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“The Wizard of Oz” Earns 14 Iowa High School Musical Theater Awards

Valley High School’s spring musical, “The Wizard Oz,” has earned 14 Iowa High School Musical Theater Awards. The musical won three production awards: Outstanding Musical Production, Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Student Orchestra.

Seven student awards were also earned. Seniors Jared Freiburg as “Hickory/Tinman,” Jessica Martens as “Dorothy,” Chase Stine as “Zeke/Cowardly Lion” and Nicholas Wang as “Hunk/Scarecrow” all won Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role awards. Seniors Elizabeth Cleven as “Glinda” and Derek Pham as “Toto” both earned Special Recognition for Performance in a Supporting Role awards. Junior Lily DeTaeye and sophomores Jared Fisher and Kamden Lee won the Outstanding Achievement as Featured Dancers Award for their performance as the “Yellow Brick Road” as well.

Eight students also won Outstanding Achievement in a Creative or Technical Role — Team awards: the Head Production Assistants, seniors Cheyenne Hensley and Erin McCauley, and the Stage Management Team: juniors Kathryn Catellier, Reid Epstein and Katie Ringgenberg and sophomores Brillian Qi-Bell, Cheyenne Raney and Joshua Rodriquez. “The Wizard of Oz” also earned special recognition for Community Support and Participation of Community Youth.

An Awards Showcase will honor the students for their achievements at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 1, 2015. Valley High School students will also be featured at the showcase. Catellier will act as an assistant stage manager for the showcase. Seniors Keaton Denker, Dani Lipman, Anna Mokricky and Elisa Ramaekers will be featured as Interschool Medley Performers. Cleven and fellow seniors Andrew Han and Melanie Taylor will perform for the Senior Spotlight Medley. “The Jitterbug” dance was also selected as a cast excerpt.

The following students will perform the full excerpt during the showcase:

Seniors Freiburg, Han, Martens, Mokricky, Pham, Stine, Taylor, Wang, Rebekah Conard, Kathryn Daft, Leah DeClerck, Koral Glenn and Lauren Pfeil

Juniors Emily Carr, Isabelle Fidler, Ashley Gettinger, Melissa Grinvalds, Matthew Hrdlicka, Marissa Hudson, Ian Ksiazak, Augustine Mateo, Joshua Miksch, Angelina Mullican, Sharissa Patanapanich, Madison Stegman, Pearl Tate and Ramya Vemulapalli

Sophomores Sarah Braverman, Hanna Bush, Kyra Casper, Catherine Christian. Anne Marie Derouin, Courtney Graham, Cheyenne Hemmer, Grace Horvath, Abby McCullough, Meta Miller, Lizbeth Salinas-Reyes, Julie Sisler, Mara Smith, Elena Soto, Jack Standefer, Heather Stout and Justine Williamson

Started in 2012-13, the Iowa High School Musical Theater Awards are presented by the Des Moines Performing Arts non-profit organization. Thirty schools participated this year.


Valley Students Earn Top Honors at Chinese Language Competition

UPDATE from Nov. 6, 2015: Valley senior Elliot Smith and USA Team 2 earned third place in the Chinese Bridge Language and Culture Competition. The team finished first for web voting in North America and sixth in the world. Third prize awards Smith a scholarship to study in China for one semester.

UPDATE from Oct. 22, 2015: Valley senior Elliot Smith has made it through the first round at the Chinese Bridge Language and Culture Competition. As part of USA Team 2, Smith achieved 17th place and is now one of the few teams representing the continent. He will be competing again on Oct. 23, 2015, deciding if USA Team 2 will be one of two top teams in the continent or one of the top 10 teams in the world. Please continue to use the website and mobile voting guides to support Elliot and USA Team 2!

UPDATE from Oct. 15, 2015: Valley senior Elliot Smith is traveling to China to compete in the International Chinese Bridge Language and Culture Competition. There are competition judges, but contestants can also receive support from voters to stay in the competition.

To support Smith in the competition, vote on the website or in the WeChat app from 4 a.m. Oct. 17 to 11 p.m. Oct. 30. Each person may vote up to 500 times per day, as long as the votes are at least one minute apart.

The website and app are in Mandarin Chinese, so we were provided with English-language voter guides.

Website Voter Guide

Mobile Voter Guide

All contestants will complete a written exam and give a short speech. This year’s speech theme is “Learn Chinese and Expand Your Horizons.” They will also perform a talent, like singing, martial arts, playing a traditional Chinese instrument, or painting.



Ganga and Smith at the Chinese competition. Photo credit: Pan Na.

May 28, 2015: Two Valley High School students won first prize in their divisions at the Chinese Proficiency Competition for Midwest U.S. High School Students at Wayne State University in Detroit, on Saturday, May 16. Junior Elliot Smith won overall first prize and first prize in the 11th Grade Division. Sophomore Arjun Ganga won overall third prize and first prize in the 10th Grade Division.

As a result of their performance, Smith and Ganga also won a free trip to China for later in the year. They will be representing the Midwest U.S. at the International Chinese Language and Culture Competition in competition with more than 80 other countries. The trip is sponsored by the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language Confucius Institute program.

