McAllen ISD’s Achieve Early College High School became the only high school in the Rio Grande Valley that has been recognized twice as a Blue Ribbon campus Tuesday, when the U.S. Department of Education announced six Valley winners.

McAllen’s Achieve ISD Early College High School principal Miguel Carmona celebrates the announcement the school was awarded the National Blue Ribbon on campus on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Early in February, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency announced the nomination of 26 Texas public schools, including Achieve ECHS, South Texas ISD Preparatory Academy, South Texas ISD Rising Scholars Academy and three elementary schools from the RGV: PSJA ISD’s Zeferino Farias Elementary School, Brownsville ISD’s Gallegos Elementary and Mittie A. Pullam Elementary, and Hidalgo ISD’s Hidalgo Elementary School.

All of them received the recognition Tuesday.

The schools had to complete a rigorous application process conducted by the Department of Education. And they were judged based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates.

The awards are broken down into two groups: those named Exemplary High-Performing Schools and those named Exemplary Achievement Gap-Closing Schools.

Exemplary High-Performing Schools among the state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. Those named Exemplary Achievement Gap-Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students.

Achieve ECHS was nominated under the category of Exemplary High Performing School.

Schools can only receive the designation once every five years. Achieve ECHS was recognized in 2015 and now again in the program’s 39th year.

Spirits were high as students and school officials gathered at the school’s gym, which was covered in blue decor, as they waited for the official announcement on whether or not they would be recognized again this year as a Blue Ribbon campus.

McAllen’s Achieve ISD Early College High School principal Miguel Carmona holds an emblem soon after it was announced the school being awarded the National Blue Ribbon on campus on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“To our students, I want you all to know that we respect you all very much for the hard work that you put in to put this school in this position to earn this honor,” McAllen ISD Superintendent Dr. J.A. Gonzalez said. “If you look at the standard the U.S. Department of Education puts forth, to even be nominated, it takes hard working students that do it day in and day out.”

Loud bangs and cheers echoed throughout the gym as staff deployed their confetti poppers after it was finally revealed that Achieve had been officially recognized once more as a National Blue Ribbon School.

But the school was celebrating much more than that Tuesday.

Earlier this semester, Achieve ECHS was also named to the State Honor Roll for the fifth consecutive year, named a top ranked high school in the Rio Grande Valley by Children at Risk for 2020 and was one of 12 McAllen ISD schools to earn the state’s highest rating based on its 2019 STAAR performance.

“What (this) means is that hard work pays off,” Achieve ECHS Principal Miguel Carmona said. “Our teachers, our students, our staff, they put in everyday and they get results.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include Hidalgo ISD.