AVON, Colorado - Avon Elementary School's blue ribbon is huge, befitting their accomplishments to earned it.
Avon Elementary is one of only five Colorado schools to win this year's National Blue Ribbon School Award, and one of only 269 across the nation. Last week they threw a celebration with so much good karma that just by being in the room you could be forgiven for breaking campaign promises.
"Lots of people don't appreciate how much was achieved, how difficult this was to earn," said Wes Swearingen, an Avon Elementary school parent.
Fifth grader Hannah Haag declared it, "really cool." Classmate Alejandra Alvarado has attended Avon elementary since preschool.
"We've worked hard and taken lots of tests," Alvarado said. "That has helped us see where we're improving and where we need to work harder."
In the last two years Avon Elementary doubled its standardized test scores closed its achievement gap - the gap between the school's highest performing students and its lowest performing students. That made it an "Exemplary Improving" school - at least 40 percent of its students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Of Avon Elementary's 235 current students, 87 percent are not native English speakers and 206 qualify as low income, based on their eligibility for free/reduced meal programs, according the school's data.
When the school district's charter school and a Catholic school opened nearby, white flight shifted the school's population dramatically. Students from more than 100 more affluent Anglo families sent their children to other schools each year, the school's Blue Ribbon application said.
The results were devastating. The school had failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements for six straight years. Five years ago Avon Elementary was one year from being forced into corrective action and taken over by the Department of Education.
Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon took over and implemented dual-language instruction, English and Spanish. Students quickly became bilingual and so have the teachers; 75 percent of the faculty is bilingual. Students get information in their native language, then apply it in a second language.
Reading scores soared from 25.53 percent proficient and advanced in 2007 to 67.83 in 2011, as measured by Colorado's annual CSAP test. Math scores were up from 38.85 percent in 2007 to 69.23 percent in 2011.
The last time Avon Elementary's CSAP scores were that high, the student body's ethnic makeup was almost the exact opposite of what it is now, according to the school district's data.
Student Josette Rivera's essay cut straight to the heart of the matter.
"This school is great, not because of the smart kids or great teachers, but because it's bilingual," she said.
Chico Thuon is Melisa's husband and he sees first hand how much work is involved.
"It's wasn't unusual for her to stay up until the middle of the night," he said.
It really does take a village, and Avon Elementary happens to have one, Rewold-Thuon said.
• The Vail Valley Foundation's Youth Foundation provides tutoring and after-school athletic programs, along with music and dance programs, an extended-year program, after school programs, Saturday schools and enrichment programs.
• The Cordillera Motorcycle Association gives them a hand up with school supplies and breakfast, making sure every student has a hot breakfast.
• Bratzo Horruitiner and the Vail Valley Foundation/Youth Foundation providing support to the school, including after school programs.
• Steve and Amy Coyer became honorary Bear Cubs for their support, which included taking the entire staff to dinner.
• Sara Fahney is PTA member from Avon who chaired Wild West Days, which raised more than $20,000 for Avon and other elementary schools.
• Walking Mountains Science Center and Markian Feduschak provide science programs.
• Ten students won an essay contest, writing about Why Avon Elementary is a National Blue Ribbon School: Alan Escalante, Alan Chavez, Lesley Juarez, Ulisses Carbajal, Zaira Najera, Tiffany Gaspar, Paola Solis, George Lopez, Patricia Solis and Josette Rivera.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.