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Middle School Choir Concert Takes Spectators Back To The 20s

The 20s hit the stage inside the Gilbert High School Auditorium Tuesday night, and if you were in attendance then you know — it was indeed roaring!

Gilbert Middle School Music Director Chris Johnson hosted the spring choir concert in front of a packed house, as the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades performed a total of nine songs, including the final three with the entire middle school choir of more than 180 students!

It. Was. Amazing!

The songs performed included:

Sixth Grade
•Sweet Georgia Brown (1925)

Seventh Grade
•Charleston (1923)
•Nessun Dorma (1926)

Eighth Grade
•Exsultate Just in Domino (1627)
•Ozymandias (1820)
•Dynamite (2020)

Combined Choirs
•Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened (1727)
•Idumea (1826)
•Fascinating Rhythm (1924)

Members of the high school band stepped in to lend backing music, and members of a string orchestra were brought in for several numbers as well to strengthen what was already an unbelievable concert.

Mr. Johnson always does an amazing job with his students and this is showcased time after time with the middle school concerts. And accompanist Amanda Jennings is someone this district values a great deal for her talents and dedication to our students and music programs.

Thank you, Mr. Johnson, and thank you students for putting on another incredible concert … just another example of the talent that roams our hallways each and every day. Lastly, thank you to everyone who came out to support our students!


Tigers take girls’ 4×800, Wadsley in boys’ 3,200, and middle school medley relays to Drake Relays

To hear Gilbert long distance coach Laura Kautman describe it, Charlie Bucket had an easier time securing his golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory than her girls’ 4×800-meter relay did in grabbing a hold of its precious spot in this week’s Drake Relays.

Let’s cut to the end for a quick moment: The quartet of Clare Stahr, Sophia Bleich, Keira Andersen, and Sarah Feddersen is in the star-studded event scheduled to hit the blue oval inside Drake Stadium in Des Moines Saturday morning at 10:25 a.m. But it wasn’t easy.

For starters, in an attempt to cut its time significantly, the group borderline pleaded with Ames High School for entry into a meet with some heavy hitters last Tuesday. The Tigers finally got the go-ahead and, boy, did they perform.

Stahr, Bleich, Andersen, and Feddersen turned in a blazing 9:37.22 at Ames to meet the blue standard and officially punch their ticket to Drake. They shaved nearly 13 seconds off their previous best and will enter Drake Stadium with the seventh-fastest time in the state regardless of class.

Are the girls surprised at how far they’ve come in such a short period this spring? Absolutely, and yet they all say their best is yet to come.

“For me personally, I’m super excited,” Bleich, a sophomore, said. “At the beginning of the season, if you would have told me that I’d be running at Drake, I would have been shocked. But I think we have a great team.”

“This was my high school goal, to qualify for the Drake Relays,” Stahr, a junior, said. “Seeing our hard work pay off this year with this great group of girls is just so cool to see. All of the hard work has come to fruition.”

Stahr went through pain — quite literally — to help the Tigers qualify. At the Ames meet, the lead-off runner had her heel stepped on by another competitor in the large pack early on and yet she still managed to keep Gilbert near the front while running most of her two laps with one shoe on and one shoe half-off. The back of her foot was bloody by the time she handed the baton to Bleich, but she did her job.

Bleich and Andersen, just a freshmen, turned in arguably their best races as well before Feddersen, a sophomore and first-year track and field participant, brought it home on the anchor.

“There’s a real drive between us,” Andersen said. “We want to push each other to be our best and run our fastest.”

Kautman says all four have been pleasant surprises this spring, but maybe none more than Feddersen, who has seamlessly cemented herself as the relay hammer. A competitive gymnast prior to the 2022-23 school year, she admits she didn’t really understand the significance of the Drake Relays until just recently.

“Coming (into the season) with no expectations and having never done track before, I didn’t even know how big of a deal Drake was,” Feddersen said as her relay mates chuckled around her. “But getting to watch our times drop and realizing it was actually achievable was really cool.”

Kautman recognizes Feddersen’s contributions as a first-year runner and says she’s quickly adapted herself to the competitive world of running.

“The part about Sarah I didn’t realize is she’s a fierce competitor,” Kautman said. “She’s toed the line with some of the state’s best and she’s raced right with them.

