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updated: 9/28/2011 12:11 PM

Suburban Catholic schools win Blue Ribbon awards

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  • Students of St. Emily School in Mount Prospect gather for a celebratory photo. The Catholic school will receive a Blue Ribbon School Award from the U.S. Department of Education

      Students of St. Emily School in Mount Prospect gather for a celebratory photo. The Catholic school will receive a Blue Ribbon School Award from the U.S. Department of Education
    Courtesy of Van Gogh School Photographers

By Kerry Lester

Four suburban Catholic schools have been named among this year's top performing schools in the country.

St. Emily School in Mount Prospect, Queen of the Rosary School in Elk Grove Village and both Mary Seat of Wisdom and St. Paul of the Cross schools in Park Ridge will be among 304 public and private schools that will receive Blue Ribbon School Awards from the U.S. Department of Education at a November ceremony in Washington, D.C.

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Since the awards' inception in 1982, Chicago Archdiocese schools in Cook and Lake counties have received 61 Blue Ribbon Awards, more than any other school system in the country.

Suburban schools are a big part of that success, despite challenges in enrollment and revenue as a result of the recession. In the last five years alone, 10 Catholic elementary and high schools from the Northwest suburbs were named Blue Ribbon Schools.

"The Blue Ribbon helps to validate the academic excellence which follows from our faith tradition," Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, Archdiocese Superintendent, said in a statement.

Winning schools either earn high scores on standardized tests or serve disadvantaged students and improve performance to high levels.

At St. Emily, Principal Mary Hemmelman and longtime teacher (and former student) Sandra Brogmus will make the trek to Washington in November to accept the award.

Hemmelman said St. Emily has spent the past seven years writing an updated curriculum that meshes frameworks from the Archdiocese as well as state standards. The curriculum, Hemmelman says, includes grade level goals and objectives as well as "all school goals."

Those goals include increasing reading scores, differentiating instruction to accommodate different types of learners, improving writing and curriculum mapping.

As a result, the school has seen its Terra Nova standardized test scores increase to among the top 15 percent in the country, Hemmelman said.

While area public schools are mandated, through state law, to spend at least $10,000 on instruction on each pupil, St. Emily gets by on much less, with tuition set at $4,100 a year.

"We've cut here and there," Hemmelman said. "We do have a lot of volunteers helping us out."

While the 307-student school saw enrollment dip as a result of the recession, Hemmelman said, "We're holding our own. … It is a challenge for the parents, but it's a sacrifice they make."

School officials shared the good news about the Blue Ribbon Award with students Sept. 13.

Capannari's Ice Cream in Mount Prospect helped the celebration by donating cups of vanilla ice cream with blue sprinkles, in honor of the school colors.

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