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Go blue! Two schools earn national ribbons of excellence 

Brown, Marshall only schools recognized from Michigan

Byron Center — On a Monday morning in Byron Center, the voices of Marshall Elementary’s choir filled the Van Singel Fine Arts Center. 

“We are the future. We have the power. We are agents of change,” students sang, conducted by music teacher Megan Furney. 

This song kicked off a ceremony celebrating Marshall Elementary, one of two Byron Center elementary schools named National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2022 by the U.S. Department of Education. Brown Elementary was recognized as well for the prestigious award, and held its own celebration at Van Singel on Dec. 2. 

Marshall and Brown were the only two schools in Michigan to earn the award, among 297 schools recognized nationally.

Music teacher Megan Furney led the Marshall Elementary choir at the Blue Ribbon celebration at Van Singel Fine Arts Center

Both schools were recognized for overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups in the Exemplary High Performance Schools category. 

“The reason why we’re a National Blue Ribbon School is because of the staff, the students and the community,” Brown Elementary Principal Gina Middaugh said. “They all work so hard to make everything work. I’m so appreciative of everything. Thank you, Brown Elementary, and congratulations.”

‘You know your school is a Blue Ribbon School when you walk in the door because of the way you treat each other and the learning that happens here.’

— Superintendent Kevin Macina

In the ceremony honoring Marshall Elementary, Superintendent Kevin Macina followed the musical performance and applauded the community, students and staff.

“Believe it or not, (your teachers’) day starts before 8:30 a.m. and continues after 4 p.m.,” he said. “We could not do what we do without the staff and all the love and energy they put into their work.”

‘Most Unbelievable Building Ever’

Macina passed the microphone to Marshall’s Principal Kris Vydareny, who is new this year and “has been known to dress up as a chicken,” Macina noted.  Former Principal John Krajewski was also on hand. 

Coming into his first year at Marshall, Vydareny admitted he didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the award until he was in Washington D.C. representing his school and district.

“Standing in front of a crowd as one of two Blue Ribbon Schools in the whole state, I finally saw how fortunate I was to be a part of Marshall’s legacy, past, present and future,” he said. 

In a celebration video played live, Vydareny explained why he was proud to be the principal at Marshall. 

“Coming into this building, I heard it was the most unbelievable building ever, and it is,” he said. “The wonderful things you do in the classroom, the things you do outside of our school for the community — you are a Blue Ribbon School because of the kids in this building. We’re a Blue Ribbon School because of you.”

Both schools’ celebration videos can be viewed on Byron Center Public Schools’ Facebook page

Marshall Elementary celebrated its Blue Ribbon School recognition with an event at Van Singel Fine Arts Center

Building a Collaborative Community

Representing Marshall, student speaker fourth-grader Hunter Willcox shared his favorite things about his school. 

“Students and staff are always there for each other and have always been welcoming to me and I hope to others,” Hunter said. “We had a student from a new country and she didn’t speak English yet; now we are learning from her and how to say words in her language.”

Hunter also talked about his experience pairing up with kindergartners for reading buddies. 

“We can teach them new things and different ways to solve problems,” he said. “Kids sometimes have different perspectives than teachers do when they’re helping younger kids.” 

Staff and teachers were recognized for their collaboration and leadership skills and for supporting students. 

First-grade teacher Taryn Eilers said getting recognized as a Blue Ribbon School was “a huge honor for the students and staff.” 

“We’ve worked really hard to make sure our students have the things they need to succeed,” Eilers said. 

Second-grade teacher Kaleigh VanderKamp praised the community Marshall has built.

“I think we have such a great community at Marshall, from our staff who work so hard, to our kids who always come ready to learn, to our community and all of our families who are so supportive of our building,”  VanderKamp said. “We all work together to make this the best place to learn.” 

Macina’s closing remarks applied to both Blue Ribbon elementary schools. 

“The plaque is just a symbol,” he said. “You know your school is a Blue Ribbon School when you walk in the door because of the way you treat each other and the learning that happens here.” 

Marshall second-grade teacher Kinsey Bykerk, in blue T-shirt, dances with her students to the song ‘Celebrate’
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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