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Livingston’s Aquinas Academy Holds National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award Ceremony

Jackie Schatell

Sunday, November 24, 2013 • 3:37am

LIVINGSTON, NJ - On Fri., Nov. 22, Livingston’s Aquinas Academy held its 2013 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award Ceremony with a full house of students, parents and faculty. The school was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence on Sept. 24, 2013 by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Last week, Principal Lena Picillo, O.P. and Monsignor Thomas P. Nydegger, Pastor attended the official annual awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., where they received a plaque and flag to signify the school’s exemplary status. To show their joy, the two “danced across the stage” to accept the award.

“It has been quite the celebration that started back in September but this week—to see the excitement when I met the students with the plaque and flag was truly wonderful,” said Principal Picillo.” I can’t tell you about that moment when Monsignor Tom and I stepped on that stage in D.C. but I can tell you that we danced across the stage to receive the award.”

“We danced for you because there is so much you do for us,” said Monsignor Nydegger.

Aquinas Academy was one of 15 New Jersey schools out of 286 in the nation to obtain this honor and was acknowledged in the “Exemplary High Performing” category, which means that it is one of New Jersey’s highest performing schools according to state assessments and nationally-normed tests. Of the 286 schools, 236 public and 50 private schools received the prestigious honor. Of the 50 private schools, 42 were Catholic Parochial schools. As symbols of their status as National Blue Ribbon Schools, each school received an engraved plaque and program flag with the official seal signifying its status and the year of its award.

Founded in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' academic achievement. Since the program's founding 31 years ago, the U. S. Department of Education has bestowed this coveted award on more than 7,000 of America's schools. Livingston High School received the honor in 1998. According to the official National Blue Ribbon website, “A school's National Blue Ribbon School status does not expire. Once a school receives the award, it remains a National Blue Ribbon School. However, school representatives must always use the year of the award when identifying their school as a National Blue Ribbon School.”

Also according to the official National Blue Ribbon website, “The award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in striving for and attaining exemplary achievement. National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models for other schools throughout the nation, and school personnel are often sought out as mentors.”

In an earlier article that ran in The Alternative Press of Livingston, Sister Picillo said, “It gives me great pleasure to share this news with the Livingston community that Aquinas Academy has been awarded the 2013 National Blue Ribbon. I am so proud of the accomplishments of our faculty and students. What an honor to be recognized on the national level for all that we do at Aquinas Academy.”

Also in that article, Duncan said, “Excellence in education matters and we should honor the schools that are leading the way to prepare students for success in college and careers. National Blue Ribbon schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education."

The Aquinas Academy Assembly ceremony began with the preschoolers marching around the Daly Parish Center with big blue ribbons around their necks. Next, everyone saluted the Flag and the school band, led by Band Director, Genesis Music Program, Ms. Martha Boughner, played the Star Spangled Banner.

Then Student Council President, Rosie G. read some opening remarks and Monsignor Nydegger led the opening prayer.

“There is nothing more exciting than being named a Blue Ribbon School and we are honored to be the ‘best of the best’ not just in the state, but in the country,” said Rosie G.

Following that, led by Music Director, Miss Amanda Weiss, the Aquinas Academy students, who were all wearing blue ribbons around their necks, sang Funga Alafia, with Accompanist, John Tyillian, and Peter Mackinson on the bongos, and Celebrate with Jubilant Song.

Mayor Rudy Fernandez then read a proclamation.

“We are very excited and it is so nice to see all of the work that goes on here recognized,” said Mayor Fernandez.

Following the proclamation, two students, Kjersten L. and Sarah M., read their National Blue Ribbon Student Essays and student, Crystal P. read her award-winning Unico Student Essay.

Next, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, Coadjutor Archbishop Archdiocese of Newark and Dr. Margaret A. Dames, Ed. D., Superintendent of Schools Archdiocese of Newark made some remarks.

“Congratulations, this brings honor not just to your school but to our whole diocese,” said Archbishop Hebda.

 “We are here today because Sister Lena and Monsignor Tom have created a partnership between the students, faculty, parents and everyone in this room,” said Superintendent Dames. “What you did was take the Terra Nova and scored in the top 15 percent of all public and non-public schools.”

Then Principal Picillo and Monsignor Tom came back to the podium with Principal Picillo holding up the plaque and reading from a proclamation from Senator Codey. Together, they also held up the large National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award flag for all to see.

“We are the ‘best of the best,’” said Monsignor Tom. “Now when we say where we go to school, we say we are from Aquinas Academy—A 2013 Blue Ribbon School.”

In closing, Rosie G. said, “We are so proud to have you, Sister Lena, as our principal.”

Touched, Principal Picillo became teary eyed.

The room then erupted into a chant of ‘AQA’ and all of the students shook their pom poms, which they had also been shaking vigorously periodically throughout the ceremony.

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