The Good Stuff

After just over 100 days in my new role as interim superintendent for Franklin West schools, I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on the job so far. It’s hard to describe what the superintendent’s job actually is, but the way I explain it to elementary students is that the superintendent “works to make sure that the principals have everything they need to support the teachers so that teachers can do everything they need for students.” The students will shake their heads like it kind of makes sense, so I guess that definition works.

As superintendent, I spend a lot of time in meetings. I meet with principals, central office staff, teachers, other superintendents, parents, the teachers association and anyone else who needs my attention. In these meetings, I want to make sure that the needs of our students are met while maintaining my legal and fiscal obligations to the state and community. We work on professional development for teachers, budgets, grants, testing (both health and academic), communication and any other topic that comes up that will impact our schools and students. 

Every day is different which keeps the job interesting and challenging. However, if all I did was sit in meetings all day every day, it would be easy to lose sight of the purpose of the job. It would be difficult to be a superintendent of schools without spending a lot of time actually in schools. And so, every week I make certain that I am able to be in our schools. This allows me to speak with the principals and teachers to make sure I know what they need. More importantly, being in schools gives me the opportunity to be with students. 

I have played games with preschool students at Fletcher, experienced an all school assembly at GEMS, and researched and shared about “plants in Hawaii that curl up when you touch them” at the request of a BFA first grade student. I’ve read to third and fourth graders at BFA, learned about Alaska with MS students at GEMS, and judged a debate in AP US History in the high school at BFA. Some of those experiences were prearranged, but most of the time I can just walk into a classroom, say hello to students, ask what they are working on, and see how they are doing.  Just this morning I got to see a student’s morning share, catch some math facts work, watch a game of “I Spy..” with letters, learn a little bit about buffaloes, and participate in a movement break.  PS I can’t crab walk! (Yet.)

The superintendent job can be difficult at times. There have been disagreements and difficult conversations. We always work through them due to our shared beliefs about children. My time in classrooms keeps me centered and focused on the needs of all of our students. I make it a point to see what is happening as often as I can because in the words of Kenny Chesney, “that’s the good stuff”. And so far, I’ve seen a lot of good stuff in all of our schools in my first 100 or so days. 

John Tague is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

First Graders Lead the Charge on Recycling at Fletcher Elementary

The Fletcher Elementary learning community values environmental stewardship.  This month Mrs. Hurt’s first graders have been learning about recycling practices. 

Mrs Hurt read students a wide variety of books about recycling.

Students explored reading Ready to Recycle  together as a class as well as to themselves, and then they got to add color to the book.  The next day the class read a second book, about the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and began sharing ideas for how they can REDUCE (ie. use snack/lunch containers we can rinse and use again, rather than plastic bags) and things they can REUSE  (ie. use clean paper lunch bags to make puppets, use empty jars to hold our pencils). Students were very excited to share their learning and ideas with the other classes. They feel empowered that they will be “teachers” during our school-wide meeting. First grade learning has included: a review of the reasons WHY we recycle (caring for the environment, landfills are getting full, etc), a review of WHAT we can recycle (we have modeled this since the first day of school and practiced sorting items that CAN and CANNOT be recycled), a review of HOW we can properly recycle (noticing any food in a container and rinsing it out first, looking at the list of items and guidelines from the NWSWD (NorthWest Solid Waste District) on classrooms flyers (which we plan to make for every classroom).In addition to this, every day students are applying what they learned as they recycle everything from their plastic lunch containers to scraps of construction paper.  More importantly, they know WHY they are recycling and are ready to teach others about the importance of recycling for the planet.

Aimee Toth is currently the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

BFA Fairfax Spirit Is Loud and Proud During 2021 Homecoming Week!

The BFA Fairfax community has been alive with spirit and enthusiasm this week as we celebrate 2021 Homecoming!  After nearly two years of modifications, cancellations, and other Covid-related challenges, it has been heartwarming to see the vibrance and excitement of our student body and greater community at various events.  Although still in a slightly modified format to ensure safety, this week has been a taste of normalcy, and served as a reminder of all that is great about High School in the fall.  

Leaders from the BFA Fairfax Student Council established a number of activities for the student body including daily theme days (Class Color Day, Throwback Thursday, Maroon & White Day, etc.) as well as fun Pep Rally activities during Flex Block on Thursday and Friday. 

After a year hiatus due to Covid 19 safety concerns, the ever-popular Fairfax Relays costume race kicked off the week’s Homecoming athletic events on Tuesday, October 5th. This annual celebration of the Vermont running community brings schools and teams of all sizes together for a day of fun and competition.  

Friday October 8 will host the homecoming games for girls soccer, with the JV facing CVU, and Varsity facing Oxbow at 4pm.  Saturday October 9 will round out the homecoming games with JV Boys Soccer facing U32 at 10am, Varsity Boys Soccer facing Craftsbury at 12pm, and Football facing Mill River at 2pm.  

The athletic events of the week are also serving as the Senior recognition games/events, allowing us to celebrate the numerous contributions of the Class of 2022!

Finally, all students in grades 9-12 will have the opportunity to round out Homecoming 2021 at the Fall Harvest Festival being held immediately following the football game on Saturday.  Food, games, prizes, and a live DJ will be on hand to bring this celebratory week to a close.  

Thank you to everyone in the community who has helped make this week a success! We look forward to seeing you at this weekend’s events. Go Fairfax!

| Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Proud Principal Awards

Each month the Georgia Elementary School celebrates the excellent efforts students make each and every day.  The “respectful” interactions they are having with their peers and adults, the “responsible” choices they are making throughout the day, and the “safe” decisions they are implementing through playful interactions and other daily experiences.

During lunch, recognitions are shared and I feel honored to read aloud the great characteristics teachers are seeing in their students. Among their peers, recipients hear their accomplishments and receive a Proud Principal Certificate and pencil.  Friends cheer, adults applaud, and smiles can be seen through different facial expressions.

The best part of a Principal’s day is interacting with students. It brings delight and meaning to our work and makes for a great day.

Here are quotes from Proud Principal Awards:

“You have been a kind and caring friend in the classroom and you are a great role model for your peers.  Thank you for being respectful, responsible, and safe”

“You have a kind heart towards your peers and teachers and you are a great leader for students to follow”

“You are always coming to school smiling and eager to learn.  I love how much you love school.”

“Our classroom community is lucky to have such a great classroom peer”

“You are a respectful listener and active participant in class discussions.  We can count on you to make our class a caring, safe place to be.”

| Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

The Spirit of Innovation

One of the most exciting aspects of FWSU is the level of innovation our students get to experience and lead. Two years ago, before joining FWSU was even a thought, I was invited to visit some of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) spaces across the district. 

Our former Superintendent Ned Kirsch was, without a doubt, a motivating force for innovation and a belief in what is possible. His influence and leadership are very visible today!

Circuitry with Sewing

Who knew this was a thing!

Students can learn about making wearable circuits using conductive thread and sewing machines. Along those same lines, I saw students making cards that light up and play music using the same materials. What a great way to be curious and creative at the same time. 

Design and 3D Printing

Who doesn’t love to watch a 3D printer in action? I remember the first time I was watching one, it was printing a chain link. I could not wrap my head around how it was going to print independent links that were interconnected. Well it did and I’m still not sure how it worked. 

As much fun as it is to watch your design come to life, the process of designing is what we are after. We are fortunate to have several printers and the accompanying software to allow students to again be curious and creative. 

3D Printer

Green Screen (So Much Fun!)

If you haven’t yet experienced a green screen, I hope you get to in the near future. Our students are collaboratively creating news broadcasts, professional presentations, tours across the world, and so much more.

I wasn’t able to get a great picture of our many set-ups so here is a stock photo to help paint the picture. 

And there’s the Transferable Skills!

Perhaps a different kind of innovation. In addition to rigorous academic curriculum, we find these opportunities support our students with transferable skills. We see so many examples of how technology creates opportunities that did not exist before.  

Stay tuned for more ……

| Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

Genuine Foods

Dear Genuine Foods,

Today, I’d like to publicly celebrate all your hard work for making sure our students are well fed with locally handmade and nutritious food.  There have been lots of challenges and you have faced them head on and made positive strides. I want you to know we see these efforts paying off. Good food is a universal game changer and you have made a significant contribution to the culture of our schools. There are lots of things to worry about right now but food in school is not one of them. 

Last week I was visiting classrooms in Fletcher and students were having waffles for breakfast. They were so excited! More than most mornings. I asked a third grader what they liked most about breakfast at school and she replied “breakfast is always yummy! Pretty much sums it all up. 

They say you eat with your eyes first. Today, while I was visiting GEMS, this sign caught my eye. I wanted to stay for lunch just because I was suddenly hungry.  While I was walking around watching students enjoy their lunches I asked a student how the food was? I apparently timed my question as he was chewing but I received two enthusiastic thumbs up! I’ll take that as a victory.

At BFA I was impressed by the choices students had. There was a sandwich station, salad bar, pizza and pasta. Oh and fresh fruit everywhere too! 

I had the opportunity to join the 5th grade lunch. I saw two boys sitting quietly eating so I decided to say hello. I asked how their day was going and they said “can’t talk, eating pizza.” #Pizzaforthewin.

I am grateful for your leadership, service with a smile, and genuine (pun intended) care for the students and staff in FWSU. You provide so much more than just food. 

With tremendous appreciation,

Scott Thompson

Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

GEMS Geocaching At Niquette Bay State Park

Yesterday, 4th grade students took their learning outside at Niquette Bay State Park located near Colchester, Vermont.

Prior to their visit, the students have been learning the math and science of how Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology works. They then applied this knowledge to learn how to navigate using the technology in order to participate in geocaching activities.

Geocaching encourages kids to explore the outside world around them and also offers lessons on how maps work, geography, and estimation. Kids search for geocaches by using GPS receivers to located the assigned waypoints (latitude and longitude) This type of exploration prompts discussions on creating graphs, measuring distances, and other math concepts as well as the geographical lessons.

As a culminating activity, students explored the real world use of GPS receivers in a local state park. Students persevered and used their problem solving skills to take on the challenge of finding hidden containers along established trails.

Now that these students have learned how to find geocaches using GPS, the next task will be creating them developing their innovative design skills.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

We appreciate our school nurses every day

National School Nurse Appreciation Day happens every May. While we fully intend to recognize our nurses for their work eight months from now, today we want to take some time to show our appreciation for our school nurses for their invaluable contributions to our school, particularly as we have returned to school 18 months into a pandemic.

School nurses work with our students every day to meet their health and safety needs, but over the last year and a half, they have taken on a multitude of additional tasks to keep our school and community safe and informed. 

When a school is notified of a positive COVID case in our school, the nurses jump into action and begin contact tracing. They work with the administrators and classroom teachers to determine possible close contacts who might be subject to quarantine. The nurses connect with the Department of Health to review the information and make the final determination regarding who will need to quarantine. Once that list has been established, the nurses work with the administrators to phone every family who will be impacted to explain the situation and answer any questions. This information doesn’t always come to us during the regular school day. Our nurses have been involved with contact tracing on Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons, and Sunday mornings. They have established an organized system to make sure that everyone who needs information gets it in a timely manner, no matter when we learn it. The process is stressful for all, but our nurses model calmness and attention to detail throughout.

