District News

Swenson Set to Coach National Game Saturday


Valley head football coach Gary Swenson has been chosen as a coach for Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

The bowl has been the nation’s premier high school football game for more than 14 years, serving as the preeminent launching pad for America’s future college and NFL stars. Sixteen high-school coaches from across the country are selected annually to lead the bowl game’s teams. Coaches for the game are chosen by the U.S. Army Bowl Committee, which also selects the high-school standouts to make up the West and East teams’ rosters. Swenson is part of the eight-person coaching staff for the West squad.

Team practices began Monday. The game kicks off at noon Central time Saturday and will be broadcast on NBC.

Saturday’s game caps off a week of events for participating coaches and players. Swenson and the other coaches will take part in a three-day academy that includes an on-field clinic with NFL and NCAA coaches. The team leaders will also attend seminars on leadership, football and physical development.


Poetry Trail Brings Culture to Halls of Valley High School


Language arts teacher Cameron Gale, senior honors student Jessica Brown, and language arts teacher Karen Downing with one of the poetry banners.

One Valley senior is not only looking to the future, but wants to leave something behind at the school. Honors student Jessica Brown found a project that fit her personality and interests, thanks to two Valley teachers and a poetry trail at Gray’s Lake.

A poetry trail consists of poems made into physical markers and placed along a path people can follow, experiencing the poetry as they go. Language arts teachers Karen Downing and Cameron Gale had heard about the poetry trail at Gray’s Lake, and both felt Valley could benefit from a similar installation.They wanted to involve a student representative before moving forward with the project. Brown’s honors project had joined poetry and art, and Downing recognized her potential to be a champion for the installation. A junior at the time, Brown started working with Downing and Gale to write an application for a Kimm Grant, requesting $500 for the printing and hanging of the poetry banners.

The goal of the project was to bring culture to the halls of Valley. Once the funding was granted, Brown, Downing and Gale put together a committee to help them choose poems for the banners. The committee consisted of John Mitchell, former English teacher; Phyllis Staplin, former WDMCS curriculum coordinator; and Heather Derr-Smith, poet and West Des Moines parent. Potential poems were shared in an online folder. It was decided that banners would be hung in the art, athletics, auditorium, cafeteria, counseling, English Language Learners, English, library, math, music, science, technology education, and world language areas of the school. Each department chair saw the poem for their area in advance and could offer feedback.


A poetry banner outside the Counseling Center featuring “The Journey” by Mary Oliver.

Designing the banners was another challenge. Brown worked with Valley art teacher Tom Murphy and his students on the banner design. Originally, they considered putting student artwork with each poem, but decided to keep things uniform.

“We went with a more simplistic design that would fit with Valley culture,” Brown said.

Brown also had to pitch the poetry trail idea to Valley principal Tim Miller. Miller was so enthused and supportive of the project that he ended up overseeing the installation process, eliminating the need for banner-hanging funds. The Kimm Grant funds were all put toward printing the banners, which was handled by the Heartland Area Education Agency. The banners are orange with black Vs, and dominated by the text of the poem. The diverse poems are all tailored to the areas they reside in. The math department’s banner shows “Flash Cards” by Rita Dove, while athletics hosts “Slam, Dunk, and Hook” by Yusef Komunyakaa, and the auditorium features “All the Hemispheres” by Hafiz.

Teachers had been told about the poetry trail so they could offer input, but it had been kept secret from students. To them, it seemed like the poetry had sprung out of the walls overnight. Brown said the student response was overwhelmingly positive. She, Downing, and Gale wrote a second Kimm Grant application this year, hoping to spread the poetry trail to Valley’s outdoors. They are now gathering poems that can be placed in spaces like the prairie and the parking lot. Brown, who will be attending the University of Iowa to study computer engineering next year, said she was pleased with the outcome and hopes the poetry banners are something people with remember.

“Hopefully these will last for a while,” she said. “I’m a senior, so I’m graduating next year, but it’s nice to know that I left a legacy behind. I hope people will keep coming back to them and noticing something new every time.”

