Rec’s and Reviews: “The Book of Life”

written by Alexandra Wade

A new family movie, the mystical “The Book of Life”, is fun, original and beautifully animated. Featuring a journey from the Mexican town of San Angel through two different parts of the underworld, “The Book of Life” is a fun celebration of Mexican folklore and pop culture.

"The Book of Life" poster, from

“The Book of Life” poster, from

The story centers on the sassy, independent Maria (Zoe Saldana) and her friends, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). Manolo is a passionate guitarist who comes from a long line of champion bullfighters. Pressured by his father, he becomes an accomplished toreador as well, but is too gentle to ever kill the bull. Joaquin also tries to live up to his family’s legacy, becoming the town’s hero.

Unknown to the three friends, Xibalba, creepy king of the underworld and La Muerte, the underworld’s colorful and vibrant queen, made a bet over which boy Maria would marry when the three friends were children. When Xibalba cheats to win the bet, he unwittingly sends Manolo on a journey through the underworld and starts a series of events that will change the friends’ lives.

The highlights of the movie are the visuals and the soundtrack. The animation seems completely new, full of eye-popping colors and textures that draw from Mexican culture. Familiar radio hits are arranged into new, but just-as-catchy, tunes that will entertain kids and draw laughs from adults. The cast is also well-formed and fun.

Some of the movie’s themes are serious, as it uses the Day of the Dead and a trip to the underworld as major plot points, and there are some potentially-scary moments scattered throughout. But love, family, and doing what is right are what the movie is truly about, and it’s a great chance to learn more about Mexican culture.

“The Book of Life” is rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images. For more detailed reviews, visit Common Sense Media and Rotten Tomatoes.

Community Ed. Highlight: Preschool Palooza!

written by Alexandra Wade

PP-storytimeOur second Community Education Highlight is Preschool Palooza! This fun and free event takes place from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, November 8 at Hillside Elementary. Preschool Palooza is for children ages 2–6 and their parents. There will be fun, educational activities children can enjoy while parents gather information about early childhood opportunities. All snacks and activities are free.

PP-cafeteriaWhile children are enjoying inflatables, face-painting, singing and dancing with Music-n-Motion, and exploring City of West Des Moines vehicles, parents can find out more about early childhood opportunities. They will be able to talk with WDMCS district staff about kindergarten registration information, the WDMCS district preschool programs coordinator, preschool directors and teachers who participate in SVPP, and the WDMCS district nutrition department.


Come join us at Preschool Palooza for a fun, free, and informative time! Those interested can contact Jamie Evans, Holly Burns, and Sonja B. LeSher for more information.





Special thanks to the following organizations for their help with Preschool Palooza:

  • Apple Tree Children’s Center – Grand and Ashworth Location
  • City of West Des Moines
  • Drake University Head Start
  • The Hannah Geneser Foundation
  • Music-n-Motion
  • Creekside Christian Preschool
  • Sacred Heart Preschool
  • Tiger Cubs at Clive, Crestview, Jordan Creek, Western Hills, and Westridge
  • Walnut Creek YMCA
  • West Des Moines EMS
  • West Des Moines Park and Recreation
  • West Des Moines Police Department
  • WDMCS Nutrition Department

Instructor Tips: Sarah Noll-Wilson — Mindfulness

written by Alexandra Wade

Sarah Noll-Wilson

Sarah Noll-Wilson, ARAG Talent Development Business Partner

Our second round of instructor tips comes from Sarah Noll-Wilson. Noll-Wilson is deeply passionate about helping individuals and teams become their best. She creates meaningful learning and development experiences for ARAG as their Talent Development Business Partner. She holds a master’s degree from Drake University specializing in Adult Learning and Organizational Performance. She is an adjunct professor at Drake University and a guest lecturer at University of Northern Iowa. According to her husband, she is “prone to inspiration.” Noll-Wilson will be teaching the “Mindless or Mindful?: Let’s Explore Mindfulness” LEARNwest class from 6:30–8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Nov. 4–25.



Sarah Noll-Wilson’s Three Simple Tips to Help You Increase Your Mindfulness

1. When in doubt, breathe. A simple activity that calms mind and lowers stress is to take a slow, purposeful breath. When we take a moment to focus on something like our breath, a signal is sent to our brain to calm down and relax. Then, it helps our mind begin to settle. If it helps, inhale for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 3.

2. Don’t forget to S.T.O.P. When your mind is racing with stress or you want to connect with the present, remember the acronym S.T.O.P.

