In August 2013, Warsaw Community Schools (WCS) received a $300,000 grant from OrthoWorx to increase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education beginning in 2014. WCS also committed $182,000 to its Moving STEM Forward plan.
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Most kids like to sit in the back of the bus—especially the “cool” kids. But that’s not the case on at least one WCS bus, where the kids pile into the front first—and you’ll never guess why.

They love talking to Mardelle Menzie, the bus driver. “Apparently, I have a personality that makes me very approachable,” she said. “Kids want my ‘mom’ standpoint, others want advice from a wiser adult friend. After 11 years, I hear stories from parents or graduated students of the impact I had on them.”

One high school boy commented to her, “Have you ever thought about being a preacher or a counselor? Everyday you’re sharing some story or preaching some message.” Bus drivers have a big opportunity to inspire the students on their daily routes—and Mardelle (Marty as the kids call her) isn’t the only one taking advantage of this platform to enrich student’s lives.

The Heart of the Matter

Bernie Waikel has been driving buses for 26 years. She has a big heart for the kids who sit on her bus each day—especially the troubled ones. “Bullies have feelings, too. Usually there is a reason they are acting out or trying to get attention. I do my best to provide them with a loving atmosphere, and will often pull troubled kids aside to find the root of the problem.”

Bernie’s empathy for those with a chip on their shoulder stems from her own experiences with a son who is in prison. “I feel I know how to relate to these kids, knowing what my son went through as he struggled with drug abuse. I want these kids to know they are safe and cared for on my bus,” she said.

Bus drivers like Bernie and Mardelle get the opportunity to watch the kids grow up. And often, they get to know the kids, and siblings, over several years.

Equipped for Everything

Safety is the main focus for all WCS drivers. As a result, being a bus driver requires intensive training. Drivers are required to pass an 80-point interior and exterior inspection of the bus, and tests on 4-point air braking, skills, straight-line backing, alley parking, parallel parking, simulated bus stops, and driving.

They also must take an average of 5 weeks of training, attend a 3-day state safety school, become CPR and First Aid certified, take a Commercial Driver’s License physical, and attend mandatory safety meetings twice per year.

To bus drivers like Mardelle and Bernie, the kids are worth it. As Mardelle says, “The kids are awesome, hilarious, nerve wracking, frustrating, challenging, and rewarding. Only because of the kids do I continue to do this job after my kids have grown up. When the day comes for me to move on, it will be the hardest day of my life.”

Bernie adds, “I love these kids and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Tagged in: Inspire

Stepping into the role of Superintendent for WCS is the fulfillment of a personal dream.

I am a Warsaw Community Schools graduate, and it’s because of my experience at WCS that I pursued education as a career. I wanted to be like my role models, Jim Gilmer and Jeff Grose, both teachers in the history department. My goal was to make a positive impact on kids, just like these teachers did for me.

I was hired as a WCS history teacher and track coach right out of college—and I had no intention of doing anything else. One day, during a chance meeting, I was asked if I’d be interested in becoming a principal in Wabash County.

It was really hard to leave Warsaw. But I felt the pull to be involved. I thought I’d be in Wabash the rest of my life. But eventually, I again felt the pull to return home to Warsaw, taking the position as Chief Academic Officer. I saw the WCS mission statement and was reminded why I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to serve in my hometown. I later stepped into the role of WCS Assistant Superintendent.

During my time as a history teacher in Warsaw, my wife and I went through an international adoption. This changed our lives and was a driving force behind the realization of our passions, which pushed us to pursue these career opportunities. Doors have opened for us to utilize our talents for the community. Not many have the opportunity to serve their hometown in this way.

Looking forward, I’m excited to lead a school corporation that continues striving to be vision focused and adaptable. We don’t just define what we do by one curriculum or technology. We look at how we can best meet the needs of our students and community, and make sure we provide for those needs.

One of my goals is to be as visible and accessible as possible. Everything starts with relationships, and communication within those relationships. It can be rather hard to find me in my office, as I’m usually out walking around buildings, attending events, and interacting with parents, students, teachers, and support staff.

School corporations haven’t always done a great job sharing the good stuff about what’s going on inside the schools. So I look for opportunities to share the amazing things—and the stories—of what’s going on in our classrooms everyday

We live in an amazing community. My family and I are thankful and honored to be in this role, and to serve the community. My door is always open and I look forward to strengthening these relationships.
Tagged in: Dream
"Last year I was scared to raise my hand or talk in class, but then my family group leader changed everything." —Kyle Boyer, 6th grader at Jefferson Elementary School

Confidence transforms people—and the staff at Jefferson Elementary School is witnessing this after two years of a unique leadership program called Family Groups. This program not only gives kids individualized attention and encouragement from older peers, but also shows kids their teachers believe in their abilities.

Every 6th grader is the leader of a family group. Each family group has at least one child from every grade represented. Groups meet once or twice a month to read books, do crafts, and volunteer in the community. The staff opted to start the leadership program two years ago to fulfill a two-fold purpose:

To inspire and equip students as leaders through direct instruction in leadership practices.
To give students hands on opportunities to practice and develop the habits of enriching the lives of others
WHY? According to 5th grade teacher Scott McClintock, "We've got a lot of weak leaders in our world right now, and we need to train up kids to be good leaders who look for the good of others.

Former principal and current Chief Academic Officer David Robertson adds, "We wanted to teach kids that sometimes a leader isn't someone up front, but rather someone playing his role within a group. I really feel passionate about the fact that teamwork, collaboration, effective communication, and empathy for others are important skills for success in any field they make pursue as adults."

