Blue ribbons were prominently displayed on neighborhood trees Wednesday near Bensenville Elementary District 2's Mohawk School.
Blue streamers waved in the breeze just outside the school.
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And students, yes, dressed in blue, welcomed a police and fire procession escorting Principal Madelyn Devers and Jean Walsh, a second-grade teacher.
The pair returned Wednesday morning after a two-day trip to Washington, D.C., where they received the school's 2011 National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education.
"This really is a special day," Superintendent James Stelter told a crowd gathered for the recognition ceremony.
Mohawk joins an elite group of 19 Illinois schools and 304 public and private schools across the country that received the honor.
"Blue Ribbon schools are models for the rest of the nation," U.S. Department of Education Program Specialist Marilyn Teague said.
Schools are eligible for the honor based on one of two criteria: either by their high test scores or by their level of improvement on state or national standardized tests.
At Mohawk, where more than 76 percent of its students are Hispanic, the school achieved academic success despite several demographic challenges.
A woman from the Illinois Department of Education took note when she tracked Mohawk's test scores and nominated the school for the Blue Ribbon Award.
According to the 2010 state report card, more than 87 percent of student scores met or exceeded state standards in reading, math and science. The school also met Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Devers credits a collaborative approach where teachers train together at professional seminars, including one focused on differentiation. It's a model where teachers consider the learning style and needs of each student and tailor instruction, Devers said.
In addition, the staff, including six bilingual teachers, offers tutoring before school. The principal said many of the teachers skip lunches to help struggling students.
Devers shared those strategies with her peers during her trip to accept the award -- the "pinnacle" in her 34-year career in education at a time when the district plans to merge Mohawk students into Johnson School next year.
"We're not stopping here," Devers said. "We have to continue to strive for excellence."