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McKeon congratulates students Thursday at McGrath Elementary.

Students at McGrath Elementary School in Newhall had a special visitor Thursday – all the way from Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon stopped by to congratulate the administration, staff and students on winning the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Award.

Despite its being labeled a “school of poverty,” McGrath Elementary has consistently raised their national test scores and has earned four consecutive Title I Academic Achievement Awards.

Last year, McGrath received its first California Distinguished Award. This year, the school rose to the top, garnering the 2011 National Blue Ribbon Award.

“We have a lot of young teachers,” said McKeon, R-Santa Clarita. “Most of them were students out here when I was on the school board many years ago, and now they’re back here teaching these kids and helping them move forward.”

“To win that award with a group that is so high in English as a second language, that’s really a big deal,” he said.

Proud McGrath students cheer for their well deserved recognition.

McKeon served on the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board prior to his 1987 election to the Santa Clarita City Council and 1992 election to Congress.

The Blue Ribbon Schools Program was created by the Department of Education in 1982 to honor schools which have achieved high levels of performance or significant improvements with emphasis on schools serving disadvantaged students. The Blue Ribbon award is considered the highest honor an American school can achieve.

“It was an honor and a privilege to join the staff and students of McGrath Elementary today to help recognize and celebrate their achievements,” McKeon said.  “The impressive success of this school proves that academic excellence is not a derivative of wealth, but rather the pride and determination of a school’s administration, teachers and most of all, its students.”

The teachers at McGrath Elementary made an agreement with the students to bring one person to speak to the school if they achieved 90-percent proficiency or higher on the STAR test. After reaching their goal, a vote was taken and the students chose President Obama. All fifth and sixth graders wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to attend their school for a day if they achieved their academic goal. The school made several fruitless attempts at contacting the administration, including sending a sixth-grade teacher to the White House to present the letters the students wrote to the president.

Ever the supportive education advocate, McKeon personally penned a letter to Obama asking him to consider visiting the award-winning school.

McGrath was one of only 21 schools in California and the only SCV school to win the national award this year.

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