    • S—Stop what you are doing. Create a moment of pause. You might consider practicing this at specific times: when you first wake up, after lunch, sitting at a stop light, etc.
    • T—Take a breath. Just breathe and make your breath your focus. This is not about deep breathing, but rather about paying attention to breathing as a way to focus the mind.
    • O—Observe your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Investigate and observe what is happening in the moment. What thoughts are arising? How are they impacting your emotions or physical sensations? Can you notice how thoughts, feelings, and sensations are not permanent?  If you are struggling, naming your emotions and thoughts—”That’s a worry thought”—can have a calming effect.
    • P—Proceed with something productive and supportive in the moment. It may be leaning into an emotion, taking a walk, or talking with a friend.

3. Savor the moment or the meal. A great way to practice mindfulness is when we are engaged in an activity we can do in our sleep, like eating, cleaning, brushing, showering, etc. Pick one activity and see if you can savor the moment by connecting with all of your senses. What are you seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting? How does this activity make you feel? What do you notice in your body? Try to discover something new about the task at hand.

Watch the Community Education blog for more instructor tips during the third week of every month.

Mythbusting Monday: Facility Use

written by Alexandra Wade


The Facility Use team helps community members who are seeking accessible, convenient and affordable space to hold their activities. They schedule district spaces for community usage outside the regular school day. For our first Mythbusting Monday post, we decided to cover some common myths about facility use.

  • Myth: You Can Cancel An Event
    • This myth is TRUE—You CAN cancel an event if you need to.
    • We would actually prefer you cancel an event, instead of simply not showing up! Cancellations happen, and we understand that. Our cancellation policy is designed to give groups that have events scheduled some flexibility, but also holds them accountable for the space they reserved.
    • If a cancellation is needed, you can cancel with us two weeks out from your event date with no penalty. Within that two-week timeframe, a $20 cancellation fee will be assessed per date and per location that is cancelled. If a group just does not show up to a scheduled activity, the full fees will remain on their account. Our expectation is that those fees will be paid as if the space was used, so canceling is your best option if there is a conflict.
  • Myth: You Don’t Need Event Insurance
    • This myth is FALSE—You DO need event insurance for all facility use.
    • All facility use in any WDMCS facility requires you to provide proof of liability insurance holding the district harmless. If you do not have event insurance covering your group’s use of our space, you can purchase a policy through most providers. Your homeowner’s policies will also cover your use of public space in the liability portion of your policy. Your provider can answer any specific questions you may have.

Keep an eye on the Community Ed. blog for more Mythbusting Mondays!

Monthly Motivation: Ziauddin and Malala Yousafzai

written by Alexandra Wade


Ziauddin Yousafzai, a Pakistani educator and activist, teaches his students about equality and independence from a young age. In this TED talk, he speaks about his relationship with his daughter, Malala, who became world-famous when the Taliban tried to end her campaign for education by assassinating her in October 2012. She made a full recovery and has continued her activism on a global scale.

The circumstances that inspired the Yousafzai’s bravery may be unique, but people everywhere admire Malala’s actions and the way her father has supported her. What are some things you can do to empower the children in your life?


Feeling motivated? Check in with the Community Education blog the second week of every month for more inspiration and wellness posts!

CE Today: Oct. 1893—West Des Moines is incorporated

written by Alexandra Wade


incorporation-imageThe modest railroad town of Valley Junction was incorporated in October 1893. The city had only 500 residents, but quickly started to grow with help from leaders like James C. Jordan, Valley Junction’s first settler. The city adopted the name West Des Moines in 1938, hoping the new name would create a “suburban image” for the city and foster progress.

Watch for more posts about history and observances on Wednesdays during the first full week of every month!

CE Contest: Where was this photo taken?

written by Alexandra Wade

For our very first contest post, we want to know: Where was this photo taken?

ContestPost-photo1Correctly identify where in the district this photo was taken for a chance to win some Community Education swag! Please post your answers in the comments on Facebook, and watch to see who the lucky winner is.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for more contests, posted the first Monday of each month.




CE Poll: What’s your favorite childhood memory?

written by Alexandra Wade


Poll: What is your favorite childhood memory?

Adults may miss things like taking daily naps and watching cartoons, but they sure made being a kid special. With school in full-swing and trick-or-treating coming up, it’s a great time to look back and remember your own childhood. Share your favorite childhood memories with us on Facebook!


Watch for more fun polls and lists the fourth Thursday of every month on the Community Education blog!