium. Blue and white balloons are everywhere.
The event that brought out hundreds of Sedalia parents, students, elected officials and a crowd of well wishers was not a championship game or a school concert. It was a presentation ceremony-the kind of presentation ceremony that politicians do every day. This one was special for this small rural Graves County school. It marked a triumph over thousands of schools from across the United States. Sedalia Elementary prevailed over hundreds of Kentucky schools this year and thousands of schools nationally to be named a Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education. Only 304 public and private schools of 135,000 in America received the designation this year. Five of those schools were in Kentucky.
Sedalia and two hundred other Kentucky schools submitted applications. Schools must make progress on their state’s achievement tests for three years, must be defined as high performing and have at least 40% of the student body from disadvantaged backgrounds. Sedalia has a disadvantaged student population of over 50%.
Principal Robert Braden praised his staff, the students, parents and community support for the award. He said that Graves County’s Board of Education had been extraordinarily supportive.
Graves County Superintendent Pete Galloway introduced Dennis Bega of the Department of Education to present the award. Bega joked that Sedalia is a hard place to get to. The Paducah airport attendant hadn’t heard of Sedalia. Bega told the attendant that in Washington, Sedalia is where education is happening. He presented a plaque to Principal Braden, first grader Jayce Riley and sixth grader Sidney Anderson. Bega also presented a certificate signed by Commissioner of Education Arne Duncan. Bega said that Duncan cared enough to sign Sedalia’s certificate himself.
Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday was back at Sedalia to give the keynote address. He had come to Sedalia last year when they were nominated for the Blue Ribbon and had promised to return when they won.
Holliday told the crowd not to let a day go by without telling their children how important education will be to their future, the future of Graves County and the future of America. It’s important for students to go past high school. 65% of jobs now require post secondary education.
Students at Sedalia Elementary and their parents listened to the speeches, applauded their faculty, then went on to the students’ high point of the evening – food in the cafeteria and a photo program featuring the real Blue Ribbon winners – them.