District News

Tips for Encouraging Student Reading

prof picThese tips for encouraging students to read come from West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) second-grade teacher Amy Drake. This summer, she taught the WDMCS Community Education Summer Adventures in Learning Sports Spectacular class. Drake has always been a sports fan and knows how interested her students are in sports and athletics outside of school, so she decided to combine learning and sports for her fifth year teaching summer programming.

Six Tips for Encouraging Student Reading from Amy Drake

  1.   Struggling readers are often discouraged by the lack of interesting text at their levels. Get to know students and their interests and hobbies outside of school. In my experience, reluctant readers are motivated by texts related to sports or other hobbies they participate in.
  2.  Use the local or school libraries for texts on these topics. During SAIL, I checked out nearly 40 books about different sports and physical activities for my students to read throughout the week. Some higher level books contained the history of the sport, rules, professional leagues, skills, and more. Introductory texts for my younger students contained the basics, but great photos and diagrams to keep readers engaged.
  3.  Remember to work on writing skills too. We tied in writing each day of Sports Spectacular by making connections to our knowledge of the sport discussed each day. Students who are reluctant to write due to a lack of ideas are much more willing to write about a topic they know. Encourage personal narratives about experiences playing a sport or participating in an activity.
  4.  Ask media center staff for digital resources provided by our district. Epic is an iPad app that provides categories of books at all levels, lengths, and genres and has a search option. Reluctant readers enjoy searching for books about their favorite sports and hobbies. The iPad app Write About is a great tool for giving students a photo and a posed question as a writing prompt. The full version (purchased) has several sports-related prompts that could be used, and there is also a free version.
  5.  Use Readers Theater related to sports and hobbies. Some buildings have subscriptions to Reading A-Z, where you can search for texts by topic. Readers Theater scripts can also be found on the site, as well as fluency practice passages.
  6.   Encourage team work. Whether studying sports or any other topic, more can be achieved by working together. The students in Sports Spectacular worked together throughout the week to learn to play the sports, stay safe while playing, partner read, and encourage each other in every activity.

If you have any great ideas for encouraging student reading, share them with us! Comment on our Facebook page, tweet us a reading photo, and check out our Reading Tips board on Pinterest.

Using Infinite Campus With Your Child

Infinite Campus is a helpful online tool West Des Moines Community Schools parents can use to access their students’ grades, attendance, and more, depending on the student’s grade level.

When parents regularly talk with their students about the information on Infinite Campus, it becomes a powerful tool to support their learning.

Danette Rieper, WDMCS Learning Support and Family Engagement Coordinator, says the best results come about when parents or guardians use Infinite Campus with their students.

Infinite Campus Feature“Infinite Campus is a tool to help (parents) support students in the classroom and with their grades,” Rieper said. “Sit down with students once a week; make that a habit. Focus not on the letter grades, but on assignments. Having conversations with students about assignments and test scores, as well as late or missing work, opens the door to talks about organization, study skills, and time management.”

Rieper recommended parents make specific comments about things they see in Infinite Campus, such as:

  • Missing or late assignments
  • Abnormal test and assignment scores
  • Positive performance on tests and assignments
  • Upcoming assignments, tests, or projects

Information about grades may look different depending on whether a students is at the elementary or secondary level.

Conversation about Infinite Campus should be supportive and focus on problem-solving. Parents and students can work together to form a plan so that high performance continues, and lower performance does not get repeated. Start by asking the student for feedback with questions.

  • Questions Parents Can Ask Students About Infinite Campus
    • This grade is lower than normal. What did you do differently?
    • I see you have a test coming up. What are you going to do to prepare?
    • Great job on your test last week. What are some ways you studied that helped you?
    • What is preventing these assignments from getting turned in on time?
    • Is there a study group or club you can join that would help with this class? Extra time to meet with the teacher?

Rieper recommended parents look at individual assignments in Infinite Campus, instead of just grades, to find the root of the problem. Missing or late assignments can present an opportunity to talk about responsibility, and assignments with low scores can start a conversation about ways to improve. Students should also feel comfortable contacting their teachers about their grades.

“Always encourage the student to talk to the teacher,” Rieper said. “If they’re nervous or don’t know what to say, have them role-play the situation to build some confidence and get some ownership of their education. And then, if there are any questions or things aren’t adding up, parents can always call the school or the teacher.”

parent-teacher_conferenceIt is also important for parents and guardians to know how each teacher uses Infinite Campus. It is district practice that sixth-12th grade teachers update Infinite Campus every two weeks, but some may update more frequently. Some teachers will also post upcoming assignments, while others do not. Teachers may also communicate with students and parents using different tools, like a classroom blog or Twitter.

“It’s important to find out what the classroom or subject teacher is doing,” Rieper said. She recommended parents ask teachers, “What do you use that will help me be engaged in my child’s education?”