In order to monitor COVID in schools, the Agency of Education and the Department of Health have made Surveillance Testing available for schools. We did it last year for staff, but this year students are also eligible for testing. To get people ready for the nasal swab, our nurses have to provide information about sign up (for the first round this year, we are only testing adults), organize the test kits, and facilitate the testing on the actual day. The testing happens during the day, so our nurses will be working with students as usual and taking on the testing protocol. Once again, all done without missing a beat!

Finally, our nurses are collecting vaccination attestation information from our students in grades 7-12. This information will help to streamline the contact tracing process and will eventually be used to determine our masking criteria as the year progresses. It’s another task that our upper school nurses have taken on with a smile.

As we start the year, it is important to take a minute to thank our FWSU nurses-Courtney at Fletcher, Amy and Michelle at BFA, and Terry and Melissa at GEMS- for the vital work they do every day. This year, their work has taken on new dimensions that require our acknowledgement and appreciation every day from now until their official day in May!

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

John Tague is currently the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

All the Places to Love at Fletcher Elementary

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan

For the 2021-2022 school year Fletcher Elementary has welcomed several new teachers.  What you may not realize is our student enrollment which was 93 at the beginning of last school year is up to 116!  This is great news for a small Vermont school! We are so excited to introduce  new friends to all the places to love in Fletcher!  

As a new principal to the school I wanted to first get to know students better.  To accomplish this I decided to visit classrooms and share one of my favorite books, All the Places to Love.  This book talks about the special places a boy’s family shares with him around their farm and village. After reading this story, I couldn’t wait to hear from your children what their favorite places are here in Fletcher that “makes all the difference in the world” to them.  Here are just a few of the places that are loved that they wanted to share with others.  

In my backyard there is a cliff where you can watch the prettiest sunsets.
I like swimming in Metcalf Pond because it is cool. 
In my quiet spot I can climb trees.
My special spot is at Nonna and Papa’s woods.  I like it because the sunset is beautiful.
Behind my grandma’s house is peaceful and we build fairy houses.
My favorite place to go is in my backyard because it is peaceful and I can hear the birds chirp.
My sugarhouse is special to me because whenever we make maple syrup I get to taste test it in these little tiny plastic cups.

Fletcher Elementary is a great learning community to join and our students are looking forward to sharing their favorite things about Fletcher with new teachers, students, and even the new principal!

Aimee Toth is currently the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a new contributor to THE FWSU STORY.


I write this blog sitting at my 4 year old’s soccer practice. Is she here for soccer skills and to be the next Megan Rapinoe or Mia Hamm? 

Nope, not even for one second. It’s about the connection. 

She’s here because of the joy of being around others. The fun, the high energy, and most importantly the social connection with her peers.  She’s lucky. We have daycare and she has been able to connect with a group of friends daily. My high schoolers though, have not. And we are concerned.

Many parents have emailed and called to voice concerns about their child’s social and emotional well-being. Many students spent last school year completely remote or only connecting with others two days a week. Then, summer came and if they didn’t work they sat at home on their devices or glued to the television. I’m not knocking the value of decompressing, we all need that time. It’s imperative to our health.  However, when this becomes the norm for our students we should be concerned. How do we acknowledge and support the mental and social health of our young adults? How to we get out them out of the house and engaged with others?

With this in mind, we started the first day of school with a co-curricular fair. Grades 9-12 students spent time meeting the student leaders of approximately 40 co-curricular groups offered at BFA. 

The very clear message:

We want you and you belong!

Well documented research shows us that students who participate in co-curriculars are more likely to attend school, achieve better academic scores, have higher levels of self concept and self worth, and increase their capacity to demonstrate resilience and problem solving skills.

Today, we offered time for all clubs to meet and for students to select wellness activities such as fishing, meditation,  nature walks, writing, and pick-up sports. 

How can you help your student make connections? 

-Ask your student what they did and what else they would like to have access to.  

-Support your student to create connections at school and in the evenings. 

-Encourage them to join a cocurricular or create a club that does not exist. All they need is an advisor. 

We are here to support your student and help them reengage with their peers. We want them to be joyful and take advantage of the opportunities BFA- Fairfax has to offer. 

We want them to be connected.

Elizabeth Noonan is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a new contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The Beauty of Outdoor Learning

There is something magical about taking students outdoors to experience nature. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? And what do you feel?  An approach to learning that stimulates your senses and connects you to our world!

 It’s an environment that is restful, relaxing and thought provoking. A setting that puts young minds at ease and one that brings learning to life.

Outdoor learning opportunities are on the rise at Georgia Elementary School and provide students with hands-on kinesthetic approaches in a variety of ways and within different classrooms.

Being able to touch, see, and understand natural concepts helps solidify knowledge of how our world works.

In Maia Hendrickson’s Kindergarten classroom students explore their surroundings through nature walks honing their observational and inquisitive thinking skills. Each day begins with a morning meeting and then an opportunity to inquire, solve, and share.

Dorsey Hogg, Elementary art teacher, takes her students outside often to enjoy the elements while working artistically.  Having an outdoor setting to continue their work, apply their skills, and accomplish their task is relaxing, thought provoking, and meaningful.  

Students appreciate this style of learning and work diligently and creatively.

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.


Students, staff, families, and our school community could never have known that the Fall of 2019 would be the last time for nearly two years that BFA Fairfax athletic teams and drama ensembles would participate in a traditional way.  Fast forward to September 2021, and we are now experiencing the benefits of the patience, perseverance, adaptability and commitment to safety demonstrated by our students, staff and community, as our multiple fall co-curricular activities are in full swing.

High School football players are sharing their excitement in being able to wear their pads again and play full tackle.  Last season was played under highly modified “touch football” rules, so our BFA/Lamoille Cooperative team athletes have been thrilled to experience the sense of brotherhood they say comes with playing the game under traditional rules.

Middle and High School cross country runners ran a smaller number of races last season, while much of the time wearing masks.  Meets were limited in size, and did not allow for mass starts involving multiple schools, so each race more closely resembled a time trial as opposed to a true cross country meet.  They are looking forward to their first “real” meet in almost two years, and experiencing the excitement and rush of competing against students from other schools in mass start formats.

Middle and High School soccer teams spent last season playing a limited schedule, and donning masks for the entirety of practices and games.  This season has brought back increased participation numbers, a high level of skill, and enthusiasm like never before.  Players and coaches are looking forward to building on last year’s success and playing deep into their respective tournaments.

The fall co-curricular activity most impacted last year by the pandemic was the Fall Musical.  Given the strict guidelines at the time around singing, playing instruments, masking, distancing, and group gathering size, our talented ensemble was unable to perform the highly anticipated Mamma Mia.  We are thrilled to have our students back on the stage this year, and eager to experience live musical theater once again! Although we may still have some slight adaptations on the performance that, if necessary for health and safety, will be determined closer to the show dates, Mamma Mia will most definitely be one of the highlights of this school year!

We look forward to your attendance at these multiple student activities, and greatly appreciate your support and continued commitment to health and safety.  Our students are thrilled to be back on the stage, fields and trails, but most importantly, to be back in school.  If we all work together and continue to make safe choices, we can ensure that our student activity participants have a fantastic 2021-22 school year! 

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Welcome Sheriff Karry Andileigh

Sheriff Karry Andeligh, School Resource Officer (SRO)

BFA Fairfax is excited to introduce and welcome Sheriff Karry Andeligh to our school community. We are extremely fortunate to have her serving as our School Resource Officer (SRO) this school year. Sheriff Andileigh is an outstanding role model and a valuable resource for our students, staff, and families.

Sheriff Andileigh possesses a range of professional experiences and skills. Since 2018 she has been employed with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Prior to working in law enforcement she was a Living Skills worker with the Howard Center and a private Personal Care Attendant for people with disabilities. In addition, Sheriff Andileigh is pursuing a PhD in Psychology and Yoga Therapy. 

Sheriff Andileigh shared she was drawn to being a SRO because it provides opportunities to make a positive impact on students by developing relationships, communicating with students about their priorities, and goals. Her philosophy and experiences are reflected in her daily work with students, staff, and families.

Sheriff Andileigh brings a person-centered, trauma informed, therapeutic approach to each interaction. She believes her role allows opportunities to support students in navigating life decisions and challenges, using restorative practices and logical consequences.

We are excited to collaborate with Sheriff Andileigh in her new capacity. She is an important and necessary resource to support safety, to develop positive relationships with law enforcement, and network with other state agencies. We appreciate our community’s support of this essential position. She has made an immediate and positive impact on our school. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and welcome her to Fairfax. 

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

It’s Friday of our students’ first full week since March 2020!

As I’ve visited classes, the lunch room, playground and chatted with students in the hallways over our first days back in school, I have marveled at students’ excitement at being back and kind support and encouragement of one another. It was also curious to me as I wondered what our students were thinking during their first full week of school in over a year. So I asked students across grades 5-8 some questions to listen to their perspectives.

  1. What is your favorite part of being back to school full time after last year?
  2. What is weird about being back to school full time after last year?
  3. Any words of wisdom for our readers?

Eliza says that it’s good to be back to a normal-ish school. Seeing friends again is great. She thinks that wearing masks is a little weird (we thought we’d be done with them when we left school in June). Her words of wisdom are to read Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Kaileigh says seeing friends and making new friends has been the best part of being back to school. It is a little weird to have the same teachers two years in a row. (she clarified and said that it’s a good weird). Kaileigh agrees with Eliza that everyone should read everything by Shannon Messenger.

Kayden says the best part of being back to school is seeing friends he hasn’t seen in a long time. Rylee agrees. They both agree that it’s also weird to reconnect with friends they haven’t seen in a long time. When I asked them what words of wisdom they had for our readers I leaned back in my chair and they both told me that I should always keep “4 on the floor.” Then Rylee told me that she wanted to be a mystery student.

Harper told me that his favorite part of being back to school was playing football at recess and to finally be able to do science and social studies. He also likes being able to walk to UA’s. What’s weird for him is being able to take more mask breaks than last year.  He is excited to have the same teachers for two years!

Rhiannon’s favorite part of being back in school is not having plexiglass dividers this year.  She also likes having lockers to keep her stuff safe. She went on to say that she loves her new teachers and new classmates. 

Lyla also appreciates not having plexiglass this year and being able to go to the cafeteria. Having lockers with combinations along with her new teachers is great. She also is super excited about having band this year. It is a little weird seeing so many teenagers around, but she likes seeing different people in the halls. Her advice is that we should definitely bring back the ice cream machine.

Jaiden is very happy to be with us this year and says that it’s different, but better. She really likes having a more consistent schedule and thinks using lockers is very helpful to organize and store her stuff. It is a little weird having lunch at 1pm. Her Words of wisdom are to not be scared of the work, because she says, “it’s all doable”

Colin both likes and finds it a little weird to be moving between spaces this year and to have so many different classes.

In some ways, it’s almost like we are picking up where we left off pre-pandemic. But overwhelmingly we all, students and staff are absolutely loving being back in session full time. I am so proud of our students for taking such care of themselves, each other and their community. Here’s to a safe and full school year!

|Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator

Knowing Students Well!

Today we officially celebrate the seventh day of school! Routines are beginning to emerge, social connections rekindled, and everyone is hard at work getting to know each other and building trusting relationships. As a new employee to FWSU, I have been impressed with the way new and returning students have been welcomed in our schools.

My journey over the past seven days has largely been to watch and listen. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time on each campus visiting classrooms and observing all the moving pieces come together. As a side note, when I was researching if FWSU was the right place for me, I was impressed with how students are valued and empowered to be active partners in their educational journey. A value that matches my core beliefs! Valuing students is not just a statement that lives on paper but one that lives in action here in FWSU. I saw this in action! On all three campuses!   And that’s how I know I’m in the right place!

