District News

Hillside Students Judge Valley Junction Art Show

HS_VJ Art Show_6Gabriel Pruneda closely studied a pencil drawing by artist Larry Hartfield at the Valley Junction Fall Art & Upcycle Market held September 14.

“I really like the detail,” said Pruneda.

Talking about art is nothing new to Pruneda, who is a sixth grader at Hillside Elementary. Hillside is an Artful Learning School, which infuses the study of art throughout its curriculum.

Serving as an official art critic was a new adventure for him and five other students, who were judges of this year’s Valley Junction Fall Art & Upcycle Market in West Des Moines. The students included Pruneda, Ian Gaunt, Brandi Barr and Morgan Hunt from Hillside and Hillside graduate and current Stilwell Junior High student David Gaunt.

The students gathered late Sunday morning for instructions from their art teacher, Pam Ballard, and began their journey through 70 booths featuring paintings, prints, sculpture, photography, pottery, jewelry, stained glass, fiber, upcycled items and more. Artists from four states were selected by a jury to participate in the event.

This was the first year the organizers had students select winners of the market. “Hillside is part of the Valley HS_VJ Art Show_12Junction neighborhood and, as an Artful Learning school, its students are sophisticated students of the arts. I felt having them as judges would not only be a way to support current artists, but also help nurture future ones,” said Jim Miller, director of the Historic Valley Junction Foundation.

Ballard said the experience was a rich learning opportunity because the students were able to spend time talking with the artists about their techniques, style and medium, as well as the thought-process behind their work. Ballard said her sixth-grade students not only study various artists, theories and styles, they learn the vocabulary of art and role-play as gallery owners, curating and discussing artwork.

Besides walking through the long row of booths, the students agreed the most difficult part of the day was selecting the final winners. “It was hard,” said sixth grader Morgan Hunt. “There are so many artists.” After a long discussion and review of their notes, the students chose artist Mary Smith’s upcycled jewelry as Best of Show. Larry Hartfield won Best 2D, Rose Rutherford won Best 3D, and Merit Awards went to Reiko Cunningham, James Bearden, Drew Otto and Lindsey Calvert.

The best part of the day was talking with the artists about their work. “There are so many different cool art styles,” said sixth grader Brandi Barr, who wants to continue to learn about art and, possibly, be an artist one day.

Valley Students Named National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists

Valley High School seniors Hannah Anderson, Julia Anderson, Keaton Denker, Lawrence Feng, Elsa Klein, Sunita Kolareth, Lauren Pfeil, Ojas Pradhan, Rishi Shah, William Sipfle, Ryan Thompson and Arun Velamuri have been named National Merit Scholar Semifinalists.

These students will be in competition with students nationwide to become a National Merit Scholar, earning a $2,500 scholarship. Of the 1.5 million entrants, some 50,000 with the highest PSAT/NMSQT® Selection Index scores qualify for recognition in the National Merit® Scholarship Program. Academic records, school curriculum, test scores, an administrative recommendation, information about activities and leadership as well as an essay are used in the judging process.

Finalists will be announced in February and students will be notified in June if they have been selected as a National Merit Scholar.

Information for Parents & Students on Virus Causing Illness in Iowa

Washing HandsYou may have seen news stories about cases of a respiratory virus called Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) making people ill in some Midwest states, including Iowa. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, Enteroviruses are common viruses that can cause mild to severe respiratory illness, usually in the summer and fall.


To help keep our students healthy, we are encouraging students to:

  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.


The West Des Moines Community Schools will continue to clean classrooms and disinfect doorknobs and light switches daily. In addition, some staff are regularly disinfecting toys, desks, and chairs.


