Cumberland Times-News

May 13, 2011

Grasmick makes stop in Bel Air at Blue Ribbon school

Kristin Harty Barkley
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Practically everyone wore royal blue Friday morning at Bel Air Elementary School, where a Who’s Who of local and state officials gathered to celebrate the school’s Maryland Blue Ribbon Award.

Students wore royal blue T-shirts.

Principal Autumn Eirich wore a royal-blue-patterned print skirt and a royal blue top.

Allegany County Board of Education member Sara-Beth James wore a stunning royal blue dress.

And State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, in a tailored, royal blue suit, donned a medallion on a royal blue velvet ribbon, which she can wear on just a handful of occasions.

“I can only do this in a Blue Ribbon School,” said Grasmick, who explained to students that just six of the state’s 1,600 schools were chosen for the honor this year.

“So today, I can put on this medallion,” Grasmick said, dramatically placing it around her neck.

The audience cheered.

Local school officials learned in December that Bel Air had been selected for the annual award, but the official celebration didn’t take place until Friday.

During a school-wide assembly that was open to members of the community, representatives from the Maryland General Assembly, the Governor’s Office, and the offices of Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin read congratulatory proclamations.

“This is a great day for Bel Air and Allegany County,” said Sen. George Edwards of the District 1 delegation.

“Students, this is something you can take with you as you go through life, and you can say, ‘I was part of the process. I was part of that group that went to Bel Air and got the designation of Blue Ribbon School.’”

The Maryland State Department of Education chooses six Blue Ribbon Schools each year based on academic performance and other factors. The state’s Blue Ribbon Schools are then in the running  for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Award, which is announced in September.

In 2008, Allegany County’s Cresaptown Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School.

“At our office we have a huge magnifying glass, and we are told every year you can only name six schools in the entire state of Maryland as Blue Ribbon Schools,” Grasmick told students.

“So we take that big magnifying glass and we look at everything. Do they have great teachers? Are the students working very hard and doing a lot of important things and getting wonderful grades? And then we look at the parents. Are they helping in the school?”

At Bel Air, 97 percent of students scored proficient in reading and math on the Maryland State Assessments, stood out, Grasmick said. Parents and community members served more than 1,300 volunteer hours last year.

“You have done everything right,” Grasmick said.

Eirich called on several students to read short essays about why they love their school.

“My teachers have encouraged me to try hard and use different strategies to solve a problem,” said fifth-grader Amy Alderton, who has spent six years at Bel Air. Next year, she’s headed to Washington Middle School.

“They’ve also let me be creative,” Alderton said, adding that she’s written poems, painted masks and made a duct-tape wallet at school.

As a reward for attaining Blue Ribbon status, Bel Air is receiving quite a few gifts, said Darla Strauss, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Schools Program — a set of Scholastic books, $2,000 cash, a $6,000 SMART technology interactive white board, a pizza party and a concert by a yet-to-be-named group.

“It’s not Justin Bieber,” Strauss teased.

Although Bel Air was at the center of the celebration Friday, several speakers made it a point to thank Grasmick, who is retiring in July after serving as state superintendent for 20 years.

Allegany County Superintendent of Schools David Cox gave Grasmick a framed painting of Mountain Ridge High School, showing the street sign on the incoming road — “Dr. Grasmick Lane.”

“Dr. Grasmick was so very instrumental, so helpful when it was time to build a new high school in Allegany County,” Cox said. “The people who were involved in that tell me every day that if it were not for Dr. Grasmick and her support we wouldn’t have gotten that high school.”

Bel Air students wrapped up Friday’s assembly by rising to their feet and singing a school spirit song.

“This is certainly a happy day,” Cox said during his brief remarks. “By the way, I love those blue shirts.”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at kbarkley@times-news.com.