An Albany County school is one of two in the state to be honored by the U.S. Department of Education as a 2020 Blue Ribbon School.

Slade Elementary School in Laramie was declared an “Exemplary High Performing” school for its WY-TOPP scores, student growth and commitment to equity. Poder Academy in Cheyenne was also named a Blue Ribbon School this year.

“For all of us here, it helps us feel acknowledged and that we’re moving in the right direction,” Slade Principal Heather Moro said. “This year, in particular, it was a nice bright spot of celebration when we got the call.”

The award considers gaps between socioeconomic, gender or other subgroups within the school. Slade was noted for its commitment to equity.

“About maybe seven or eight years ago, we made a commitment as a staff that we believed in all children — and ‘all’ really meant all children,” Moro said. “So how are we going to work together to make sure all kids have access to grade-level instruction? And that they have opportunities to get grade-level instruction in multiple ways?”

The Blue Ribbon designation also takes into account overall test scores, and student growth over the years.

“As instructors, we’ve worked really hard on being clear about what we want kids to learn and being able to identify the steps or skills they would need to learn that,” Moro said. “We are able to communicate those learning goals, or those steps, to kids so they can identify where they are in that process.”

But a school is more than the sum of its teachers and students. Moro places an emphasis on communicating with families, making sure they feel a part of the team.

“We’ve worked really hard to build a culture of inclusiveness,” she said. “We have a great foundation of families who have been at our school for a long time who have had multiple kids go through our system.”

Slade also welcomes new families — for example, those with children in the dual language immersion (DLI) program.

Shawna McBride’s daughter, Chelsea Crait, is a first grader at Slade Elementary, having transferred just this year when her grade’s DLI classes were consolidated to Slade from multiple elementary schools.

“We had heard great things about Slade, so we were excited to move there,” McBride said. “And we were really grateful that they made the space for all of these students. We really are excited to be there.”

In a strange year unlike any other, McBride said she has found those at Slade to be helpful and communicative, always willing to “go the extra mile.”

“Overall, we were a little worried about what it would be like this year, obviously,” McBride said. “But it’s been going really well.”

Each year, up to 420 schools nationwide are nominated by a state or territory’s top education official or department of education.

Superintendent of Public Education Jillian Balow said the nomination is based on a wide range of criteria.

“The most interesting, exciting thing about a blue ribbon school is that it’s not just a point in time — it’s sustained over multiple years,” Balow said. “It’s not just that they did something good one time or that someone is really good inside of the school. It’s a team effort that is sustained over time and it really does take — from the leadership level to the classroom level — a lot of really hard work by leaders, parents, teachers and students.”

Balow praised Principal Moro, highlighting the school’s culture where more seasoned teachers mentoring new teachers, as well as the school’s commitment to intervention whenever students fall behind.

“It’s not guaranteed that a state would have Blue Ribbon Award winners,” Balow said. “It’s strictly based on their sustained high performance or sustained growth. To have a Blue Ribbon School is really a feather in our cap as a state. But also a really clear message to the community of Laramie and the state of Wyoming that quality education is alive and well.”

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Education named 317 public and 50 non-public schools Blue Ribbon Schools, planning to hold a virtual ceremony to honor the celebrated school on Nov. 12-13.

This is the first time Slade Elementary has won the Blue Ribbon award. The last local school to receive Blue Ribbon status was Snowy Range Academy in 2018.

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