The following is additional information from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

  • EV-D68 often begins like a cold and symptoms include coughing and wheezing; most people will recover at home without complications. However, some people with severe respiratory caused by EV-D68 may need to be hospitalized and receive intensive supportive therapy.
  • Infants, children, and teenagers, especially those with a history of asthma or those who have a condition that compromises their immune system, are most likely to become severely ill.
  • Parents of children with cold-like symptoms that experience difficulty breathing should contact their health care provider.
  • Enteroviruses, including EV-D68, are not a reportable disease in Iowa or the U.S.; therefore, the number of cases of the virus is not tracked.
  • There are currently no medications available for treatment for EV-D68 infections and there is no vaccine available for the virus. Most infections resolve on their own and require only treatment at home.


For concerns or questions about your child’s health, please contact your health care provider.

Life in the WDMCS 9/8/14

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.

Crestview Elementary

Parents make a difference! The way parents can contribute most to their children’s education is through what they do at home. These are some ways in which parents can proactively help children to succeed at school:

  • Have high expectations for your children. Let them know that you think it is important that they do well in school. High parental expectations have the greatest impact on student achievement. When parents consistently express belief in their children’s potential and tell their kids that they expect them to succeed academically, students do better.
  • Talk about school. Talk with your children about what’s happening at school – activities, programs, and what they are learning.
  • Help your children develop a positive attitude and good work habits. Focus on helping them handle distractions and crises of confidence, praise them for effort and persistence and demonstrate a positive attitude about school as a whole.
  • Read together!
  • Parent involvement in school activities: parent involvement in school activities can foster a sense of community within the school. It can build stronger relationships between teachers and parents, and provide an opportunity for parents to connect with and support each other.

Fairmeadows Elementary

The Fairmeadows Elementary music room has really been rockin’ to the beat with African drumming circles.  This is a hands-on activity made possible by the West Des Moines School District’s purchase of 17 African drums plus additional auxiliary percussion instruments.  These drums are being used for approximately three weeks at Fairmeadows Elementary and then travel throughout the district for use by each of our elementary schools.  The students experience playing polyrhythms as well as demonstrating rhythmic knowledge and abilities while having a great cooperative musical experience.

 Hillside Elementary

Second graders at Hillside Elementary know the importance of making great choices.  Kayla Woodke’s class started the year of right and quicklyearned their first class reward for good behavior, a class Pajama Day.  Students brought their favorite stuffed animals and wore fun pajamas all day.  Woodke said the class decides as a group what the reward will be by voting on several options.  She is proud of her students.  “Tigers always do their best,” Woodke said of her class.

Hillside sixth graders spent the first few days back at school reacquainting with their classmates, adjusting to the routines and meeting new friends.  Students spent time reviewing the PBIS expectations that will lead to a successful and fun school year.  Many ice-breaker games and activities were completed in order for teachers to get to know their students and for the new faces at Hillside to get comfortable.  In sixth grade, every student is a part of the puzzle.  They created puzzle pieces and they had to work together to put the puzzle together.  Students are excited to have the opportunity to switch classes and have a different teacher during the day and the time to play with their friends in other classes at lunch and recess.  Some of the events they are looking forward to the most this year are the sixth grade volleyball tournament, track meet, JA Biztown, Code 411 and dissecting cow eyes in science class. Sixth graders at Hillside will focus on working interdependently in a community, understanding others’ perspectives and how they impact relationships, and what they want their legacy to be.

Jordan Creek Elementary

Meals from the Heartland holds its signature event, the Annual Hunger Fight, each year in late August.  Jordan Creek third graders were lucky enough to be able to participate in this event. The Annual Hunger Fight has grown to be the largest volunteer meal packaging event of its type in the United States, as well as the world.  During the 2013 event 15,000 volunteers packaged 5,171,000 meals. Jordan Creek students were ready to help top that number! During their time volunteering, the students and parents filled bags that would feed up to six people. The meal package included rice, soy protein, vitamins, minerals and dried vegetables. They also had to use their math skills to perfectly weigh the bags, seal them and count them out before boxing them up. Jordan Creek students left feeling blessed to be part of such a wonderful event.

