When students at Utah schools where Bruce Barnson has been principal wanted to learn about the legislative process, they wrote and lobbied for bills at the state Legislature - and helped many to pass.
When they studied about ancient Egyptian culture, they constructed a replica of the tomb of Ramses, which was praised by university officials for its precision.When budget cutbacks began to sting, Barnson helped his school form partnerships with local businesses that volunteered needed goods ranging from food at school fairs to photocopying machines.
And when Barnson accidently discovered that some usually tongue-tied handicapped children would talk at ease into his citizens band radio, he obtained a radio for them at school - which became a favorite communication builder among children and passing truckers alike.
For such innovation and caring for the needs of all students, Barnson - now principal of Jordan School District's Ridgecrest Elementary in southeast Salt Lake County - was recognized Tuesday as one of 59 "National Distinguished Principals" chosen by the Department of Education and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
A certificate and engraved bell were presented to Barnson by Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos.
Cavazos said, "These principals are leaders who have fostered teamwork and a spirit of cooperation among students, staff and parents. They have built a community commitment to learning and an enthusiasm for excellence.."
The winners in the annual program come from each state, the District of Columbia and some foreign and private schools..
Barnson told the Deseret News, "A lot of times we are kind of forgotten at the schools. But this kind of recognition makes you feel great."
He said, "I've always believed that children learn best by doing." That is why students in programs for the gifted and talented at Ridgecrest have had so many hands-on projects.
For example, they learned the state legislative process by writing, testifying and and lobbying. They pushed bills to adopt the honeybee as the state insect, to require child restraint seats, prohibit a nuclear waste dump in or near a state park and to place a statue of television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth in the U.S. Capitol.
When the Ramses exhibit from Egypt was at Brigham Young University, students became excited about studying ancient Egypt. So Barnson said they constructed a replica of the tomb of Ramses. "People from BYU were amazed at the job they did." The school even had a fair catered by a local food store with dishes eaten by ancient Egyptians.
Barnson also has concern for the handicapped. When he was principal at the Jordan Valley School for the handicapped, he worried that many students were reluctant to talk much with others. When a few showed interest in his CB radio, he discovered they would talk freely and easily into it.
So he obtained an unclaimed radio recovered from burglaries by the sheriff's office, and let the students use it. Local CBers improved the equipment, and helped students contact passing truckers. Many of them became penpals to the children.