(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
Students trickled into the gym shortly before 9 a.m. like little soldiers. They would soon learn via live stream video from Virginia that their school -- whose athletic teams' nickmame is Champions -- had made history.
"Do you know what it means to make history?" said Dr. Ray Butrum, Bedford County school superintendent, to kindergarten through sixth grade students. "That means you've done something that no one else has ever done at Cascade."
Butrum was being modest.
So what did these little 'champions' do?
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Friday Cascade Elementary is one of six Tennessee schools to earn the 2012 National Blue Ribbon award.
Cascade was one of 269 schools out of more than 100,000 in the country to earn the honor. Fewer than 1 percent receive the prestigious award.
Presented by the U.S. Department of Education, the award honors public and private schools whose students attain and maintain high academic goals that work toward closing achievement gaps.
"This is an outstanding accomplishment that took effort from students, teachers, administrators and parents," Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said. "It is so important for us to recognize the good work that goes on in Tennessee schools and try to replicate that success."
The schools will receive $2,500 and recognition during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in November.
(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
"I want our dedicated teachers to be able to celebrate this one-in-a-lifetime recognition," said a tearful Fisher following the ceremony. She said she felt the honor was a gift from God.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools program recognizes schools in one of two categories. The first category is "Exemplary High Performing," in which schools are recognized among their state's highest-performing schools, as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
The second category is "Exemplary Improving," in which schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds demonstrate the most progress in improving student achievement levels as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
Each of Tennessee's winners were recognized as Exemplary High Performing schools.
"Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential," Duncan said in a prepared statement.
"Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future."
By the end of the hour-long assembly, students appeared to be catching on.
"You are the first!" Butrum said. "You are the first school in Bedford County to ever win this award. You made history ... You get to say, 'I go to Cascade!'
Each child received a small blue ribbon as a visual reminder of their hard work.
"When you get home tonight, you take this blue ribbon to your parents and say 'Thank you for making me be smart enough to be a part of the first ever Blue Ribbon school ... And take me to McDonald's."
Sixth grade middle school students joined the assembly, since their test scores were submitted as part of the material that was evaluated for the award.
"Thank you, sixth graders!" Fisher said. "We love you."
To select National Blue Ribbon Schools, the U.S. Department of Education requests nominations from the top education office in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education. The Council of American Private Education (CAPE) nominates private schools.
A total of 417 schools nationwide may be nominated, with allocations determined by the numbers of K-12 students and schools in each jurisdiction.
The Secretary of Education invites nominated schools to submit an application for possible recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School.
Fisher closed out the ceremony.
"You are winners. You give 100 percent every day and I love you all," she said. "Congratulations!"
A full list of 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools is available here.
Cascade Elementary, Wartrace, principal Martha Fisher
The Discovery School at Reeves Rogers Elementary School, Murfreesboro, principal Dr. Linda Clark
E.E. Jeter Elementary School, Millington, Paulette Bond
Glenwood Elementary School, Oak Ridge, principal Dr. Pearl Goins
John Hay Elementary School, Morristown, principal Scott Bolton
Merrol Hyde Magnet School, Hendersonville, principal Brad Schreiner