“In order to be an elite gymnast, I think you have to have the mental and physical pieces. Was she a surprise running wise? Absolutely, but when you see what she’d accomplished leading up to track, it’s not a surprise.”

Kautman speaks glowingly of all four of her runners. She knows that’s what it takes — four solid pieces — to compete at Drake.

And that’s exactly what Gilbert wants to do: compete at Drake. Yes, the girls are happy to be there amongst the best of the best. But when the race begins, just being happy to be there will no longer be good enough.

“We’re ready to compete at Drake,” Feddersen said.

Dubuque Hempstead enters Saturday’s 4×800 with the fastest time of 9:20.54, close to a 13-second gap over No. 2 seed Ankeny (9:33.31). The Nos. 2-7 seeds are separated by less than four seconds.

Wadsley Drake bound in 3,200

Gilbert senior William Wadsley admits it sheepishly — he was a scoreboard watcher.

In the days leading up to last Thursday’s Drake Relays cut-off, he checked the boys’ 3,200-meter leaderboard a couple times a day. Why? Because he was near that cut-off line for qualifying and to be known as a Drake Relays qualifier is something he really wanted.

“Two or three times a day, I would check it,” Wadsley said. “But I was just kind of leaving it up to God. Whatever he wants, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Fear not, William. You’re in.

Wadsley got the good news from Gilbert boys’ track and field coach Joel Franzen during a school assembly last Friday afternoon and to say he was excited would be an understatement.

“It definitely brought a smile to my face and joy flowed through my body,” Wadsley said.

Wadsley will be part of the field of 21 runners during Thursday’s distance carnival at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. The boys’ 3,200 is scheduled to hit the track at 5:52 p.m.

Fittingly enough, it was on the famed blue oval that Wadsley earned his spot among the best distance runners this state has to offer. At the Jim Duncan Relays on a cold and wet Saturday morning earlier this month, he turned in a career-best time of 9:33.27 and that was good enough to qualify. He beat his previous best time by a whopping 21 seconds.

And now he wants to complete the eight-lap race even faster.

“I had a goal going into this season that I wanted to get a 9:20 (plus), and with my qualifying time of 9:33, I think that’s totally achievable,” he said. “I’m really excited for a good time.”

Ford Washburn of Iowa City High has run the fastest 3,200 this season (9:00.73), followed by Pella’s Chase Lauman (9:15.30).

Middle School relays also headed to Drake

In addition to our high school athletes, the Gilbert Middle School track and field team will also be represented at this week’s Drake Relays.

Both middle school teams will take their 1,600 medley relay to Des Moines.

The girls’ medley — Sammy Johnson, Ella Andrews, Allie Grandgenett, Callie Hales, and alternate Emee Dani — will race at 5 p.m. on Friday.

The boys’ medley — Tayton Warg, Micah Leyva, Brandon Terry, Logan Bleich, and alternate Justin Sosnouski — will compete immediately following at 5:07 p.m. on Friday.

Only eight middle school teams across the state qualified for the girls’ and boys’ medley relay races. The Gilbert boys’ squad landed one of the coveted spots with a time of 4:12.20, while the girls’ group advanced with a clocking of 4:46.70.

Gilbert Students, Community Give Back Through Mentoring Programs

We celebrate all of our volunteers during National Mentoring Month

Pastor Christian Johnson, who watches over the congregation at Gilbert Lutheran Church, had a smile on his face as he sat and waited for intermediate student and fourth grader Parker Main Tuesday afternoon. For one, Pastor Johnson enjoys a good school lunch and on the menu today is a corn dog. Secondly, and most importantly, he gets the chance to spend an hour with Main, who he’s mentored for nearly four years.

Soon enough Parker shows up, and he and Pastor Johnson take their lunches to the east gym where they sit with their backs to the bleachers and eat while they talk. They might shoot some hoops, or play another game afterward, whatever Parker wants.

Pastor Johnson and Parker get together weekly and it’s a visit they both look forward to.

“Parker is an amazing kid,” Pastor Johnson says. “I love his energy, his creativity, and his spirit just lifts me up. And I love to be in the school too. To see the teachers, the staff, the kids; it just lifts you up.”