Full list of Poetry Trail banner locations:

  1. Art—”Art Sanctuary” by Nikki Giovanni
  2. Athletics—”Slam, Dunk, and Hook” by Yusef Komunyakaa
  3. Auditorium—”All the Hemispheres” by Hafiz
  4. Cafeteria—”Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo
  5. Counseling Center—”The Journey” by Mary Oliver
  6. ELL—”Refugee Ship” by Lorna Dee Cervantes
  7. Language Arts—”Advice to Writers” by Billy Collins
  8. Library—”The First Book” by Rita Dove
  9. Math—”Flash Cards” by Rita Dove
  10. Music—”Listening to Her Practice: My Middle Daughter, on the Edge of Adolescence, Learns to Play the Saxophone” by Barbara Crooker
  11. Science—”A Scientist’s Acrostic” by Jennifer Gresham
  12. Tech. Ed.—”The Box” by Mark Turpin
  13. World Languages—”Languages” by Carl Sandburg

WDMCS Teacher Helps Tell Local Holocaust Survivor’s Story

Sheila Hudson Profile

Clive Elementary Instructional Coach Sheila Hudson

Fred Lorber is a Holocaust survivor and Des Moines resident. His inspiring story was recently adapted into “Fritzi,” a book that will soon be available in elementary school libraries across the state of Iowa. Intended to be accessible for young readers, “Fritzi” also had young creators behind it. The book was written and illustrated by Shirah Jacobs, Elizabeth Oxer and Hanna Kaufman—all teens ages 18 or younger who are part of the Jewish community in Des Moines.

Lorber met Jacobs, Oxer and Kaufman through A Book by Me, an organization dedicated to sharing the stories of survivors from the Holocaust and other historical human rights events. Sheila Hudson, Clive Elementary instructional coach, got involved after founder and director Deb Bowen presented to the Iowa Holocaust Education Council. Hudson had joined the council after receiving an email asking if people were interested in serving on the council.

Sheila Hudson talks about “A Book by Me” project – Video

“As a sixth grade teacher here in the district at the time, I saw how [the Holocaust] sparked student interest—not only in the topic, but it was really a catalyst to get many of my non-readers to become lifelong readers,” Hudson said. “And I thought, ‘You know, I really need to step up and do something, something bigger than in my own classroom.’”

A Book by Me recognized the opportunity student interest in the Holocaust presented as well. It worked to create a way to connect interested students with Holocaust survivors, while also sharing the survivors’ stories.

“The further away we get from these events, the harder it is for students to understand the implications and how it connects to them personally and how it connects to our future,” Hudson said. “A Book by Me really seeks to connect students with those primary sources that are very rapidly decreasing in our world and make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Hudson approached Bowen about becoming a writing coach for the project after seeing her presentation. The first step was finding a survivor who was interested in sharing his or her story. Fred Lorber was one of the first people to come to mind.

“He has done so much for the our community here—the Des Moines metro area and West Des Moines,” Hudson said. “[He] didn’t necessarily let the events define who he was, but he used the events to define who he wanted to be and made such a difference, and is still making such a difference, in our community.”

Lorber was very willing to share his story when he was approached, and the council soon found a writer (Jacobs) and two illustrators (Oxer and Kaufman) who were willing to spend extra time working with Lorber on the project.


A Holiday Celebration at Western Hills Kids West

Western Hills students in our Kids West before-and-after school program enjoyed a holiday party before winter break. Children competed in an ugly sweater contest, sipped cocoa, crafted hats, and posed with friends in a photo booth.

Life in the WDMCS 12/23/14

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Clive Elementary

The 73rd Street Singers choir performed in the Clive gym the evening of Dec. 18. They also performed for the entire school the morning of Dec. 19. These were the choir’s first concerts this year. Choir members performed fast and upbeat songs as well as slower, ballad selections. Two of the songs were from the Disney movies “Polar Express” and “Frozen.” Members wear choir T-shirts during performances and these upper-grade students rehearse in the music room on Friday mornings.

Clive music students had the opportunity to play African drums during the middle of October and first part of November. They played several different rhythm patterns. The African drums are rotated throughout the district schools in the music classrooms. Students were excited and enjoyed playing African drums.

Crestview Elementary

Crestview is committed to making math come alive for all students. Crestview’s Title I math teachers, Courtney Johnson and Ann Reynolds, work with first- through fourth-grade students who need a little extra help with understanding math concepts. Title I is intended to ensure that all children, regardless of their backgrounds, acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.

One resource Johnson and Reynolds recommend to staff, students and families is the free web site www.gregtangmath.com. Staff and students may access games and worksheets there to supplement their math curriculums and develop better computational and problem-solving skills. The web site has ongoing games as well as seasonal online math competitions for students around the world to enjoy. Details for the winter challengewere recently released on the website. These activities are designed to keep kids excited about math throughout the holidays.