“We must teach the way students learn, rather than expecting them to learn the way we teach.”
– Pedro Noguera


These activities spanned our entire Supervisory Union, across all grade levels with a ton of creativity, I might add. In our early elementary grades I saw morning meetings come together to give students a chance to share a little about about themselves.

Hallways are decorated with artistic representations of likes and dislikes, favorite food, hopes and dreams and a whole host of other characteristics that make us all who we are. 

I’m confident that these initial efforts will continue to evolve over the next 170 days or so. Ultimately leading to stronger relationships, asset based approaches, and high engagement for all learners. These are the necessary components for academic and social emotional growth to flourish.

I am honored to serve the FWSU community in the role of Director of Curriculum. and look forward to our paths crossing soon. 

This blog was written by:

Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a new contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

Bringing Choice and Connection to GEMS Middle School

This year, the Middle School at GEMS is starting a new initiative to increase opportunities to build relationships and connections during our lunch and wellness time. Each week, students will have choices for their recess or wellness with supervised activities like the walking path, team games, yoga, or dance. Then lunchtimes for groups and clubs to play and explore together just like Art Club, Technology Club, Student Council, and board games. Students will still have the option to choose a traditional cafeteria lunch and open recess in their choices. 

How does this work? Each Wednesday, students will have a menu of options to choose from for the following week. Students will select their preferred choices and opportunities to explore the following week. These groups are fluid so they can try different options each week.

This also enables us to reduce the size of students that are eating together which will hopefully help us stay safe and healthy.  Most clubs will meet in classrooms with groups far less than a normal classroom size.

We are excited about bringing more options to our students and see how they connect with others and find new interests and opportunities to explore! 

This blog was written by:

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

GEMS 7th Grade Find Their Own Learning

On the first day of school, the 7th grade middle school students participated in a mini cycle with the GEMS Innovation Lab. This was the first class of three that students will have as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the innovative learning that is provided by Mr. Hadd and Mr. Clow.

Wanting to give the students a first day that was filled with active learning, Mr. Hadd and Mr. Clow opted to leave the lab behind and have the students learn about GPS though outdoor learning with geocaching. Geocaching is the activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates using a GPS receiver. Geocaching allows students to persevere and put learning in their own hands, finding their own solutions.

For their first class, the innovation lab teachers partnered with Mrs. Fairbrother to have students learn how to use the GPS. Additional sessions will build upon these skills challenging the students to work on their problem solving skills.

The students met the challenge for the day. Through collaborative teamwork the students mastered the digital learning around GPS and are ready for their next challenge.

The high level of energy and enthusiasm showed and was a great way to start off learning in the innovation lab.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

Best Day of the Year

Today was the first day of school at Franklin West Supervisory Union schools. Students at BFA-Fairfax, Fletcher Elementary, and Georgia Elementary and Middle School returned for five days of in-person instruction.

My goal today was to visit every classroom at all of the FWSU schools. The day started GEMS for student drop off. Once students were settled into their classrooms, I experienced ice breakers and locker openings in the middle school and movement breaks, read alouds, and greeting activities in the elementary classrooms. The elementary students had a fair number of questions for me.

Mid morning, I headed to Fletcher Elementary School where I got to meet more of our students. Every student in Mrs Obrien’s class politely introduced themselves to me. Mrs Cardone’s class was reading “What if everyone did that?” as a prelude to setting up their classroom expectations. 

Genuine Foods was getting lunch ready as I moved on to BFA.

It was lunchtime at BFA Elementary when I arrived. Students were enjoying lunch in their classrooms which allowed for some casual questions and conversations. 

 High school students were rotating through an abbreviated course schedule after a morning spent orienting themselves to the opportunities and expectations for the new year. 

BFA Middle School students were participating in team building activities, core classes, and lunch and recess.

At all three FWSU schools, there was joy among the students and staff. The nervousness that always accompanies the first day of school was certainly there, but it quickly dissipated as students connected with their classmates and teachers. It was great to see full classrooms, collaborative work, and the promise of a new year. 

Technically, I did not meet my goal to visit every classroom as our preschool and kindergarten students did not start today, but I made plans with those teachers to come back later this week and next week when their students arrive to get another jolt of first day of school energy!

John Tague is currently the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

It’s Been A Banner Spring For BFA Fairfax Athletic Teams

When the Vermont Principals Association made the final decision last April to cancel the 2020 spring athletic season due the global pandemic, it was a crushing blow to eager BFA Fairfax spring student-athletes.  Even with the year off, however, our spring athletic teams have had stellar seasons, and have proven that they were able to come back smarter, stronger, and ready for success.  

Middle School baseball, softball, and track and field showed great skill in their shortened season.  We look forward to them playing a full season next year! 

With an extremely young team, the High School Baseball program opted to play a full JV schedule.  This decision led to some of the most exciting games in recent years on our baseball field, and truly demonstrated that the future is very bright, and baseball is back alive in Fairfax!

Boys Ultimate had a season of remarkable growth and improvement, with undeniable team unity. The team put up a great fight, but bowed out of the tournament in the first round to CVU.

High School Track and Field had one of their best showings in recent years at the Division 3 State Track and Field championships. With 20 athletes qualifying in their respective events, multiple podium placements, and the girls team finishing in 6th overall place (their highest ever finish), they made the community and program extremely proud. 

The Girls Ultimate team was one of the top contenders all season, easily advancing to the state semifinals.  In what was arguably their best game of the season, they ultimately fell to a strong Burlington High School team. Their performance this year was representative of the new life of the Girls Ultimate program, and set the stage for future success.

In their inaugural season as a Varsity team, the Boys Lacrosse team brought tons of excitement to campus. Their buzzer-beating goal in the Division 3 quarterfinals was one of the highlights of the whole year in athletics!  Although they ultimately fell to Montpelier in the semifinals, they were honored with the Division 3 State Sportsmanship Award, which is one of the greater honors bestowed upon a school and program.  

Finally, the Varsity Softball team continued their stellar season by upsetting the top seeded, undefeated, White River Valley Wildcats in the Division 3 semifinals on Tuesday.  They will play in the State Championship game at Castleton University this weekend, and hope they will have a large contingent of fans making the trip south.  For those that cannot make the game, it will be live-streamed on the NFHS Network, so fans can cheer them on from home.  

Congratulations to all of our student-athletes on an amazing spring! You have been an inspiration to us all, and role models in resilience, perseverance, and overcoming adversity!  Go Fairfax!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Memorable Music!

The Spanish 7/8  classes and band at GEMS collaborated to produce a cover of the Spanish pop song, “Loca” by Alvaro Soler. With the help of Chris Gribnau, the music teacher and Laura Mathieu, the Spanish teacher, students performed both the music and words to create a music video.  The process took weeks and involved a lot of hard work in transcribing music, practicing instruments independently, memorizing lyrics and recording separately until finally putting it all into a single music video. Students were surprised they were able to memorize words in a second language. 

As with many pandemic projects, we ventured into new territory, pushed our comfort zones and learned a lot.  Working on separate recordings presented the challenge of separate timing rather than emergent unison.  Work ethic, positivity and overcoming shyness and nerves were all valuable goals.  While not perfect, we see this project as a success and hopefully the beginning of future collaborative projects.

It is notable that some qualities of students in both Spanish and band include perseverance, open-mindedness, and resiliency.

7th Grade wisdom:

“I learned to speak more Spanish and some new words.” -Kaitlyn

“I learned that a lot of people were not comfortable singing but they still tried.” – River

“What I learned from working on Loca is that hard work can pay off and the end result can be better than you think.” – Alexis

“One thing I learned doing this project was working on my instrument again.  Having a song to play made me want to practice my instrument.” -Leah

“From working on this project, I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and work with others.  I didn’t feel confident in myself at first, but after practice, I was able to finish the project feeling more confident than at the beginning.” -Mattie

Some other words of wisdom from our 8th Graders:

“I learned to not be embarrassed, you just gotta go with the flow and not care what other people think. Practice lyrics and also just have a good time with it even though you may not want to because these are the times you will remember.”  -Briana

“While working on the “Loca” project, I learned that singing in a different language is hard.  Yes, we practiced and practiced but doing this was hard but so much fun.”  -Raegan

“I definitely learned how to work in unison with my peers and remembering lyrics.” -Megan

“Some advice I would give is to not be shy, be open and make the best of it.” -Kenna

“I learned that you can pronounce words differently to match a beat.”  – Cadien

Click here to watch the video!

This blog was written by:

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

Chris Gribnau, GEMS Music Teacher & Laura Mathieu, GEMS Spanish Teacher

Moving Forward

Resilience at GEMS

During my “Take 20” meeting with Kay Lee, 4th grade teacher at Georgia Elementary School, I learned that she is currently in her 48th year of teaching.  The resilience and optimism she radiates is something that will stay with me always.  Kay’s students over the years have readily participated in IVECA (Intercultural Virtual Exchange of Classroom Activities). Her students have consistently connected in a very meaningful way through technology with students from South Korea, Mexico, and a host of other countries. FWSU schools were the first in Vermont to work with this esteemed program deservedly recognized by the United Nations. 

Kay has post-pandemic travel plans to visit Maine, frequent shopping at one of her favorite stores, The Christmas Tree Shop and then on a broader scale, find her way to Indonesia in the near future.  When I spoke to Kay in April, I came away with a lasting impression framed by her love for her students and the privilege of seeing them five days a week. Her selfless career spanning five decades has always been about the young, impressionable students sitting in front of her, and I am awed and truly inspired by the energy Kay brings to the classroom each morning. Kay Lee is significant both in the classroom and in her community, and we are all better for it.

Finishing Strong at Fletcher

As conditions improve it is wonderful to see the resurgence of events that we all so desperately missed over the past 14 months. The 6th grade graduation/celebration at Fletcher Elementary is scheduled outdoors for June 10th. Principal Chris Dodge is working with singer/songwriter Chad Hollister to create a special song that will include positive attributes about each individual student. This outdoor event will provide an opportunity for fellowship in a socially distanced space under a tent that will bring a sense of closure, but more importantly, it will be a celebration layered by achievement and success for our scholars, parents, faculty , and staff. 

National Honor Society Induction at BFA Fairfax

Recently, an impressive group of students representing the Class of 2021, 2022,  and 2023 were inducted into the National Honor Society at the athletic field on a mid-May beautiful evening. Families brought lawn chairs to this uplifting event where we all relished the opportunity to gather collectively to support this highly regarded group of young leaders with such bright futures. Some key takeaways for me included the fact that students led the celebration; the extraordinary efforts behind community service projects that students completed amid a pandemic; but mostly, the communal drive to come together as one to share in the accomplishments of our young people.  

The overriding sense of pride, togetherness, and resilient spirit that shined through the eyes of the class of 2021 and their proud families and friends make me further realize just how important human interaction truly is.  A pastor told me only a few years ago to, “Take the time to look up.”  I have spent too much time looking into a 15″ screen these past 14 months.  I plan on heeding my own advice and that of the pastor and look up toward the mountains and the stars while imagining the limitless possibilities in front of us all.  But for now, please know how grateful I am for the present and all that each of you have contributed to our children so that their dreams and visions can become real.

Quotable Moving Forward


.“Out there in the wild, on a long journey, you hike your own hike, blaze your own trail, and only you can find what you’re looking for.” 

— Scott Jurek 


Scott Jurek is the author of “North,” the story of an intensely inspiring 46-day run to break the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.



