OPINION: Top grade: Valley schools achieve U.S. Blue Ribbon rank

Rio Grande Valley schools continue to exceed traditional perceptions and many expectations with noteworthy performance.

The U.S. Department of Education last week announced its list of National Blue Ribbon Schools. Nationwide, 325 campuses made the list; of the 26 Texas schools on the list, seven — more than one-fourth of them — are in the Valley.

Local Blue Ribbon Schools include Zeferino Farias Elementary in Alamo; Dr. Ruben Gallegos Elementary and Mittie A. Pullam Elementary in Brownsville; South Texas Preparatory Academy in Edinburg; Hidalgo Elementary in Hidalgo; Achieve Early College High School in McAllen; and South Texas ISD’s Rising Scholars Academy in San Benito.

According to the agency, “the recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona praised this year’s designees especially for pursuing excellence amid the extraordinary challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I commend … all  our Blue Ribbon schools for working to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional and mental health needs,” Cardona said while announcing the awards last week at Walter R. Sundling Jr. High School in Palatine, Ill.

“This year’s cohort of honorees demonstrate what’s possible when committed educators, school leaders and staff create vibrant and affirming schools where rich teaching and learning can flourish,” he said, also praising students and parents for doing their part to stay focused on learning despite the challenges and distractions brought on by the pandemic.

Certainly, all deserve the praise, especially the students and their families who overcame the difficulties of remote learning, especially where computer and internet access might not have been always available. Teachers and school administrators also are to be commended for their can-do spirit and creativity in fashioning those remote classes.

The Valley’s latest Blue Ribbon schools continue a noteworthy trend in the program, now in its 39th year. In recent years several Valley schools have made the list.

This progress is welcome in an area that many residents still remember as one that was plagued with low performance and high dropout rates. Today, many area schools boast standardized test scores that are higher than state and national averages.

We trust that trend continues, as educational achievement creates career opportunities that might not have been available to previous generations. We also are confident that the recent growth in higher educational opportunities, with the recent establishment of the UTRGV campus and medical school to the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen, will inspire students to pursue even higher educational achievement.

We commend all Blue Ribbon schools. May their example motivate other Valley campuses to pursue the highest goals possible.