Additionally, our school library has a number of Greg Tang math books and countless math-related books for students to check out any time. Games and manipulatives are also available for classroom use, many of which have been purchased with Title 1 funds.

Hillside Elementary

Hillside first-grade ELL students did some baking. They enjoyed making candy pretzels using pretzels, Hershey kisses and M&Ms. Not only did they learn how to make a fun and easy treat, but they learned some new vocabulary that they are not exposed to every day.

Jordan Creek Elementary

The Jordan Creek fifth- and sixth-grade orchestra students, under the direction of Matthew Meyer, performed their winter concert in the new Performing Arts Center at Valley High School earlier this month. The concert showcased nearly 300 students from across the district. The sixth-grade performance was highlighted by “Sweet Petite Winter Suite” by Brian Balmages. The suite pays tribute to favorite winter treats such as candy canes, peppermint bark and gingerbread men. The fifth-grade performance was highlighted by a terrific rendition of “Dragon Slayer” written by Rob Grice. All of the students worked really hard this past fall to prepare for this concert. The concert was a huge success in front of a capacity audience at the Performing Arts Center. Kudos to the Jordan Creek orchestra students.











Jazz Orchestra Places First at Festival

The Valley Jazz Orchestra performs at the SCIBA Jazz Festival.

The Valley Jazz Orchestra earned first place at the SCIBA Jazz Festival Dec. 13 at Waukee High School. More than 50 bands around the state performed as part of the event, with 1A and 4A groups performing in Waukee and 2A and 3A bands gathering at Winterset.

Valley musicians Matthew Nicholson, Sam Anderson, Cole Petersen, Taylor Igram, Noah Welch, and Dev Thaker were named outstanding soloists. The orchestra’s first-place finish gives the group the opportunity to perform at the Iowa Jazz Championships March 31 at the Des Moines Civics Center.

The Valley Jazz Ensemble and VSW Basie Band also shined with outstanding performances at the SCIBA Jazz Festival. Noah Dorsett of the Valley Jazz Ensemble and Cole McCann, Josh Buelow, Mitch O’Meara, Catherine Larson, Samantha Shea, Elliot Thornton, and Matt Wharff from Valley Southwoods were also named outstanding soloists.

Life in the WDMCS 12/16/14

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Clive Elementary

On Nov. 25, all of the sixth-graders in the district came together for the annual sixth-grade Steve France volleyball tournament. The tournament was held in the gymnasium at Valley High School. The girls were scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. and the boys followed at 12:30 p.m. Our Clive Tiger girls’ team finished in third place and also took home the Sportsmanship Award. Our Clive Tiger boys played impressively and fun was had by all who attended.

Crestview Elementary

Twelve sixth-graders from Crestview spent Dec. 9 at the University of Iowa. They were able to experience a day on campus in hopes of sparking their excitement about college. The students were able to work on an engineering project, eat lunch in the dorms, talk about how important education after high school is, and get a private tour of Carver Hawkeye Arena.

Crestview fifth-graders Adriana Cao, Madeline Dobesh and Kaylyn Le recently finished reading and reporting on this year’s collection of Iowa Children’s Choice Award nominees. Adriana’s favorite is “Ninth Ward” by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Madeline’s choice is “Pie” by Sarah Weeks and Kaylyn selected “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai. The girls agreed they plan to not only re-read a number of the ICCA books just for fun, but also plan to read this year’s Iowa teen books as well. Congratulations!

Fifth-grade students have been studying Colonial America. They have examined multiple theories on the lost colony of Roanoke and the Salem witch trials to form opinions on what actually happened. Students are currently learning about the three regions of the 13 original colonies and will compare and contrast using a Triple Venn Diagram. They will also be learning about what life was like for the early colonists. Later in the unit, students will be discussing the components of the slave trade and write an informative piece while taking on the persona of someone involved in the trade.

Fairmeadows Elementary

The third-graders “jazzed” up the holidays with performances of their “Jingle Bell Jazz” program Dec. 4. The concert included a little jazz, a little folk dancing and some of our favorite Disney tunes. There was one performance at 3 p.m. for the Fairmeadows students and another at 6:30 p.m. for family and friends.