James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager


Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Gratitude is a word I use often when referring to my appreciation of the extraordinary efforts of all the staff that work at BFA Fairfax.  Since March of 2020, all employees have unconditionally given of themselves to navigate this once in a lifetime pandemic. Our staff has reimagined our educational systems from the way we provide food, how we transport students, and redesigned educational spaces to support safety. 

In addition to being resilient and flexible, our students have demonstrated an immense amount of academic, social and emotional growth this year. They have learned many lessons and skills throughout the pandemic that will serve them well as they encounter other unforeseen obstacles in life.  Our families have demonstrated incredible flexibility, provided ongoing support, and frequently shared their appreciation for our efforts. 

We are eternally grateful and would like to take this time to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has engaged with our learners over the course of the school year. Your interactions, albeit big or small, have had such a positive impact. It definitely takes a village! 

We wish you a relaxing and much deserved summer break. Be well.

Expressing Gratitude Slideshow — created by Rhonda Siemons 

Our slideshow is set to auto-play, however viewers may still need to tap/click on individual slides to transition or hear audio depending on the device or browser you are using.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is t.-walsh-2.png

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist

Memorial Day

Let Memorial Day be a day to count our blessings and remember those who serve to protect our country and our freedom. We are forever grateful for the ultimate sacrifice of those who have served for the United States of America. May their courage and dedication never be forgotten.

These videos were created by GEMS TV EXPRESS students. They include past assemblies honoring Memorial day as well as a current “Thank you Soldiers” tribute to families and those protecting us. Unfortunately, we could not gather in person this year to honor our soldiers, but know we are thinking of you and your families.

Thank You!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Music Al Fresco!

It was a long time coming, but last week, members of the BFA High School Concert Band came together for their first in-person rehearsal! 

After a year of Zoom sectionals, individual lessons in the room, and generally being apart from each other, everyone was extremely gratified to enjoy the beautiful day outside together to make music as a group for the first time in over a year.  This was as true for the teachers as it was for the students! 

There’s no replacement for live music, and everyone involved (including some elementary student audiences) rated the experience a true success. 

Here’s to more group music in the near future!

This blog was written by Glen Wallace, the Director of Bands at BFA Fairfax.

Fletcher Students Assist Threatened Lake Sturgeon

Families and staff from Fletcher Elementary School partnered with the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on May 11 to take on the role of environmental stewards in support of the threatened lake sturgeon. 

During a virtual science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) evening event, participants from the school connected virtually with an environmental educator from ECHO to learn about the monstrous creatures of the deep and some unconventional efforts being used to protect and rehabilitate the species’s population. The evening’s event was coined, Fish Assist.

“The lake sturgeon is the coolest fish ever,” third grader William Nadeau said. “It can get really, really big and it looks just like a dinosaur. I was very disappointed to learn about how it is threatened and how people are doing things that could result in it not being around forever.”

Lake sturgeon are listed as threatened in 19 of the 20 states in which they live, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are freshwater fish living in North America from the Hudson Bay through the Mississippi River drainage. Lake sturgeon can live for up to 150 years and grow to be more than nine feet in length and weigh 300 pounds. Over-harvesting and a loss of habitat as a result of the creation of dams are the primary reasons for the species’ declining population. Like its prehistoric ancestors, the lake sturgeon’s rows of spiny armored plates called scutes resemble dinosaurs from long ago. The species lives in Vermont in Lake Champlain and several rivers including the Winooski, Missisquoi, Lamoille and Otter Creek.

“I think it’s really important to learn about the impact we have on the environment and the creatures that depend on it,” Nadeau said. “When we learn about how our actions affect animals we can do things to change the negative impact and protect and save them.”

Prior to the event, students learned about the lake sturgeon through readings and videos in their classrooms, including a virtual visit to the sturgeon tank at ECHO. They were sent home with an engineering activity kit that they used during the event.

“After we learned more about the lake sturgeon, we were challenged to use a variety of materials like a balloon and popsicle sticks to create a fish cannon that could help a lake sturgeon make its way over a dam and go upriver to spawn,” Nadeau said. “Dams made by humans sometimes prevent them from getting upstream and that is reducing their population.”

While the fish cannons created by students are not exactly like those used in real life, the concept is similar. Several supports, such as fish ladders – tiered layers of “stairs” that help sturgeon get over a dam – and small water-powered chutes, are all being used to ease the migration. Fletcher teachers facilitated virtual breakout sessions with students as they used their materials in a variety of ways to design and share their fish cannons.

Fletcher families have a very special connection to the lake sturgeon. When ECHO added lake sturgeon to their aquarium collection, they were transported across the country from the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute in Milwaukee to the ECHO Leahy Center by Fletcher resident Bob Lesnikoski.

“Events like this really empower our students to think responsibly about their own actions and how those behaviors impact the natural world,” second grade teacher Kathleen Pellegrino said. “For most of our students, this opportunity not only introduced a new and exciting animal to their learning, but it also offered an opportunity for students to be creative problem-solvers, to create solutions that might fail and then to improve upon those. That’s the beauty of the engineering design process.”

“It’s like that old saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” Nadeua said. “The engineering design process is a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. My fish cannon design didn’t work at first, but I improved it and then it was great.”

In addition to the engineering design kit students used to support sturgeon migration, students also received a butterfly migration kit to use following the event. The event and kits were funded in part by a grant from ECHO.

“One of the greatest privileges of teaching is to help students see and understand the world beyond the four walls of the classroom,” third grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “Particularly during the past year, we’ve learned to reimagine our use of technology in new and exciting ways, including events like this one, that become easily accessible to families right from their living rooms.”

“I learned so much from this experience, Nadeau said. “I learned that I can help these amazing creatures to survive and that you’re never too young to be an engineer who lends a hand.”

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon.


As annual traditions go, 5th Grade STARBASE is a keeper. While last year disrupted many traditions, this Spring we were excited to bring this one back. For many years, the 5th grade has been involved in STARBASE

As things started to open up this spring, in partnership with the STARBASE staff, we worked to ensure that all necessary safety guidelines and protocols were in place and set up an adapted STARBASE experience this year. 

Each pod took turns travelling to STARBASE for two days of on-base activities ranging from classroom learning, projects, a turn on the flight simulator and tours of the facilities and equipment (including watching jets take off!). With a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), students had a myriad of opportunities to learn new things and apply their knowledge.  Students worked in collaborative groups working to solve complex problems and share their ideas and solutions with classmates. 

Throughout our time with STARBASE, our future rocketeers practiced each of their learner traits.  When students were asked to solve problems, they worked both individually and together demonstrating self-direction and used creative and practical problem solving to engage their own and group-mates’ informed and integrative thinking.  In small groups students shared their ideas and products with others using clear and effective communication. While working together during tours of the base and facilities, students continually demonstrated responsible and involved citizenship.

While still at STARBASE, students began working on their final projects. Then, after students returned, STARBASE staff Zoomed into classrooms to support students’ work toward their culminating project – The Rocket Launch.  In each pod, students worked with their instructors virtually, and together with table-mates to put the finishing touches on each of their rockets. 

While safety guidelines didn’t quite allow for the usual gathering of students and families for our annual rocket launch, the 5th grade still gathered together on a most spectacular Vermont spring day to send our rockets skyward.  When we got to the field, it was a little windy, but as the STARBASE staff set up the launch pads, the wind died and the clouds disappeared. Perfect launch conditions.  In each of their pods, they set up their own rocket, and worked to prepare for take-off.  Then, together as a 5th grade, students counted down and cheered together as each student took turns launching (and then chasing down and retrieving) their rockets.

Some rockets went on the first try. A few did not. But that was OK! With more creative and practical problem solving each rocket was sent skyward.  Students supported one another, the staff and our friends at STARBASE all worked to ensure that every student had a successful launch.

We learned a lot, grew our skills and had some fun. I think that we can all agree that STARBASE was a blast!

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

BFA Fairfax Music Students And Staff Demonstrate Continued Flexibility and Adaptability In Preparation For Upcoming Final Concert of the 20-21 School Year

As we approach the end of this pandemic-altered school year, it is easy to reflect on the incredible flexibility and adaptability demonstrated by our students, staff, and programs.  The BFA Fairfax Music Department, under the leadership of Glen Wallace, Christy Maynard, Sarah Wolff, and Matt Davide, has been one such program that has created valuable learning opportunities with some of the most strict limitations throughout the school year.  Music students and staff have found immensely creative ways to share their craft with our school and community through virtual lessons and concerts, the use of bell covers for safety, and recently outdoor rehearsals.  We are pleased to share the following message from our music educators about their upcoming final concert of the year:

“The BFA Music Department is excited to invite one and all to this year’s Spring Concert, which we’re calling “A Night Among the Stars.”  Students have been hard at work mastering vocal and instrumental tunes, and we’re all eager to show off what we’ve accomplished during this hectic, bizarre, yet still musical year.  Be on the lookout for a link to a Zoom Webinar that will take place on Thursday, June 3rd, at 6:30 PM.  Hope to see you there!”

Best of luck to the students and staff in what is sure to be another stellar display of the incredible musical talents at BFA Fairfax! We hope to see you there!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Graduation Planning

As we reflect back on the impact of the pandemic over the last 15 months, the area that jumps out as having been most impacted has been graduation (and all of the events leading up to it). At BFA, the high school graduation progression begins with our National Honor Society Induction ceremony in May followed shortly thereafter by the prom. The week leading up to graduation is filled with the class trip, graduation practices, Class Day, the Alumni Banquet, the actual Graduation Ceremony, and finally Project Graduation. 

For the Class of 2020, all of these events were held virtually or cancelled. Our Graduation ceremony was held in two parts: the ceremony with speeches and awards was held over zoom followed by the students coming to BFA with their families to walk across the stage to receive their diploma.  Pictures were taken and a gift bag was given by Project Graduation.  All told, the event lasted eight hours. There were some technical difficulties, but there were also many positive aspects and memorable moments that will last a lifetime.  The obvious downside was that the Class of 2020 was not able to be physically with each other for any part of the ceremony.

As we began planning for graduation for the Class of 2021, our number one priority was that the members of the class would be together at graduation.  Our vision early in the school year was the 80 graduates under the graduation tent all physically distant from each other with a live streamed ceremony for their families.  As the “spigot” opened up in Vermont, it became apparent that we could have two family members with each graduate and still remain within the guidelines as they were at that time.  When Governor Scott released the Vermont Forward Plan on April 8, we increased the number of guests for each graduate to four.  With about 80 graduates and four guests each, our crowd size would be around 400.  It’s less than we normally would have, but it’s certainly the largest group of people any of us have been with since early in 2020.

As we move toward graduation on June 12th, Vermont will be in Step 3 which will allow up to 900 unvaccinated attendees at an outdoor event.  This would allow us to increase our guests per graduate to 6 (our typical number), but if we have learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that nothing truly goes according to plan.  We would much rather surprise families with additional seats as we get closer to graduation than have to take seats away due a sudden surge in the community. 

As for the other events that lead up to graduation, we are adjusting and adapting as we go. Class Day is typically an event for the entire high school. Parents are invited to attend as well. Since the event is typically held in our gym and visitors are not allowed in the building this year, we had to rethink the event. We will hold a Senior Award ceremony under the tent on the Friday afternoon before graduation. This will allow family members to see their students recognized for their achievements while maintaining health and safety guidelines. We will hold a virtual awards ceremony during the school day for students in grades 9 – 11.