Jordan Creek Students Join Teacher’s Fight Against Cancer

Jordan Creek teacher Joni Livermore talks to students in the Kids Care Club about her trip to Machu Picchu with Above and Beyond Cancer.

Jordan Creek teacher Joni Livermore talks to students in the Kids Care Club about her trip to Machu Picchu with Above and Beyond Cancer. The flags shown, along with flags made at Sunday’s walk, will be flown at the top of the mountain in honor or memory of those affected by cancer.

Students at Jordan Creek Elementary aren’t just learning how to be kids of character, they’re showing it. The Kids Care Club kicked off its second year and has quickly grown into one of the most popular activities at the school.

The group boasts almost 100 kindergarten through sixth graders and meets each month to focus on one of the Six Pillars of Character. At each meeting, a guest speaker talks to the students about that month’s character focus, and the students come up with their own project that puts it into action.

“Last year, it was a snowy day and the janitor was shoveling so he didn’t have time to get ready for the school day,” said third grade club member Alex Wirth. “So we came in early and helped him clean the floors.”

Projects like these, whether planned in advance or spur of the moment, are what makes the club so inspiring. They look everywhere for ideas and are very active, recruiting not only their fellow students, but parents and teachers as well.

Students didn’t have to look far to find their first project for this school year. A fundraising effort by second grade teacher Joni Livermore caught the attention of the group, and they decided to adopt her cause as their own.

Livermore is a cancer survivor and a member of the group Above and Beyond Cancer. At the end of September she will travel with 15 other cancer survivors to Peru to climb Machu Picchu. As part of their journey, they are raising funds to help purchase a mammogram machine for a cancer center in Cusco, Peru.

What started as a walk for family and friends organized by Livermore’s children to help her fundraising efforts, has blossomed into a service learning project for students in the club.

The free-will donation walk will take place Sunday, Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. at Jordan Creek Elementary. At noon, the lunch room will be open for participants to come decorate a flag in honor or memory of a loved one affected by cancer. Participants can carry their flags during the walk, and then Livermore will take the flags with her to Peru and fly them at the top of Machu Picchu.

“The last trip Above and Beyond Cancer went on, they took about 1,800 flags,” said Livermore. “They are all strung on string and flown at the top in celebration, memory and honor of those who have had cancer.”

Getting to the top of the mountain will be a four-day trek for Livermore and the Above and Beyond Cancer group. She trained all summer, going on weekly hikes with her loaded backpack, and attending spinning and yoga classes on top of weight training.

While the Above and Beyond Cancer group mainly focuses on adult cancer survivors, Livermore is overjoyed that her love for teaching and students is being combined with her new passion for empowering other cancer survivors to create a healthy world.

To learn more about Livermore’s journey to Machu Picchu, visit www.crowdrise.com/jonilivermore.

WHAT: Walk with Mrs. Livermore
WHEN: Sun., Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. (decorate a flag in honor or memory of a loved one affected by cancer at noon in the lunch room)
WHERE: Jordan Creek Elementary

Life in the WDMCS 9/2/14

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

Jordan Creek Elementary

Fifth grade students at Jordan Creek Elementary have been starting the year with more than just academics.  Students participated in team building activities at Valley Stadium the first week of school.  Teachers  Jeff Ver Helst, Adam Ponsor, Andrea Peters, and Jeri Daniels all planned activities for student participation.  All events required the students to work together and be supportive of each other in order to be successful.  Even though it was hot, the students completed the tasks and learned more about working together to be successful. Back in school the fifth graders are becoming familiar with their new schedules, routines and expectations.  They are discovering the new curriculum they will be studying this year, as well as making new friends.

