Glenarden Woods Is Cream of the Crop

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006

The Glenarden Woods Elementary School cafeteria was packed with youngsters primed to celebrate last Thursday. But they were quiet. They knew what was going to happen coming.

The Steppin' Tigers were on the prowl. Members of the school's dance team stomped their way out onto a stage, smacking their hands together, and started chanting: "We are from Glenarden Woods! A Blue Ribbon School!" Then they started jumping, clapping, snapping and singing. The audience roared its approval.

Most of the students in the audience were charged up about the dancing spectacle. But the adults -- and a few of the older kids -- were equally thrilled by the news the Tigers were bellowing: Their school had won a Blue Ribbon School award from the Education Department for doing well on the standardized Maryland State Assessments.

Glenarden Woods was the only school in Prince George's County to win the award, and one of only six in Maryland. The award goes to schools that finish in the top 10 percent on state exams, or to schools that have a large population of poor and minority students, and show significant improvement on the test.

Glenarden Woods is not without its demographic challenges -- 36 percent of its 472 students receive free or reduced-price meals -- yet it posted impressive gains across the board. On the reading test, 62.8 percent of the school's sixth-graders showed advanced proficiency, vs. 48.5 percent a year before. In math, 20.7 percent of the school's fifth-graders earned only basic proficiency last year; that number fell to 7.9 percent for this year's exams.

Earning the award prompted a ceremony of music -- including the school's chorus belting out "We Are the People of the 21st Century" and fifth-grader Alex Yu playing Mozart's Rondo alla turca -- and speeches.

"I think students like the honor because it separates us from normal and gives us something in which to take pride," said Schuylar Scott, a sixth-grader reading from her essay.

"It is the biggest award a school can receive," said Cherisse Mathis, a fifth-grader.

The school had been dressed up neatly to receive County Executive Jack B. Johnson, who sent Chief Administrative Officer Jacqueline Brown as his representative. She came bearing a $1,000 check from Johnson for the school in recognition of its achievement.

"You're one of only six schools in the entire state of Maryland and one of only 250 schools in the entire United States of America," Brown said to applause. "That's a lot of brainpower."

John E. Deasy, the Prince George's County schools chief, took the stage, too, addressing students and teachers directly.

"You were incredibly well-behaved this afternoon," Deasy said. "You don't get an award like this without working very hard. Nothing is by accident when it comes to student achievement."

Scholar of the Week

Oxon Hill High School senior Vanesa Hercules is the school system's Scholar of the Week. Befitting her last name, Hercules is strong in sports, playing on the varsity teams in both soccer, for which she won a sportsmanship award, and softball, for which she earned a Golden Glove. When she isn't on the field, she's in one of the several Advanced Placement courses she has signed up for this semester. She has a 3.89 grade-point average.

Hercules wants to attend medical school and work with the Peace Corps or Medicorps after graduating. Her goal is to run a free medical clinic for the community.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company