Students have taken the lead in adapting other pre-graduation events. The junior class has organized “Prom in the Park” to be held under a tent on the town recreation field. The National Honor Society Induction will be held in the same place (sans tent). The senior class officers have organized a field day to take the place of the class trip. Their goal is to have a day together as a class that doesn’t require travel or great expense.

The Class of 2021 has endured great upheaval during the last 15 months. The health and safety guidelines continue to test our creativity as we try to finalize our plans. Our students have been resilient, cooperative and understanding through it all; our goal is to make the end of their high school years memorable and positive. They deserve nothing less.

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

We Are Looking Forward to Next Year

This year has been a year like no other. As a learning community we have encountered numerous obstacles, adapted and reinvented many different ways that we engage in learning; demonstrating resiliency and flexibility daily.  I am so proud of our students, staff and community for their responses to this extraordinary event.

As we have been actively planning for the transition to a new school year, we asked a number of BFA elementary students what they are looking forward to most as we return to “normal.”  Check out this video with our students sharing their thoughts about returning to “Normal”:

As I have shared many times, I am so proud of our students and staff for the positivity and resilience they demonstrate each day. We have adapted and persevered through a challenging year and a half. I will never doubt the ability of our learning community to confront difficult situations and find ways to be successful. With that said, I agree with all of our students and look forward to a return to many of the things that make our school a community. 

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist

W.I.N. Time at Gems

W.I.N. is the acronym for “What I Need” and there has never been a time when personalized instruction and support has been so important. Focusing on individual needs socially/emotionally and academically is critical.

Research studies indicate that the depth of learning loss throughout the pandemic has been widespread and evident as students participate in local grade level assessments. Targeted intensive instruction has proven effective and can be beneficial at all ages, but most specifically at younger ages.

The most effective programs focus on skill building, rather than homework, and occur at least once a day in addition to classroom instruction.  Students make the most progress when placed in small groups and when that instruction is provided by a highly qualified staff member. 

Gems Elementary has looked at student data, determined individual targeted skill areas and created small group instructional learning opportunities. A variety of practices to help move our students forward and to solidify skills that are foundational to future learning.

Students and staff enjoy their small educational groups with peers and love the connections and relationships that are being forged. 

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Black History Month, Every Month

In February, thousands of dedicated and well-meaning educators just like myself scour their classrooms and school libraries for books on Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and other famous Black Americans.  And, it’s not enough.

Rosa Parks

I fell into the trap, too, big time this year, as I visited many classrooms in my school carrying books on famous Black Americans and reading and discussing them with children as young as age three.  I even went so far as to buy four books on famous Black Americans for every student in my school to send home after I presented them in their classes.  I entered classrooms armed and ready to have courageous conversations about racism in a different way this year, more deeply than before, not to just read the books and call it a day.  I was pleased with myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and diving into this work school-wide, and I felt prepared by a barrage of professional learning aimed specifically at how to talk about race.

Late on a Thursday afternoon, I finished reading the fourth book in a National Geographic series for children on famous Black Americans to a third and fourth grade class of engaged and attentive students.  As with each of the previous books, I read the story with gusto, paused to discuss new vocabulary and the main ideas, to garner students’ thoughts on the subject and help them think critically about the material, and to check their understanding.  I had written a letter to families about each book, encouraging discussion at home, and I sent that letter home with every story.  I was pleased with myself, to say the least. Sounds great, right? And then, it all came crashing down.

“I sure am glad that we don’t have racism anymore,” one of our brightest fourth graders proclaimed. 

I was stunned, and it was in that very moment that I realized a fundamental flaw in how we teach students about racism.  Not only do we teach the concepts in isolation – often only in February when the calendar suggests – but we all too often teach about racism and discrimination uniquely as a historical problem.  My students could tell me exactly what I wanted to hear about Dr. King’s dream speech, Rosa Parks’s bravery on that bus in 1955, or how Harriet Tubman led slaves to freedom.  And, that’s where their knowledge ended.  With slavery abolished, Black Americans sitting freely on busses, and women being able to vote, my students celebrated the fact that equality reigns supreme, and that there would be no reason to even consider the lasting effects of our history, or that discrimination and racism might still plague our nation and our schools.

My heart sunk as I polled the class, asking them to raise their hands if they thought that racism still existed.  There was not a single hand in the air.  With ten minutes to spare, I tried desperately to give examples and convince the group that racism did not end with the events we had studied, and that we each need to play a part in the continued battle against modern day discrimination.  And they looked at me like I had three heads. 

I was deflated.  While I knew that sharing books and having discussions with students about historical racism wasn’t in and of itself bad, it wasn’t enough.  I had fallen short of my obligation to help them connect the historical context to the present day, and that had potentially done harm, not only to them, but to any marginalized population that still struggles with discrimination.  Passively and unintentionally, by only presenting the material in the past tense, I had led my students to believe that racism no longer exists.  I also risked some of my students not seeing themselves, and their struggles with race-related issues, in our learning.

In the coming days I worked feverishly to mend the error of my ways with individual and group conversations.  I tried desperately to help students understand that the work is not complete, that each of us needs to examine our own beliefs and how they impact others, and that racism very much still exists.  I hope they understood.  I believe they did, no matter how abstract it may have seemed.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I will teach differently next time.  I will discuss racism regularly, not just in February.  And, I will start with a modern day context and work my way back in time to help my students understand how we got to where we are.  Without question, it is important to celebrate the progress our country has made, and the brave individuals that led that work, and especially to recognize the continued work ahead.  In order to repair the damage of our history, we must first acknowledge the racism of our present. This learning is a necessary gift to all of our students, both as the future policy makers who will work to end modern day inequities, and as compassionate citizens who will lead the way in creating a world that is fair and just.

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon.

GEMS Use Technology to Fabricate Frank Stella Inspired Artwork

As part of art class with Mrs. Dorsey Hogg, 4th Grade students learned about American painter, sculptor and printmaker, Frank Stella. Students found inspiration in Stella’s minimalist work and use of technology in his design process. You can learn more about this modern artist by accessing the Frank Stella’s Retrospective Page.

The students began the design process by sketching ideas on paper. Like Stella, they used their imagination to create organic shapes that would eventually transition into their final design.

After working collaboratively together on their original ideas, students then went to work with Mr. Eric Hadd, technology integrationist to create their drawings on the computer using CorelDRAW

Next, the students sent their digital renderings to the laser cutter in the innovation lab to cut the pieces needed for their cardboard sculptures.

Finally, students were able to take a set of cutouts designed by their group and personalize the pieces for their own unique creation.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

Save the Date for the FWSU Community Forum

FWSU’s Three Rs Plan: Reconnect ⇼ Reimagine ⇼ Reinvent

FWSU wants to hear from you! Join us on May 6 at 6:30pm via Zoom to share your ideas about the kind of educational experiences you want your children to have in FWSU as we look forward, together, to the 2021-2022 school year! 

*Click the image to zoom in.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The Show Must Go On!

Music and the arts are an essential part of life and who we are as a BFA Fairfax community.  This month, I asked Mr. Wallace and Ms. Maynard to share some thoughts on our music program this year. I hope you will join me in thanking them (and all of our music and choral students!) for their adaptability, and for their willingness and dedication to keep music in all of our lives.

This year has seen the BFA Band program doing its utmost to be flexible and adaptive while still providing our young musicians with fun, engaging, and challenging rehearsals, working on repertoire ranging from Wind Ensemble standards to cool Bossa Novas, Frere Jacques to Star Wars, and all points between and beyond!  Thanks to the support and accommodation of our admin team, the parents of band students, and our colleagues in other subject areas, we’ve been able to roll with the many different punches this year has thrown at us, developing myriad new schedules and finding as many ways to rehearse as possible.  Most impressive throughout this process has been the way our students have continually stepped up and put in the effort they needed to, whether on Zoom, before school, or in their own practice time; without their effort, we wouldn’t have been able to find anything like the success we’ve achieved.

With all that said, the BIG NEWS, as many of you have likely heard, is that this month we’ve begun working in more and more in-person rehearsing!  While taking all the necessary precautions to do so safely, we’ve been able to get nearly all of our instrumentalists back in the band room for at least one sectional.  I can’t begin to express the joy and relief I’ve felt in finally having students making music TOGETHER, the way it’s meant to be made…and what’s even more rewarding is seeing the obvious joy our young musicians are feeling!

Looking ahead, we’re exploring options for our end of the year concert; the hope is that we might just be able to get the whole band back together for an outdoor, in-person recording session to craft a video performance for the Spring Concert (scheduled for June 3rd).  Unfortunately, the concert itself will likely have no in-person audience, but we’re extremely excited to be working with BFA Chorus program to do something a little different for this show.  Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that we’re entitling it, “BFA Music presents…A Night Among the Stars.” – Mr. Wallace

Ms. Maynard shares the following about Chorus:

As I think about our BFA Chorus students this year, a particular memory comes to mind.  One morning, at the beginning of chorus rehearsal, one of our singers wrote a quote on the board that has become our mantra:  “We’ll make it work…we always do!”  This statement embodies the attitude and perseverance of our music students this year.  Whatever has been thrown at them, whether it was singing outside while snowing, humming our parts when inside the building, playing choir chimes and Boomwhackers, or spending tons of time tapping out sight reading rhythms with drumsticks, chorus members have kept the music going.  Singers have continued to participate in “normal” activities such as auditioning for All State, even when we’re not sure what being selected will look like.  They have been very good at keeping the focus on what we can do and what the future can hold for us.

As you may know, we recently were given permission to sing inside the building with safety precautions.  The singers were so thrilled on the first day that we were able to sing together again (with lyrics and not humming) that they laughed and literally jumped up and down for joy. It was a moment that I will always carry in my heart as a reminder to never take for granted what means the most to us.  

We have been spending our time learning new pieces for our upcoming concert which will definitely be a “star-studded” event. In addition to our concert pieces, we’ve been working on a piece from the musical, “Dear Evan Hansen”.  We’ve got folk songs, a song from a movie, and even a Hall and Oates tune.  Not all of it will make the concert but we are having a blast, even taking student requests to pull pieces from past years to JUST SING!

I am so proud of our music students, the music department, our administration and classroom teachers for their flexibility and positive attitudes.  They have helped make this challenging year a year of growth and positive experiences.

We look forward to our upcoming concert on June 3rd.  Stay tuned for more information!

As the old saying goes, “If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance.” I am so grateful for all of our musicians for just rolling with it this year and continuing to make music.  And thank you to our music staff for continuing to support our musicians and singers to find joy and make music despite all of the tribulations of this year. And, I look forward to our upcoming performances!

…and speaking of performing arts, please remember that this weekend is the premier Help Desk!

Please read this note from the directing team of Help Desk:

We are so excited to perform our newest (virtually) LIVE show, Help Desk, this Friday and Saturday. Our cast is excited and READY! We are hoping for great audiences so we hope you are spreading the word to friends and family!

Show Times: Friday 7:00pm and Saturday 2:00pm and 7:00pm

Please visit the BFA Dramatic Arts Ensemble website to access all the Zoom webinar links to our show. 

The show is entirely free. If you feel inclined to donate, visit our Donations page and support one of the theater organizations there. The pandemic has been hard on live theater and many could use your support.  

While you are looking around our website, be sure to visit the Virtual Performance page to meet our cast members as well as the (More) Sponsors page to see the many businesses supporting our productions. 


I hope you will enjoy our performances and please have a restful and recharging April Break!

