WASHINGTON COUNTY, Md. (DC News Now) — Being named a National Blue Ribbon School is a high honor given to schools recognizing their overall academic progress. Six schools were given this honor in the state of Maryland, one of them being Smithsburg Middle School in Washington County.

“We knew all along they stood a great chance because it’s just a strong leadership team with a very committed staff and a community,” Washington County Public School (WCPS) Superintendent David Sovine said.

Previously, Smithsburg High and Elementary School received Blue Ribbon awards in 2015 and 2000. Now, Smithsburg Middle joins them, and according to Principal Matt Hoffman, the honor was achieved through three key methods.

“The relationships have to be there. You have to know how to create them, establish and maintain those relationships,” Hoffman explained. “Our focus on literacy the last six years hasn’t changed, it’s been our number one priority, and the other last piece would be the affordance of teacher collaboration.”

Approaches such as grade-level planning – where teachers from one grade level work together in lesson plans – and mindful minutes – which give students time before class to decompress and focus – have made positive impacts.

“We have built into our schedules where we can meet with our content area teams several times a week to plan lessons,” English teacher Melissa Farr explained. “We make sure that every student has a book that they like in their hands…to really grow them as readers.”

Receiving the Blue Ribbon award proves the methods are working.

“We really have a culture where they collaborate every day and when teachers work together that’s where you’re going to get your biggest bang for your buck in the classroom,” Hoffman said.

Among the other schools awarded the National Blue Ribbon were Stone Mill, Northeast Middle School and Oakdale High School.