ArchiTECHS impress at state Lego League competition

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The ArchiTECHS had fun the FIRST Lego League state competition at Iowa State University. Pictured, from left: Braden Stewart, Meredith Codis, Elazia Davison, Roan Jelken, parent-coach Shannon Jelken, and Jay Helton.

Bitter cold and snowy weather didn’t slow down the Miller Middle School  ArchiTECHS Lego League team as they competed at the State FIRST Lego League tournament at Iowa State University last week. 

The team presented on their plan to improve a public space in their community. Specifically, their project focused on improving Miller Middle School’s food pantry

The ArchiTECHS also competed in three robot runs, in which a robot they designed and programmed completed missions with modules created from Legos. The team’s robot was also featured in a robot judging session in which the team described the machine’s construction and programming features to judges.  

The final event of the day was Core Values judging, during which the students demonstrated to judges how they used innovation, teamwork and inclusion throughout the season. The ArchiTECHS were successful at the tournament and earned first place in Core Values.  

Additionally, the contributions of team member Elazia Davison were recognized with the Grace Murray Hopper Award, which  is given to a female FIRST LEGO League team member who shows persistence in finding solutions, the courage to be innovative, and is a gracious professional. The award is named for  American computer scientist Grace  Murray Hopper, and United States Navy rear admiral. 

Miller Middle School teacher and ArchiTECHS coach Ann Jackson said  the team will continue to work hard on projects after the competition. 

“Even though our official season is now finished, the group will continue their work with the food pantry and robotics,” Jackson said.

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Fourth graders get creative with intramural activities

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Building a tower with straw connectors takes teamwork. Pictured from left are Fisher fourth graders Yi Thai, Eden Rodriguez and Antony Reyes Pintor.

Intramurals are often associated with sports, but Marshalltown Schools fourth graders are exercising their minds with programs at all six district elementary schools. 

Makerspace, a program which encourages creativity and design, and computer coding activities are being enjoyed by fourth graders around the district on Wednesdays after school. 

“Fourth graders had a chance to sign up, and they just get to experience different activities where they can make or build,” said Fisher Elementary teacher librarian Alicia Patten, whose students put their minds to work building and crafting with Legos, straw connectors, popsicle sticks and more this week. 

Patten said the Makerspace activities allow students a lot of freedom to create with the materials they are given. She said such activities allow students to practice engineering and design skills in a fun environment. 

“I liked creating my own mailbox with popsicle sticks and hot glue,” said Fisher student Esteban Bravo Hernandez of his favorite activity this week.

Esteban said it is exciting to jump into new projects where he gets to build something. 

Fellow fourth grader Yi Thai also said she enjoys the building activities. 

“I liked using the straw connectors and Legos, and I want to try the blocks (KEVA planks),” she said.

Yi Thai said it was nice to have fun while also learning something new. 


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This week’s computer coding activity puts a smile on students’ faces as they work together to get their characters through a maze. Pictured from left are fourth graders Bennie Delaney, Melanie Sardina Hernandez and Keyla Castellanos.

Computer coding is another important 21st century skill, and the fourth grade intramural program is  allowing students to develop those abilities. 

One activity this week saw students at Anson Elementary use coding to move a character through a maze. Smiles and laughs were common during the maze activity, and students showed they were up to the challenge. 

“I have enjoyed working with students during this intramural program. It’s fun to see them collaborating while using critical thinking skills to solve problems,” Patten said. 

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New display recognizes Bobcats’ fine arts excellence

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The Honorary Fine Arts Wall is now on display at the Community Auditorium and shows Bobcats who earned all-state accolades from 1979 to 2019. Pictured are MHS Instrumental Music Director Brett Umthun (left) and MHS Director of Vocal Music Amy Ose (right).

Visitors to the Community Auditorium on the Marshalltown High School campus will notice a major change to the reception area of the building. 

The new Honorary Fine Arts Wall is on full display and recognizes Bobcat alumni who excelled in the areas of band, chorus, orchestra and theater over the last four decades. Those named on the wall earned all-state recognition for their skills.

“I think it’s in an excellent position in our auditorium to be seen by community members and outside visitors,” said MHS Instrumental Music Director Brett Umthun. “We host state jazz and state show choir competitions, and I think it’s a great way to show our talents all the way back to 1979.”

MHS Director of Vocal Music Amy Ose said it is good to see current and former fine arts students recognized. She also said the display makes good use of space in the auditorium reception area.

“It looks lovely,” Ose said. “At one time, there was a window here. With the addition of the new gym on the Roundhouse, we lost an entire wall of light.” 

Umthun and Ose said they look forward to continuing to see Bobcats added to the Fine Arts Wall. 

The wall was made possible in part by generous donations to the Marshalltown Auditorium Foundation and we would like to thank our donors for their support.

Current MHS Marching Band students are looking forward to hosting the Bobcat Marching Band Pasta Dinner to raise funds for their upcoming trip to Orlando, Fla. The dinner will be held 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 in the MHS cafeteria. Tickets cost $5 and can be ordered from any high school band student or at the door. 