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

Other duties as needed…

The job description for principals includes many of the tasks you would expect-supervise teachers, manage the budget, maintain student discipline- but, like every other job description, it includes “other duties as needed”. In a typical year, these “other duties as needed” might include supervising a school dance, cleaning up a hallway mess, or substituting for a teacher in an emergency. This year, two new “other duties as needed” have emerged: public health official and lunch delivery person. Both are necessary and important as we navigate through the school year in an effort to keep students and staff healthy and in school. To clarify, here are additional details to add to the principal’s job description.

Public Health Official:

Since the school closing last March, principals have worked with school nurses to better understand the health implications of the COVID-19 virus. As we planned for the return of students in the fall, we collaborated with them to make sure that our spaces were set up to allow for appropriate spacing between students, planned entry procedures (drop off and pick up routines, temperature checks), and worked together with the maintenance staff to ensure sanitation and cleaning products and processes were in place. This work was really just a variation on our regular summer planning to reopen schools. 

It wasn’t until our first positive COVID case was received that we started in the Public Health Official duty. The school nurses typically receive a call from the Department of Health regarding a positive test result. Sometimes the family may inform us directly, but our school nurses are always the first point of contact. They immediately advise the principal of the situation and we begin to work together to determine next steps. We establish when the person was last in the building and compare it to the time when they were contagious. We look at class lists and seating charts to determine who we may need to advise to quarantine. We speak to classroom teachers to determine what activities may have been occurring in the classroom as some activities (like a science lab) might require closer contact for more time. All of this information is shared with the Department of Health and we work to establish a plan. Do we need to quarantine an entire pod of students? Do teachers need to quarantine? Are buses involved? Can we keep school running as normal or do we need to go remote with certain impacted groups due to staffing needs?

Nurses Michelle Sheehan and Amy Black consulting with Principal Tom Walsh

Once we make these decisions, we start to contact families. We divide up the list and make direct calls to every family. We explain the situation, tell them dates for testing and return to school, and answer any questions they may have. Since COVID is unpredictable, we make these calls when we get information. Sometimes that means we are calling on a Saturday night, a Sunday morning, or even 5:30 on a Tuesday morning. We follow up with emails to each impacted family with the details of quarantine and then a general email to our entire school community. Throughout all of the calls we have made, families have been gracious, cooperative, and understanding. Our community knows that we all have to do our part to get through this and return to normal. 

While this duty is a new task for all of us, it has been made so much easier because of our school nurses. They have given up time on their nights and weekends to work through this process with us. Honestly, they do the majority of the work and have established a smooth process to make sure we don’t miss anything. Communicating information to families is not new for principals.  This year, as we work through the health crisis it has become a much more important and essential duty for us all.

Lunch Delivery Person

One of the guidelines for reopening schools was that school cafeterias could not be used as we normally would. We determined that students would eat their lunches in classrooms. This meant we had to figure out how to get meals to students since they were not able to access the cafeteria. We decided that principals would take on the task of delivering food. At first, it might not seem like a good use of a principal’s time, but if you consider that, in the past, we spent some portion of our day supervising the cafeteria, delivering food is not that drastic a shift.

Every day, we load up our delivery carts with (hopefully) the correct number of meals, milks, fruits and other accompanying items. The process became a little more complicated when our foodservice added additional options for students, but we worked through it!

. Mr. Brown’s Food Taxi

We move out and get the food to our students as quickly as possible. We use thermal bags to keep the hot foods hot and the cold food cold (who remembers the McDLT!). After three elevator rides and about 20 minutes, every student who needs lunch has a meal in their hands.

If I’m being honest, I prefer the food delivery option over cafeteria supervision. I get the chance to interact with every classroom and student every day in a pretty relaxed setting. I get feedback on which meals they prefer (no surprise-it’s chicken nuggets and pizza!) and, as a bonus, I get quite a few steps in along the way! 

Satisfied high school food delivery customers!

One thing that is certain about this change is that it could not have been possible without the flexibility of our teachers and staff. They have made adjustments to their day to support the students in their classrooms during what would normally be a short break in their day while students were in the cafeteria. We appreciate our staff for this and the thousands of other duties as needed they have taken on this year!

When we return to school in the fall, these two duties will certainly be reduced or removed, but there will most likely be some new “other duty as needed…” to take its place. Which, of course, is what makes the job of principal interesting, challenging, and exciting!

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Bulletin Boards Help Tell Our Story

As I walked the hallways of our school the other day, I was noticing and appreciating the quantity and quality of information on display throughout our school. One of the important design features of the elementary school were bulletin boards throughout our hallways. It seems simple, but bulletin boards serve many purposes. I value our staff’s efforts to consistently and effectively use bulletin boards to foster a sense of community, celebrate our students, and communicate about learning.

Our students and staff spend a significant amount of their daily time in our school building. In a sense, our school building is a second home for all of us, and similar to our own homes, is personalized through photos, art work, and family memorabilia. It seems so simple, yet it requires time, effort, and a commitment to enhance our place of learning.

I am keenly aware that our families are not able to enter our school because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, we still hold the belief that bulletin boards foster a sense of belonging in a learning community, they make learning visible by displaying student work, and make our house a home. I value all of our students for the willingness to share their learning with all of us. And a big thank you to our dedicated staff for the extra time they spend making our school an engaging and supportive learning community.

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Scott Thompson Named New FWSU Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Franklin West Supervisory Union is pleased to announce that Scott Thompson has accepted a position as the new Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union, effective July 1st 2021. He will replace Linda Keating who is retiring after 6 years at FWSU.

The decision made by the Franklin West Supervisory Union Board of Directors follows a comprehensive search process which began on March 1st 2021.  A search committee was formed of superintendent, principals, content-area specialists/teachers, school board members, and FWSU staff. Following interviews, the committee identified 3 finalists out of a pool of 10 applicants. Scott Thompson was presented by Superintendent Tager to the FWSU Board and they voted unanimously to offer him a contract.

Scott Thompson is currently the Professional Development Coordinator with the Tarrant Institute for Innovation at the University of Vermont where he has served for the past 7 years.  Prior to that, Scott served as Assistant Principal/Principal at Milton Middle and High School for 8 years.  Scott received his Master of Education degree from Saint Michael’s College and completed School Leadership through the Snelling Center for Government: Vermont School Leadership Project. Scott brings over 17 years of experience in education to the FWSU team.

Upon acceptance of the Director of Curriculum position; Scott stated that he is “honored to join the FWSU team.”  The Board is confident that Scott Thompson’s extensive knowledge of curriculum and broad administrator experience make him an excellent fit for this position. We look forward to welcoming him to FWSU in July!

James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

Fletcher Students Enjoy a Sweet Spring Treat

Thanks to the generosity of several Fletcher maple producers, students at Fletcher Elementary School enjoyed a sweet treat last week. Sugar-on-snow is a Vermont March tradition, often including pickles to cut the sweet taste and raised donuts because, well, why not?

During a maple-themed school-wide event, the celebration began with two students asking maple-related trivia questions to the entire school via the PA system. Each classroom was invited to respond to one question collectively before the answer was shared with the entire school. Following the trivia, a maple-themed celebration of March birthdays was held, including a maple-themed song.

Individual classrooms shared maple-themed stories read aloud. The donated syrup was boiled down for nearly half a day before reaching the required 235 degrees, and was then ladled onto boats of snow collected by students earlier that day. Of course, the pickles and donuts were provided, too.

We would like to thank Genuine Foods for supporting this effort by ordering the pickles and donuts, boiling down the syrup, and putting the yummy goodness all together for us. We would also like to thank the following Fletcher maple producers for their donations of syrup:

Sweet Haven Farm

Shad and Melissa Minor

Marsh Family Maple


Gillilan Family Maple

The school-wide meeting was part of a monthly gathering supported by Fletcher’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach.

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon.

Team Phoenix at GEMS Publish Book Reviews

The team of 5th and 6th grade students participated in a three week enrichment course facilitated by GEMS librarian, Amy Rider, to develop critical reading and writing skills. At the end of the course, students published reviews as well as analyzed data to make book purchase recommendations for new library books.

The course began with students learning about all of the key components of book reviews. Each day, Mrs. Rider read picture books aloud and students discussed the elements in the books. Although often thought of books for younger audiences, these older students were able to do a deep dive into the short stories and illustrations, gaining insight for each of the books’ themes, messages, and audiences.

Next, the students were individually assigned a picture book, and were challenged to write a book review using all the skills they had recently learned. Once written, students were then paired with a student assigned the same book, to compare and contrast reviews with each other. Finally, these student pairs collaborated together using Google Docs on iPads to write a final cohesive review.

You can review the class’s book reviews in GEMS Follett Destiny Catalog (follow the instructions below for access.

  1. Click here
  2. Select Georgia Elementary/Middle School
  3. Click the Catalog tab
  4. Select Resource Lists in the left column
  5. Click ‘View’ next to the top link, 5/6 Reviews

For their final task, the students were then challenged by Mrs. Rider to review several book reviews to make recommendations of books that could be purchased by the GEMS library. Students read and analyzed reviews for over 20 books and submitted their recommendations citing facts and data from the reviews. As a result, Mrs. Rider was able to compile a list of 9 books based on the hard work and feedback of the team. In the future, these books will be purchased and added to the library, available for all GEMS students and staff.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

A Writer’s Sense of Place

In February, I had the opportunity to join the 3/4 Class at Fletcher Elementary School during I Love to Read and Write Month. As a former classroom teacher and content specialist, it was an absolute delight to engage again with students and their teachers, Mrs. Locke and Mrs. Cardone, in a reading and writing activity that allowed students to make their learning personal. 

I was able to build on the big ideas of the Jump Into Writing Program that our elementary schools are working with this year, by focusing on the Launch Unit take-aways and what writer’s do. 

We started with having the students listen to my read-aloud of the story Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston. I chose the story because it portrays a strong sense of place. Our Fletcher students demonstrate a sense of place, that strong attachment to environment and community, in so much of their learning. It is one of the features that makes Fletcher such a special place to learn.

After listening to the story and engaging in some discussion, students followed steps to write a three line, free-form “place poem” with rich description (a key feature of the story). The purpose of the free-form poem was to tell a personal story of their own sense of place as well as a personal dream, as Amber does in the story.

Here are some of their free-form poems:

In addition, many of the students created watercolors to portray their sense of place. I was thrilled to receive some of these as gifts! I do love I Love to Read and Write Month, and this year’s experience was made especially memorable by these writers at Fletcher Elementary School. 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum,
Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West
Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Despite the Pandemic, Our Kids Are Resilient and Growing!

We have heard it from our state leaders. “Our kids are not OK.”  Let’s be honest, none of us are.  We are all ready to move on. This year has been hard.  That said, it is important to remember that, as Viktor Frankl said:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

While the events of the past year pale in comparison to the lived experience of Dr. Frankl, I have yet to meet anyone who would have chosen the restrictions, guidelines or other challenges that this year has brought to us.  But, when asked to reflect on the past year, a Middle School staff offered, “We have all grown so much as people.” In that vein, I am choosing to focus on some of the ways that our students have (and are) growing and showing their resilience despite (or in spite of!) the pandemic. 

Grade 5:  A Long Walk to Water

BFA MS grade five students virtually hosted author/illustrator Jim Averbeck on March 19. Mr. Averbeck illustrated the pictures for the original A Long Walk to Water, written by Newberry Award winner, Linda Sue Parks. Averbeck discussed his relationship with Linda Sue Parks,  the experiences of Salva Dut, a real life “lost boy of the Sudan”, and water borne pathogens common in Africa. Averbeck shared his stories of living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, the symbolism involved in his drawings, and fielded questions from many curious fifth graders.

