GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A private school in Gulfport is being recognized as one of the top performing schools in the country. On Tuesday, St. James Catholic School learned that it has won the "National Blue Ribbon Award." It is the highest honor a school can receive from the U.S. Department of Education.
Just moments before the big announcement, the music students sang and danced to the popular Kool & the Gang song "Celebration." Then, they listened intently as the principal's voice came over the speaker system.
"Just a few minutes ago, I found out that St. James won the award. We are now a National Blue Ribbon School!" announced Jennifer Broadus.
The class erupted in cheers and the students tossed confetti into the air. A teacher also brought in a bunch of blue balloons.
"I didn't know what was happening when she made the announcement. I was totally in shock," said sixth grader Ali Ware.
St. James Catholic School is one of only two schools in Mississippi to earn the "National Blue Ribbon" honor this year.
"We were thrilled, because we always felt like we have an excellent school. It's nice to be recognized nationally," said St. James Teacher Stacie Barrient.
The award recognizes schools either for their overall academic excellence or for their progress in closing the achievement gaps among students. St. James received the "Exemplary High Performing" designation.
"Exemplary means we scored very high and that our school is a model school for other schools," said Broadus. "Our high test scores in both reading and math on the standardized tests that we took, our students scored in the top 15-percent in the nation. So it's a fantastic accomplishment."
"I think it says that we have proved ourselves academically, and that we have some pretty smart kids," said Ali.
The school's innovative technology and fine arts program also made St. James stand out.
"I think it's a long time coming. The school has always excelled academically especially, but in many different areas," said St. James Teacher Lisa Gargiulo.
"We're so proud of our students. They worked so hard and our faculty too. So we're glad that we can recognize them for all of their efforts," said Broadus. "Last year, we celebrated our 50th year here at St. James, so we feel like it's a huge honor."
The biggest celebration will take place next Friday when the school hosts "Blue Day." One of the activities will involve the principal and blue duct tape.
"They're going to duct tape me to the wall," said Broadus with a smile.
In all, 287 public schools and 50 private schools across the country will be honored during a ceremony in Washington D.C. in November. The other Blue Ribbon school in Mississippi is Caledonia Elementary School in Lowndes County.