Paradise Elementary School on Friday afternoon looked like a Smurfs village.
Most of the students had blue shirts on.
And most of the students had blue tongues and lips to match.
Principal Annette Julius was going classroom to classroom, and was undoubtedly the most popular person in Paradise Township.
She was handing out red, white and blue Popsicles to the 380 K-4 students in honor of their major achievement: They're now a Blue Ribbon School.
The U.S. Department of Education named Paradise Elementary in Spring Grove Area School District one of the top achieving schools in the entire country, one of just 269 out of more than 100,000 schools nationwide to earn a Blue Ribbon award.
The list was released
No other York County school made the list this year or in recent years, and only seven other schools in Pennsylvania made the cut.
Blue Ribbon schools, awarded after a thorough application process, show top academic achievement, particularly given their demographics.
Paradise Elementary has about half of its students receiving free or reduced lunch, usually a strong indicator that a student may struggle academically. But Paradise has met state standards every year, Julius said, and she thinks it's because they have high standards for every student.
"Every kid is held to the same expectations," Julius said.
Staff often work one-on-one with students, and extended day programs and summer pre-kindergarten help, too, she said.
As the principal made her rounds with the Popsicles - Orange Julius might have been a more apt name for the day - she explained why they won.
"When you work really hard and you try your best, sometimes you get an award," Julius explained.
The younger grades could barely contain their excitement about getting a frozen treat, with "Aaaaaahhhh!" being the most common response. But the older grades showed pride in their school.
Third-grader Emily Lutz, 8, had an idea why they won.
"We get quiet. We did some work," Emily wrote in her class journal.
Paradise staff will be honored Nov. 12-13 in Washington, D.C. at a Department of Education recognition ceremony. Paradise Elementary will also now be used as a mentor school for others to learn from.
The Blue Ribbon award has been given out to about 7,000 of the country's "most successful" schools over the course of 30 years, according to the department.
Paradise will get a Blue Ribbon flag as well so everyone will know they won the award long after the tongues return to red.
- Reach Andrew Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org