Averbeck’s visit was the culmination of the novel study in which students explored the themes of survival and perseverance, and identified character traits of the main characters.

In this experience, throughout this year, and across each room, students have become more empathic and compassionate with one another. Students continue to work together with scientists and historians to build collaboration skills and community. Students continue to be curious and questioning about the world around them while maintaining a supportive learning environment.

Grade 6: A Day in the Life

In response to my question “How are students showing us that they are, in fact alright, the 6th grade teachers shared a running observation of observed student behaviors throughout a day :

Students are greeting their teachers upon arrival at school. 

Students are asking their teachers how they are doing. It’s not only teachers doing the asking.

Students are given a structured and predictable day they can count on.

Students are racing out to recess ready for play.

They want to be the first one to grab a sled and get to the sledding hill.

Students are exploring nature. 

Students are swinging to see how high they can go. 

Students are cheering for someone who just scored a touchdown outside at recess. 

Students are setting goals and envisioning their future.

Students are engaged in math games that allow for friendly competition and connections to math concepts. 

Students are jumping out of their seats, barely able to contain themselves because their teacher just asked an intriguing question.

Students are emailing their teachers questions when they are home. 

Students are writing hello and thank you notes to their teachers on their papers. 


Students are whispering YES to themselves after receiving successful feedback on an assessment. 

Students are asking a peer for help on a hard math problem, accepting help, and learning from one another. 

Students are learning to persevere, try, and take risks. 

Students are making a list for themselves and crossing out things to do as their day progresses. 

Students are hurrying over to their teacher to tell them about a new science fact they just learned.

Students are asking for book recommendations.

Students are asking everyday if a book has been returned because they’ve been anxiously waiting to read it. 

Students are celebrating that their picture was a winner in the winter photo contest. 

Students are complimenting each other’s outfits and new hair cuts.

Students are holding the door for their peers. 

Students are wishing each other a Happy Birthday. 

Students are joking with their teachers that they are now taller than their teacher. 

Students are writing inspirational quotes on the cover of their notebook: “Keep Hope Alive.”

Students have multiple adults that care about them each and everyday. 

Students are growing, learning, and laughing.

Grade 7 & 8: Resilience is for real!

In Grades 7 & 8, A notable benefit for many students (and their teachers) has been the smaller class sizes. As eighth Grade Science teacher, Ashley Barnes-Cota explains, this improved ratio allows her to give more one-on-one attention to her students. Eighth grade Math teacher, Dana Hamm notes that the reverse is also true – the smaller ratio makes it easier for students to focus and learn in class. Seventh grade Social Studies teacher, Jen Skerrett’s whole instructional approach has shifted to take advantage of this dynamic. With more opportunities for small group discussions and personalized learning, she explains, “everyone’s voice can be heard.” Seventh grade English teacher, Emily Wills sees this benefit occurring beyond the in-person school days as well. With the hybrid model’s online learning opportunities, some students who might be more shy in the classroom are expressing themselves unreservedly in online work. “I hear their thinking now in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t,” Wills explains. 

Alongside these deepened connections with their teachers, students are also experiencing new ways of connecting with each other. Seventh Grade Math teacher, Mr. Bailey notes that students are taking the initiative to lead their peers in group games over Zoom each Wednesday.  Grade eight Social Studies teacher, Ben Psaros adds that on ‘Zoom Wednesdays’ during virtual advisory meetings, kids show up, have fun, discuss work due, ask questions if needed, and keep connected. 

Our eighth grade ELA teacher notes that mask-wearing and hygiene protocols are all second nature to students now. Remote work is getting done, with students even asking for extension activities to fill their time.  Students are learning life skills about coping with adversity, adapting to change, organizing their own routines to be successful, and emailing teachers in a professional way.

Ms. Wilkins speaks for many of us when she says, “I’m very proud of students’ adaptability and resilience.”

In Mr. Bailey’s and Ms. Skerrett’s rooms, the A and B cohorts have taken to leaving fun scavenger hunts in the room for the other group to solve. On top of these creative social dynamics, Seventh grade Science teacher, Michelle Messier has noticed something very significant happening this year; faced with different, smaller groupings during their in-person school days, she has observed many students making lemonade, “building relationships with peers they might not otherwise have connected with.” 

In context of all that we are, and have been going through, a frame that I think of is that of a chrysalis. I think of the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies. To make this transformation, caterpillars isolate themselves in a chrysalis. I sincerely doubt that what happens in the chrysalis is a painless process as the transformation is taking place. But what emerges is beautiful and moves through the world differently than before. 

While the events of the past year are none that any of us would have chosen, every day I continue to admire the resilience, compassion and care that students show during these challenging times. We are seeing a grace, support and understanding that speaks to a growth and positive transformation in how we work together amidst (or perhaps despite) difficult circumstances that will serve all of our students (and perhaps all of us) well into the future as we re-emerge and learn to move through the world in ways different, and hopefully better, than before.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

Vermont Schools Receive the Green Light For Spring Sports

On Tuesday, March 23, the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) and Vermont Principals Association (VPA) released their formal guidelines for spring sports. With the beautiful weather we’ve experienced this week, it was welcome news for BFA Fairfax student-athletes. The information is even more meaningful as our spring student-athletes have not been able to play their respective sports since the end of the 2019 school year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 spring season was cancelled. 

The State of Vermont, and specifically our BFA Fairfax community, have done an outstanding job keeping our students safe and accessing in-person learning.  Accompanying our ability to learn in person has been the opportunity to take part in co-curricular sports and activities.  We have come a long way since the beginning of the school year last September. Safety protocols have become second nature, we know so much more about the virus and how it spreads, and we are on the verge of all Vermonters aged sixteen and older having access to vaccinations. These variables all contribute to the ability to hold a spring athletic season that will look the most “normal” of any season yet this school year. 

Per the AOE and VPA release, school-based spring sports may begin practices as of Monday, April 5 (with the traditional exception for baseball pitchers and catchers who may begin skill specific training as of Monday, March 29). Games and events may begin on April 17. Just as in the fall and winter seasons, student-athletes, coaches, officials, game personnel, and spectators will be required to wear masks at all times, pass a health check prior to attending practices or events, and teams will be expected to stay physically distanced when not actively practicing or playing. As with the fall and winter seasons, all state guidelines for travel, quarantine and testing remain in place.  

BFA Fairfax’s faithful fan base will be pleased to know that at Vermont’s school-based spring sports that are played outside, spectators will once again be allowed with strict guidelines in place of mandatory masks and physical distancing.  The maximum number of attendees allowed at events is determined by state guidelines, which currently limit group size to 150. 

BFA Fairfax High School teams will begin on April 5 (with baseball pitchers and catchers starting on March 29). Our Middle School (grades 7-8) teams are expected to begin practices by the end of April, playing a modified schedule of games through the month of May, and the first week of June.

Please be sure to register on the BFA Form ReLeaf platform (shown below) ASAP so we can plan appropriately for the return of our spring sports teams! Best of luck to all!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Meet Takumi

Last February, during the annual Pink Game, a student from Richford approached me about attending BFA in the 2020-21 school year. Takumi told me he was in an exchange program and hoped to continue his education in the United States and knew that we were able to enroll students from other countries. I told him that we would be happy to have him and that we would be in touch to figure out a plan.

Takumi in his Senior Civics class (LBJ photobombing!)

Of course, this was prior to the school dismissal which changed our school and the world in general. In spite of the turmoil, Takumi stayed in touch with me throughout the spring and summer in the hope of joining us in the fall. We zoomed fairly regularly to answer his questions and update him about our return to school. In late July, it became apparent that we would not be able to have Takumi attend BFA at the start of the year given the unknowns about the virus and the conditions to return our students to school. It was a heartbreaking conversation, but we talked about the possibility of Takumi joining us in the spring semester. 

He was persistent and kept in touch with me and Director of Guidance Katherine McElroy throughout the fall. In November, we had seen success in returning our students to school and, in consultation with Superintendent Tager, we invited Takumi to join us starting in January. We started the process of government paperwork and set out to find a family willing to host him. Takumi created an introductory video which we shared over Schoology. After an opportunity to connect with Takumi, a Fairfax family agreed to host him for the semester. Takumi booked a flight, arrived in Burlington, quarantined and was able to start at BFA in early February. He joined the basketball team and hopes to be involved in other activities this spring.

To help the community get to know Takumi a little better, we asked him a few questions:

Where are you from? 

I am from Tokyo Japan 

What do you like best about Vermont? 

I like people in VT and a lot of nature so I can relax. There are not that many buildings around me so I can feel free and chilling.

What do you miss the most about Japan?

I miss food but I like American food too.

What are your favorite classes? 

I like every class but especially Senior Civics. It’s because I can get to know a lot of things which I don’t know about America.

What are your plans for next year?

Move to America to start a new life or go to college in the US. But I probably will be in the US.

What is the most surprising thing about BFA?

First of all,people are nice. Second, classes are fun.

How is BFA different from Richford High School? T

The size is pretty much the same, but I can’t really tell any other difference because due to COVID-19,there is a lot of unusual stuff.

What else would you like people to know? 

I like making new friends so feel free to talk to me!

Social Media



Anything else?

I am glad to be able to become a Fairfax student!

Takumi with his host siblings, Calliope and Max

We are so glad that Takumi was finally able to join us at BFA. As much as the experience benefits him, the impact on our entire school and community is far greater!

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Early Education and the Importance of Play

I love the opportunities I get to spend time in our Pre-Kindergarten classrooms. The classrooms are full of laughter, movement, and energy. Our students are curious, energetic, and excited about learning. A significant component of their day centers around learning through play. 

Play is the foundation of learning for all children. We believe that play is an essential component of our children’s experience at our school. In our Pre-Kindergarten program our staff promote play and social interactions each day. According to National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), research indicates:

  1. Young children learn through play. 
  2. Play helps children learn problem solving skills.
  3. Play helps reduce stress and helps children work through complex experiences.
  4. Play helps children focus and learn executive functioning skills. 

I recently asked Ms. Caryn Zambrano, our new Pre-Kindergarten teacher, to share how our classrooms use play to facilitate learning and gain important skills.  She was generous to share the following:

How and why do children learn through play?  

When children play, they are learning and making sense of the world around them.  Before young children have words, they use their senses to learn. They taste, touch, smell, look at, and listen to everything in their world. This exploration helps young children understand how things work. If you have ever seen a little baby pick up a phone and say hello, they are mimicking what they may see a parent do. This is an early stage of play, where children act out familiar scenarios. As play progresses, children will start to create their own little play scenes.  They will switch from solitary or parallel play to cooperative play with their peers. You will start to see real scenes put into place, and more intentional play.

For example, instead of building a small tower (where a child may build it to knock it down over and over), you may see two children working cooperatively (social/emotional skills) to build a castle. During this play, you will see them planning (executive functioning skills) and negotiating what parts to include in the castle (social problem solving). You may also see some exploration about cause and effect, and learning about spatial awareness. Kids will often talk and plan about how high to build the structure, and often enjoy counting to see whose tower is taller (measurement and counting).

There are so many concepts that children are exploring and learning about for every type of play! 

How do children learn problem solving skills through play?  

