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Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School received the National Blue Ribbon Medal

Kylie Cantrell, a seventh grader, removes bolts from a vehicle during the September 26 class at Fenton Shelsburg Prep in Fenton. Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School was one of five schools in Iowa named this year the Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education. (Nick Rolman/The Gazette)

Industrial Technologies teacher Chad Anderson (right) helps sixth grader Will Ollinger (left) remove a bolt from a vehicle on September 26 at Fenton Shelsburg Prep in Fenton. (Nick Ruhlmann/The Gazette)

Art teacher Kari Russler demonstrates Japanese ink painting techniques during an art class on September 26 at Fenton Chilsburg Prep School in Fenton. This year the school was the only middle school in Iowa named after the Blue Ribbon School. (Nick Rolman/The Gazette)

Art teacher Carrie Rossler (left) demonstrates Japanese ink painting techniques to seventh grader Colin Posler (right) during an art class on September 26 at Fenton-Chelsburg Prep School in Fenton. (Nick Ruhlmann/The Gazette)

VINTON – Teachers credit Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School’s recognition as a national blue-ribbon school for giving students more choices, explaining why they learn a subject and having a strong local K-12 education system.

Recognition is based on the school’s overall academic performance or progress in bridging achievement gaps between student subgroups. The National Blue Ribbon School Award affirms and affirms the hard work of students, teachers, families and communities in pursuit of exemplary achievements.

Five Iowa schools were honored in September, but Fenton-Chelseasburg is the only middle school to make the list.

At school, students are allotted a half hour each day to get academic help, set up assignments, or choose an extended learning opportunity such as art, the auto shop, Star Wars movie making, mindfulness, or yoga.

Seventh-grade language arts teacher Brenda Harting said this model gives students “ownership and motivation to do work.” Priority helps students who do not have to do assignments or who need to go to the classroom or to a teacher for help.

“If you don’t get it the first time, that’s okay. We’ll work with you on whatever you need help with,” said Lindsey Gallo, an eighth-grade science teacher. “We have time in our day to help students who may need extra help or want to go Beyond that.”

Students present in their homework can daily choose the extended learning opportunity, which is not graded, as they wish. Harting, who was a professional photographer before he became a teacher, taught students photography several times a week, for example.

“It gives them the opportunity to pursue their interests. I really enjoy getting to know the students in a very different way than in a traditional classroom,” Harting said.

Middle school teachers also work on “teacher clarity.”

“If students know what we want them to learn and why, they will be more invested in that learning,” said Alexa Francois, an instructional coach.

Teachers also provide students with a template on how to seek help. “Sometimes we need to go to each other for help, echo each other’s thoughts and get advice,” Gallo said.

“The students know that if I don’t understand this, I will have the opportunity to work face-to-face with the teacher. I may not know it yet, but I will get there. The piece of self-confidence is huge,” said François.

Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School Principal Shelly Petersen said it took “hard work by children and teachers” over the past decade to earn National Blue Ribbon School recognition. Middle school wouldn’t have been able to do this without the hard work of teachers and students starting in elementary school, Petersen said.

“I am very proud of the work that everyone has done,” Petersen said. “It’s not about recognition – even though you feel good about it. We know we do what’s right for children, and that will benefit them and help them succeed in whatever they want to do.”

Blue Ribbon National Schools serve as models of effective school practice for teachers of state, district, and other schools across the country. The National School Flag with the blue ribbon overlooking the school entrance or on the flagpole is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.

“I salute all of the honorees of the 2022 National Blue Schools Award for creating vibrant, welcoming and affirming school communities,” US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will be only with the power of the education we give all of our children. Blue Ribbon Schools go to great lengths to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional and mental needs. “

Nearly 300 schools in the United States have been recognized as the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools, including five in Iowa. Other schools in Iowa named Blue Ribbon National Schools are Prairie Trail Elementary School in Ankeny, West Elementary School in Glenwood, Mount Air Elementary School in Mount Air and Van Meer High School in Van Mitter.

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