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YSS Mentoring Program Offers Students, Adults The Chance To Make A Lasting Impact

Jaden Rydl has regrets every week when she walks into Gilbert Intermediate and meets with a fifth-grade girl who has become her friend. They smile. They laugh. They play games and tell stories. They confide in one another.

And Rydl, who is one of more than a dozen Gilbert High School students involved in the YSS School Based Mentoring Program, has regrets.

Why didn’t she do this sooner?

“I wish I would have gotten into it as a sophomore or junior,” Rydl, who will graduate in just a few months, said. “This is a chance to have an impact on a kid you never would have known before. Being a senior, you’re such a role model to younger kids and I feel like this is a chance to do it.”

January is National Mentoring Month, as all of us celebrate the positive influence mentors can have on our young students.

When Rydl signed up to become a mentor, she thought it would be a chance to be a good role model to her younger peers. And yet she now knows the impact she can make is far beyond what she initially thought.

“Going into it I thought this would be fun, but I didn’t realize how big of a role we could play,” she said. “You can tell they look forward to our meetings as well. She’s willing to be open and talk about stuff, and I’m glad I can be there for her.”

GHS junior Will Hawthorne, a first-year mentor as well, shares similar stories. He mentors a sixth-grade boy at Gilbert Middle School where he gets a weekly opportunity to make a noticeable difference in the life of a young student.

“It’s a great opportunity to rewind a couple of years and use what you know now to be a big buddy to someone,” Hawthorne said. “I remember when I was in middle school, I can remember mentors coming to school and they were like celebrities. It’s really interesting how, in the blink of an eye, it all switched. We go out and play at recess and all of the kids think I’m the coolest guy ever when, really, it feels like I was in their shoes just two weeks ago.”

Now in its 23rd year, the YSS School Based Mentoring Program remains impactful throughout the Gilbert CSD buildings. In her first year as the Gilbert Mentor Facilitator, Kristi Leyva says there are 30 mentors in the program and 60 members. And the program is always looking for new mentors, whether that’s high school students or leaders in the community who would like to make a difference in the life of a young student.

“It’s a neat experience because it’s outside of your every day experiences,” Leyva said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time and it really makes a huge impact.”

High school sophomores, juniors, and seniors can all sign up to be mentors, Leyva said.

“Mentors have to be at least 15 years of age,” she said. “You can be a mentee anywhere from kindergarten to eighth grade, and then freshman year, we consider that a gap year.”

Gilbert Schools’ Transportation Manager Trent Becker is one of the adults who serves as a mentor and he currently works with two students. Becker was initially a mentor nearly a decade ago and then picked back up this fall.

“I think research is pretty clear that kids who have two or three people they can count on, adult voices in their life, they tend to be more successful,” Becker said.

Becker’s weekly meetings with his mentees usually take place over their lunch period. They eat, they talk, they play games, and just have fun.

“Most people want to make a difference in the lives of other people and this is a very easy way to do that,” Becker said. “Every kid that I’ve talked to always thanks me for encouraging them to do it.”

Leyva says the program is always looking for new mentors. If you would like to find out more information about the program, enroll your child into the program, or sign up to become a mentor, head over to the YSS website HERE.

Alice Zhang In The Running For U.S. Presidential Scholars Program

In the fall, she was named a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist.

And now this winter, she has been named a candidate in the 2024 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.

Alice Zhang is having herself quite the senior year.

We’re so proud to relay to you the latest academic achievement for Alice, who received the good news about the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program last week.

Students have the opportunity to become U.S. Presidential Scholars based on three paths of accomplishment: broad academic achievement, academic and artistic scholarship, or ability and accomplishment in career and technical education fields.

Alice will now complete an application and in early spring approximately 600 semifinalists will be chosen from across the country. In April, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars will review the semifinalists and select up to 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars.

Alice is certainly in good company, as fewer than 100 Iowa students were chosen as candidates for this prestigious award.

Alice’s academic achievement includes a 1,500 on the PSAT test as a junior and a perfect 36 on the ACT. She’s also a 4.0 student who has taken numerous advanced classes, including AP calculus (college level) as a junior.

The National Merit Scholar Finalists will be announced in February.

Congratulations once again to Alice on her tremendous academic achievements, as well as to all of her teachers who helped her to reach these milestones along the way.

Chef Clarke The New Food Service Director For Gilbert CSD

The Gilbert Community School District is thrilled to welcome Tace Clarke to our team as the new Director of Food Service.

Chef Clarke got right to work at each of the four buildings last week. She replaces Deb Purcell, who served in the role for more than five years before her retirement last week.

Previously the Food Service Director at Baxter Schools, Chef Clarke comes to Gilbert with more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant and food service industry. She says she has a friend to thank for pointing her in Gilbert’s direction.

“I actually had a close friend who worked here as a long-term (substitute teacher) and I asked her what she thought of Gilbert. She said the processes and routines and families were incredible, and she really sold it for me,” Chef Clarke said. “The opportunity to have multiple buildings and be able to grow a program in a growing community at a school like Gilbert that has a reputation for excellence, it’s just fantastic.”

Chef Clarke grew up just outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and began her culinary career in Little Italy, Baltimore where she learned under well-respected chefs on the east coast.

She moved to Iowa a decade ago to serve as the Regional Operational Lead at Life Time Athletic in Des Moines. She eventually took over as the Associate Director of Food Service at Grinnell College and then moved into a leading role at Baxter Schools, where she was in her third year before accepting the position at Gilbert.

Chef Clarke says the move to Iowa has been all she and her family had hoped for when they made the decision.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “My parents moved out from Maryland about two yeas ago … we love it here.”

