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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 mentoring.org.

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 Education Foundation raises nearly $16,000 through Major Saver campaign

Funds used for 43 mini-grants throughout district

The old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” resonates inside the school system. Without the village, the Gilbert Community School District wouldn’t be what it is today.

A key part of that village is the Gilbert Education Foundation (GEF), which recently put together a highly successful fall fundraising campaign that resulted in 43 mini-grants being approved throughout the district.

The GEF is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising money for Gilbert Schools. It uses the money to help bridge the gap between public funding and the needs of our students and staff.

“The Foundation allows us to provide tools for our teachers that are sometimes outside of our budget,” Carrie Clark, the Director of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, said. “We are very appreciative because it allows us to try things that we know are right for our students.”

The  Major Saver coupon cards are one of the ways the GEF raises funds, and this fall the campaign generated nearly $16,000 to go toward projects for our staff and students. Students at Gilbert Intermediate put on a clinic when it came to selling the cards, as the top five sellers — William Nissen (51 cards), Lochlyn Woodin (40 cards), Karis Johansen (23 cards), Mallory Griffin (22 cards), and Jett Schon (20 cards) — all reside in the building.

“I’m so proud of those top sellers and I’m so proud of all of our kids for being willing to be a part of the Major Saver campaign,” Gilbert Intermediate Principal Amy Griffin said. “They understand the impact of selling and what that gets for our school and our classrooms, which is really special.”

The GEF put the money raised from the Major Saver cards, plus a few extra dollars toward the mini-grants that totaled $16,369.31. Nine of the mini-grants went to programs at the elementary, 15 went to the intermediate, 11 to the middle school, and eight to the high school.

The Gilbert Community School District and the Gilbert Education Foundation cannot thank the community enough for your support. With your help, the educational opportunities for our students continue to expand. Major Saver cards are still available for purchase as well to anyone interested.

The GEF has set its annual spring fundraising event, the Rock Hop, for Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. We hope to see you all there!

Mini-grants approved following Major Saver campaign

Elementary

Angie Bonthuis, Kindergarten — Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Small Group Materials.

Veronica Breshnahan, KPrep/Preschool — Moving with a Purpose.

Heather Currans, Preschool — Early Learning through our Senses.

Deanna Haselhoff, K-2 — Interoceptive and Proprioceptive Sensory Supports.

Nicole Klaver, Kindergarten — Building Peer Relationships Through Play.

Kayla Meaney, Kindergarten — Fine Motor.

Krista Sippel, Kindergarten — Dramatic Play.

Colbi Terrones, Pre-K — Social Emotional Regulation.

Joni Tickle, Kindergarten — Play Based Learning.

Intermediate

Mackenzie Bloem, 3rd Grade — Flexible Seating, Weather Station.

Jayd Brown, 5th Grade — Classroom Library.

Jayd Brown, 5th Grade — Breakout Activities.

Brittany Hemesath, 3rd Grade — Flexible Seating.

Stephanie Klaffke, PE — Connect Teamwork and Fun.

Karen Mongar, 3rd Grade — Engagement Tools.

Katie Nees, 3rd Grade — Flexible Seating.

Caroline Samson, 5th Grade — Flexible Seating.

Joy Sparrey, Counselor — Social and Emotional Wellness.

Chelsea Steil, 4th Grade (Group of 6) — Materials for the Classroom.

Mel Woodin, Student and Family Advocate — BMR Calming Spots.

Middle School

Katy Charlson, 6th ELA — Alpha-Biography.

Hannah Gorman, Guidance — Wobbly Stools.

Mike Kruse, 6-8 PE — Jump Boxes.

Nathan Moore, Art — Glazes for Ceramics.

Wes Onken, 6th Math — Wipe Boards for Vertical Math Theory.

Amanda Ostrem, 6th Science — Science Olympiad.

Hannah Schmidt, 7th Science — Electromagnetic Science Investigation.

Brett Slight, 6-8 PE — Dumbbells for Fitness.

Staci Sniezek, 6th PE — FISH Iowa.

Jenni Thomas, Counselor — Desk Cycles.

Tammy Tinder, SPED — Flexible Seating.

High School

Cathy Anderson, English — Habitudes.

Adam Davis, Ag — Forging and Blacksmithing.

Brittany Fredricks, Math — Fraction Tiles.

Graham Lundt, PE — Fitness Room Equipment.

Jen Maguire, Art — Cricket Maker Bundle.

Lacie Moore, Spanish — Learning Through Movement Brain Breaks.

Troy Staudt and Jason Chung, Esports — Headphones.

Tracy Tensen, English — Headphones for Classroom.

Bob Terrones, At-Risk — Nintendo Switch.