HOW: 540 kids are divided into 58 groups that meet once or twice a month. Activities include reading books together, carving pumpkins into story characters, making turkeys and valentines for Grace Village Retirement Community, having family Christmas dinners, a community cleanup day, planting a tree for Arbor Day, field day, and more.

Teachers oversee two to three groups at their assigned meeting places. Librarian Mona Steiner, who is in charge of group crafts, said, "We don't give a lot of instruction. Instructions are put in the bag, but the kids do it themselves."

The staff truly believes that leadership is important for the kids to learn and they are seeing inspiring results. New Principal Kyle Carter states, "We don't always realize the power we have to make a difference in someone else's life. Our family groups give us the opportunity to help our students see this potential."

RESULTS: "It's so cool to watch kids who don't seem like leaders. Some of the kids who are in trouble a lot end up being incredible leaders—and they just love it. When you give them responsibility for something that matters, they are totally different kids." —David Robertson

"There are some kids who don't think they can do it, but we help build them and give them the skills to lead. Your natural leaders stand out. But there may be other kids who could be leaders with just a little guidance." — 5th grade teacher Jamie Gill


IMPACT: Whether it is 6th grade girls meeting kindergartners on the bus and taking them to breakfast, or 5th graders learning to step up and write on the board, the program's impact is obvious:

Kids learn to pursue their dreams. As PE teacher Sandra Monce says, "Leading gives kids confidence."

Compassion and empathy are fostered. "I have seen it in my 5th grade class. We don't even have to ask, we start a project and kids get up and help each other—and that didn't happen before." —Scott McClintock

Discipline opportunities are created. When someone made a poor choice, Robertson took it as a learning opportunity. He would say, "Let's think about how this effects you as a leader, and the kids in your group." It put leadership issues into a real-life situation for the kids.

Kids apply new knowledge. Some leaders have special needs or difficult children in their groups. It opens their minds to see not everyone is the same, and it's okay to be friends with someone who is different. Leaders must try to find ways to include everyone and meet them where they are.

A caring family atmosphere is experienced. "We don't know what these kids come from. By doing these family groups, we are showing them what family can be. We want them to realize a family is a group of people that cares about each other and wants to help each other." —Mona Steiner

Lasting values and relationships are built. Kids will already know older students when they advance to middle and high school. The values learned will last beyond elementary. Last year at Lakeview Middle School, seven of the eight Students of the Month had been in one of these family groups. "We know we are not only creating close bonds between students at each grade level, but we are doing so in a way that builds leadership potential while enriching lives."—Kyle Carter

Staff is energized to inspire and equip all students. "Schools can be stressful places, but the family program was totally re-energizing for several staff members. They were like new people. So much today is about test scores, but the leadership families at Jefferson are what people feel school should be about, and when you give teachers the opportunities to do that, it reminds them why they became teachers in the first place—David Robertson

Clearly the program is building the potential for success in its students, an investment they may never have received if it weren't for Jefferson Elementary School. As David Robertson put it, "Some of these kids will never have the opportunity to be a leader if we don't give them that chance."

Tagged in: Acquire
The Warsaw Education Foundation began in 1987, when a group of Warsaw business leaders volunteered to connect local businesses with the school corporation. Their focus was to equip leaders with a host of benefits including student awareness of work ethics, opportunities, and more. This is mainly accomplished by providing grants, which empower teachers and advance enrichment opportunities in the classroom. As the mission statement says, the Warsaw Education Foundation "firmly believes that today's students are tomorrow's leaders, and the quality of our future depends on the excellence of today's educational experiences."

Barb Smolen is the third and longest serving executive director for the Warsaw Education Foundation.

Smolen most enjoys working with the teachers and processing the applications for grants. "School budgets do not cover everything that's needed in a classroom," says Smolen. "Teachers in the classrooms have great ideas that we can help implement, and we try to address both the needs and wants. The more funding we can raise from the community, the more grants we can award."

The Warsaw Education Foundation bylaws state that the foundation provides funding for WCS, and exists for that purpose alone. "This has always been the case," says Smolen. "The whole community benefits from educated citizens." Over the past five years, an average of $16,000 has been awarded through grants.

"We have really innovative teachers," Smolen says. Abbi Richcreek, a teacher in the robotics class at the high school, applied for a grant to purchase three robot kits. These kits don't come with instructions, just parts. The kids design and build their own robots, using the parts. The students succeeded, and these robots made a special appearance at the Community Quiz Bowl.

The next year, Richcreek applied for another grant for underwater robots. Again, the students applied their knowledge and skills by designing and building them, and set up an obstacle course in theschool's pool. Using underwater cameras attached to the robots, the students had to navigate the course with their backs turned to the pool. "The relationship to what they're doing in the classroom applies to real world experience, where they experience possibilities for a career, such as marine technology," Smolen says. The best part of Smolen's job is getting to see how the grants enrich the students.

"It is the coolest thing! When you only see it on paper, it's just words."

Smolen is currently preparing to train teachers in grant application, equipping them with tools they need to succeed. Preparing for the coming years, the foundation continues to build endowment and increase funding for grant opportunities. This includes the Community Quiz Bowl. "It's a community team Jeopardy! sort of event," says Smolen. "There are different categories, and the highest score wins. The community teams get a little competitive about winning!"

The Warsaw Education Foundation is currently seeking board member applications.

If you are interested in serving, contact Barb at 574.371.5098, or email

For more information about the Warsaw Education Foundation, visit

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