Merrill Minute

April 18, 2022

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Safe and Supportive School

Greetings, Mustangs,

At last month's PTA meeting, we received several questions about safety at Merrill. I thought it might be helpful to share an overview of some of the things we do at Merrill to create a safe and supportive space.

  • Engaging Lessons: First and foremost, teachers at Merrill collaborate regularly with their colleagues to develop lessons in which students get to engage with their peers as they inquire into the world around them. We want students IN the classroom reading, writing, thinking, discussing, and problem-solving. When students are in the classroom learning, we know they are safe and supported.
  • Monday Message: We review our common expectations for all students each Monday and periodically throughout each day. These common expectations include phones off and put away for the duration of the school day, arrive on time to class, be where you are supposed to be, use words that are safe and welcoming, and only consume food at designated times and in designated spaces.
  • Classroom Conversations - Restrooms: Last Monday morning during 1st period, we held classroom conversations regarding restrooms at Merrill. Classes discussed the following questions...What is the purpose of the restroom space? What is your responsibility as a student in that space? What is the responsibility of others? What do you need from the adults in this building as we think about restrooms and safety?
  • See something. Say Something. We ended the classroom conversations by reminding students of the ways they can communicate with us when things aren't going well. Students can tell an adult that is close by, email a staff member, or tell a family member who can then call the school.
  • What happens when a report is made? When we receive a report from a student or community member, or if something just seems off, we go on a fact finding mission. We review security camera footage, interview students and/or staff, schedule times to observe the problematic space, among other things.
  • Follow-Up: Finally, we follow up with students and families to determine next steps. We are so lucky to get to partner this year with Let's Talk, a community based organization inside our school who mediates conflict and supports restoration of relationships. Additional supports beyond mediation include individual plans to check-in with a "go to" staff member, a referral to a school based support team, a schedule change, rethinking of a policy or procedure in the school, etc. We continue to work with students and families until the issue is resolved.
  • Final Note: Please know that we don't see, hear, or know everything. If a concern arises, please don't hesitate to reach out. We are here to help problem-solve.

Thank you for your partnership!


Kathryn Panek, Principal

Merrill Middle School

April: Celebrate School Library Month!

Jason Reynolds for School Libraries

Thank you, Ms. Kent!

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ISASP Testing - Week of April 18

The message below was sent via Infinite Campus and School CNXT last week. Please review the letter and let us know if you have any questions.
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Visual Arts Students Meet Artist Marissa Hernandez

Mrs. Mukkada's 7th Grade I.B. Visual Arts class had the wonderful opportunity to welcome a guest speaker, local artist, and muralist, 22-year-old Marissa Hernandez! Marissa's artwork can be seen at Cattel Elementary as well as other locations around Des Moines. Marissa's artwork highlights personal identity through shape, color, and form, while exploring marginalized and BIPOC communities' representation in art. Our 7th graders here at Merrill are working on an art unit related to personal identity, so Marissa was a perfect fit! We enjoyed hearing from an artist in the community and how art can be a voice for change and further our school goals.

Photo from the artist's website, copyright hernandezdesignco. 2022

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Academic Pentathlon

Congratulations to Lilah, Neena, and Iris for qualifying for the National Academic Pentathlon! All three students scored in the Top 3 in one or more categories in the state! Way to go, Mustangs!
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Special Olympics Unified Mini-Golf

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Dream to Teach

The Merrill Dream to Teach group took a trip on March 30 to Central Campus to learn more about the Dream to Teach program offered in high school. The day continued at Grandview University where students had a chance to hear from various department heads and from current students in the education program. Two former Merrill students served on the Grandview student panel. Thank you to Mr. Severson for sponsoring this group!

Transgender Day of Visibility

To celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility, students and staff gathered together on the front sidewalk at Merrill with posters, signs, flags, and waved at the morning traffic. The student-led "walk in" provided a warm and inclusive welcome on an otherwise chilly morning. Thank you to the Merrill APAT Leadership Team (All the People, All the Time) for organizing the event to bring awareness to, and show support for, the transgender community.

All City Music Festival

Congratulations to the almost 50 students who were selected for and participated in the All City Music Festival on Tuesday, April 5 at Drake University. Students spent the afternoon rehearsing at the Knapp Center with their peers from all 10 middle schools. They had a short dinner break to eat some pizza and continue to build relationships with students from other schools. The evening concluded with a 7:00 PM concert. Congratulations to these students; and thank you to our wonderful performing arts team of Ms. Copic, Ms. Graham, and Mr. Morgan.
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Welcome Incoming 6th Graders!

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CORE, community of racial equity, is a group that focuses on racial equity in school. This year, we made a goal for Merrill Middle School to minimize both microaggressions and the use of racial slurs. Our CORE group made posters informing students about the racial things that happen at school, as well as presenting to the staff of Merrill to bring awareness of microaggressions used around the building. Our goal is to make Merrill a better place for current students and for students coming in the next years.

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2022 Spring Iowa Youth Straw Poll

On Tuesday, April 12, students from across the state, including Merrill Mustangs, participated in the Iowa Youth Straw Poll. Students researched candidates, viewed mock election ballots, and then cast their vote for their preferred candidate for U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and Iowa Governor. For more information and to review results, please click here. Thank you to our Individuals and Societies teachers - Ms. Tharp, Ms. Sereg, Ms. McCormick, Ms. Smith, Mr. O'Connor, and Mr. Thomas - for organizing the event.

Dental Screenings

Prior to enrollment in 9th grade, Iowa requires all students to participate in a dental screening to improve the oral health of Iowa children. DMPS and Merrill Middle school partnered with Dental Connections to ensure all families were able to complete this screening. Courtney, the dental hygienist from Dental Connections, spent the morning of April 14 at Merrill and took a quick peek at each student's teeth. Thank you, Dental Connections!

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On-going Communication

The last few years (during the pandemic when our building has not been open to visitors), we have approached conferences differently. Instead of a one time event that isn't always timely, we are working hard to establish ongoing communication between school and community.

  • Contact us anytime. We will do the same. We encourage all students and families to reach out anytime via email, CNXT, or phone. While conferences have traditionally been an "event", they are not always timely. Please don't hesitate to give us a call when a need arises, and we promise to do the same.
  • Teachers: Please click here for a link to teacher emails at Merrill. If you are unsure which teachers your student has each day, you can log-in to Infinite Campus and click "schedule".
  • Classwork Check-in Links: Click here to access information about daily engagements in each class and what your student is working on.
  • Grade Level Support: Grade level teams have been monitoring student engagement and student learning progress closely. The Merrill staff continues to coordinate efforts to closely monitor the academic, social, and behavioral supports students need.

Merrill Links - We are here for you!


  • April 19-21: ISASP - 7th is Apr. 19, 8th Day 1 is Apr. 20, 8th Day 2 & 6th grade are Apr. 21
  • April 22: No School
  • April 25: No School, PD Day
  • May 3: Rising 6th Grade Night from 5:30-7:00 PM
  • May 30: No School – Memorial Day
  • June 2: 8th Grade Celebration (Students only. Will need volunteers. During the school day.)
  • June 3: Last Day of School w/ Students, Early Dismissal