The Queen Of Chess: Gilbert’s Very Own World Champion Irene Jiao Fei

Irene Jiao Fei, who will be a 4th grader at Gilbert Intermediate School this fall, sits on the floor inside the living room of her north Ames home and rapidly shifts her eyes from side to side as she studies every piece on the chess board that has been set up on her family’s coffee table.

She’s playing just for fun, but fun to her is winning. On this Tuesday morning, the outcome is never in doubt though. It’s her dad, Zhe Fei, who sits on the opposite side of the board and he readily admits he’s no match for his 9-year-old prodigy.

Irene smirks from time to time as her dad moves his pieces. She’s already six moves ahead in her mind, and soon enough — less than five minutes removed from the start of the game — they both stand up. Zhe chuckles as Irene takes a step back and does a short and spirited celebration dance.

When it comes to the game of chess, Irene is in a league of her own.

In early June, Irene took her game global when she claimed the FIDE World School Chess Championship U9 (under 9) in Panama City, Panama. Over the nine-day tournament, she won seven matches with two draws to claim the title handily over runner-up Jose Guevara Ruiz Santiago of Spain.

It was the culmination of what has been a whirlwind few years for the family. Zhe and Irene’s mom, Yan Jiao, first introduced Irene to the game when they enrolled her in a Gilbert Elementary after school chess club organized by Iowa State student Anthony Swindell. Then in kindergarten during the 2018-19 school year, Irene attended the club once a week and she says Swindell immediately saw her potential.

“My parents signed me up for a chess club so that I could stay at school a little longer,” Irene, who celebrated her ninth birthday while in Panama, said. “(Swindell) said that I was good. After the second time, the coach said I was very good.”

Irene’s aptitude for the game came as a surprise to her parents, but it didn’t take them long to support their daughter’s passion. Soon enough, they entered Irene, then a first grader, in her first tournament — the US Chess/Chesskid Online Elementary Championship — and she placed ninth out of more than 500 entrants.

“She really surprised us,” Zhe said. “No one (in the family) had played chess before. I also studied chess at the same time as her, but she progressed much more (quickly).”

Since then, Irene has steadily built a resume that very few young players possess, highlighted by the world title. She’s twice won the K-5 Iowa state championship, and later this month she’ll represent the state at the 3rd Annual John D. Rockefeller III National Tournament of Elementary School State Champions in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Irene lights up when she mentions that she’s traveled to Panama. She plays tournament chess primarily in Iowa and neighboring states, and has also been to New Jersey to compete.

“It’s a really fun activity and she can also compete with people,” Zhe said. “She likes winning too, and she also enjoys traveling.”

The success comes from hard work. Yes, in the beginning chess came naturally to Irene, but she’s put in the work to build her game to its current state.

She’s always looking to improve, and she’s always looking to use her opponents’ weaknesses against them, which is why she studies them when possible before they sit across the table from one another.

“Usually, in small tournaments, there are two to three (games) a day and I don’t have much time to study them,” she said.

“You always have to study your opponent,” Zhe interjects. “Before games, you have to study theory from other peoples’ games.”

Zhe thinks his daughter’s calm demeanor also plays a role in her success. Despite her young age, Irene is able to keep her emotions in check for the most part, and she never celebrates her victories for long. She’s always looking toward that next game, that next challenge.

And when she does get frustrated? Her mom says a bowl of chocolate ice cream lightens her mood immediately.

“Her mental strength is really strong,” Zhe said. “She’s normally quite calm and I think that’s one of the reasons she does so well. In the final game (at the world championships), she knew she was going to win the entire tournament and she was still calm.”

Irene and her parents now hope they can give back to the game that has brought them so much by helping new players learn and appreciate it. Irene will take part in the Chess Camp at Gilbert Intermediate School next week, July 18-22, and will share her experiences with her fellow campers.

“She wants to share the fun parts of chess with them,” Zhe said. “It’s quite important to us because she really gained a lot of support from organizations in Iowa and the country, so we want to give back. We want to support other kids and help them play games with other beginners.”

Amy Griffin, the principal at Gilbert Intermediate, is excited to have Irene involved in the camp and a part of the Gilbert Schools family.

“The intermediate school is very lucky to have Irene as a student leader,” Griffin said. “Irene has such a fun personality and always works hard to be her best. I’m excited for Irene to share this experience (of winning the world championship) with other students this upcoming school year as we celebrate her achievement.”

The Chess Camp, which will be run by the Des Moines Chess Academy, will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day. There will be four different grade groups: preschool-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

All Gilbert students wanting to attend the camp will receive a 50 percent reduction in tuition.

For more information on the camp, click HERE. To register for the camp, click HERE.

We hope to see all of our new aspiring chess players at the camp next week and — who knows? — maybe there’s another Irene Jiao Fei waiting to unleash his or her potential.

 

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

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