Chinese is one of six world languages offered at Valley High School. It was first offered in the 2008-9 year. Students learn the Mandarin Chinese language and also study Chinese culture.


Valley Inducts 76 Students Into National Honor Society

Seventy-six Valley High School students were inducted into the Tiger Chapter of the National Honor Society this year. This year’s inductees are:

Class of 2015 Inductees: Jake Rodgers and Sophia Seltz

Class of 2016 Inductees: Keara Anonson, Emma Avdic, Abbey Bierma, Andrew Bohn, Thomas Bonus, Joseph Brennan, Alex Bruinekool, Victoria Cassady, Jacquelyne Chu, Molly Cline, Emma Cox, Brett Donahe, Pete Economos, Dawson Edwards, Ethan Eiler, Haley Gion, Zachary Graves, Melissa Grinvalds, Eric Henning, Grant Hillenbrand, Matthew Hrdlicka, Alexander Johnson, Carly Johnson, Lanee Jung, Robert Knudsen, Alexa Kort, Colin Lane, Paige Marshall, Quinn Nolin, Nicole Nucaro, Jason Nye, Jack Ohringer, John Rafferty, Katherine J. Rauch, Rhea Reddy, Jessa Rhea, Alexia Sanchez-Garcia, Annie Schacht, Turner Scott, Sydney Sheffield, Carl Skoog, Claudia Stewart, Sarah Thompson, Samuel Throm, Maren Tuttle, Trevor Tyma, Ramya Vemulapalli, Chad Wang, Elizabeth Watson, Jake Wheeler and Benjamin Wiese

Class of 2017 Inductees: Rachel Anfinson, Hanna Bush, Emily Carroll, Cayden Codel, Emma Degen, Anne Marie Derouin, Austin Fest, Timothy J. Foley, Arjun Ganga, Trent Gilbert, Emma Madden, John Mahoney, Abby McCullough, Evan McKinney, Caitlin Mills, Gabriel Mintzer, Guowei Qi, Lizbeth Salinas-Reyes, Rachel Snodgrass, Emily Steimel, Jessica Studer, Sarah Turri and Nathan Yencer

The students were inducted on May 20, 2015, at Valley High School’s 2015 Honors Evening.

To be inducted into the Tiger Chapter of the National Honor Society (NHS), students must maintain a minimum 3.5 grade point average, but no student is inducted based solely on academics. The NHS strives to recognize outstanding high school students who have demonstrated excellence in academics, leadership, service or citizenship, and character. NHS membership is one of the highest honors that can be awarded to high school students.


World Record-Setting Twins Graduate From Valley

High school commencement serves to recognize the graduates and their achievements. Students wear cords to show which honors they have earned, and families and friends cheer them on as they cross the stage to accept their diplomas.

The students graduating from Valley High School this year have earned many awards that should be recognized, but thirty of the 648 graduates can claim one unique achievement: during their freshman year of high school, they set a Guinness World Records title for Most Twins in the Same Academic Year at One School.


All 16 pairs of twins in 2012, the year they earned their Guinness World Records title.

There were 16 sets of twins attending Valley Southwoods at the time; one pair no longer attends the West Des Moines Community School district. Hanna and Julia Anderson, Mason and Quintin Barr, Hannah and Megan Baysinger, Hannah and Noah Clark, Jade and Logan Davis, Giavanna and Roman Dean, Carson and Hunter Feldman, Anna and Samuel Freihage, Jacob and Jeffrey Goetz, Cole and Logan Harvey, Allison and Emily Kacer, Joseph and Joshua McVey, Cole and Cory Mullins, Kaylee and Kyle Olson, and Kayla and Lauren Phalen will all graduate on Sunday, May 24.

The office of school/community relations interviewed some of the remaining twins about graduation, what it is like to be a twin, and that world record. (Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.)


Q: What do you remember about setting the Guinness World Record in 2012? Do you ever bring it up to people?

Jeff Goetz: I remember being surprised because I never knew there was a record for that kind of thing. I don’t really tell people about the record — I am proud of it, and if someone asked, I would tell them about it, but it’s not something I say when I meet someone. I usually just say I’m a twin.

Jake Goetz: For me, this whole experience has been unreal. Basically, what I tell everyone is that it has been a truly amazing experience and definitely something I never thought I would be a part of. It is also a great interesting fact to put on resumes and a great conversation starter.

Allison Kacer: I thought setting the record was the coolest thing ever at the time. I had read the Guinness Book of World Records, but never thought about having the most twins in one class as a record. I remember people talking about it, and it was funny to see what they thought. I do not usually bring it up, but when someone brings it up to me, I am always willing to have a conversation. I usually tell them half came from my elementary school alone, and that shocks them!

Q: What was it like to be a twin in high school? What about being part of a class with so many sets of twins?

Megan Baysinger: Being a twin at Valley is fun. It’s fun to switch classes and see if the teachers notice and to trick the underclassmen into thinking there’s only one of me. Because there are so many of us, and always have been, it’s not something that feels out of the ordinary.

