MERIDIAN, Idaho — Each year, the Idaho State Department of Education nominates two exemplary, high-performing schools. Chief Joseph School of the Arts, and Rexburg's Burton Elementary make the grade this year, giving them Idaho's Blue Ribbon title.
"At this point now, we are a nominee for the National Blue Ribbon School Award. We were plenty satisfied and excited to be an Idaho Blue Ribbon School, but we've decided to continue with the nomination process," said Gretchen Hart, Principal of Chief Joseph Elementary School.
And the odds are looking good for Chief Joseph. The State Department of Education said it's “basically sure thing” that the state's nominee's will receive that national title.
"We just have really high expectations. We don't allow students to say they can't, we expect them to continue to try until they can," said Holly Archuleta, Instructional Coach at Chief Joseph.
Chief Joseph School of the Arts is a free, public elementary school, open to all in the West Ada School District; that uses arts to further engage students.
"Basically what we did here is we took the purple and we just outlined it right there, and then we shaded it to make it look kind of like an effect, so it looks like it's back in the moon,” said Julian Velasco, a student at Chief Joseph Elementary.
Part of the way they use arts for further engagement is through a full time art teacher who is employed at the school. But also by guiding the rest of the teaching staff to infuse art into other subjects.
"I just copied the art and then did my own little special details like the eyes and the hearts and the sprinkles on it,” said Charlett Jones, a student at Chief Joseph Elementary.
But artistic ability isn't the only thing that sets Chief Joseph apart.
"Many of our students come from homes where the first language isn't English, which, to me is just a gift. It just makes us a more interesting, good place," said Hart.
And they're also a Title I school, meaning they receive federal funding to help serve a high proportion of at-risk students, which is one of the qualifications for the noteworthy Blue Ribbon award.
"We have a certain percentage of our students who do receive free or reduced school meals, free or reduced-price school meals, and that does set us apart from most of the other West Ada schools. But, gosh, in our eyes, every child has the same potential as every other," said Hart.
Idaho Blue Ribbon nominees must have at least 40 percent of their students identified as economically disadvantaged. Chief joseph has a staggering 51 percent, but they're still passing with flying colors. The other qualification for the award is, the school must be in the top 15 percent of all schools statewide.
"Gosh, Chief Joseph is just a hidden gem, I think! And that has to do with our community; with the family-like atmosphere that we promote, with our students, our staff, and our families," said Hart.
Idaho's two Blue Ribbon nominees will each receive a $1,500 award, and both Chief Joseph and Burton Elementary are expected to be named National Blue Ribbon Schools for the 2019 year, this fall.