Jordan Creek Elementary

Students recently visited JA Biztown. Sixth-grader Abby Bishop shared her experience: If I had to think of one word to describe Biztown, I would say teamwork. Everything we do requires teamwork. We had to communicate with others. If we didn’t work together our business would fall apart. I worked in the publishing center as the CFO and boy, that wasn’t easy! If I hadn’t conversed with my CEO or other employees, the business would have failed. Also, we didn’t take things that seriously, it was OK for us to have fun. In fact, I think that’s what motivated all of us in the end. The music was really helpful. It helped us get into the spirit of things (plus it was pretty fun to show off some of our dance moves)! Everybody was very friendly at the beginning, we were all so excited to begin our businesses. At the end I think everybody could agree they were a little grumpy. We were quite tired after a long day of work (and I must admit it is so weird to say that!) and ready to take a nice, long nap. All in all the day was very fun and worth every minute we spent preparing. If there is one thing I would change I would say we would continue Biztown for a week. After this “real life” experience I know I have a ton more sympathy for adults. I think every sixth-grade kid does, too. Thank you so much to the JA Biztown staff, parent volunteers and teachers who worked tirelessly to put this idea into action!

Fourth-graders at Jordan Creek rang bells to collect donations for the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign during the week of Dec. 1. Staff and students demonstrated the pillar of citizenship and raised $1,010.57.

Westridge Elementary

On Nov. 25, the kindergarten classes feasted on a delicious turkey dinner provided by kindergarten families. Parents provided turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, fruit/vegetables and cookies. The kindergarten students made homemade butter and had a great time feasting with friends. Thanks to the families for help with providing the meal, setting up and cleaning up.

Stilwell Junior High

Stilwell’s Team I students learned about and celebrated Iowa Nov. 25 with a tour of the Hall of Pride and participated in a lot of fun-filled and informative activities. The students then walked the downtown skywalk system and went to Kaleidoscope at the Hub for lunch. The students headed back to Stilwell to watch the movie “Field of Dreams,” which was filmed in Iowa. The day ended with celebrations of Team I’s own success stories by focusing on those with outstanding participation in school activities and applauding those students who made the team A and B honor rolls. Those students receiving academic recognition for their school work on the Team I are as follows: Diane Aucoin, Emily Alvarado, Krystian Bajorek, Emily Bartusek, Rose Blobaum, Hanna Boeckenstedt, Lizzie Brackett, Payton Bumgardener, Lawrence Byerly, Lexi Chesly, Nairyha Claiser, Payton Colbert, Nick Compiano, Payton Cooper, Don Cordova, Dahlia Cutler, Shakira Delemre, Karsen Duve, Madeline Ehrle, Austin Ellingson, Austin Emans, Jaden Finn, Kevin Flores, Chloe Franklin, Makayla Gallentine, Regan Gaskill, Will Golay, Erika Gomez, Gunner Hawthorne, Collin Henrichsen, Drew Hettman, Tommy Hewitt, Maria Hoffart, Ana Johnson, Cooper Johnson, Nora King, Austin Kraemer, Logan Krausman, Andrew Laybon, Erin Lowe, Andrew Lutz, Emilia Macedo, Cameron McCauley, Jacob McLaughlin, Tyler Majeres, Carlyn Mann, Hailey Mendenhall, Isaac Mercer, Taylor Neal, James Meng, Nick Meyers, Jessica Olander, Ellie Peters, Evan Pflughaupt, Linh Pham, Caitlyn Potter, Cynthia Quito Pizarro, Nyah Rieckhoff, Jack Roush, Jesus Ruiz-Ugalde, Max Schatzberg, Chloe Schoepke, Owen Schulte, Zoe Shaffer, Mason Shrum, Hunter Stevens, Tyler Sturdevant, Conal Thomas-McGinnis, Eisha Tolson, Radha Velamuri, Amariah Williams, Zoey Warren, Kyle Westhoff, Rachel Wrenn and Tinsley Wright.

Valley High School

Several students were recently recognized as Tiger Pause winners. The program awards students who display “noble acts of character.” The winners, listed with comments from their nominations forms, are:

Angui Akok noticed another student’s iPad fell out of his backpack one day as he passed in the hall. Upon retrieving it, he could not keep up with the student and lost vision of him in the crowd. Instead of being selfish, he took it to the office and described the student as best he could. It would be easy to say Angui did what he should have done, which is true. Many would not have done so, however; he did so without hesitation.

Hanayka Bacilio reached out and became a supportive and helpful peer to another girl in class that needed help and didn’t have friends to ask. She has befriended classmates and helped create a positive environment.

Grace Barker is guided by the principles of care, concern, and compassion for others. Grace exudes optimism and radiates pure sunshine. She smiles at the world and simply the world smiles back at her.

