Skip to content

GHS Science Olympiad: Where Learning, Friendship, and Competition Meld

Twenty-one Gilbert High School students milled around Room 403 on a Friday afternoon earlier this month, enjoying a few refreshments while they chatted away with their fellow classmates. The large group has formed a bond over their passion for science, and it’s a group that biology teacher Cara Rinehart is proud to oversee.

The get together turned serious for only a few brief moments, as Mrs. Rinehart lauded the students for their work throughout the school year. But this was just the start, she said. She sees the potential, and she sees a group that can be even better during the 2024-25 school year.

More than several heads nodded in agreement.

Mrs. Rinehart is the leader of the GHS Science Olympiad team, and these 21 students are her pupils. She encouraged them to continue on their studies, to work with their teammates in their free time, and even to seek guidance from experts in various fields.

What is Science Olympiad? We’re glad you asked. It’s a nationwide competition for middle school and high school students with the goal of raising the interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), as well as providing recognition for outstanding achievement in team events.

These GHS students are incredibly smart and incredibly talented. And in them, Mrs. Rinehart sees a team that can and will continue to raise the bar and compete with the best teams the state has to offer.

GHS sent these 21 students in two teams — Gilbert Red and Gilbert Black — to the 2024 Iowa Science Olympiad state tournament on the campus of Iowa State University on April 6. The competition included 23 events within earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. The events included things such as Air Trajectory, Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry Lab, Code Busters, Experimental Design, Ecology, and Flight, just to name a few.

The teams did well, placing 13th and 14th, respectively, in the high school division, and three students — Raylene Chen, Sean Wu, and Lena Dinsmore brought home medals.

Dinsmore and Wu finished second in the Detector Building competition, a complex project where they were tasked with designing, coding, and building an instrument that detects voltage and NaCI (sodium chloride) content of water from 0-5000ppm (parts per million). Chen and Wu placed third overall in the Tower event.

Next up for the students is their quest to close the gap between themselves and Ames High School, the 2024 state champion and a regular at the top of the leaderboard. Ames will be joined by state runner-up Cedar Falls and third-place finisher Mount Vernon at the national competition in Lansing, Michigan, in late May.

But it’s about more than medals and the competition for our GHS students. Toward the end of the get together, Mrs. Rinehart asked all of her team members to jot down their answers to one simple question: Why do you take part in Science Olympiad? Their answers show how important learning and camaraderie are as well.

“I like participating in Science Olympiad because I like getting to learn new things about topics that interest me,” one student said.

“I love being part of a team that can do more advanced work,” said another student. “The atmosphere is fun and friendly and yet we still do college-level work. The challenge each event brings will never be easy to solve, but doing well is incredibly rewarding.”

“I like to participate in Science Olympiad because it’s really easy to be involved and it’s a great way to make friends,” said another student.

Learning. Friendship. Competition.

Science Olympiad is all of that. What more could you want?


SENIORS: Jaden Wilson, Raychie Chen, Madeline Lamm, Kalyn Schmidt, Alice Zhang.

JUNIORS: Tyler Anderson, Tristan Limoges, Aldo Schwartz, Andrew Soupir.

SOPHOMORES: Alyse Beyer, Chloe Chen, Maks Koziel.

FRESHMEN: Avery Wilson, Lena Dinsmore, Canaan Dunn, Raylene Chen, Sean Wu, Chloe Lee, Matthew Zhang, Wyatt Jones, Jordan Martinek.

THE JOURNEY: From Preschool to Caps and Gowns

First Gilbert preschool class set to graduate in May

One by one, they walked through the preschool classroom door, unsure of what to expect. They stopped at the back of the classroom and looked around, from one side of the room to the next. They saw the youngest of Gilbert students sitting at tables, either coloring or playing or talking. They glanced to the front of the room and saw a familiar face in Heather Currans looking their way with a smile on her face and a tear in her eye.

And one by one, they smiled. They were back where it all began. Where they started it all, really.

They were the first. And they always will be.


Mrs. Currans simply doesn’t own a poker face. She often wears her emotions on her sleeve and communicates through radiating eyes and a warm and welcoming smile, which is perfect for a preschool teacher.

She did her best to hold it together — the emotions of the moment — when 18 of her former pupils walked through her classroom door on a bright Thursday morning just after the first bell had rung. Had her current students not already been in the room and needing her undivided attention, she almost certainly would have crumbled.