Hannah Baysinger: Being a twin in high school was pretty great. Everyone knows who you are, and it’s fun switching classes. Having a twin in high school means you never have to worry if you won’t get the lab partner you wanted! Being in a class with so many twins felt pretty ordinary since we all grew up together. I never would have noticed we had so many twins if the record never was broken.

Q: What are your future plans? Do you or your twin have similar or different plans?

Hanna Anderson: I will be attending Carleton College to pursue a double major in mathematics/statistics and environmental studies. My twin, Julia, is going to Grinnell College as an undecided major. She has always been into English and sociology, while I am into mathematics. We always knew we would go to different colleges, but now that it is official, we are actually having a lot of anxiety. Julia’s been my best friend for 18 years, and she is the only person I can be my weird self around. It will be rough to start the “getting to know you” stages of college since we have always had each other to hang out with. This will be the first time we will be separated. It is exciting because, realistically, we can’t be together forever, but it is sad to think about how much I will miss her.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for next year’s seniors or other twins at Valley?

Joshua McVey: To the twins, no matter what happens in life, remember you have the special other. They are going to drive you to do better. And for incoming seniors, know your priorities. We all like to have fun, but make sure you know what comes first.


The record the students set in 2012 has since been broken, but they have continued to earn recognition during their time at Valley High School. They have earned 25 honors between them and are involved in a wide variety of activities, from orchestra to student government and various sports. Please join us in congratulating these 30 students and the rest of the Valley High School Class of 2015 as they graduate this Sunday, May 24.


Valley High School Hosts Third Community Forum

MicrophoneWPeopleValley High School will host a third community forum on racism and acceptance in our schools and local community at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in the Valley Media Center.

The forum will be a follow-up to the March 26 and April 30 forums. Valley administrators will be at the forum to talk with community members.


Valley High School Commencement 2015

Graduation-HatThe West Des Moines Community School District proudly announces 654 students will graduate from Valley High School this year. Valley will graduate 648 seniors, plus six Certificates of Attendance (foreign exchange students). The Valley Class of 2015 earned many awards, including the following:

  • 159 students earned Silver Cord Awards
  • 82 students took five or more AP exams
  • 63 students became AP Scholars
  • 44 students joined the National Honor Society
  • 21 students were part of Student Government
  • 15 students earned the Presidential Volunteer Award
  • 11 students will graduate with honors
  • 11 students were National Merit Finalists

Please join us in celebrating these graduates at Valley High School’s 2015 commencement ceremony.

Valley High School Commencement
Sunday, May 24, at 1 p.m.
Drake Knapp Center (2601 Forest Ave., Des Moines)
This event also has a free live stream available online.


Walnut Creek Campus Commencement 2015


The West Des Moines Community School District proudly announces 59 students will graduate from Walnut Creek Campus this year. Forty -nine are participating in commencement. Thirty-three students will graduate with a traditional diploma, 14 will graduate with a core diploma, one will receive a diploma from Des Moines Area Community College, and one will receive a HiSET high school diploma equivalency.

Please join us in celebrating these graduates at Walnut Creek Campus’ 2015 commencement ceremony.

Walnut Creek Campus Commencement
Thursday, May 21, at 7 p.m.
Valley Performing Arts Center (3650 Woodland Ave., West Des Moines)


Valley Named to “Best High Schools” List

Valley High School was one of 117 Iowa schools named to a national “Best High Schools” list, released by the U.S. News and World Report on May 12.

Valley was ranked eighth in Iowa and 1,562nd nationally, out of 29, 070 total public schools reviewed. The rankings were based on student/teacher ratio, college readiness, and average proficiency in math and reading.


Hillside Elementary Receives Legacy Award

The Leonard Bernstein Center in New York has awarded Hillside Elementary School the Legacy School Award for its implementation of the Center’s Artful Learning approach for nearly 12 years.

Patrick Bolek, lead artful learning trainer, presented the award to Principal Dr. Robert Davis at the May 11 meeting of the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education. The school and its approach to learning was the feature of the School Board’s workshop that night.

Artful Learning is a school improvement model of the Leonard Bernstein Center. American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein’s vision was to use music and the other fine and performing arts as a means of instilling a lifelong love of learning in students. Artful Learning embeds the arts within the learning process through a carefully researched, concept-based, interdisciplinary model that has proven to increase comprehension in students as well as improve academic achievement

Hillside has used the Artful Learning model longer than any school in Iowa.


New Westridge Elementary Principal 

We are pleased to announce that Nathan Ballagh has been approved as the new Westridge Elementary principal. Mr. Ballagh will begin his duties on July 1, 2015.

We are excited to have Mr. Ballagh as a member of our administrative team and the educational leader at Westridge Elementary School.

He is currently working at the Southeast Polk School district, where he has served for 11 years as an educator and administrator; most recently as junior high school administrator.

Mr. Ballagh earned bachelor’s degrees in history and education and a master’s degree in preK-12 principalship from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). He is continuing his post-graduate at UNI, working to obtain his superintendent’s license.

WDMCS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Remy presented the recommendation to the WDMCS Board of Education at its May 11 meeting. For more information on school board meetings, please visit