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Carter Kelley reacts to Ocean Bay Elementary School being named the United States Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools on Thursday. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Elijah Barr wore a sheriff’s badge and straw hat to school Thursday. 

“My grandma just found this badge,” said the proud Ocean Bay Elementary second grader, age 7 and a half, who embraced “Western Day” with classmates dressed in fake mustaches and bandanas.

The Carolina Forest kids got to celebrate more than cowboy costumes. They also learned their school was named one of the best in the country.

The U.S. Department of Education designated Ocean Bay Elementary as a National Blue Ribbon School. It’s one of four schools in the state to receive the distinction this year and among just 362 nationwide. 

“This is the highest recognition a school can earn,” principal Rebecca Schroyer told a group of students gathered for the announcement. “And we earned it together.”

In its 37thyear, the Blue Ribbon program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students achieve high learning standards or make notable improvement in closing the achievement gap.

The last Horry County school to earn this title was Early College High School in 2017, although multiple other area schools have also received the honor.

Three schools — Forestbrook Middle, Lakewood Elementary and Myrtle Beach Intermediate — were named Blue Ribbon schools in 2015, the only time in the program’s history that three schools from the same district received the honor in a single year.

Schroyer, who is in her third year as Ocean Bay Elementary’s principal, said she learned about the title Wednesday but couldn’t reveal anything publicly until the formal announcement was made. 

“[It’s] very difficult to walk around holding this kind of information, not being able to share it,” she said. 

When the principal finally called an assembly to break the news just before dismissal, students erupted in cheers. 

“It was really exciting,” said Journie Livingston, a 7-year-old second grader.

Staff members also celebrated the milestone. They’ve recently added new writing and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, and the honor is an encouraging sign that their efforts are being noticed. 

“It’s reenergizing our work,” Schroyer said. 

Lyndsay Ball, the school’s instructional coach for nearly eight years, agreed. She said the honor is particularly meaningful to teachers.

“They put their heart, soul, entire life into this,” she said. “Seeing that recognized is just exciting.”

For second grader Charlotte Burbage, the announcement took a few minutes to process.

“I was nervous at first,” she said. “I’m like, ‘What is all this about? Why are there cameras? Are we going to be on the news?’”

After she figured out what was happening, the 7-year-old said the award was “really cool.” She’s proud of her school, too.

“I pretty much like everybody in here,” she said. “They’re awesome.” 

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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I'm the editor of myhorrynews.com and the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Horry County, South Carolina. I cover county government, the justice system and agriculture. Know of a story that needs to be covered? Call me at 843-488-7236.

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