One of 63 schools nationally, and one of two schools in the state, Humboldt Elementary School has earned the title of National Title I Distinguished School for High Performance. This is the second national award for the school, having earned the Blue Ribbon designation in 2010.
HES Principal Cole Young said eligible schools had to be an "A" school for two years and show progress as a "highly performing" school for two years.
"Out of 600 Title I schools in Arizona, 60 qualified for the award, and 11 are chosen as semi-finalists. There are 50,000 Title I schools in the country," Young said.
Title I is a federal program that provides extra instructional services which support students identified as failing or most at risk of failing the state's standards in mathematics, reading, and writing. Students do not have to be from low-income families to receive Title I services; however, a Title I school must have 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch.
Humboldt El has a free and reduced lunch population of 70 percent.
"Regardless of wealth, background, gender, age, ethnicity, etc., our school places emphasis on each child that walks through our door," the submitted paperwork states.
The award goes to one school per state in each of two categories: exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years, and closing the achievement gap between student groups.
Each of the 11 Arizona schools chosen as finalists received a visit from the National Title I team to see in action why the schools were picked. The team observed classes, activities, teachers and students, and the incentive programs that are so successful.
"They saw the culture of our school, talked to students - and former students - people in the community, and administrators," said Holt.
Motivation is key to the students' success, said Mary Davis, HES reading coach, who has been with the district for 23 years. Students want to make progress, and instruction is differentiated to the individual student and layered with interventions.
"We have a lot of tools in our belt," Davis said. "It's not just for the struggling readers, but we also motivate the high achievers. The kids at the top need to have that opportunity to grow."
Incentives can be based on achievement scores, number of books read, or meeting one's goals. To become a Blue Crew member, for instance, a student must reach benchmark scores in reading or math - in the top 80 percent nationally based on the Scholastic Reading Inventory and Arizona assessment. This year, students excelling in both reading and math are members of the Purple Posse.
"We assess and reward students who show growth. This applies to both our best readers and those making measurable gains towards their goal, at all levels," the application states.
Other rewards include Pizza with the Principal or earning a trip to the swimming pool. The school Booster Club and donations pay for many of the rewards.
"We have incentives for kids who feel they are never going to make it," Davis said.
The culminating reward for reaching students' Reading Counts goal comes at the end of the year when Young dons a dress for the day. This year, students are talking about giving him a manicure and pedicure, or perhaps finding a wedding dress and heels, or making him work from his desk on top the roof.
Young said everyone at HES brings something unique to each child's educational experience, and all staff share the common belief of high expectations.
"We make no excuses and hold ourselves to the level we expect from our students. There is never a challenge too big or too small when it has to do with the students at HES. All students will achieve. No exceptions!"
Young, Holt and Davis will travel to San Diego in February to accept the award and to attend the four-day National Title I conference.