"Diamonds are a School’s Best Friend" according to the writing on the T-shirts being worn this week by teachers at Vilonia Middle School. The T-shirts are in recognition of the school being selected as an Arkansas Diamond School to Watch for 2013.

"We are a school with positive thinking and hardworking teachers and a plan to continue to get better every day," said principal Cathy Riggins, explaining the status. The Vilonia Middle School, she said, is honored to be one of the 10 schools in Arkansas that has been selected in 2013 and honored especially to be among "a part of a select cadre of schools," around the nation receiving the honor.

The honor, she said, is part of a program began by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, founded in 1997 and comprised of an alliance of more than 81 national associations, foundations, researchers and educators. The National Forum identifies high-performing middle schools and highlights their achievements so other schools might benefit from their example.

She said school officials applied two years ago, but they did not satisfy all of the criteria.

"I felt like we qualified then," she said. "We were already doing a lot of what it takes. We raised the bar, and applied again. This time, we were recognized."

In meeting the students’ needs at the school, she said, teachers sometimes do "a lot of out of the box thinking."

"We are not always traditional," she added. "Our goal is to meet the needs of all of our kids."

Achieving the status is a reflective process allowing teachers and staff to closely examine the school’s instruction and cultural practices as well as the expectations for the students, she said.

"It also lets me examine my leadership," she said. As well as meeting student needs, she said, an important aspect of her job, as she sees it, is to promote growth with her teachers. She also credited other school administrators, the Vilonia Board of Education and parents for supporting the school and helping them to meet their objectives.

A celebration is planned for 10 a.m., Feb. 13, in the Vilonia High School gymnasium with local and state dignitaries. Also, Riggins and members of her staff will be traveling to Washington D.C., during the summer, to the national award ceremony.