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Belle Hall Elementary School earns national recognition for academic excellence

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Children run to their parents after the first day of school at Belle Hall Elementary on Aug. 18, 2021, in Mount Pleasant. The school received the 2021 National Blue Ribbon School award. File/Catherine Kohn/Moultrie News

MOUNT PLEASANT — Belle Hall Elementary drew a national recognition Sept. 22 when the U.S. Department of Education named it a Blue Ribbon School. 

The Mount Pleasant school is one of 325 schools across the country and one of five in South Carolina to receive the 2021 National Blue Ribbon School distinction.

The Department of Education accepts up to 402 nominations from state education officials each year then evaluates the schools based on academic excellence and commitment to closing achievement gaps. 

Belle Hall is the first Charleston County school to receive the distinction in four years. Buist Academy was named a Blue Ribbon School in 2017.

Principal Kevin Conklin was thrilled just to be nominated by the state Education Department in May. Now that the school officially won the award, Conklin couldn't be prouder of his staff and the school community. 

The school has a commitment to rigorous academics that helps it stand out among the rest, Conklin said. Belle Hall students far exceeded expectations in the 2020-21 S.C. Report Card results. Over 74 percent of third through fifth graders met or exceeded expectations in the SC Ready reading exam and 80 percent met or exceeded expectations in math. 

Those numbers far outweigh both district and state averages. In 2020-21, 49 percent of the district's third through eighth graders met expectations in reading and nearly 47 percent met expectations in math.

The school had to go through an evaluation process to receive the award, which involved writing essays that ultimately fed into a proposal describing how the school builds an environment that is safe and welcoming and pushes students to work hard. 

"It gives the entire school community an opportunity to reflect and review what is going well and what you're proud of that helps and supports students," Conklin said. 

The principal added that the evaluation process helped him realize areas where the school could improve as well as areas where the school excels. 

Ultimately, Conklin credits the school's relationships with parents, community members and organizations with the blue ribbon recognition. 

"We are rigorous in our teaching and in our academics, but to really produce successful students who grow, you've got to have support from so many different areas of your community," Conklin said. 

The school plans to celebrate the distinction throughout the year. It held a small pep rally on Sept. 22 and a committee is working to plan ongoing celebrations, Conklin said. 

Clemson Elementary in Pickens County, Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology in Darlington, Meeting Street Academy in Spartanburg and Powdersville Middle School near Greenville were also named 2021 Blue Ribbon Schools. 

Follow Libby Stanford on Twitter @libbystanford.

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