Pastor Johnson is one of 30 individuals – students and community members alike – who take part in the YSS School-Based Mentoring program, according to Gilbert Mentor Facilitator Erin Wimmer. Now in its 22nd year, the program is so popular, in fact, that there are four boys on the waiting list, biding their time until a mentor can be located. 

The YSS School-Based mentoring program is for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and there are a number of Gilbert High School students that serve as mentors alongside community members. Wimmer says sophomores, juniors and seniors can apply to become mentors and it’s a great way to give back to younger students.

“I do my best to recruit people who are interested in spending time once a week with younger kids in the school,” Wimmer says. “It’s being there for them, being a positive role model in their lives, and it enriches your own life too.”

January is National Mentoring Month and today – Thursday, Jan. 26 – is Thank Your Mentor Day. This month serves as a chance to raise awareness for how one conversation, one experience, and one mentor can change a young person’s life, according to the website

Wimmer has witnessed many beautiful connections over the years, and nearly 50 percent of the mentors stay with their students for at least two years. Some, as in Pastor Johnon’s case, maintain that connection for even longer.

“I’ve been here for eight years and one of the most impactful stories came in my first year,” Wimmer said. “At the end of every year, we ask the mentees what having a mentor means to them. Usually answers are: it means I can play games with somebody, or it means I have somebody to talk to, or it means I can skip outside recess when it’s cold outside. But my first year, a student responded to that question with: it makes me feel less invisible. I will never forget that.”

The YSS School-Based Mentoring program is just one of several ways that our students are afforded the opportunity to connect and make a difference in the lives of their younger peers.

At the high school this past fall, Assistant Principal John Ronca spearheaded a new program called Tiger Den, in which seniors can mentor freshmen in the building. Being new to the high school can be scary and intimidating for ninth graders, and the Tiger Den’s mission is to help alleviate that strain.

“Freshmen always seem a little bit timid, so this was an opportunity to create a program where seniors can sign up and help,” Ronca says.

Sixty seniors committed to the program, and while it’s voluntary for freshmen, Ronca says every member of the class signed up to take part. Each senior was assigned two or three freshmen to mentor, and the group gets together once a month during Success Center to talk and play games. Ronca envisions a growing program in the coming years..

“The goal was to have freshmen get to know at least one senior they could count on, whether they had questions about classes, behavior, culture … they could talk to a senior about those things.

“The program is simply helping freshmen assimilate into the culture of the high school with the seniors, and the program has been really good. I think the seniors and freshmen are really enjoying their time, and any time you can get older students to help mold the younger mind, that’s a plus.”

Students at the high school have one additional way to help mold the minds of the next generation and that’s as a Tiger Helper at the intermediate building. During the first semester, more than a dozen students took part and logged more than 160 hours in classrooms with younger students.

Any high school student with a study hall can sign up to be a Tiger Helper and each individual stays in the same classroom throughout the semester. It gives the students a chance to bond with both the students and staff and build relationships that may last long after the semester ends.

Whether it’s through the YSS School-Based Mentoring program, the Tiger Den program, or the Tiger Helper program, our students are reaping the benefits. For the mentors, these programs teach dedication and responsibility, and the chance to give back can heighten one’s own self-esteem. And for the mentees, it’s one more friend with a shoulder to lean on, or someone to smile and laugh with.

Any way you look at it, it’s win-win.

Gilbert 6th Grader Zack Langford Receives Heart Transplant

Family overjoyed, thankful, and looking forward to the future

Amanda Langford is exhausted. Over the past six days, she’s slept sparingly; an hour here, an hour there, but no more as her mind races through the scenarios. As an advanced registered nurse practitioner, she understands the situation better than most and that’s both a blessing and a curse.

She’s a mom, after all, and that’s her baby — Gilbert Middle School sixth grader Zack Langford — laying in the bed attempting to recover from a surgery that saved his life. She worries. Constantly. Who wouldn’t?

“I can’t turn my mom mind off, so I keep problem solving,” Amanda says softly as she sits inside Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. “But we’re just so happy and so excited.”

The phone call that changed the life of everyone in the family came in at 1:32 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 30, just a few hours after the Langfords had celebrated Christmas at the house of Zack’s grandparents. It was a call that Amanda, her husband Troy, Zack, and younger sibling Zander, a Gilbert Intermediate fourth grader, had dreamed about. Had prayed about. So many times.

