Students at St. John's School in Hollywood cheer Sept. 28 following the announcement that theirs was one of three Archdiocese of Washington Catholic schools to be named National Blue Ribbon Schools. The award is given in recognition of exceptional academic achievement, placing these schools among the most successful in the nation. Little Flower School in Bethesda and St. Peter’s School in Waldorf also received the honor this year. (Archdiocese of Washington photo by Gaillard Teague)
Students at St. John's School in Hollywood cheer Sept. 28 following the announcement that theirs was one of three Archdiocese of Washington Catholic schools to be named National Blue Ribbon Schools. The award is given in recognition of exceptional academic achievement, placing these schools among the most successful in the nation. Little Flower School in Bethesda and St. Peter’s School in Waldorf also received the honor this year. (Archdiocese of Washington photo by Gaillard Teague)

St. John’s School in Hollywood, Maryland, was honored Sept. 28 by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School, recognizing the St. Mary's County school for its academic excellence.

"You are one of the first Catholic schools in Southern Maryland to receive a Blue Ribbon," said Bill Ryan, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, during a special assembly at the school to announce the honor. Father Andrew White, SJ School in Leonardtown received the same honor five years ago. "We are all extremely proud of you," the superintendent added.

Presented by the U.S. Department of Education, the Blue Ribbon honors public and nonpublic schools nationwide for their high levels of student achievements. This year, of the 130,000 public and private schools in the United States, only 342 were recognized with a Blue Ribbon Award.

Of this year's honored schools, only 50 throughout the country are nonpublic schools, and three of them are in the Archdiocese of Washington. St. Peter’s School in Waldorf and Little Flower School in Bethesda also were named as 2017 National Blue Ribbon Schools.

"We are very, very proud to get the award – it shows that we truly care about our students, and our teachers are properly instructing our kids," said Susan McDonough, principal of the 215-student school. 

She added that as honored as she is of the school's academic success, it is the school's Catholic identity that is most important. "We can get as many Blue Ribbons as we want," she said, "but we are most proud of our Catholic identity."

"We are just so excited and so thrilled," said Dawn Papp, vice principal of the school. "We are so proud of our staff – everyone works really hard."

Ryan, in announcing the award, also praised the school staff, telling the students, "you cannot get a Blue Ribbon school and Blue Ribbon students without a great principal, teachers and pastor."

During the ceremony, Ryan read a letter of congratulations from Cardinal Donald Wuerl. In his letter, the cardinal praised the students and faculty for their "outstanding achievement."

"The Archdiocese of Washington is so very proud of this school and its accomplishment," the cardinal wrote.

Father Raymond Schmidt, pastor of the parish, praised the school "for the joy, excitement and enthusiasm in this place." He also recalled that in 2010 the school sustained heavy damage when the school roof collapsed on a weekend during a major snowstorm. The school closed for repairs and students attended classes at Holy Angels School in Avenue.

"Seven years ago, I was looking at the yellow ribbon of caution that was around this school and wondering what would happen," Father Schmidt said. "Today I see the Blue Ribbon of excellence around this school. We have risen from destruction to excellence in such a short time."

Students had gathered, thinking the assembly was to honor law enforcement officers in the county. The surprise announcement was met with cheers, whistles and shouts. School faculty and staff, led by the school's eagle mascot, danced an impromptu conga line and treated the students to a blue raspberry water ice party.

Laura Chivers, a parent of a St. John's graduate and a current seventh-grader, said that "this is a fantastic school. They prepare the children very well here for high school."

Eighth-grader Emily Blackburn said the school is very deserving of its honor. "I've been here eight years. I love this school. It is a great school."

Terry Taylor, a Golden Apple Award-winning science teacher and STEM coordinator at St. John’s School, said the honor is “very gratifying, and speaks to the culture of this school – supporting the students in getting the best education.”

St. John’s School opened in 1923 and until the 1980s was staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky.