‘I’m Just Amazed’: Valley Southwoods Leaves Lasting Impression On West Des Moines Leadership Academy

Nearly 40 area professionals part of the West Des Moines Leadership Academy visited Valley Southwoods Freshman High School on Wednesday, Feb. 19, where they interacted with ninth-grade learners, toured the building, and learned more about the West Des Moines Community Schools.

The West Des Moines Leadership Academy, organized by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, is a nine-month course with learning opportunities and workshops structured to increase participants’ traits as leaders in their own communities.

“The West Des Moines Leadership Academy brand has achieved stature based on the results it is creating with supporting evidence seen in career achievement, business growth and servant leadership,” WDMLA says on its website. “Unlike other metro leadership programs, where focus is on community governance and education, the WDMLA places substantial emphasis on honing skills so participants will better lead self, others, and community.”

Valley Southwoods Associate Principal Haley Hockensmith is a member of this year’s WDMLA class.

“In my position, being part of the West Des Moines Leadership Academy, I’ve been able to share a lot of knowledge in terms of how schools function today,” she said. “A lot of the questions I’ve received have been about equity and what equity means for us in West Des Moines. I’ve been able to talk through the process of the deep equity training students and staff have gone through, as well as how we’ve implemented this into the school. I think that’s been very enlightening for a lot of folks.”

More Information: West Des Moines Leadership Academy

On Wednesday, Valley Southwoods Principal Mitch Kuhnert kicked things off with a 30-minute discussion highlighting the history and future of the school. Then, a panel featuring seven learners part of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provided overviews of their own individual experiences at WDMCS. The countries represented were Egypt, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mozambique, Myanmar, and Venezuela.

It was an honest and open look for WDMLA participants as students peeled back the pages of their educational and life journeys.

“Coming to this school, coming to this country,” one student said through their bilingual family liaison (BFL), “I feel I can be my true self.”

“Everyone here is so well received and well respected,” another student said through their BFL. “I am very thankful for all of the opportunities in West Des Moines.”

Photos: WDMLA at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School

WDMLA at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School

Following the panel, WDMLA guests navigated the hallways and visited different learning environments with student-led tours. They finished the morning with by participating in a cultural literacy course designed to showcase the essential life skills: Continuous learning, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and professionalism.

Teaming up with learners in the Project-Based Learning Network (PBLN) pathway at Valley Southwoods, students and WDMLA members discussed books they’ve read pertaining to certain cultural topics. It was also an opportunity for students to network and learn more about the WDMLA participants’s careers.

Many of Wednesday’s guests applauded WDMCS and Valley Southwoods following the day’s activities.

“I’m just amazed, you guys are doing amazing,” one WDMLA participant said during a question-and-answer session with school administrators and staff. “The students, it shows in them. I could relate to exactly every word they were saying. You guys are just doing a fantastic job.”

Hockensmith is happy to have brought WDMLA to the place and people that mean so much to her — professionally and personally.

“I’m really proud of everything we’re doing here,” she said, “and I want the folks that I work with on a daily basis to be able to see and be part of the system I believe in.”

Meet the 2019-20 WDMLA Participants

  • Sally Anderson — Oasis
  • Sarah Anthofer — LMC Insurance & Risk Management
  • Rhiannon Baker — Fredikson & Byron
  • Nate Beck — McGowen Hurst Clark Smith
  • Jim Bembenek II — NCMIC Group
  • Sean Boarini — The Iowa Clinic
  • Ray Champlin — American Equity
  • Mayumi Fernandez — Principal Financial Group
  • Sean Flannery — Bank Iowa
  • Karen Hardisty — Shive-Hattery
  • Katie Hernandez — City of West Des Moines
  • Ngan Hoang — Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa
  • Haley Hockensmith — West Des Moines Community Schools
  • Stephanie Holmes — Hy-Vee
  • Merso Jusic — Bankers Trust
  • Mallory Katzer — Holmes Murphy
  • Nicole Kmett — GuideOne Insurance
  • Megan Kohler — Palmer Group
  • Martha Lebron-Dykeman — Berkshire Hathaway Home Services First Reality
  • Christy Lockard — Carrier Access
  • Enna Mendez — Stratus Building Solutions
  • Alecia Meuleners — Whitfield & Eddy Law
  • Kendra Meyer — Community State Bank
  • Mark Mills — R&R Realty Group
  • Jaime Niblo — JLN Realty Company
  • Eric Petersen — City of West Des Moines
  • Joel Regenwether — First National Bank
  • Kelsey Russell — RE/MAX Precision
  • Mark Sabers — R&R Realty Group
  • Matt Sargent — Midwest Growth Partners
  • Jill Saunders — Thorsheim & Ceraso
  • Patrick Schroeder — HomeServices of Iowa
  • Amy Schultz — LWBJ
  • Paul Schut — Marco Technologies
  • Austin Smith — UnityPoint Health
  • Ross Taets — Northwest Bank
  • Lucas Wardenburg — KCL Engineering
  • Amber Weger — West Bank
  • Megan Wonsmos — IMT Insurance