Blessed Sacrament School and West Salem Elementary are the cream of the crop.

The two were named to this year’s Blue Ribbon Schools list, an award given by the U.S Department of Education to only 342 schools in the nation. This honor recognizes K-12 schools with top academic performance or those schools that have shown great effort to reduce achievement gaps between minority and non-minority students over a five-year period.

Nine schools in Wisconsin were given blue ribbon honors this year as well as eight in Minnesota. As part of a celebration at Blessed Sacrament, the more than 200 students in grades three through six waved blue shakers, got their own blue ribbon stickers and partook in a snack of blue cupcakes, blueberry muffins and blue raspberry powder drink mix.

Out of the more than 33,600 private schools in the nation, only 50 were nominated this year for a Blue Ribbon award. Blessed Sacrament was awarded for exemplary high performance as a result of scoring in the top 15 percent of the nation on the Star Assessments in both reading and mathematics.

During the celebration, students watched a video of remarks from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; she spoke of the dedication it takes from the community, students and staff to become a Blue Ribbon School, as well as the innovation that takes place to set these schools apart from their peers.

“National Blue Ribbon Schools are active demonstrations of preparing every child for a bright future,” she said. “You are visionaries, innovators and leaders.”

The occasion marked the third Blue Ribbon Award for Aquinas Catholic Schools, which also received an award in 2008 for Aquinas High School and 2013 for Aquinas Middle School. This is the first award for a school in the West Salem School District, whose 895 students in pre-kindergarten through grade five who were recognized for their performance in state assessments.

“This truly is a community award,” Principal Ryan Reiber said. “We would not be able to have the community that we have without our schools, and our schools are what they are because of the support throughout the West Salem community. This recognition is not solely reflective on the staff and students that are currently at West Salem Elementary, but this recognizes all of those that have worked here over the years.”

Onalaska High School is the only other public school in La Crosse County to have received the award. It was honored for academic performance in 2015.

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