Nerinx Hall High School honored as Blue Ribbon School

Lisa Johnston |

Danielle Voss looked intently at the blank-and-white photograph hanging before her at the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in Midtown St. Louis. Among 25 photographs on display in the Silver Seas: An Odyssey exhibition, "The Gathering" drew Voss for a closer inspection.

"What captures my attention is the fish aren't, like, solid," she said, pointing out some fish in the school appear to be black and opaque while others appear to be gray to light-gray and translucent. The fish swirl toward light at the surface.

"They're almost kind of grainy; there's something about them," she said. "The twirl (of the fish) up-close is so distinct. It's light here and dark there. ... It captures my attention, for sure."

A junior, Voss was among a dozen Nerinx Hall High School students in Ashley May's Introduction to Photography class exploring the exhibit on a recent Friday afternoon. The work of photographer Ernest H. Brooks II was new to them, but the class trip was old hat, routine at the all-girls Catholic high school in Webster Groves.

Though not an official motto, the slogan "your classroom can be the world" is in the school's DNA, a staple of educating young women in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Perfectly in tune with the Sisters of Loretto's mission of being out in the world, the premise is that learning occurs not only inside school but outside. Nerinx Hall lives that mission in outings to St. Louis landmarks and in trips throughout the United States and to Europe and Central America as well.

With the world as classroom, it's fitting that Nerinx Hall has received recognition from beyond St. Louis and its campus on Big Bend Boulevard.

The U.S. Department of Education selected Nerinx Hall in the 2015 class of National Blue Ribbon Schools, which also includes St. Louis University High. Nerinx Hall joined Ursuline Academy as a two-time Blue Ribbon winner from the archdiocese. Nerinx also received a Blue Ribbon in 1990, the only other year in which two schools in the archdiocese have been honored.

For Nerinx Hall, the Blue Ribbon Award officially recognizes what students, teachers and administrators on campus have known all along.

"It's just exciting to put so much of your heart and soul into a school and to be validated and confirmed like this," said May, a 2006 Nerinx graduate who earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts at Truman State University.

Principal Jane Kosash's emotions came through in announcing the honor over the P.A.

"It makes me tear up now, because I was so excited," Kosash said weeks later. "One of the reasons I wanted to apply in the first place was because I knew how committed our teachers, students and families are to an exceptional education."

Whether inside or outside of building.

"We have so many great treasures here in St. Louis," she said. "Why not explore them and make learning come alive?"

This approach -- so-called "experiential learning" -- is "so very cool," said senior Molly Malone, whose experience at Nerinx is the norm. Her economics class this semester already has been to Ste. Genevieve and the Ulysses S. Grant home to study and discuss the economics of early settlers and the Civil War, respectively.

Last summer, she was in a humanities class of 40 girls plus teacher and chaperones which went to Europe for 15 days. "It wasn't just the trip; it was definitely a class," she said.

The class started in Rome, went to Assisi, Florence and Venice, then crossed France and ended in London, where Malone gave her presentation at the National Gallery. Each girl delivered a presentation at the actual venue. How cool is that?

"It was awesome to not just sit in the classroom and study it but to see it in real life," Malone said, noting that "girls who take humanities during the school year get to go out in St. Louis."

Same with other classes. For instance, May's photography class has been to Laumeier Sculpture Park and the Museum of Transportation, among other places.

"It's really great to be able to talk to your friends while you're there," said sophomore Sophia Barney, who agreed that the social aspect enhances the learning. "It makes it more comfortable and relaxed."

For Karen Johnson-Budd, teaching at Nerinx allows her to give students a taste of what she experienced growing up. Her father was in the Air Force, so she called many places home; she went to primary school in Scotland and high school in Italy.

"I've had a fantastic life, and I want to have my students get that," she said. "I bring the world to my classroom and take them out into the world."

Blue Ribbon Schools

Nerinx Hall High School and St. Louis University High School recently received National Blue Ribbon Awards, becoming the first schools since 2012 so honored in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Nerinx Hall joined Ursuline Academy as a two-time Blue Ribbon winner; Nerinx also received a blue ribbon in 1990, the only other year in which two schools in the archdiocese have been honored by the U.S. Department of Education. In all, 18 schools in the archdiocese have been recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools 20 times in the past 33 years:

1983 • Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School

1984 • DeSmet Jesuit High School

1985 • St. Monica School

1988 • Ursuline Academy1990 • Nerinx Hall High School, Villa Duchesne School

1992 • St. Joseph's Academy

1994 • Cor Jesu Academy

1996 • Ste. Genevieve Du Bois School

1997 • St. John Vianney High School

1998 • St. Joseph School (Cottleville)

2001 • *Ursuline Academy

2003 • St. Peter School (Kirkwood)

2004 • St. Charles Borromeo School

2008 • St. Peter School (St. Charles)

2009 • Most Sacred Heart School (Eureka)

2010 • St. Margaret of Scotland School

2012 • St. Gerard Majella School

2015 • *Nerinx Hall High School, St. Louis University High School

* — honored for second time 

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