St. Jude School's seventh and eighth grade student leaders scooped up servings of vanilla ice cream and covered the desserts with sprinkles and whipped cream for a line of younger children inside the gymnasium Thursday afternoon. The student appreciation event was part of Catholic Schools Week.
Interim Principal Patricia Griffin strives to instill leadership qualities in her students, from leading the morning prayer to a Buddy Program in which older students serve as mentors to younger ones.
That leadership played a role in students in St. Jude's eighth grade class earning over $150,000 in scholarships to top private high schools in the area.
"I'm very proud of this class," Griffin said. "They have many, many talents among them. They have high expectations for themselves and they do have a vision of where they want to be and they're working toward it. They're going to be great contributors to society and the community they work and live in as adults."
The high student achievement at St. Jude has not gone unnoticed. St. Jude is among 50 private schools in the nation nominated to be a Blue Ribbon School by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE).
"We're very excited," Griffin said with a smile.
Though St. Jude has been nominated before, it was never chosen as a Blue Ribbon School.
A 'Foot in the Door'
In order to be eligible to be nominated as a Blue Ribbon School, Griffin said students' 2012 standardized test scores must be among the top 15% in the nation for reading and math, adding St. Jude's students in all grades finished that high for the past five years.
"The academics get your foot in the door," Griffin said. "Then they want to know what makes St. Jude a special place."
Griffin prepared a report, answering questions to show CAPE what sets St. Jude apart from other schools.
Questions covered St. Jude's mission, curriculum and how it's delivered for different learners. Griffin also wrote about the parent community, culture and climate of her school.
She submitted the report to CAPE in December and it was returned with a request for more information in only one category. The final application will be submitted on Feb. 12.
CAPE does not normally make site visits, but Griffin said St. Jude's report is signed by her, the superintendent of the diocese and the School Advisory Board president.
A committee in Washington D.C. will review the reports and decide which schools have earned Blue Ribbon School status. Those who are chosen will be notified in September. Griffin remembers one year when seven of the Diocese of Bridgeport Catholic Schools received the Blue Ribbon award.
In the Diocese St. Jude is part of, Griffin said there are 38 schools and of those, 13 have achieved Blue Ribbon status. Once its received, a school is always Blue Ribbon, according to Griffin.
She does not know who the other 49 nominated schools are this year, but said, "You're up against the best of the best."
St. Jude appears to be in a good position to continue to thrive academically. A new science lab will open next year, enhancing its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program.
But the school's goal is also to instill values in its students. At the beginning of the school year, Griffin met with teachers and parents to discuss what qualities they want to promote.
"We talked about respect for one another, building a community of believers and learners, building openness and forgiveness in our kids and in their interactions, valuing justice and fairness — whether its in sports, academics or uninstructed play in the school yard," Griffin said.
The school had a contest among students to create a Crusader Shield illustrating those values. Two were chosen, one from a fourth-grader and the other from a seventh grader.
Everyday, students are rewarded with a Crusader Shield for "good acts" exemplifying those positive values and the shields are displayed on a Hall of Fame Wall in the school.
"Teachers write up a child, what the child did and the value they saw the child demonstrating," Griffin said, adding students are recognized after morning prayer in the gymnasium.
One boy was chosen after he stepped aside to allow a teacher to get by him in a crowded stairwell, then held the door open for her.
So far, Griffin said children in grades pre-K to 8 have won shields and that shields are on display along much of the first floor hallway.
"I want to watch the length of it grow all the way through the school," she said. "It has to be a visual presentation of us growing."