Evergreen Elementary School in Wrangell, AK. (June Leffler/ KSTK)

Wrangell’s Evergreen Elementary has won national recognition as a “distinguished school” — one of only two Alaska schools selected for the honor this year. The award recognizes Evergreen’s success at  educating every student regardless of their circumstances.

Evergreen Elementary Principal Jenn Miller-Yancey found out right before Thanksgiving that her school was selected as a National ESEA Distinguished School for this year.

“I had a good feeling, but when you see it on paper, it’s like ‘yes this is amazing’,” she says.

The acronym stands for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Lyndon Johnson-era legislation was the first to provide federal funding to close the achievement gap between poor and middle-class students. The national honor is specifically for those schools that serve a large number of low-income kids, and do it well.

“We want to make sure that every child is fed, that they know they’re safe, that they are rested. And so any time that they need those basic needs taken care of we’ll help them with that as well,” Miller-Yancey says.

This is Miller-Yancey’s first year as Evergreen’s principal, but she’s taught in the school for almost three decades. Although  test scores and attendance rates are a factor in the award, there’s also an interview, and Miller-Yancey and her colleagues raved about some brand new programs. One of those is the new behavioral program, where students get referrals — not for their disruptive behavior — but for doing the right thing.  

“So the students are focused more on what the desired behaviors are instead of what the undesired behaviors are. They’re continually trying to do better and they get recognized for that. It’s been very effective,” she says.

Miller-Yancey says that some of Evergreen’s  teachers and administrators will attend the national conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in February to accept the award. The state Department of Education, which nominated Evergreen for the award, will contribute $5,000 to the school to help with travel expenses.