Fifth-grader Tommy Nguyen will tell you that A.J. Cook Elementary School in Garden Grove is a special place — and he knows why.
“I think it’s because of our teachers,” he said. “They know how to teach us, and how to make us excel.”
Like most of his classmates, Tommy attended a schoolwide assembly Friday sporting a royal blue Cook T-shirt with the school’s Lion logo. And right below that logo was another recognizable emblem that had been recently added: the National Blue Ribbon School seal.
Along with two other Orange County campuses, Cook was announced as a Blue Ribbon School in September, earning a highly distinguished honor bestowed on less than 300 public schools and 50 private schools across the country. Each was formally recognized in November by the U.S. Department of Education, but on Friday Cook’s student body and staff gathered out on the blacktop for an upbeat campus celebration with community partners and local dignitaries.
“This recognition of excellence belongs to every single one of us,” Principal Sandi Ishii told the crowd. “No school achieves this level of success without the commitment and support of teachers, parents, the district, our community members and, most importantly, the hardwork and perseverance of you, our student scholars.”
One of 44 elementary schools in the Garden Grove Unified School District, A.J. Cook Elementary is a small, diverse school with educators who are dedicated to ensuring each student is respected and feels a sense of belonging. The entire campus has embraced a growth mindset, promoting the idea that people’s abilities can be developed and enhanced over time through commitment and hard work. According to the school’s Blue Ribbon application, perseverance and intellectual risks are clearly defined and embedded within school goals.
Along with Principal Ishii, Friday’s event featured remarks by Garden Grove Board of Education President Lan Quoc Nguyen, California Senator Janet Nguyen, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones and Cook teacher Meghan Fischer, along with third-grader Fernando Angeles, fifth-grader Hillary Nguyen and fourth-grader Zoey Schmidt. Musical performances were presented by the Cook Choir and the Bolsa Grande High School Marching Band and Color Guard.
“At Cook, we all have a tangible sense of belonging,” Fischer said during her remarks. “The students, parents, staff and community members share common goals and visions that result in our school’s success. Cook is an environment where diversity and differences are celebrated and respected.”
These traits have placed Cook in the national spotlight as a Blue Ribbon school — one of just 33 from California. Tommy, 11, will be the first to tell you how special that is.
“I’m sure there are like a million schools in California,” he said.
Just as Tommy credited his teachers for Cook’s success, the other assembly speakers directed praise back at the girls and boys in the blue shirts for their hard work and commitment.
“Many years from now,” school board President Nguyen said, “you can proudly say that ‘I went to a National Blue Ribbon School.’”