Because parents can change the emergency/weather notification information in Infinite Campus, Brian Abeling, WDMCS Director of Technology recommends parents start using Infinite Campus as soon as they have a child in the district. Making a habit of checking Infinite Campus early on is also a good way to get students used to it before they are introduced to it in sixth grade. All sixth-graders receive a letter welcoming students and families to Infinite Campus and an Infinite Campus Portal Guide. Teachers also work with students to instill good Infinite Campus habits. The best thing parents can do to encourage Infinite Campus use is to use Infinite Campus with their students consistently.

Having a weekly Infinite Campus session should help keep parents and guardians on the same page as students when it comes to the information Infinite Campus provides, but they should not be using the same account. Parents and guardians need their own accounts so they can update their contact information and see information for every child in their family. Students can see all of their own information, but not their siblings, and they cannot make any contact information changes.

Abeling confirmed there is an account set up for every student in the district and parents/guardians have the opportunity to have an account. Many people use their accounts, but others may not know how to access them. When parents cannot get into their accounts, it is usually due to one of two issues:

  • Issue: Forgetting your password
    • Solution: Use the Infinite Campus Portal to retrieve or reset your username or password.
  • Issue: You do not have an account or forgot your username
    • Solution: Call your child’s school.

The school should be a parent or guardian’s first contact if they cannot access their Infinite Campus account. The WDMCS technology blog also has useful information about logging in to Infinite Campus and what to do in case of difficulty.

It is important for parents to access their Infinite Campus accounts because of all the information Infinite Campus has to offer. Not only can parents check grades and attendance, but they can control their contact information for emergency and weather notifications, track assignments and Silver Cord hours, and look up transportation information. To make checking the portal more convenient, Infinite Campus also has a mobile app with most of the features from the web interface. Parents should feel free to seek more information and instruction in how to use the Infinite Campus portal from teachers. The WDMCS Infinite Campus Portal Guide is also a good resource and includes helpful screenshots.

Infinite Campus is a useful and versatile tool parents can use to get a comprehensive look at their child’s education. By learning to use Infinite Campus and discussing it with their children, parents and guardians can show their support for their child and their child’s education.

Students Create Startups in WDMCS Summer Camp

The average entrepreneur is 40 years old when they start their business. West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) students in grades 5-6 were ahead of their time this summer when they became business owners for one week.


Instructor Jon Williams praises a student’s idea to use recycled materials.

The students were taking part in the Be the Boss! Youth Entrepreneurship Camp offered by WDMCS Community Education. Students in the camp learn about business and entrepreneurship, then plan and implement their own businesses. Companies this year ranged from customized hair bows and greeting cards to baked goods, pet collars, and personalized crayons. The students not only created the products, but developed marketing materials and planned finances for their businesses. Many students see entrepreneurship as their future, and the class as their starting place.

“I’ve always loved the fact that I could do something I liked and earn money for it,” sixth-grade student Nick Edgar said. “I come up with new ideas every day.”

Students were also introduced to some of the decision-making behind starting a business. They were given the choice of working alone or choosing a business partner, and one student planned to make her products using all recycled materials. Sixth-grader Kailee St. John loved the idea of starting a business, but found her financial plan was different than most of the others.

“I like marketing and being creative,” she said. “I’ve also volunteered, so I want my business to be a non-profit.”


Two friends team up to create their business plan.

With a curriculum designed by the University of Iowa’s Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship, the class introduces students to the world of business. Course instructor and Valley High School business teacher Jon Williams’ primary goal was to teach students how to think like entrepreneurs.

“Practice the mindset of asking yourself if there is a better way or different way or a new way to do something that fills a need for others,” he said. “Then, be willing to learn from your mistakes, and never give up.”


Two students discuss their financial plan and marketing ideas.

Students learned about entrepreneurship through hands-on activities. They created their own ice-cream flavor while discussing inventions, watched videos about entrepreneurs, and talked to local business owners. They toured businesses like Nan’s Nummies and the Theatrical Shop in Valley Junction, then U.S. Bank and Red Lobster. They asked business owners about their finances, challenges, and what they should include in their own business plans, which they prepared all week. They also learned about business skills like networking, dressing professionally, and having a firm handshake.

“Even if you never start you own business, you can still learn that entrepreneurial skills can help you in whatever career or job you might choose to do someday,” Williams said. “Students find out how important it is to be able to work with different people and that having a good business reputation depends a lot on having high ethical standards. Also, the class learns that most successful business owners have a passion and love for what they do, and it takes a lot of time and hard work.”


A class assistant listens to one group’s business plan.

Most of the students were excited about making a little money, inventing their own ice cream flavors, and seeing behind-the-scenes at different businesses. They were inspired by entrepreneurship and surprisingly savvy about business planning.

“All the students impressed me with just how much time and effort they put into their businesses,” Williams said. “Many of them chose something they enjoyed doing and were good at doing.”

The students were impressed by the business owners they met and researched, but thanks to the class, they see being an entrepreneur as a goal firmly within reach. Fifth-grader Shreya Joshi summed up what she had learned in one phrase: “If you see needs, turn them into a business.”

2015-16 Free and Reduced Application

The WDMCS provides all district students an Iowa Eligibility application at registration time. Families can now apply for free or reduced meals online or paper application.