Lincoln Elementary named among top U.S. schools

Lincoln Elementary student Sofiya Salahu-Din, second from right, smiles as she holds hands with classmates during the school’s field day last spring.

WHITE BEAR LAKE — Lincoln Elementary was recently named a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

The school is among 10 in the state and 362 in the country to receive the honor, based on academic performance or closing achievement gaps.

Principal Dan Schmidt thinks the Lincoln Elementary community is what helped it achieve the designation of Exemplary High Performing School. After the school was nominated by the Minnesota Department of Education, Schmidt had to complete an application to be reviewed by the federal department.

“One part of the application really made me think more deeply about this honor,” he remembered. He was to answer what strategies the school uses to achieve academic success. “I took a whole different angle on it,” he said. “Instead of talking about the intervention process and professional development, I talked about what we are as human beings in this school.”

He noted how school staff display and teach on empathy to create a good learning atmosphere. “We are very empathetic in this school and we will do whatever we can to support that child and that family,” he noted. “If we are truly empathizing with those in the community, we meet the needs of others and fight against the human nature of serving ourselves.”

Also included in the application are questions about the school's connections with the community, curriculum, arts, intervention, extracurricular opportunities, professional development and school leadership. Schmidt has been principal at the school for 14 years. Lincoln has not been named a Blue Ribbon school before; schools are eligible every five years.

Students from the school described how they felt about Lincoln being awarded as a top school, and what they like about their school.

“It is a really refreshing environment and all the teachers don't just teach. They make it in a way that you can really understand what they are teaching. They make it fun. They tell stories,” said fifth grader Nawal Mohamed.

“Everyone works in a community to make Lincoln school a better place,” added third grader Alexa Paradise. School volunteers do things around the community — such as raking leaves, delivering May Day baskets to seniors, making blankets for infants of single mothers and creating placemats for Meals on Wheels.

“Basically, every school can be a better place; you've just got to believe in it,” said third grader Ray Lorang.

One of the school's new ideas this year that Lorang is impressed with is “Bear Time.” The school volunteered to pilot one of the district's Big Sleuth ideas to create more opportunities for students to get physical activity, Schmidt explained. Third graders are allotted two extra 15-minute slots during the day to run outside or do a physical indoor activity, in addition to regular recess time. Different grade levels are testing out different amounts of extra physical activity time. “Bear Time” helps students be more energized to study, Lorang said.

The school also hosts the district's Explorations program for highly gifted students. Fifth grader Vivian Finger said she appreciates the choices she gets to make regarding her learning. “We get a more advanced curriculum so we are not bored in class,” she noted. The program is made up of third through fifth graders. Finger said she was invited to the program based on her test scores when she was younger. She has attended Lincoln Elementary since kindergarten, but the program includes students who began at other schools throughout the district, as well. Lincoln has hosted the program five years, Schmidt said.

The school has several other notable programs, including a theater program sponsored and supported by staff; special education programs, including a cluster-based EBD program; a partnership with the YMCA for swimming lessons; and community-building events throughout the year.

“It's not just about academics,” Schmidt said. “It's about enjoying ourselves as a community … to support one another in a meaningful and trusting way.”

As the youngest ones sum it up: “It's fun having nice teachers,” said first grader Parker Dargay.

Schmidt will be traveling to Washington, D.C., in November with a teacher and Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award at a ceremony. “Lincoln has a long-standing reputation of being a close-knit neighborhood school,” Kazmierczak said. “This connected culture, along with the dedication of our staff members, families and overall community, has led to strong relationships and the great learning that is happening with all of our students.”

The school plans to hold a community celebration in the spring.

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