By Annie Chang

IRVINE, CALIFORNIA — Brown roofs, beige stucco walls, and blue doors at 3 Lemongrass adorn Irvine Unified School District’s Lakeside Middle School. It may seem like an ordinary school building on the outside. But on the inside, 693 students, 29 teachers, 27 support staffs, and one principal are diligently working hard day and night. Recently Lakeside Middle School seems to be the magnet for honorary awards. It has achieved the coveted spot as one of California’s thirty-five top middle schools competing for the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. And according to The OC Register, the school has been ranked number two out of Orange County’s best middle schools.

Math and science are everywhere at Lakeside Middle School, and students and staff say these are what make the Lakeside campus a welcoming and nurturing environment to call home. Math has a big impact on the Blue Ribbon Schools selection process. It is essential to have CST mathematics and language arts scores on the rise for a period of two years in order to apply for the award. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), monitored by the U.S. Department of Education, must show that the school is getting better.

The OC Register’s ranking of top middle schools is determined by combining a school’s academic and environment scores. Academics form 75 percent of the total rank. They look at a school’s Academic Performance Index (API), API similar schools rank, API score change, No Child Left Behind target, and Algebra I enrollment and proficiency. School environment contributes the other 25 percent of the total rank.

Extra curriculars, too, are abundant at Lakeside. Students are eager to participate in these activities. “[We] have Math Club, AMC 8, MathCounts, and Pentathlon. We added MathCounts,” says Principal Gina Cuneo. Math Club is an after school association where students who enjoy math learn with their peers and teachers. Participants of this organization have finished taking the annual AMC 8 test, and the MathCounts competition has been held for selected team members in mid-February. Furthermore, Academic Pentathlon is a five-event challenge where a wide variety of topics, math and science included, are tested.

In science, Lakeside offers Astounding Inventions, Science Fair, Ask-A-Scientist Night and the Trash Art Contest. The Astounding Inventions contest was recently was hosted at Irvine Valley College, where three Lakeside students won first place awards and two received honorable mentions. Science Fair is a competition where middle school students ask an investigative question and answer it through a series of experiments. Months before the actual competition, students have the opportunity to inquire scientists about their project at Ask-A-Scientist Night. And finally, coming up is the Trash Art Contest, where students have to create artwork fully out of recycled goods.

“The thing that makes Lakeside different from other schools,” Cuneo says, “is that we don’t have the kids segregated into language arts and social studies in GATE and honors classes. We put them deliberately grouped together, not by GATE identification. If you keep the expectation high for all kids, you’re going to meet the level of the high achieving kids as well as bring up the kids who usually don’t achieve high expectations.” Cuneo adds, “We also have exceptional parent support…and we come out 10 out 10.”

The future is even brighter. Eighth graders who are taking a giant leap into high school are getting a fresh head start during the summer. “For the first time we can offer summer school classes for our 8th graders that are going into 9th grade. We are looking at math and science classes enrichment to get them better prepared for high school in math and science” Cuneo says. “And we just continue.”