The philosophy of building children instead of just teaching them earned J.A. Taylor Elementary School top honors in federal competition among elementary schools across the nation.

The Centerville school is one of two in Utah cited by the U.S. Department of Education in its elementary school recognition program, a tough, competitive appraisal of schools and how well they not only educate their students but also serve their communities.Principal Jean Madsen said her school's philosophy is summed up best in a statement of purpose, the final page of the 44-page application form sent in last fall:

"At J.A. Taylor we don't just teach children, we build children. . . . Why is J.A. Taylor worthy of national recognition? We are dedicated to building children into caring, knowledgeable, contributing adults."

Madsen also credits her staff, the students themselves, and the parents and volunteers in the community that help make Taylor more than just another school.

"We passed the test," Madsen said. "We feel we made it because of dedicated, excellent teachers, great students, and with dedicated parents and an active PTA. We specialize in wonderful teachers, a great staff, and wonderful students," Madsen said. "They all work toward excellence."

To enter the competition, the school staff filled out a 44-page initial application with detailed information about the school, students, teachers and community.

Emphasis in this year's competition was on math and science, Madsen said, and student test scores in those areas for the last three years were researched and included.

But the school's other areas, such as art, dance, music and community programs, were also highlighted along with their student recognition and citizenship emphasis.

The school was notified it made the first cut last fall, putting it in competition with other elementary schools in the Rocky Mountain Region, and an on-site inspection team from the University of California-Berkeley was sent out for two days in February to further scrutinize the facility.

Recently, it all paid off: The staff was notified that Taylor had made it, was recognized as one of the nation's top elementary schools.

One of the special programs the school emphasized is the mentor/student program, where outside experts from the community are brought in to encourage students in specific interests or hobbies, on an individual basis.

Another is the in-school tutoring program, where fifth- and sixth-graders take a hand at helping kindergarten students and first-graders with their schoolwork.

The host of musical and art programs, science and history fairs, and citizenship programs the school has going on constantly was also highlighted.

"It's fun to just walk down the hall in this school and see the exciting things happening in those classrooms," said Madsen. "It's fun, but it's also an emotional thing."

As the school's philosophy statement says: "We build children by teaching them that they are part of something bigger and better than each individual can be.

"We build children by surrounding them with excellent role models who truly care about and relate to the children - school lunch personnel, playground personnel, and parent volunteers. . . . Our greatest asset is our loving, enthusiastic, professional teachers who are dedicated to excellence and go the extra mile."