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NEWS | Dec. 2, 2013

Seoul American Middle School named 2013 Blue Ribbon School

By Lawrence Torres III, DoDEA Pacific Public Affairs

The US Department of Education recently recognized Seoul American Middle School as a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School.

Only 35 miles from the border of North Korea with more than 450 students, Seoul American MS was among 286 schools who earned the Blue Ribbon award in the US.

Founded in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' academic achievement. Since the program's founding, 7,000 of America's schools have received this award.

Maria Buchwald, Seoul American MS principal, said she is part of a legacy of administrators and teachers who have built a culture of success in the school.

“I’m most proud of our students and their focus on learning,” said Buchwald, who arrived at the school in Aug. 2012. “Everyone at Seoul American MS is student-centered. We’re focused on challenging each student to maximize his or her potential and to excel academically, socially, emotionally and physically for life, college and career readiness.”

“This Blue Ribbon Award recognizes schools that can show sustained growth over a 5 year period,” added Buchwald, who has 17 years of teaching experience and 15 years of leading DoDEA schools as an administrator. “Becoming a Blue Ribbon School is actually a very long process.”

Living and studying in a location that experiences “extreme political tension often bordering on the verge of conflict is a reality for the students,” said Erin Grazak, who became Seoul American MS’s assistant principal in Aug. 2012.

 “Teachers, counselors, administrators, and other stakeholders including the PTO, military command, and youth services work together to ensure the school has a safe and engaging learning environment that supports the emotional, social, physical, and academic growth of all students.”

When Seoul American MS met the 5-year achievement criteria required for a Blue Ribbon School, Buchwald and Grazak were invited by DoDEA to complete the application which required interviews with staff and teachers to become informed about the story of success prior to their arrival.

Among those providing data for the report were former Seoul American MS principals, Darrell Mood and David Dinges, who served from school year 2004-2009 and 2009-2012 respectively.

“When I arrived, there were seven students in AVID and, as I recall, there were over 60 students enrolled my last two years there,” said Mood, principal, Faith Middle School in Fort Benning, Ga. “The number of students taking rigorous courses created the need and the addition of Mandarin Chinese, German, string ensemble and geometry all on campus.”

Dinges said Seoul American MS was the most rigorous, challenging, and inspiring school he had the privilege of serving as instructional leader.

 “Our students, teachers, and parents were a dynamic team focused on high student achievement and safety,” said Dinges, principal, Ramstein Middle School in Ramstein, Germany. “Students were empowered to reach their highest performance levels and grow academically.”

Several teachers and parents had glowing praise for their school and the students.

 “Seoul American MS has dedicated staff, active parents and community members and students who are determined to be successful. It’s a perfect combination for success,” said David Burkett, who has been teaching for 18 years, three of them with Seoul American MS. “Students are challenged, expectations are held high and are

attainable, stakeholders are held accountable, and the staff is always looking at new innovative ways to increase student achievement.”

Information Specialist Anneliese Hyde said the school is transparent and continually engages the parents, staff, students, community and command with honest communication. 

“Failure is not an option,” said Hyde, who has been with Seoul American MS for 6 years. “We use a variety of methods, locations, instruments, technological support, and creative thinking to meet the needs of our diverse student population.”

Seoul American MS parent Matt Hardy credited the school’s Blue Ribbon achievement to “a covenant (which) has been established between the teachers, administrators, parents, and students that are committed to an unparalleled educational experience.”

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