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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.

Preschool Students Learn About Space

On Thursday, Gilbert Elementary preschool teachers Mrs. Currans and Mrs. Terrones had the pleasure to welcome Mr. Jim Christensen into their morning and afternoon classes to teach our youngest students about science, specifically the sun, the moon, and space.

A little background on Mr. Christensen, who just so happens to be the dad of Mrs. Anderson, our middle school and high school family and consumer sciences teacher. Mr. Christensen was a sixth-grade science teacher for many years before he moved on to be a Science, Math and Technology Director with the AEA.

After retiring, Mr. Christensen went to work at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where he served as the Director of Education. At the Kennedy Space Center, he led a project designing a new education building named the ATX Center (ATX stands for Astronaut Training Experience).

Currently, Mr. Christensen  is the Director of Innovation for Aldren Family Foundation, an educational non-profit. He writes STEAM curriculum materials and projects, trains teachers, and conducts presentations for students, teachers and the general public.

Mr. Christensen’s vast knowledge and ability to connect with students was quite apparent yesterday. The kids were captivated, particularly when they went outside to see a homemade rocket launch! Anytime the word “NASA” was mentioned, their eyes got wide.

Mr. Christensen, thank you for spending some time with our students. It was so informative and so much fun!

6th Grade Students Win Local, District Essay Contest

We are so excited to share the good news with you that two of our Gilbert Middle School students, sixth-graders Charlie Huntington and Betty Berger, were recognized as local and district winners in a recent essay contest!

All sixth-grade students were offered the opportunity to enter the “What the Flag Means to Me” essay contest, sponsored by the Iowa Elks Association, back in November. Huntington and Berger both earned first-place accolades, and they advanced onto the district contest.

And they won there too!

Now, the essays written by Huntington and Berger will advance on to the statewide contest for judging. We wish them nothing but the best of luck in the prestigious state contest.

With family members in attendance, both students received their certificates and prize money from local Iowa Elks Association members on Tuesday.

Congratulations to both students for their hard work and obviously amazing writing abilities, and congratulations to Mrs. Charlson and Miss Dunn, our sixth-grade language arts teachers, for their incredible leadership and guidance for our students.

We’ll report back if we have some state winners!

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.

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

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