A few tears did slip down her cheek, first when senior Cam Stephens presented her with a floral arrangement from the Class of 2024. Hugs were quick but so heartfelt, both from teacher and student.

This was going to be a good morning.


In a few short weeks — seriously, where does the time go? — the Class of 2024 will say goodbye to the Gilbert Community School District. Like so many classes before, graduation will be celebratory, reflective, and emotional. The seniors will move on, and hopefully they’ll look back at their adolescent years with fond memories of what they experienced inside our halls and classrooms.

This class is special though, particularly to Currans and Gilbert Elementary Principal Staci Edwards. In the fall of 2010, 20 of this year’s graduates — Taylor Banning, Ashton Dodds, Henry Gustafson, Jackson Johnson, Kiera Miller, Kilee Miller, Taylor Puck, Eli Roske, Ian Roske, Toby Ruba, Cam Stephens, Elle Ellingson, Adalyn Gauck, Zach Heimer, Haley Loonan, Hope Marquette, Zain Mueller, Maddy Shannon, Sidney Steenhoek, and Dylan Terry — were a part of the first ever preschool class at Gilbert. Classmate Jacob Leedom, who tragically passed away this past fall, was also part of that special group.

The first Gilbert Elementary preschool class to graduate. Now that’s pretty special.

“The evolution of that particular class has been so fun to watch,” Edwards, who led the effort to implement the Early Childhood Program at Gilbert, said. “They’ve been in school the whole time I’ve been at Gilbert and I think about the change they’ve seen going from a district that had three buildings to four buildings, and then to a new (high school) building. It’s exciting to know in a bigger picture how much change can happen in really just the school lifetime of a kiddo here at Gilbert.”

With administration and community support, Edwards wrote the early childhood grant for state funding throughout the 2009-10 school year, and after receiving accreditation through NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), Gilbert was ready to welcome its first class in the fall of 2010.

Currans, who had worked in the Ames school district for a number of years, applied and was hired to lead the new program at Gilbert Elementary. In the first year, she taught two sections of preschool — a morning class with 17 students and an afternoon class with 16 students.

“It was pretty exciting to be able to start a program from the ground up,” Currans said. “Everything from how you’re going to set up your room to what is your teaching philosophy going to be, to getting new things. And what I really loved is Staci is an early childhood person … she trusted me to make the decisions that I felt would be best to build the program. Anywhere I’ve ever worked, I’ve never had the kind of support from a principal or administrator that I have here. She was instrumental in getting the program here and making it what it is.”

Over the past 14 school years, approximately 750-800 students have taken part in Gilbert’s Early Childhood Program. So popular was the program that in 2012-13, another educator was hired and preschool increased to four sections — two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Kindergarten prep was added for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, and then returned again in 2019-20 where it has remained since.


And that brings us back to last Thursday — April 11, 2024 — when some of those first students returned to where it all began.

After the initial shock of being in their first classroom, the 18 seniors quickly acclimated to their surroundings. After greetings with Currans, they gravitated toward the tables spread around the room to interact with this year’s preschool students.

Slowly, the memories began to flood back into their minds.

“I really couldn’t remember a lot of things off the top of my head, but being back in the classroom again made me remember all of the things we did,” Cam Stephens said. “It’s where I met all of the kids and a lot of them are my friends today.

“It was cool to be back, especially talking to Mrs. Currans because I’ve known her for so long. She was definitely a great teacher.”

Following the free time with the young students, the seniors joined the preschoolers on the carpet in the front of the room to get the day started. Many of the soon-to-be graduates nodded their heads, remembering the morning routine of checking the date and the weather outside. Those are happy memories, but there was also a bit of melancholy at the realization of just how fast the entire school experience went.

“Mrs. Currans has seen us all grow up and be who we are now, so there is a lot of nostalgia for that for sure,” Elle Ellingson said. “But it was also kind of sad being back there. To be back there and see all of the little kids … seeing how much life they have to go through and learn, it’s sad that it went by so fast, but also beautiful to think about.”

Zain Mueller wore a perpetual grin on his face throughout the morning. The energy and enthusiasm of the preschoolers was infectious and made it impossible for the seniors not to see the joy.

“It’s fun to see them be happy all of the time,” Mueller said. “I was definitely thinking back to my preschool and elementary memories, and it was fun to be in Mrs. Currans’ room again. She was definitely the best preschool teacher you could ask for. She was always so sweet and helpful.”

