Vista del Sur Accelerated Academy has once again been named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary Miguel Cardona made the announcement on September 16, 2022. “I applaud all the honorees for the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award for creating vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school communities where students can learn, grow, reach their potential, and achieve their dreams. These schools show what is possible to make an enduring, positive difference in students’ lives,” Cardona said.
The National Blue Ribbon School program recognizes overall academic excellence. Blue Ribbon Schools show outstanding results for all students. The National Blue Ribbon School award affirms and validates the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in striving for – and attaining – exemplary achievement. National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models of effective school practices for state and district educators and other schools throughout the nation.
Vista del Sur was one of only six schools in Arizona to join this esteemed community. They were nominated as an Exemplary High Performing School, receiving this distinction for the performance of all students on state assessments in both math and English language arts in addition to other state performance targets.
Vista principal, Jessica Epacs attributed Vista’s success to the partnership and hard work of staff, students and parents. In addition, cooperative learning or Kagan structures are used throughout the school and in each lesson. Each Kagan structure has a purpose and guides students to work together while also holding every child individually accountable for their knowledge. For example, Rally Coaching allows students to be peer instructors to each other. “Because the student is being the instructor it requires students to be actively engaged during the lesson since they know they will need to teach another person,” explained Mrs. Epacs.
She also noted the constructivist approach that Vista teachers take. The constructivist approach means that teachers allow students to construct their own arguments and approaches to solve problems. This approach encourages students to think and process rather than memorize with drill and practice. Even within a constructivist approach, there is still room for direct instruction but the types of problems used for direct instruction are strategically selected to continue to allow students to think and use what they know to solve the problem even when learning new material.
Vista has an overarching approach to instruction, but a key strategy that Vista teachers use when lesson planning is the backwards design model. Thinking of the end product first, helps teachers to see the path that students need to take in order to get there successfully
Vista del Sur will be recognized at an award ceremony in November in Washington, D.C. Here they will receive the coveted National Blue Ribbon flag that will fly at their school as a reminder of their exemplary teaching and learning. “All of us at Vista are honored to serve as an example of quality instruction and learning for schools across the nation,” said Principal Epacs. “This honor affirms the dedication of our students, staff, and parents in making Vista a community of excellence.”
Vista is part of the Laveen Elementary School District. As an accelerated school, students work a grade level ahead in math and English language arts. It is a school of choice and, as such, does not have attendance boundaries.
Vista was also named a 2016 National Blue Ribbon School. They also were recognized as a Top Elementary and Middle School by U.S. News and World Report.
ABC15 ran a segment on Vista’s award. Watch it here.