Children are the future; that’s why teachers around the Black Hills are dedicated to providing the best possible education for our children. For Pinedale Elementary School in Rapid City, hard work and dedication led to national recognition in 2021.
The National Blue Ribbon School award is a prestigious national award that is sponsored by the US Department of Education. Schools are nominated by their Chief State School Officer, and can only be nominated once every five years. Schools can decline the nomination, but if they accept, that’s when the work begins.
When Pinedale Elementary’s principal, Chip Frankie, received word they had nominated his school for the 2021 National Blue Ribbon School award, he sprung into action. The nomination process is detailed; the application is 25 pages long, and involves gathering information about every aspect of the school’s curriculum, culture, and strategies for success. He knew it would take everyone on the team to make the dream a reality. Fortunately, the Pinedale Elementary teachers and staff were up to the challenge.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Laura Kamarainen teaches fourth grade at Pinedale Elementary, and she was part of the team that put together the school’s nomination package.
“It all happened naturally, and I’m honestly not surprised. Everyone just jumped in and said ‘we’ll take care of that’ or ‘I’ll do this,’” she says. “Everyone brought me their contribution, and I compiled it all to give to the principal. It was great to see everyone come together, because that’s what the award is all about. It’s not singling out any one particular teacher, it’s about all of us: the staff, the families, and the community.”
During the nomination process, the team had to collect information on student demographics, but also provide information about attendance rates, and write an essay about the school’s mission and how they excel. For Pinedale Elementary, they simply explained the work they’ve done to encourage students and create a positive learning culture. From implementing Project Based Learning that helps students investigate real-world topics to incorporating the Leader in Me and a kid-friendly version of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s clear that Pinedale Elementary students are in great hands.
One big family
Teachers at Pinedale Elementary make the effort to engage with their students on both an academic and personal level. They’ve done training to help reach kids on a cognitive, social, and emotional level, which helps them understand student behavior. This includes looking at where each student is coming from and helping them find a personalized path to success.
There is also a lot that happens outside of class. Pinedale Elementary has a long tradition of being a great neighborhood school, and it’s one they continue to uphold. The staff and teachers work hard to perfect the classroom, but they also rely on support from the parents and community around them.
“Parents are so invested in every aspect of our school that we couldn’t do any of this without them,” Laura says. “From families who are trying to make our neighborhoods safer to parents reading to their kids, and our PTA who is always looking for ways to support us, they’re all phenomenal.”
Continuing the legacy
Shortly after the award was publicly announced, yard signs and flyers with the National Blue Ribbon School symbol were displayed all over the neighborhood. Chip Frankie, Rapid City Area School Superintendent Dr. Lori Simon, and third-grade teacher Bethany Lundeen, went to Washington D.C. last November to accept the award on the school’s behalf.
And while the award was just for 2021, the pride of being part of the Pinedale Elementary family will continue to grow. “We all hold the same beliefs; we think that all kids can learn and be exceptional. We view education as a team effort,” Laura says. “That’s what makes Pinedale so great.”
INTERVIEW: AVERY THOMAS WORDS: ASHLEY JOHNSON PHOTOS: JESSE BROWN NELSON