Mrs. Currans felt the affection from her former students, both through their expressions and their words. So see them all in her classroom again, to see what it meant to each of the seniors to return to where it all began, it will stay with her forever.

“It was incredible and I was blown away with how many of them came,” Mrs. Currans said, the emotion in her voice resonating through the cracks. “I know the things these kids have gone through and I know the accomplishments they’ve had, so to see them grow is just really neat. It meant so much to me to see all of them back here.”

Just like their entire academic careers at Gilbert, the 30 minutes in the classroom went by quickly. It was time for the seniors to leave, to head to their own building and prepare for a day of learning.

But not before they made one last stop.

The seniors went out the back door of the classroom and headed to the playground for one last trip down slide mountain. There were laughs and even a few screams as, one by one, they flew down one of the side slides.

“It doesn’t seem like 14 years ago I was in that classroom sitting on that carpet and writing my name in a workbook,” Stephens said. “It definitely goes by really fast.”

It sure does.

Social Studies Teachers Seek Higher Learning To Bring Back To Their Students

Gilbert Schools’ staff members routinely seek out professional development opportunities

Heather Schurr and Jodi Hurn, two of our social studies teachers at Gilbert High School, were like two young children on Christmas morning. The excitement was palpable and they couldn’t stop chatting; not in the airport as they waited to board and not on their multiple-hour flight home.

Unlike that young child, their excitement didn’t stem from a new bike or perhaps a video game system. Instead, their gift was knowledge and they couldn’t wait to return to their classrooms and share all of it with their students.

“It was just so exciting,” Hurn said.

“I quickly wrote down probably three pages of notes just to get the motor running,” Schurr said.

What had both teachers on adrenaline overdrive? The chance to collaborate with some of their peers from across the country, and the opportunity to learn themselves.

From January 18-21, Schurr and Hurn attended a multi-day seminar on America’s involvement in World War II. Hosted by Ashland University, the conference took place in New Orleans, which is where the National World War II Museum is located.

“To be able to sit in a room to talk about what you teach with teachers from across the country, that’s invaluable,” Hurn said. “That’s not an experience you get very often.”

It’s the Power of We on a national level, and these types of opportunities can be invaluable. History is such a broad subject, and the idea of teaching students about World War II and everything it encompasses can be daunting. It’s why seminars like the one Schurr and Hurn had the opportunity to attend are critical to their teaching.

They get to ask questions. They get to gain knowledge maybe they didn’t have. They get to hear their peers talk about teaching methods that have worked for them. And they can bring all of it back to their students.

“We get that expert opinion from a professor the conference hires, but we also get the collaboration aspects with teachers from around the country as far as ‘what did you actually think about this?’ and ‘how did you interpret this?’ just to shed different perspectives,” Schurr said.

The level of excitement from the duo can and will have an impact on their students.

“The kids know when we get jazzed about something and that infectious energy can make things so much more enriching for us and for them,” Schurr said.

Gilbert Schools has long held the belief that professional development opportunities like this are invaluable. Inside our halls, teachers collaborate every day to improve the level of education for our students, so it makes sense that national opportunities could only help.

“Going to something like (the New Orleans conference) only ups their game on what they can do in the classroom,” GHS Principal Cindy Bassett said. “It gives them more tools, more strategies, and allows them to be at a higher level of understanding so they can better teach it. World War II is a huge part of what Jodi and Heather teach … to help students better understand and make connections with World War II can improve our students’ understanding.”

Gilbert CSD Director of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Carrie Clark constantly encourages our teachers to seek out these types of opportunities in an effort to broaden individual horizons. After all, it’s not only the learning of students that is critical to the success of the district. 

“We believe in the importance of teacher learning and reflection on the practices used in the classroom,” Clark said. “Teaching is fast-paced, and taking time to discuss and reflect makes the work that happens in the classroom much stronger.”

“With the level of students we have here at Gilbert, we have to do that,” Bassett said. “Our teachers are so high-level. They attend conferences, they read, they learn, and they’re constantly refining what they’re doing.”

During the 2023-24 school year, Bassett said three of the high school science teachers took part in a national conference. All four math teachers took a Saturday to attend a conference in Ankeny. Art teachers are signed up to attend a conference in April, and over the summer some of our counselors will be attending a national conference.

And these are only a few of the opportunities our teachers have jumped at in recent months.

“Our teachers, supported by (Clark), really seek out opportunities to become better and better teachers all of the time,” Bassett said.