Ali Baumann gave pink streamers to classmates to make them a part of the action. Elli Beardsley is described by her job supervisor as one of his best employees. She is reliable, friendly, and a problem-solver. Her positive spirit and kind heart is contagious. She gave pink streamers to some classmates at a football game to make them a part of the action.

Hanna Bush goes beyond to help others, to serve others, to take care of others. She serves up optimism, compassion and sensitivity with zest, with energy and with genuine care. She truly finds joy in every day and every human encounter.

Candice Cameron volunteers to bring the class set of newspapers that we use daily from the library to my room every morning before she goes to her first-period class.

Emily Conard mentors an ESL student in her Language Arts class.

Jon Danos gave up a Saturday night to volunteer for the Neighbor to Neighbor Foundation painting walls.

Emily Foertch gave up a Saturday night to volunteer for the Neighbor to Neighbor Foundation painting walls.

Nick Fox turned in an ID that belonged to an employee at Unity Point Health offices.

Whitney Fuller gave pink streamers to classmates to make them a part of the action.

Daly Hardy is a young lady with a huge heart. She is all about the small things that make a big difference. She is a leader behind the scenes on a regular basis. I am a better person for knowing her.

Caitlyn Lennon gave up a Saturday night to volunteer for the Neighbor to Neighbor Foundation painting walls.

Sam Manning is a go-to student during our #choose2matter project. He has the ability to lift other’s spirits and confidence with his kind words. I have watched him encourage others to be brave.

Ellen Reed is always showing concern to and attempting to help a fellow student.

Will Rodruck is kind and helps out a few students who struggle in class.

Ariadna Ruiz Ugalde is a lovely student who does so much to help the current ESL students. She assists them with assignments, translates, reads aloud and so much more.

Emma Sink gave up a Saturday night to volunteer for the Neighbor to Neighbor Foundation painting walls.

Evan Westman always has a positive attitude and is willing to help out wherever. Does a great job interacting with all the students in class and is smiling constantly. He brings an enthusiasm for school that rubs off on those around him.

Bronwyn Wright is passionate about helping ESL students feel welcome as well as making their experience at Valley positive. In many ways, she is an ESL ambassador.






Senger Makes National ‘Directors Who Make a Difference’ List

Valley Southwoods Freshman High School and Valley High School Orchestra Director Michele Senger has Michele Senger w.instrumentbeen named one of School Band and Orchestra Magazine’s 50 Directors Who Make a Difference. She is the only director from Iowa to make the list.

The 17th annual 50 Directors Who Make a Difference highlights some of the best music educators from across all 50 states. The honored directors were nominated by current and former students, colleagues and peers, parents and others.

The magazine asked each teacher three questions, including their proudest teaching moments, how they hope to make a difference in students’ lives and the most important lesson they try to teach their students.

Senger said she strives to inspire her students to have a lifetime love of music. “I encourage them to play for enjoyment and have music in their lives as an outlet for artistic expression,” Senger said. Read more of her answers in School Band and Orchestra magazine.

Senger has been a member of the string teaching staff in the West Des Moines Community Schools since 1998. In August 2014, Senger was selected as a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Scholar to attend “Mozart’s Worlds: The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni” in Vienna, Austria.

In addition to her work in the district, Senger is a member of the Des Moines Symphony and conducts the Des Moines Symphony Youth Philharmonic. She directed the intermediate and advanced orchestras for the Des Moines Area Suzuki Institute from 2000-09.

Prior to moving to West Des Moines, Senger taught in the Amphitheater Public Schools in Tucson, Ariz. She was also a member of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and performed regularly with “Go for Baroque” and the Marelle String Quartet. Senger was also instructor of cello and bass at Pima Community College. She has spent summers performing with the Marelle String Quartet and coaching chamber music and teaching cello at various festivals throughout the U.S. including the Chamber Music in the Mountains at Echo Glen in Arizona and the National High School Music Institute at Northwestern University.

Senger has a bachelor of music degree in cello performance from the University of Arizona and a master of music from Ohio University.


Boundary Change Proposal Approved

On Monday, Dec. 8, the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education approved changing elementary school attendance boundaries for the 2015-16 school year. The School Board voted 6-0 to approve the district administration’s proposed boundary map – Map C5 – and implementation plan.


Boundary Change Up For Board Action Dec. 8

On Monday, Dec. 8, the West Des Moines Community Schools district administration will ask the Board of Education to take action on the proposal to change elementary school attendance boundaries beginning with the 2015-16 school year.