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Junction City Elementary School receives national recognition

Junction City Elementary School received a designation on Sept. 24 that only 367 schools in the nation received, including five public schools in Kentucky, for 2020. The school was named an Exemplary High Performing Schools National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, according to the Department of Education.

Pam Shunk, principal of Junction City Elementary School, said for the designation, a school has to be nominated by a chief state school officer, and once nominated, a school can choose to apply for the designation or not. According to the Department of Education’s website, the categories for the National Blue Ribbon Schools are Exemplary High Performing Schools, Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools and Exemplary Improving Schools. Shunk said JCES’ designation was based on their student achievement scores from K-PREP testing from the 2018-2019 school year. According to a press release from Boyle County Schools, schools must also show growth and progress in state assessments to receive the designation.

“I think it just, for me personally, it validates the hard work that my teachers and our students have put into raising the student achievement scores here and just to improve the overall culture and impression of our school,” Shunk said.

Shunk said in the past, JCES’ student achievement scores were not comparable to the other two elementary schools’ scores in the district. However, she said in the last 11 years, the school has worked to close that gap. This is due to the care and time teachers put into their jobs, she said, as well as the students’ efforts.

One program the school has in place to improve student performance and development is the Leader in Me program, which has been implemented for about six years, Shunk said. Shunk said the theory behind Leader in Me is that every student can be a leader in something, so the program teaches students how to identify their strengths and work to develop them. A bigger part of Leader in Me, she said, is goal setting and having students track how they are doing academically. For example, she said if a student wanted to improve their reading scores, they could set a goal to read 25 minutes per night and track that. Shunk said students also track their behavior through a color chart.

“I think not only are we teaching our kids the standards that they are required to learn at every grade level, but we’re also teaching them how to be independent and how to set goals and how to achieve them and to take pride in the work that they’re able to produce,” Shunk said.

Looking forward to beginning the option for in-person school as part of the hybrid learning model Boyle County Schools is implementing starting Sept. 30, Shunk said she is excited for students to come back to school. The challenge will be adapting to a new normal through social distancing and wearing masks and taking other safety precautions. One difficulty, she said, will be flexibly grouping the students within grade levels. Normally teachers exchange students to put them in specific groups for more intentional instruction, but Shunk said this will be difficult because students need to stay within the same group per day for contact tracing purposes. Teachers are working on how to implement flexible grouping with contact tracing guidelines, social distancing and virtual learning in place.

Shunk said another goal will be working to sustain the growth the school has seen so far with state assessments and overall academic progress despite the pandemic.

Due to the pandemic and state and local restrictions on personal gatherings, the National Blue Ribbon Schools award ceremony, usually held in person, will be held virtually on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13, according to the Department of Education.