Schurr and Hurn both acknowledge these opportunities wouldn’t be possible without the encouragement they receive from administration and the Gilbert school board.

“At Gilbert, we emphasize professional development communities,” Hurn said. “The school board was gracious to allow us to take the juniors on a trip to the World War I Museum in Kansas City in November.”

The challenge Schurr and Hurn now face is taking the vast amount of knowledge they collected in New Orleans and incorporating it into their lessons. But the excitement they possess and the passion they have for the subject is sure to translate into their teaching.

“It’s creating a puzzle, but we don’t know what the picture is yet,” Hurn said. “We’ve got all the pieces, now we need to figure out a way to put it all together. But we’ll get there.”

Schurr is equally excited about another out-of-state excursion she has planned for over the summer. In June, she’ll travel to Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, to take a master’s course in the historical subject of her choosing. She was nominated for this unique opportunity by the Teaching Ambassador at the New Orleans conference.

“I’m probably going to be studying the Supreme Court, the government side of things,” Schurr said. “I’m really excited about it.”

Another chance to learn. Another chance to expand her teachings. Another chance to add to the knowledge available at our students’ fingertips.

The definition of win-win.

Gilbert DECA Advances A Record 20 Entries To International Conference

Senior Noah Lenz Recognized With President’s Award

To say Monday’s State DECA competition at Southeast Polk High School was a success for our Gilbert students would be an understatement. Quite possibly one of the bigger understatements of the school year.

The Tigers absolutely crushed it.

DECA sponsor and high school business teacher Vicki Hales took 28 students to the competition to take part in 29 events. And out of those 29, Gilbert had a whopping 20 individuals or groups qualify for the DECA International Career Development Conference (ICDC) in Anaheim, California.

Let us repeat that — 20 individuals or groups. A new record number for Gilbert!

In addition, Gilbert DECA also received two significant team awards — the Digital Marketing Chapter Award, and the Iowa DECA Cup Challenge title.

And senior Noah Lenz — wow! Noah was recognized as the Most Outstanding Member of the Gilbert DECA Chapter, and he also received the President’s Award, which was given out by Iowa DECA.

Below is a summary of how our students placed at the state competition, and ICDC qualifiers are noted.

Students and Mrs. Hales, your accomplishments deserve a standing round of applause. Your studious commitment puts a shining light on our school district and our community, and we could not be more proud of all of you.

State Results

  • Delaney Anderson – Apparel and Accessories Marketing – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Delaney Anderson – Independent Business Plan – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Taryn Hicks – Food Marketing – 3rd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Taryn Hicks – Integrated Marketing Campaign: Service – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Maksymilian Koziel – Hotel and Lodging Management – Honorable Mention (ICDC alternate)
  • Lizzie Mitchell – Hotel and Lodging Management – 2nd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Dennis May – Human Resource Management – 3rd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Daniel May – Retail Merchandising – 3rd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • John Hales – Personal Financial Literacy – 2nd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Noah Lenz/Charlie Schreck – Business Law and Ethics Team – 3rd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Charlie Niegsch/Cam Stephens – Buying and Merchandising Team – Honorable Mention (ICDC alternate)
  • Jaedyn Henry/Brooke Hamers – Buying and Merchandising Team – Honorable Mention
  • Ellie Wahlman/Noreen Diaconu-Voinea – Buying and Merchandising Team – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Ellie Wahlman/Noreen Diaconu-Voinea – Integrated Marketing Campaign: Event – 3rd place (ICDC alternate)
  • Joey Currans/Nash Hanson – Financial Team – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Bia Dantas/Kaylin Richards – Marketing Team – Honorable Mention
  • Bia Dantas/Kaylin Richards – Buying and Merchandising Operations Research – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Raya Mueller/Kaitlyn Dear – Sports and Entertainment Team – Honorable Mention
  • Ella Henningsen/Abigail Thompson – Travel and Tourism Team – Honorable Mention
  • Ella Henningsen – Hospitality Professional Selling – 3rd place (ICDC alternate)
  • Olivia Timmermans – Professional Selling – 2nd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Noah Lenz/Anson Bernard – Start Up Business Plan – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Callie Hales – Start Up Business Plan – 3rd place (ICDC alternate)
  • Hannah Becker – Franchise Business Plan – 2rd place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Zane Lytle – Sports and Entertainment Operations Research – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
  • Sadie Breyfogle – Project Management Community Giving – 1st place (ICDC qualifier)
1 2 3 16
Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

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