Sterling Middle Marches to Top of Schools to Watch
Sterling Middle School added a new twist to the Schools to Watch ceremony…
After the formal Schools to Watch recognition in the school’s auditorium on Tuesday, April 10th, Principal Nereida Gonzalez-Sales led a parade through the hallways so that every student could see the new Schools to Watch banner and share in the excitement of this prestigious national award. Students rang cowbells, threw confetti and exchanged high fives with school officials, including Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III.
The formal recognition ceremony started with Gonzalez-Sales telling the students in the auditorium and those watching in their classrooms that there was no limit to their future.
“You must continue to believe in your potential and match that belief with the time and effort you place on your learning. You can do it. We all know you can do it. We believe in you.”
Gonzalez-Sales choked up a bit as she thanked teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, support staff and bus drivers for making Sterling Middle successful.“Your belief in me and one another and in our students has propelled us on a path of student success. There is no turning back now. I am so proud of you. Know that you are the hardest-working, most-caring and giving staff I have ever teamed with.”
The Schools to Watch designation is awarded by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. A school must meet 37 criteria to achieve this honor. Since the first School to Watch was named in 2004, 300 schools have earned this designation, 28 of them in Virginia. LCPS has 10 Schools to Watch, the most in America.
Sandra Dutemple, the Schools to Watch director for Virginia, said her team was particularly impressed by the spirit it saw at Sterling Middle.
“The students were so articulate in talking about what a wonderful place this is. The students felt they are nudged along to continue to grow and improve and learn. But, when they stumble, there’s somebody – whether it’s a classmate, a teacher, an administrator or counselor – who reaches out and offers support. Nobody has to feel alone in this building; everybody has somebody they can depend on. That is a wonderful characteristic for a school.”
One group of students made a particularly vivid impression on the evaluation team.
“If the kids in in-school suspension, who are there because they made a mistake, can say to me ‘I was treated fairly. I’m going to improve.’ That’s what I like to hear.”
Dutemple told Sterling’s students, not to sell themselves short.
“If you expect the best, you’re going to get it. If I expect you to be average and just muddle through, that’s not going to give you the strength and the confidence and the curiosity to get out there and do something interesting with your life.”
Hatrick echoed those sentiments in his remarks.
“Every dream you have is a possibility. It only stops being a possibility when you decide that you don’t want to pursue it anymore. Don’t ever let somebody tell you that something you may want to do is beyond your reach. Nothing is beyond your reach.”
Hatrick said Sterling Middle was closely scrutinized long before it was a School to Watch.
“It’s so appropriate that your symbol is ‘Pioneers.’ …You have a history of being pioneers in Loudoun County… Prior to the opening of Sterling Middle School in 1971, there were no middle schools… You, this school, have been a school to watch since before the doors opened the first day. Middle school education was an experiment in America.”
Hatrick admitted many educators were skeptical about how the middle school experiment would work.
“You and thousands of other students like you have proven that those who had the vision to see what middle schools could become were absolutely right. You have proven that this division of education really does work. The truth of the matter is that there would never be a school to watch if there were not students and faculty, parents and a community to watch. The strength of this school is not in the bricks and mortar that make up the building. The strength of this school is in the students, the teachers, the staff, the principal, the administrators; all of those who support you.”
At the start of the Schools to Watch ceremony students carried flags representing the 41 nationalities represented at Sterling Middle into the auditorium.
“The diversity represented by the flags here today is another way in which you have been pioneers for Loudoun County and Loudoun County Public Schools,” Hatrick noted. “You’re teaching us about the ability of people from different backgrounds to come together to find common ground and to create a community that is really about learning and growing.”
Sterling School Board representative Brenda Sheridan has been a Sterling Middle parent for the past four years. “I have first-hand experience of the dedication of our administration, the faculty, the staff, the parents and, most importantly, the dedication of the students to come to school every day and make the most of the opportunities that are afforded to you.”
PTSA President Tammy Jones said she has urged anyone who says they don’t want to go to Sterling Middle School, to visit the school and talk to its students. After they visit and talk to students, their attitude changes markedly.
It was very apparent as the parade worked its way through the halls Tuesday that Sterling Middle School was a place to be as well as a School to Watch.