Sporting shirts that proudly proclaimed “It’s a Delwood Thing,” elementary students, staff, parents and grandparents celebrated the school’s national Blue Ribbon Award for academic excellence Oct. 22 with a fight song, chants and praise for the small school’s family atmosphere and tight-knit community.

The award is a “big deal,” according to several of the adult speakers. Delwood is one of four schools in Iowa to be named a Blue Ribbon school this year by the U.S. Department of Education. Across the nation, 362 schools were honored.

“What makes this a big deal is the community,” said Iowa Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt. Mommsen knows Delwood firsthand from attending holiday programs and grandparents’ days.

“The reason you don’t think it’s a big deal is because it’s normal,” he continued.

Superintendent Todd Hawley and other speakers emphasized the school’s mission, that it “strives to meet the needs of students in a family atmosphere.”

That family atmosphere was evident, as parents, grandparents and other community members joined in the celebration. “Delwood students are the best. They stand out from all the rest,” read one proud sign.

Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency administrator Bill Decker acknowledged the community’s role in kids’ success. 

“Excellence isn’t easy,” he said. “It takes community.”

Teacher Julie Wagner agrees, noting that parents are comfortable walking into their children’s classrooms. 

“We are proud to call our families an important part of that team,” she said.

She said that the school strives to meet the needs of all students, whether that means extra challenges, extra time or creative outlets. 

“We have the best of the best on staff,” Wagner said.

AEA administrator Decker also praised the school’s efforts to provide equal opportunities to children regardless of background. 

“As one of our smallest schools, equity is present,” Decker said.

Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said 96 percent of Delwood students have achieved proficiency on some of its state tests. 

“It’s great to see those kind of results in a caring school community,” he said.

“Behind each of these stats is a student,” he continued, challenging Delwood to “build on this success and sustain it.”

Decker assured Wise that “this effort will be sustained.”

“Almost every year, Delwood Elementary is at the top of our scores, especially in literacy,” Decker said. “This is not a one-time, flash-in-the-pan award.”