Zack was just hours away from getting his new heart.

“Our phone rang … and they told us they had a heart for Zack,” Amanda says. “I let Zack and Zander sleep a little bit, but then we woke up the boys and told them the news and Zack was just overjoyed the second we told him. And Zander’s first words were, ‘Mom, it’s a miracle. We’re in Kansas City and Zack is going to get a heart.’”

It was a long wait, nearly four years since Zack was first diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the muscles of a heart’s ventricles stiffen and are unable to fill with blood. It’s the rarest form of cardiomyopathy and it generally leads to the need for a heart transplant.

Zack was double-listed on the heart transplant list, both at Children’s Mercy Hospital and the University of Iowa, that’s how dire the situation was starting to become, as the Langford family first shared with us earlier this fall (to read that full story, click here:

Zack checked into the hospital at 7 a.m. on Dec. 30 and was taken to the operating room 13 hours later. His new heart arrived at 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 31. And at 12:31 a.m., just one day before the New Year, Zack officially was a heart transplant recipient.

“It’s the best gift in the world,” Amanda says. “We’re completely humbled that someone would share that with us. Someone had to go through a great loss for us to have ours and we don’t want to minimize that. We’re just so thankful.”

Amanda says doctors wanted the ischemic time — the time between the heart beating in the donor’s chest to the moment it began to beat in Zack’s chest — to be between four and six hours. Anything more than six hours is less than ideal.

For Zack’s surgery, the ischemic time was 3 hours, 52 minutes, something that brought both joy and relief to Amanda and Troy.

“That’s just phenomenal,” Amanda says.

According to Amanda, Zack has progressed nicely in the days following surgery. Still, the journey to recovery will be long. Zack remains in the ICU currently, but the family is hopeful he’ll move to the floor within the next few days. If all goes well, Zack will remain in Kansas City for the next four to six weeks, and Amanda says the family is hopeful Zack will be able to return to school following spring break in March.

“He will be out of school for about three months, and he’ll be on anti-rejection (medication) for the rest of his life, but he’s doing really well,” she says. “The (medical) team is happy with his progress and his heart looks really good on echo (echocardiogram). I don’t know if he can truly comprehend or process it yet, but he’s definitely excited and he told me yesterday that he can run faster than me now.”

Amanda says the last week has been difficult on Zander, who misses his best friend terribly. But he knows his older brother is on the mend.

“He’s so happy for Zack, but he misses him too,” Amanda says of her youngest son. “He’s staying with my parents (locally in the Kansas City area), but he’s come up every day except for one to see Zack.”

Above all else, the Langford family is thankful — for the donor, for the outpouring of love it’s received from friends and family, and from its Gilbert family, most notably Zack’s group of friends that FaceTimed him just prior to his surgery.

“Gilbert has reached out to us so much and the school has been amazing,” Amanda says. “His five friends FaceTimed him good luck and told him how brave he was, and that really encouraged him too. It’s a nice testament to Gilbert.”

Gilbert Schools wants to continue to support Zack and the entire Langford family throughout the coming months. On Friday, all students are asked to wear red in support of Zack, and we continue to share how you can help the family with its medical costs.

“I hope the family can feel our giant hug from Gilbert all the way to Kansas City,” Gilbert Superintendent Dr. Christine Trujillo says. “Zack and his family are very special and have been through so much, and our hearts are with them. We are all reading the daily updates on Zack’s progress (via the group Facebook page COTA for Heart Warrior ZACK), and I know the Gilbert community is joining me in praying for continued healing for Zack and peace for Zander, Amanda, Troy, and the doctors who continue to treat Zack.”

The Langford family began working with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) this fall in an effort to fundraise to help cover Zack’s medical expenses. As of Wednesday afternoon, the family has raised $14,381 with a goal of raising $75,000.

COTA is the nation’s only fundraising organization solely dedicated to raising life-saving dollars to support transplant-ready children and young adults. Every penny in donation made to COTA in honor of a patient goes to pay transplant-related expenses.

To support Zack and the Langford family with a tax-deductible donation, you can visit his COTA website: Simply click on the GIVE tab, enter your gift amount, and then scroll down and click on Zackary Langford.

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

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