Arlington Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Principal Andrea Frye and school board member Emma Violand-Sanchez stand with students to celebrate Patrick Henry Elementary’s distinction as a National Blue Ribbon School on Sep. 29. (Photo by Frank Bellavia/Arlington Public Schools)

Arlington’s Patrick Henry Elementary was recognized once again for it’s academic performance, earning the distinction of being a National Blue Ribbon School.

The school, in south Arlington, has beat the odds, outperforming statewide averages on standardized tests even though nearly 40 percent of its students qualify for free- and reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty. In applying for the U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon honor, thee school was up against schools of all kinds, including those with wealthier student populations.

Across the country, 285 public schools and 50 private schools received the distinction, including seven public and five private schools in Virginia and six public schools and two private schools in Maryland. Patrick Henry was the only public school in Northern Virginia to be named a Blue Ribbon School.

The National Blue Ribbon program recognizes elementary, middle and high schools for high academic performance or for making strides in closing the achievement gap. The program, established in 1982, has given the distinction to more than 7,500 schools.

In a video address to schools that won the award, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told educators that they could serve as models for others.

“Your journey has taught you collaboration, intentional instruction, and strong relationships in school and with your community,” Duncan said. “You represent excellence — in vision, in implementation, and in results — and we want to learn as much as we can from you.”

Principal Andrea Frye said the school is a mix of children from affluent families, homeless families “and everything in between.” Many come from families of recent immigrants. There are 20 languages spoken among the 500 or so students.

“We want to get to the point where the color of their skin or the economic makeup of their family won’t predict how they’ll do on a standardized test,” Frye said. “I want kids that love coming to school and teachers who love coming to work. We set expectations high for all students, but we also hug them and care for them as a unique individuals.”

[Read about former teacher Dahlia Constantine: She dreamed of changing the world. Now she’s doing it, one child at a time.]

The school’s curriculum at all grade levels emphasizes learning through performing community service in a program called “Henry’s Helping Hands.” A student might learn about plants from growing tomatoes in the school garden, then sell the tomatoes to raise money for the local food bank, for example.

This hands-on method “naturally supports different learning styles of our students and it really makes them feel like citizens in their community,” Frye said.

Because of its high concentration of poverty, the school receives Title I federal funding, and was honored last year as a National Title I School of Distinction.

Here are the schools in Maryland and Virginia that were named Blue Ribbon schools this year:

In Maryland, six public schools and two private schools received the distinction.

  • Cardinal Hickey Academy, Archdiocese of Washington (Owings, Md.)
  • Fountain Green Elementary School, Harford County Public Schools (Bel Air, Md.)
  • Kemptown Elementary School, Frederick County Public Schools (Monrovia, Md.)
  • Lake Shore Elementary School, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (Pasadena, Md.)
  • Our Lady of Lourdes School (Bethesda, Md.)
  • Pine Grove Elementary, Baltimore County Public Schools (Baltimore, Md.)
  • Severna Park Elementary School, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (Severna Park, Md.)
  • Smithsburg High School, Washington County Public Schools (Smithsburg, Md.)

In Virginia, seven public schools and five private schools were named Blue Ribbon Schools.

  • Central High School, Shenandoah County Public Schools (Woodstock, Va.)
  • Christ the King Catholic School (Norfolk, Va.)
  • Cosby High School, Chesterfield County Public Schools (Midlothian, Va.)
  • Crystal Spring Elementary School, Roanoke City Public Schools (Roanoke, Va.)
  • Great Neck Middle School, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (Virginia Beach, Va.)
  • Immanuel Christian School (Springfield, Va.)
  • Our Lady of Hope Catholic School (Potomac Falls, Va.)
  • Patrick Henry Elementary School, Arlington County Public Schools (Arlington, Va)
  • Riverheads High School, Augusta County Public Schools (Staunton, Va.)
  • St. Mark Catholic School (Vienna, Va.)
  • Snow Creek Elementary School, Franklin County Public Schools (Penhook, Va.)
  • Trinity Lutheran School (Newport News, Va.)