Students at Jordan Creek are busy reviewing and putting their tools, like the Elements of Art, in their tool buckets to prepare for another year of being fabulous artists. Students are beginning by reviewing line, shape and color in first and second grade in order to prepare for their work during the year ahead.  They will then begin creating their artworks, illustrating what they know about these Elements of Art that are the most basic building blocks of creativity. Third through sixth grades are individualizing this year’s sketchbooks by customizing their covers using multimedia.  One of the opportunities they have during this time is an exploration station for papermaking with student teacher, Meghan Walck from the University of Northern Iowa with the supervision of veteran art teacher, Julie Martinez.  Students are recycling and reusing old scraps of paper from last year’s leftovers that have been sorted by color and are blending their way through the color wheel to make new, and fabulous, customized paper.  Some students may incorporate their handmade paper in their cover art for their sketchbook, while others may choose to use it as something to journal about or make another artwork from inside the sketchbook.

Valley High School

Congrats to Valley seniors Wil Abeling and Carter White for receiving awards for their photography at the Iowa State Fair! Wil received the Superintendent’s Choice Award in the youth division for his photo, Northward Bound, and Carter received first place in the youth division of the People Class for his photo, Self Illumination. The theme for the photo contest this year was Ansel Adams, so all photos are black and white. Photos are on display on the third floor of the Cultural Building.

WDMCS staff members Stephanie Nelson (third place in International Photos), Tory DeVries and Brian Abeling also have photos on display!

Walnut Creek

Walnut Creek Campus students and staff raced their cardboard boats in the WCC Regatta on August 22 at the West Des Moines City Campus pond.  A brief shower could not dampen the fun and competitive spirit of the entrants.  The winning boat was from Laura Brooks’ advisory.  CJ Matthews’ advisory won for most creative design and Lisa Demuth’s advisory won for team spirit.

Seeking Feedback on Budget Communications

Last year, the WDMCS Board of Education approved reducing $2.7 million from the district’s operating budget to help align our ongoing expenses with annual revenue. To help make this decision, district leadership gathered input from parents, community members and employees. We also worked to provide information about this process.

We want to know how we did in our efforts to communicate with you.

To help us improve:

The results of this survey will guide our work to communicate with you about the budget this year.

Thank you in advance for your time, input and continued support of the West Des Moines Community Schools. If you have any questions, please contact Elaine Watkins-Miller, Director of School/Community Relations, at watkins-miller@wdmcs.org or 515-633-5023.

District to Review Attendance Boundaries

This year, the West Des Moines Community Schools will study trends in student enrollment and review the location of school boundaries.

In July, the Board of Education approved a contract with RSP & Associates, a firm that specializes in enrollment analysis and forecasting. RSP is currently compiling data and completing an enrollment report.

The district will use this information in its review of the attendance boundaries of each elementary and junior high school. We are doing this work because some of our schools have growing student enrollment, causing more students to be placed at buildings other than their neighborhood school in order to keep class sizes at 26 to 28 students. In addition, boundary adjustments are needed due to the recent closure of Phenix Early Childhood Center.

The boundary study will take place this fall and involve parents, teachers and administrators from each elementary and junior high school.

To stay informed about the boundary study, watch for information and updates:

  • in your email inbox,
  • in the district’s newsletter the Informaline,
  • at parent meetings,
  • on the district’s website,
  • on the district’s Facebook page and
  • on Twitter.

For questions, please contact the School/Community Relations Office at 633-5023.

Current District Boundary Map

Severe Weather Conditions and Bus Safety

School BusThis is the time of year when severe weather can come up quickly. The WDMCS Transportation Department wants to remind you of the safety procedures it follows to make sure students remain safe while riding and getting on and off the bus.

The procedures include:

  • When high wind/tornado sirens sound while students are dismissing from school, they are to take shelter per normal emergency procedures.
  • If sirens sound while a bus is traveling, the driver will head toward the nearest school building, if possible, to take shelter.
  • If sirens have not sounded and weather conditions are affecting travel, drivers will pull over until adverse conditions dissipate.

In each of these cases, buses may run late. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Transportation Department at 633-4902.