Evergreen Elementary went from last to first place with 'No Excuses'

SPANAWAY, Wash. - Historically speaking low-income districts have lower test scores, but there are exceptions to the rule, one example is an elementary school in the Bethel School district.

Evergreen Elementary in Spanaway was just given the National Blue Ribbon Award for Academic Excellence. This same school not too long ago was academically failing.

“We were the lowest at our district at one point literally the lowest,” librarian Heather Sinclair said.

Teachers admit much of that was their doing.

“I think we underestimated our kids coming from the area we come from,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair is talking about poverty. Nearly 60% of the students at Evergreen are on free and reduced lunch.

“Just because a child comes from poverty we want to break that cycle,” Sinclair said.

It started with making no excuses.

“It's having tough conversations with kids,” Sinclair said.

Holding students, families and themselves accountable.

“We have no rescue policy so if a child leaves something at home their parents are not supposed to bring it in,” Sinclair said.

In 2011 Evergreen was the first in the district to adopt the No Excuses model-- a national program.

The program reminder is pasted on the walls of the school. Every morning the students cite the school’s motto that reads

“Every student without excuses and without exception will be proficient in reading, language and math.”

The kids every year also sign their names pledging their commitment to the mission.

“This year I think my grades are going to be good,” 4th grader Armani said.

Armani says he struggled with Math in the past now that's all he wants to talk about.

“Do your best and never give up,” Armani said.

The confidence is translating to high scores.

In 2008 more than half of the 3rd graders at Evergreen were not meeting Math standards. Now 72% of students are excelling.

In English, for the same grade level, it went from just 47% of students meeting the standard to now about 68%.

“We can’t change what happens outside of this area but we are going to make a difference,” Sinclair said.

They are not just making a difference they are setting the example going from the last place to first place in the district.

Sinclair says the academic achievement would not have been possible without first changing the way they think.

“You are not a victim of your circumstances you have the power to change that and we are going to help you do it,” Sinclair said.