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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.

Unconditional Love: Tilly offers support, produces smiles at Gilbert Elementary

Loving. Understanding. Forgiving. Loyal. Comforting.

Truly, a child’s best friend at the moment when he or she needs unconditional love the most.

That’s Tilly, arguably the most popular attraction at Gilbert Elementary.

Tipping the scales at a svelte 118 pounds, the 3-year-old Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has called Gilbert Elementary her home since she was just 12 weeks old. The mostly black and white with wisps of chestnut bundle of joy introduced herself to the students at around 25 pounds, but has since more than quadrupled in size.

“Tilly is an important part of our building,” Gilbert Elementary Principal Staci Edwards said. “You can see the kiddos who just light up when they see her. When I give tours to new families and sometimes when Tilly isn’t here I say, ‘Hey, we have a dog and it lives in this room,’ and you just know that is something that’s special to the elementary. It makes the kiddos feel like it’s a special place to be.”

Resource teacher Kendra Braucher was the mastermind behind bringing Tilly into the Gilbert district, and Tilly is a member of Braucher’s family outside of school hours. Tilly accompanies Braucher to school and stays in Braucher’s classroom throughout the day.

“She’s a very loving dog and she fits the breed well,” Braucher said as Tilly, who was the junior division obedience champion at the Story County Fair over the summer, sat by her side in her classroom last week. “She wants to be by people because she loves attention. Anybody that will give her scratches and pets, she’s all over them.”

Mornings are a unique time around the elementary building. As kids sit in the hall waiting for classes to begin, Braucher and an excited Tilly will make their rounds. And in an instant, grins appear and spirits are lifted as the kids get a chance to pet and play with Tilly before they head off to a day of learning.

Braucher jokes that Tilly may have an ulterior motive for the morning routine.

“We joke she’s checking out what (the kids) have for a snack,” Braucher said. “She just walks by and sniffs everybody, but it’s starting the day off on a happy note.”

Tilly spends the majority of her school day either sitting in front of the window in Braucher’s room so she won’t miss anything going on in the halls, or napping in her favorite pink bean bag that she outgrew long ago. But when she’s needed to help put a sparkle in the eyes of a child or simply just to listen, she’s ready.

“We have some kids who don’t like to read aloud, so Tilly will sit and read with the kids,” Braucher said. “They’ll read out loud to her and she can listen to help them feel more comfortable.

“Sometimes we have kids who are just feeling sad on a day, so they might go lay on the trampoline with (Tilly) and just snuggle. Dogs can change the attitudes of kids almost immediately.”

That’s evident when Braucher looks at Tilly a few moments later and asks, “Do you want to go to Joni’s room?”

Tilly is immediately on her feet and at the door. The second Braucher opens the door, there goes Tilly, bounding down the hall, around a corner, and right into Joni Tickle’s kindergarten classroom, much to the delight of the students. There are squeals, a lot of laughs and, yes, a lot of hugs during Tilly’s five-minute trip to the room.

“She works mostly with students who have social and emotional needs,” Braucher said. “However, she’s available to anybody in the building who needs her.”

Edwards doesn’t know how many schools have emotional support animals for their students, but she’s ecstatic that Tilly is available in her building.

“I definitely think it makes us unique in the area at least,” Edwards said. “Whether our kiddos are nonverbal or struggling with their emotions, it’s a safe place to get a hug and get support, which is ultimately the purpose of having her here.”


Gilbert Hires Director of Community Engagement

The Gilbert Community School District is happy to announce that Troy Banning has accepted
the position of Director of Community Engagement for the 2022-23 school year. Banning joins
the Gilbert family after serving as the sports editor at The Daily Freeman-Journal in Webster
City for 22 years. He and his wife, Kelly, are 20-year residents of Ames and have two
daughters, Taylor and Brooklyn, who attend Gilbert. It is our pleasure to welcome Mr. Banning
and his family. Read more HERE #TigersTogether #GilbertPride

Gilbert Hires New Activities Director

Gilbert Schools is excited to share the hiring of new Activities Director for the 2022-2023 school year, Mr. Ian Smith. Ian is replacing Mr. Tim Pezzetti, current Athletic Director at Gilbert Schools who resigned his position earlier this month after accepting a position in Missouri, closer to his family.

Read more about the hiring of Mr. Smith.


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