The buses starting rumbling in around the usual time on a cool but sunny, Friday, Sept. 1, the first day of school at De Soto Middle/High School. The level of excitement was ramping up in the building as children climbed off and walked into school. The empty halls glistened as they began to fill with students. There were no bells this day, but students were called to a short assembly where they got their locker assignments and class lists and had some time to go to their lockers.
That’s just about where the “usual” first day ended for the students and staff. Throughout the day students were treated to a variety of informative and inspirational presentations from local business and education professionals. There were also team-building activities, even painting “kindness rocks” with positive messages, and a general assembly that included awards and recognitions, speakers and musical interludes.
Special guest and keynote speaker, Dave Skogen, a community leader, author, philanthropist and Chairman of the Board of Festival Foods, told the general assembly of K through 12 students, staff and community members that he saw life as having three stages: learning, earning and returning. He encouraged students to make good choices.
“A student’s achievement can be measured in more than just grades. I’ll take a C student who has good character traits any day over an A student that becomes a slacker,” Skogen said. “It is a person’s character that sets them up for success throughout life. Companies are looking for people with strong character today; the technical skills we can teach them.”
Skogen has created a new program called “Character Lives.” He developed the program that focuses on spreading compassion and kindness. De Soto Area Schools have adopted Character Lives for this school year. A total of 24 local schools have also adopted the program.
State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Tony Evers, was also a special guest. After a general reception in the LMC where Evers met and talked with students, parents, school board members, staff and school volunteers, he got a tour and then was a featured speaker in the general assembly.
Evers spoke of the quality of the students he met that morning and the excitement of a new school year. He said that if he had kids of school age, he would love to send them to De Soto and would encourage others to do so. “The pathway to learning is through character and knowing every action makes a difference,” he said.
Evers also presented Academic Excellence Awards to De Soto High School students.
DHS Senior Grant Chapes rounded out the speakers. He was presenting a student perspective and talked about the benefits of making good choices and building one’s character.
New teachers and staff were introduced and De Soto staff was recognize for their years of service.
Three teachers who retired at the end of last year received their Golden Bell Recognition from school board member Rick Pedretti and Evers: Scott King, middle school/high school physical education teacher, coach and athletic director who served in the district for 25 years (King continues as athletic director); Tom Stingl, middle school/high school art teacher and yearbook adviser who served in the district for 33 years; and Ron Von Glahn, middle school/high school agriculture teacher, FFA adviser and coach who served in the district for 31 years.
Sheriff John Spears and the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department were recognized for all that they for all that they do to support students and schools.
Terry Russell was also recognized. He is the father of six former De Soto students, has been a volunteer sports videographer, former school board member and a huge De Soto supporter. Russell will receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association this November for more than two decades of volunteer service to De Soto and the community.
Greg Koelker, former De Soto teacher, was presented with a special award for promoting the school through articles and photographs he submits to the local newspapers. He was also recognized for announcing football games for 27 years.
After the general assembly, Tom Thibodeau, professor of Service Learning spoke to the assembled high school student body. He told them that he calls himself an agent of good. He gave credit for the beautiful, shiny school to the custodians and he said the cooks amazed him, as this was first time that he had a school lunch that included fried mushrooms to put on hamburgers.
Thibodeau told several inspiring stories about playing college football. He was on the team for all four years but only got in two games. Later in life when Sports Illustrated did a piece on John Gagliardi, the longtime coach at St. John’s University, he said, “There I was in the photograph! Two games and I made Sports Illustrated! You just never know.” He told the students to believe in themselves and the power they have to positively influence the world around them every day. “When you go to bed at night, I want you to look at yourself and say, “Sweet!’