Chef Clarke is excited to get to work with her new Gilbert CSD staff and put her plan in place.

“I love being able to teach the cooking to my team,” she said. “I love homemade cooking from scratch and I’d like to move in that direction instead of processed ingredients. That’s not a tomorrow thing, but the goal is to start that one day a week and go from there.”

Dr. Christine Trujillo, the Superintendent of Gilbert Schools, sees the passion and enthusiasm Chef Clarke brings to her department, and is excited to see her become a leader in the district.

“Chef Clarke brings a new and exciting energy to the nutrition department,” Dr. Trujillo said. “I look forward to watching her creativity come alive in the kitchen for our children.”

Chef Clarke and her husband, William, have two young children: Liam, 8, and McKenna, 5. William is also a former chef and currently serves as an EMT and firefighter. Liam, a second grader, and McKenna, who is in kindergarten, attend school in the West Marshall Community School District.

An avid equestrian, Chef Clarke and her family live on a farm where they all spend quality time riding.

“Before getting into the culinary world, I actually rode for many years,” Chef Clarke said. “Now I just do it for fun. We all ride and just have fun with it.”

Dr. Trujillo also wanted to thank Ms. Purcell for her commitment to Gilbert CSD during her years as the Food Service Director.

“I’m so grateful to Deb for her hard work and dedication in the area of nutrition for Gilbert students,” Dr. Trujillo said. “We wish her nothing but the best in retirement.”

Student Synergy Brings Positive Impact to $1 Challenge

A single dollar doesn’t have the buying power in had 20 or 30 years ago. Can you still buy a pack of gum? Maybe. A candy bar? Not likely.

But what can 25 people do when they each take a dollar and pool their resources? Well, now we’re getting somewhere.

That was what was presented to our students in late December when the $1 Challenge returned to the Gilbert Community School District for the second straight year.

And what is the $1 Challenge? In 2022, a generous district family anonymously donated $1 to each of our students with the idea that the students pay it forward in some way to make a positive impact on others, and it was quite successful.

That’s approximately $1,600 donated. Please, give this family a round of applause.

This year, the challenge was, well, more challenging. With synergy and abundance mentality in mind, the students were asked to work together, to pool their money, and find a cause where their combined dollars could have an even greater impact.

The results, which we’ll get to shortly, speak for themselves.

“The challenge encompasses many of the traits we teach and work on each day with our kids,” Gilbert Intermediate Principal Amy Griffin said. “Think about others before yourself, give time, talent or money to a greater good and work together to be our best.”

Their best, as it turns out, put smiles on many faces.

Through service and teamwork, our students came up with a multitude of ways to make a difference in the area.

Six different classes donated their funds to the Salvation Army. Eight classes offered their funds to various animal shelters for items. Blank Children’s Hospital received donations from seven different classes with some taking the added step of purchasing specific items such as books, games, and even swaddles for infants in the NICU.

Toys for Tots, Food at First, the United Way, Maggie’s Drive, and the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital were a few of the other organizations that received donations from various classes.

Students working together to become leaders for causes greater than themselves. What’s better than that?

“We love how Gilbert is committed to helping students become leaders,” the anonymous donors to the $1 Challenge said. “When we started this (in 2022), we did it because we wanted to provide all kids an opportunity to make a difference for someone else. This year, we love how classes and groups have put their dollars together to make a bigger impact for so many!”

Chelsea Steil’s fourth-grade class at Gilbert Intermediate took it one step further. After selecting Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry to donate to, the students wanted to do more than a monetary donation. They wanted actual items delivered to the organization, and more than they could buy with their combined dollars. So they raided their own pantries at home to add to what Miss Steil was able to buy with their dollars.

“It made me very excited to see (the students) take ownership and come up with the ideas themselves,” Miss Steil said. “This challenge is amazing and it’s such a great opportunity for our kids.”

At Gilbert Middle School, the eighth-grade class used the $1 Challenge to enhance a fundraiser it was already working on. During a collaborative unit with Lauren Stephens and Laura Kautman, the students had already begun work to raise funds that would benefit the Ames Interfaith Refugee Alliance, and their combined dollars pushed the amount it was able to donate to $420. That money went to help 17 refugee children in the area from Ukraine, Venezuela, and Honduras.

“When the opportunity came with the $1 donation, we asked the kids and they overwhelmingly said they would use that money to support the cause we were already learning about,” Mrs. Stephens said. “Anytime you can give kids a position of advocacy, give them an opportunity to engage in their own community in something, that feels much more real. The closer you can root what they are looking at and grappling with in a worldwide lens into a local lens, the more lasting impact I think it has on them.”

Graham Lundt’s leadership and wellness class at the high school put its money together, and then the class members sought out other students to share their dollars in order to purchase Christmas gifts for four local children. The class eventually raised $200 in all.

“Their why was they wanted to give these kids gifts for Christmas,” Mr. Lundt said. “Then they went out as a group and bought gifts, came back and wrapped them, and then the next day they delivered them. The $1 Challenge is a really cool thing and it gives kids an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.”

Mr. Lundt says the idea actually came out of a failure from a different project, and that too is a valuable lesson his students can learn.

“At any leadership position, the only way you grow is by being unsuccessful,” Mr. Lundt explained. “This group saw a failed situation and found an opportunity, and sometimes the best ideas come from not being what they started as.”

We cannot thank our students and staff members enough for the time, effort, and enthusiasm they put into this project. And to our anonymous donors, your continued dedication to our students, our school, and our community is a shining light on what makes Gilbert CSD such a special place.

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

103 Mathews Drive, Gilbert, Iowa 50105  |  (515) 232-3740