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Elementary School In Maryland Wins Prestigious Blue Ribbon Award

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An elementary school in Maryland is being hailed as a national blue ribbon winner, only five years after failing to meet the state's most basic standards.

At the lunch table at Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring, 9-year-olds boast about their favorite subjects and how many points for good behavior they've accumulated.

Eighty Percent of students here are at or below the poverty line, almost as many are from families that don't speak English. In 2004, student performance was so poor that the state was on the verge of taking over the school.

"Reading scores were really about as low as you can get," says Principal Ray Myrtle. Myrtle came out of retirement to turn things around, introducing a broader vision for teachers and promoting an aggressive literacy campaign. He emphasized non-fiction as a way to build vocabulary. He revamped the way the school disciplines students: keep them in the classroom but reward the well-behaving students with parties and prizes.

Now, almost every fifth grader is proficient or advanced in reading, according to state standards, and more than half of them take math classes that are above their grade-levels.

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick says the state is studying the school to use as an example for others in the state and the country. "This school defies those odds and serves as a beacon for every school in the state of Maryland which has challenges," says Grasmick.

The school is being held up as a model nationwide.

Sabri Ben-Achour reports...

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