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Students design, build tiny houses to learn about architecture

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Seventh grade science classmates Shyann Ashby, left, and Camille Ceren, right, work on their Defined STEM Tiny House Architecture project Tuesday. 

Miller Middle School seventh graders are working together to learn about architecture and design as part of the Defined STEM Tiny House Architects project.

“The goal of the project is to have kids try to create a tiny house that is environmentally conscious and eco-friendly,” said Miller seventh grade science teacher Jennifer Edel, one of the three seventh grade science teachers assigning the project to their students. Dalton Ernst’s and Dan Cibula’s students are also working on the projects. 

The diminutive houses, made mostly of construction paper and tape, sport miniature lofts, beds, chairs, doors, windows, roofs, stairs and even toilets.The projects are designed to teach students about all of the components that go into a living space, as well as creating a scaled floor plan and building the houses based on their floor plan.

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A look inside one of the seventh grade group’s tiny houses reveals the level of detail applied to their project.

“We have to create a house, build different rooms and use multi-use design elements,” said student Camille Ceren, who was excited about the project. 

She said the project has helped spark an interest in design and engineering. 

The students have been working on the projects – from planning to scaling to implementation – since mid-December. Many are close to completing their builds. 


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MHS senior Jade Tejada to play soccer at Simpson College

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Jade Tejada, second from left, signed her letter of intent to pursue her academic and athletic career at Simpson College Wednesday. Also pictured are Tejada’s father, Juan (left) and mother, Amanda (second from right), as well as MHS girls Head Soccer Coach Stacy Galema.

Marshalltown High School student Jade Tejada will be playing soccer in Simpson College Storm red and gold after she graduates from high school this spring. 

Tejada signed a letter of intent to pursue her academic and athletic career at Simpson College Wednesday afternoon. She was joined by her parents and girls head soccer coach Stacy Galema at the signing. 

I picked Simpson because the atmosphere of the team is amazing,” Tejada said. “Not only are they great teammates, they are great people in general.”  

With the upcoming soccer season included, Tejada is set to graduate as a four-year varsity member of the MHS girls soccer team. She has played multiple positions for the Bobcats, including as a goal-scoring striker, a savvy central midfielder and a tough central defender. 

Galema said it has been a pleasure to coach Tejada over the years.

“Jade’s passion for soccer started from a young age. I personally began coaching her around the age of 10 at the soccer club,” Galema said. “In addition to playing, she has also been a coach for younger teams and has officiated for many years, helping grow her love for the Beautiful Game.”

Tejada said she has been playing soccer since she was 6 years old and is excited to be able to keep playing in coming years. 

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MCSD staff kick off the new year with professional development

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Dozens of MCSD staff members take notes during professional development at Marshalltown Public Library Thursday morning. 

Teachers and other Marshalltown Schools staff gathered in the hundreds across Marshalltown Thursday for valuable professional development time. 

High school and middle school staff were provided with presentations and activities through the Capturing Kids Hearts program. 

Capturing Kids Hearts is designed to support building positive relationships, whether it is teacher-to-student, teacher-to-teacher, or student-to-student through how people interact with each other,” said district Director of Special Services Matt Cretsinger. “It provides our teachers with evidence-based strategies to reduce situations where students sometimes feel anxious or do not have the skills to express what they need at that moment to reduce their fears and/or anxiety.” 

He said the program is aligned with MCSD’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) work, ensuring all district classrooms are safe and caring learning environments. 

Staff working in preschool through sixth grade went to Marshalltown Community College for training through Solution Tree, which focuses on embracing high levels of learning for all students.

Some PK-6 staff members also had training on Response to Intervention, which focuses on building a tiered system of academic support for students.

Thursday’s trainings made use of videos, book study, group activities and more and will continue Friday.

Teachers will bring this latest round of high-quality professional development to the classroom when school starts back up Monday, Jan. 6. 


Marshalltown High School staff sit in groups during Thursday’s training.


Miller Middle School staff members Lisa Williams (second from left) Anna Miller (second from right) and Siera Schwartz (right) enjoy a professional development activity at Central Rivers AEA Thursday.


MCSD staff filled up DeJardin Hall at Marshalltown Community College, along with several college classrooms, during Thursday’s training. 

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Miller teacher creates portraits, gives to students as keepsakes

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These Miller eighth graders loved receiving their self portraits drawn by teacher Brett Comegys ahead of winter break.

Each day, about 128 students pass through Miller Middle School social studies teacher Brett Comegys’ class, and he has made a mission to give each one of those students a self portrait by the end of the school year. 

“I just use a piece of copy paper and go buy the frames at Walmart,” Comegys said of the portraits, which are based on students’ school photos.

He said he uses a pencil to carefully draw each portrait, and 35 are so far complete. Comegys said he has been putting up a new portrait in his classroom almost every day in recent weeks, and students come to class excited to see which of their peers’ faces was added each day. 

“I haven’t drawn a serious picture in over 10 years,” Comegys said, adding with a smile “I started drawing and had to redo a few.” 

Each drawing takes a little over an hour to complete, he said.

Comegys said he hopes the next batch of pictures with smiling faces will be complete by Valentine’s Day, and another sometime in the spring.

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