It took three failed attempts before organizers succeeded in launching a new Catholic grade school in the Elkhorn area in 2000.
On Tuesday, students and staff, parents and parishioners took a little time to celebrate just how far St. Patrick's School has come.
During a pep-rally-style assembly in a packed St. Patrick's Church, Principal Don Ridder announced to cheers and clapping that the school was one of 286 nationwide to be named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
“It is a great honor,” said Ridder, the school's first and only principal, “but now we have the responsibility to continue to strive forward.”
Also on the list are four other Nebraska schools and three in western Iowa.
The Nebraska schools named are Burwell Elementary in Burwell, Ord Elementary in Ord, Wakefield Elementary in Wakefield and Wisner-Pilger Elementary in Wisner.
Western Iowa honorees are Harlan Community High School in Harlan, Okoboji Elementary in Milford and Taft Elementary in Humboldt.
The 286 schools include 236 public and 50 private schools. The award is given each year to schools that either are academically superior or have made dramatic gains in closing achievement gaps.
“Excellence in education matters, and we should honor the schools that are leading the way to prepare students for success in college and careers,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “National Blue Ribbon schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education.”
The Education Department will honor the schools at a ceremony Nov. 18 and 19 in Washington, D.C.
St. Patrick's opened Aug. 22, 2000, with 82 students, most of them in preschool.
Ridder said the Omaha archbishop the year before had asked the Rev. Ron Wasikowski, now pastor at St. Matthew's Church in Bellevue, to make another run at starting a school.
Ridder visited parishioners' homes and shared the vision. “I felt like it was a calling,” he said.
The next year, enrollment grew to 160, then 320 the year after. Today, the school enrolls 770 students, with room for more.
Christina Butler's oldest son, Jack, started preschool at St. Patrick's in its second year. Now he's a freshman at Creighton Prep.
“The growth we've seen in the last 13 years has just been amazing,” she said.
Butler said her son was well prepared for high school. Three younger children still attend St. Patrick's.
After the assembly, the celebration continued with giant blue-ribbon-shaped signs, blue beads and blue bags of treats for teachers to hand out back in their classrooms.
After school, children filed out chanting, “We did it.” Teachers held up signs in the school entryway and out in the parking lot
“We're very excited,” said Missy Delaney, the school's counselor. “Despite everything, the economy, we're still growing.”