COVID-19 has dramatically changed Diana Biles ever since the pandemic hit Iowa earlier this year. The mother of two West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) students—a Valley High School senior and Indian Hills eighth grader—works as a cardiac catheterization lab nurse at a Des Moines hospital.
“It’s been running my life for a long time,” Biles explained. “I’ve worn a lot of masks, and I’ve dealt with a lot of COVID precautions.”
Back in mid-July, Biles had a conversation with one of her next-door neighbors: Samantha Beeman, Valley Southwoods Freshman High School’s band director. Biles’ daughter has participated in Marchmasters since her sophomore year when the family moved to WDMCS. Beeman and Biles talked about a recent national health and safety study geared toward the use of face masks and instrument covers while playing.
“Diana and I were just talking like neighbors do, and I didn’t know how we were going to do it and not many people were selling this stuff at the time,” Beeman said. “There were so many question marks, but Diana just jumped right in. It was so helpful.”
Watch: Valley Marchmasters Hype Video
Later that evening, Biles— a “hobbyist seamstress,” she quips—scoured the internet and YouTube for resources, tips, and tutorials, anything that led to helping make playing possible and safe for students. She sent Beeman a text message around midnight, committed to the feat, and purchased some fabric to get things rolling.
Soon after making her first face mask pattern, Biles understood how quickly this project could spiral out of control, realizing the need for extra hands and brainpower. She reached out to Cristina Deeds, another WDMCS parent whose students are also involved in Marchmasters.
“I don’t think either of us considered this was not an option. (Christina) and I have been working hand in hand in making this happen,” Biles said, noting that Deeds is a trained band director herself and teaches privately in the area. “She has very specific knowledge of these instruments and how they’re played. She’s designed patterns for 10-plus instrument covers.”
The pair enlisted the help of roughly 25 volunteers, dubbed the “Valley Mask BANDits,” consisting of fellow district parents, students, relatives, and friends who cut, sew, and distribute the materials. Often, individuals meet at Biles’ home and work in socially distant areas: kitchen, living room, hallway—you name it.
“They jumped right in the moment the fabric was in,” Beeman said. “We were pretty much masked and bagged about halfway through our summer band camp, and 2 1/2 weeks from when this whole thing started to having almost everyone from marching band covered. I couldn’t believe that. That was the pie-in-the-sky-idea that we would have everything ready by then.”
Photos: The ‘Valley Mask BANDits’ At Work
Biles, now determined to broaden the reach of this project to support all students grades 5-12 who are part of their school’s band program, approached the Valley Band Boosters at one of its recent meetings. She sought funding and asked the group to consider paying for additional supplies. The booster club was in full support.
“With the money allocated for this project, we’ve bought over 180 yards of fabric,” Biles said.
To date, the dedicated volunteers have made a combination of nearly 1,000 face masks and instrument covers—at no cost for students and their families. Once prepared for distribution, the materials are organized into kits.
“I had 120 face masks go out the door this weekend to be either cut or sewn and another 30 instrument covers go out too,” Biles said.
Last month, the Marchmasters played publicly for the first time since this spring during the Valley-Des Moines Roosevelt varsity football season opener (WDMCS is still exploring ways to hold indoor concerts for live audiences in a safe way.) There, students were stretched across the Valley Stadium turf and donned their face masks and instrument covers. For a brief moment, a sense of normalcy returned with the sweet and familiar sound of brass, percussion, and woodwind instruments filling the air.
“That first Friday night football game, they looked so nice,” Beeman said of the students. “That excitement when they got done, you could just tell how much it meant to them and how happy they were. We had kids crying when it was done because it just felt so good. And we were safe doing it.
“…They’re here because they love the end result. They love performing for people. This is why they love doing what they do.”
Photos: Marchmasters Perform at Valley-Roosevelt Football Game
The expression on her daughter’s face, as well as on the dozens of other students part of Marchmasters, following their performance was monumental for Biles. It’s exactly what she and the rest of the volunteers needed to keep moving forward and to take this project to the finish line.
Because in the end: It is just one of the many instances that has brought WDMCS together during the 2020-21 school year so far.
“It has taken a village, and the kids have been incredibly grateful and gracious. They didn’t see this path. They thought it was too hard for them,” Biles said. “With COVID, nothing in life is 100%, and this project has helped us take back a tiny bit of control—to give and protect something for our kids. To give my daughter something when she’s already lost so much… it has been wonderful.
“It’s not perfect—there are no perfect solutions—but it has allowed us to make it safe enough for the students to enjoy playing again.”
And come homecoming on Friday, Sept. 25, as well as future Valley varsity football home games, the Marchmasters will be there too. Waiting and ready to showcase their talents…
…from a safe distance.
Do You Want to Volunteer?
If you’re inspired by this story and want to support this project, volunteers are always welcome. Biles said the project is now shifting toward supplying for band students at the junior high and elementary levels.
There will be no school on Friday, Sept. 4, due to a districtwide professional development day for WDMCS staff. Additionally, there will be no school on Monday, Sept. 7, in observance of Labor Day. On-site and online classes will resume on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
With the option of online instruction for the 2020-21 school year at WDMCS, placements at our elementary schools have been a top priority. As a result, it has caused a delay in the WDMCS Transportation Department’s process of sending ridership materials for your student.
We wanted to provide an updated timeline for when families can expect to receive this information. Here is what you need to know:
Our intention is to mail your student’s bus pass, bus stop details, and pick-up/drop-off information byFriday, August 21.
Families should receive these materials by Wednesday, August 26.
If families do not receive their student’s materials by then, please call 515-633-4902 between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Aug. 26 to speak with a WDMCS Transportation representative who will provide you with your student’s ridership information. Your student will be allowed to ride the bus to and from school without their pass until it is received.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about our district’s transportation services for the upcoming school year, please do not hesitate to contact the WDMCS Transportation Department at 515-633-4902.