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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)

GHS Football Team Receives Academic Excellence Award From National Football Foundation

Tigers one of only two Iowa schools to be recognized

On the field, inside the classroom, and out in the community — members of the Gilbert football team excel in all three environments.

Don’t just take our word for it. Listen to the National Football Foundation (NFF).

On Wednesday, the Gilbert Community School District was pleased to learn the Tigers’ football program received a 2023-24 NFF National High School Academic Excellence Award. Presented by the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation, this award goes to the top academic football teams from each state, and service work in the community is also factored into the winners. The initiative is designed to inspire and foster a culture of academic excellence in high school football teams throughout the nation.

Gilbert and Van Meter were the only two Iowa schools to receive the award. Only 56 schools nationally were honored.

“The neatest thing about this is being able to celebrate all of the things that people don’t always think about,” Gilbert head football coach Graham Lundt said. “It’s cool this foundation is doing this because they get to recognize a program. Winning and losing is important, but it’s not the only important thing.”

Eligibility requirements for the award include:

  • A minimum cumulative team GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  • A superior academic application and performance.
  • A successful football season.

The Gilbert football team compiled a 3.61 GPA with four of its players owning a 4.0 GPA. In all, 27 of the 31 juniors and seniors were named academic all-district this past fall, and eight players were honored with academic all-state status.

In the community, members of the football team routinely offer help to families who are moving, and they are the featured attractions at the Kids Camp that occurs over the summer, complete with a homemade Slip N Slide.

Gilbert put together a 6-3 season on the field in 2023. The Tigers won their opening six games of the season and were ranked as high as No. 2 (Class 4A) by some publications.

Lundt pointed out that many of the things celebrated in this award – the academic success, the leadership success, the community outreach success – took place prior to the start of the 2023 season. At that time, Gilbert had won only one of its previous 19 games.

“We want to go undefeated in everything we can control, and this is something we can control,” Lundt said, referring to the classroom and off-the-field success. “Every single person in the program can be a part of it because every single person can contribute to academic success, to leadership success, to growing as an individual.”

Each state high school coaches association selects its respective state’s winners from the pool of nominees. A selection committee, assembled and led by the NFF, will be responsible for choosing the one school as the recipient of the Hatchell Cup as the best team in the nation.

The winner of the Hatchell Cup will be announced on Tuesday, Feb. 6, and it comes with a $10,000 donation.

This NFF program began in February of 2021. The awards represent the first nationwide recognition honoring individual high school football teams for excellence in the classroom and community.

The Grundy Center High School football team was the national award winner in 2022-23.

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.

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

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