October 4, 2019

Two archdiocesan schools earn honors as national Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence

A cheerleader at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis holds up an oversized foam hand declaring “We’re #1” during a school pep rally on Sept. 26 to celebrate the school’s national recognition as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. (Submitted photo)

A cheerleader at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis holds up an oversized foam hand declaring “We’re #1” during a school pep rally on Sept. 26 to celebrate the school’s national recognition as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Two Indianapolis Catholic schools added to the outstanding academic tradition of Catholic education in the archdiocese when they recently received national recognition as Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the U. S. Department of Education.

When the communities of Immaculate Heart of Mary School and St. Thomas Aquinas School were recognized on Sept. 26, they extended the archdiocese’s success concerning this national award. Archdiocesan schools have received 35 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence honors since the program started in 1982, according to Gina Fleming, superintendent of the 67 Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

“Each of our Catholic schools have much to celebrate, and it is incredibly exciting to commend such a notable achievement at not one but two Catholic schools in the archdiocese,” Fleming said.

Twelve schools in Indiana received the national award, with four of them being Catholic schools, she noted. Only 362 schools in the country received the distinction, including just 50 non-public schools.

“The criteria a school must meet to be eligible for this award is appropriately ambitious, and both Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Thomas Aquinas met or exceeded expectations on both fronts,” the superintendent said. “This does not happen by accident. It is through God’s grace and the daily diligence and care of teachers, staff members, school and parish leaders, parents and students that such a prestigious honor can be achieved.”

After the news became known near the end of the school day, both schools celebrated immediately. Immaculate Heart of Mary announced its recognition during a school-wide pep rally in the gym while St. Thomas Aquinas assembled everyone on its playground to share the news, including providing ice cream treats.

“Total excitement!” said Immaculate Heart of Mary principal Ronda Swartz, noting the reaction at the pep rally. “The gym was echoing with the celebration of students and staff alike. We also plan to host a celebration for our entire community, because we could not have gone so far without the support of the IHM parents, parishioners and community.”

Swartz also saluted the contributions of Immaculate Heart of Mary’s pastor Father Robert Sims, describing him as “an anchor in our IHM family.”

“What I am most proud of is that our school was able to achieve one of the most prestigious academic honors while remaining dedicated to our mission—to making God known, loved and served in all that we do,” she said. “All Catholic schools are blessed with this understanding and the opportunity to weave faith into all that we do.

“This honor reinforces our approach and commitment to educating the whole child, academically, spiritually and emotionally. I could not be more proud of my amazing team and all of the students at Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

At St. Thomas Aquinas, principal Nancy Valdiserri made 200 blue ribbons that were distributed to students and staff during the celebration on the playground.

“We wanted to make it fun. We made a big deal out of it,” Valdiserri said. “The kids were all clapping like crazy. They were really happy about the ice cream.”

She was thrilled for the school.

“I’m very proud of the achievements of our students, the challenging work created by our teachers, and the support of our parents,” Valdiserri said. “It takes a village!”

She also noted the “super support” of St. Thomas Aquinas pastor Father Michael Hoyt. And she invited Cara Swinefurth—last year’s principal at St. Thomas Aquinas—to join in the playground celebration. Similar to Immaculate Heart of Mary, a larger-community celebration is also being planned at St. Thomas.

For Valdiserri, the Blue Ribbon recognition is another blessing for the school and parish community.

“Daily, we try to remember our blessings—that we are here to serve God and each other,” she said. “We are very lucky to belong to a diverse, loving community that promotes social justice, high standards and the love of learning.”

Leaders from both schools will be in Washington on Nov. 14-15 to participate in the awards ceremony hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Fleming noted that the selection of St. Thomas Aquinas and Immaculate Heart of Mary for this national honor reflects the comprehensive approach that Catholic schools in the archdiocese take to education.

“In our Catholic schools, we focus on the holistic development of every young person we serve,” she said. “Given that all are made in the image and likeness of God, it is our responsibility to help students develop their gifts fully so they can honor and glorify God in all they do.

“We partner with students and their parents and guardians to ensure their spiritual, intellectual, emotional, social and physical growth in ways that help them become the best versions of themselves.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!