Problems arise naturally when children are interacting! We see two main types of problem solving in our preschool programs: general and social. Problem solving typically happens when a child tries or can’t figure out how to do something. This type of critical thinking helps children learn to think outside the box, and helps them to anticipate new ways to do things. In preschool, one of the hardest concepts to learn is how to share. It’s something that we spend the entire year on. When a child wants to play with a toy that is unavailable, there can be a big problem! Preschool children feel everything very strongly, and have a difficult time waiting or negotiating when there is a problem. Our role as teachers is to pre-teach these skills, as well as help children take part in these challenging conversations.  

Play reduces stress and helps children cope with complex experiences: 

When you see children play, it is pretty evident that they are enjoying themselves. They will be laughing, pretending to be something, or may be concentrating and thinking about what they are doing. Play is a natural way for children to act out what they see and know. When children have an adverse experience, they figure it out during play. That is why you may see a child at the dollhouse who announces that the parents are getting divorced. They are trying to figure out what it means, and how it all works. Acting these types of events out in play is perfectly natural, and can be used as a healing experience.  

How does play help children focus and use executive functioning skills?

When a young child starts preschool, they often have a very short attention span. This is developmentally appropriate! As children gain a sense of the world around them, they start learning to attend to play for longer periods of time. Think of that example with the baby answering the phone. The baby might stay engaged for a few minutes, until they have exhausted what they know about talking on the phone.

As children get older, their play starts changing into intentional play scenes. So their play and their ability to focus changes to accommodate their new skills. Instead of play lasting a few minutes, children will play for longer periods of time. At our preschool, we change our classroom periodically to accommodate new play scenes. This year, we have had a pizza kitchen, a store, a bakery, and a gingerbread house in our dramatic play area. The kids were able to create rich scenes that lasted all of playtime. It is such an amazing transition to see!  

Play is such a natural way for children to gain knowledge about the world around them. If you would like to learn more, please check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website. You can find tons of free resources and articles about play. Please take a moment to check out this cartoon that is in the back of the Vermont Early Learning Standards created by the Vermont Department of Education. It does a great job illustrating what children are learning in a preschool classroom.  

Click the photo to see the image enlarged.

GEMS Winterfest 2021

This winter the Georgia Elementary School students have been participating in a four week long Winterfest where they were challenged to get involved in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities.  As they accomplished each challenge their classroom would earn points and the goal was to accumulate the most points throughout the four weeks.  Challenges centered around active play, problem solving activities, and community service. 

Here is a video of classrooms participating in the activities below.

Explore the Outdoors

  • Take a walk on the walking path (2 pts)
  • Borrow snowshoes from Mr. Allard and go outside to explore (3pts)
  • Identify three types of trees on the school property (2pts)
  • Build a working sundial in the snow (3pts)
  • Identify three different animal tracks (2 pts)
  • Take a photo of an animal in the snow (3pts)
  • Sit quietly in the bird sanctuary and observe the birds (1pt)
  • Visit the Buddy Bench (1pt)
  • Practice your favorite yoga pose outside (1pt)
Keeping track of points.

Snow Play

  • Build a snow creature (2pts)
  • Catch a snowflake on your tongue (1pt)
  • Make a snow angel(1pt)
  • Sled down a hill (1pt)
  • Build a snow fort (3pts)
  • Throw snowballs at the disc golf goal.  Can you get it in? (1pt)
  • Write GEMS in the snow with your feet/snowshoes (2pts)
  • Practice writing your sight words or letters in the snow (3pts)


  • Create a Mascot Character profile (It could be a labeled drawing, story, list of characteristics, etc. ) (3pts)
  • Write a poem, song or story about winter (3pts)
  • Make a paper snowflake (1pt)
  • Create your own jigsaw puzzle from a winter picture (2pts)
  • Draw a map of the school (3pts)
  • Create and play a handmade board game (3pts)
  • Create a video of a touchdown dance (3pts)
  • Create your OWN activity (3 pts)
Ask a friend to play a game.
Challenge yourself with a puzzle.

Hunker Down

  • Play a board game  (1pt)
  • Have a read-in (2pts)
  • Virtually visit a zoo, aquarium, museum (1pt)
  • Do yoga or GoNoodle in your classroom (1pt)
  • Show another type of brain break your class does (1pt)
  • Make a puzzle (2pts)
  • Work together as a class to calculate how many points you could earn if you completed everything on the list (3pts)
Visiting a virtual zoo.

Give Back

  • Compost your food waste (1pt)
  • Use recycled materials to create something (2pts.)
  • Write and mail a thank you note to a local first responder or other essential worker (3pts.)
  • Pick up litter you see on the playgrounds (2pt.)
  • Donate to the food shelf or other local charity (3pts.)
  • Write a thank you note to someone in the school.  Think about people who often work behind the scenes (cafeteria, janitors, administration, nurses, etc.) (3pts.)
Thank you letter to a custodian.

As classrooms participated they needed to include a mascot of their choice in all activities while documenting through video or pictures:

  1.  Create or find a mascot with your class.  A mascot can be something your class makes or an item from the classroom. Examples include a Flat Stanley type mascot, a lego character or a mitten.  Be creative and have fun with it.
  2.  Take a picture and/or 30 second video of each activity you complete and include your mascot in the picture.    Keep track of your points 
  3. Make a recording of you introducing the Winter Fest Challenge to your class for an automatic 5 points to kick off the challenge!
Reading and playing math games with a mascot.

Teachers and students were engaged and smiling throughout selected challenges and this opportunity provided classrooms to continue building those relationships with one another that are so critically important.

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Planning Forward with a Sense of Hope

Through the continuing process of scheduled “Take 20 Meetings,” I am able to hear the thoughts of all employees in the Franklin West Supervisory Union.  I am renewing my sense of hope for brighter days ahead as we near the one year mark of a global pandemic.  It is an absolute pleasure to meet with dedicated employees who care deeply for students who each possess a talent or a gift. 

Lisa Wilkins, a kindergarten teacher at BFA Fairfax shared her “One Word” for the 2020-2021 school year. “Hope,” is the one word that she personally chooses to live by during a year like no other.  When I asked Lisa how the students were doing this year, she stated that her kindergarteners are exactly “where they need to be.”  She credited parents who helped to teach their children last spring when the majority of the country moved to remote learning to close out the 2019-2020 school year. 

Brittany Sweet, who teaches Pre-K at Georgia Elementary School shared that freedom of expression, creative play, and ideal learning spaces exist within the GEMS Pre-K Program. The idea of learning from play within rich Pre-K environments at Georgia Elementary, BFA Fairfax Elementary, and Fletcher Elementary will indeed pay dividends for students as they progress to Georgia Middle School and BFA Fairfax Middle and High School.

Throughout the year I have witnessed the developmental and academic growth of the students in Cathy O’Brien’s kindergarten class at Fletcher Elementary School.  The collaborative teamwork that Cathy, Kathy LeMay, and other educational professionals accomplish together is leading toward exponential growth for students. The structures and creative play within the room play a key role in leading learning forward for all students. 

Recovery Plan

A term that will soon be commonplace across the country is the idea of a “Recovery Plan.” Such plans will strategically evaluate learning that may require remediation due to potential learning loss during this unprecedented pandemic. This planning and strategizing for a recovery plan will focus on the key areas of academic, social, and emotional learning.  As this conversation starts with district administrators, principals, lead coaches, and teacher leaders, I believe the word “hope” is something for consideration.

Interestingly, across the United States over fifty percent of the students have not received in-person learning since last March of 2020. I am grateful that our kindergarten through grade six students are receiving four days a week of in-person learning, and grades seven through twelve students are receiving two days of in-person learning  within our hybrid learning model. 

I am eternally grateful to all of our employees and parents for the steadfast effort to move all students forward with their learning as we journey together toward a hope for better days ahead.

Something to Celebrate

Two BFA Fairfax seniors were recognized by the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association (VSADA) and National Interscholastic Administrators Association (NIAA) as Top Scholar-Athletes. Five male and five female student athletes in Vermont are recognized for being distinguished in scholastic, leadership, and sportsmanship attributes. Congratulations to Abigail Sweet and Jarrett Sweet for being named the top female and male recipients for the State of Vermont.


“When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”

—Ernest Hemingway

Enthusiastically Yours,

James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

Fletcher Students “Mask-Up” for the Environment

Student artists at Fletcher Elementary School are creating their own unique face masks and supporting the environment at the same time. 

The Mask-Up Art Project encourages students to battle pollution by learning about earth-friendly sustainable transportation and representing some of their favorite ways of getting around by designing a face mask depicting eco-friendly alternatives such as walking, biking, skating, and skiing, that reduce their carbon footprint.

The project is sponsored by Way To Go Vermont, a subsidy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, who provided the school with free cloth masks to serve as students’ canvases, along with non-toxic fabric pens to support the vibrant artwork.

“In addition to supporting students’ learning about eco-friendly ways to get around, this project made mask-wearing fun for our students and inspired some of our young artists to demonstrate their learning through their art,” third and fourth grade teacher and instructional coach, Denette Locke said.

“It served as a really creative way for our class to discuss protecting Vermont’s beautiful environment.”

The project is accompanied by a school transportation challenge, which encourages students and families to consider a variety of eco-friendly ways to get to and from school and to reduce carbon emissions, and a winter walk and bike challenge that supports active outside activities.

“Asking students to design their own masks gave them a chance to consider how their actions related to transportation can have a significant impact on the environment,” third grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “By helping students think critically about this now, we can positively impact the health of Vermont for years to come.”

“Doing art is so much fun and this art has a cause,” third grader Claire Austin said. “We need to put less pollution into the environment because too much is harmful to people and animals and plants. When I can drive a car, I am going to remember all about this and do my part to help.”

Fourth grader Bryce Wright added, “You just have to be respectful, responsible, safe and caring,” echoing the school’s school-wide rules. “You need to do all of those things outside of school, too, and take care of the environment by making the best choices you can.”

Students will wear their mask at school and throughout the community.

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

Flexible Learning Through VTVLC

Currently over 60 students from FWSU have begun their second semester enrolled as fully remote students through a collaboration with Vermont’s Virtual Learning Cooperative, VTVLC.  These hardworking students and families are diligently working and learning through this new learning environment.

Learn. Virtually. Anywhere.

Students enrolled in VTVLC have a unique flexible learning environment this year. Students engage along with their teacher both with other students as a group as well as individually for all five days of the school week . Learning incorporates both independent learning through online modules as well as guided learning with their teachers virtually. Students along with the support of their families as coaches complete course work assigned weekly versus daily to allow more flexibility. 

FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all.

The VTVLC Collaborative School Option was developed this school year to meet the needs of fully remote learning for students during COVID. The VTVLC CSO provides a fully online virtual academy for their local students.  This cooperative learning is a pool of Vermont educators from school districts across the state of Vermont who have committed to educating Vermont students online for the 2020-2021 school year.  FWSU has 4 teachers from our supervisory union diligently providing instruction and support as online virtual instructors including Mandy Alarcon, Sharon Rock, Michelle Sarnowicz, and Harold Vance. 

This program is working as a direct result of the cooperation of all the learning partners doing their part to ensure the best possible program for our students.  This would not be possible without the flexibility of the teachers, students and their families. 

Better when working together….

Co-Written By:
VTVLC online instructors — Mandy Alarcon, Sharon Rock, Michelle Sarnowoicz, and Harold Vance

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech

Great Peacemakers

Prologue: I recently attended a Zoom session featuring the Peacemaker Projects of grade 7 students at BFA Fairfax. This joint effort between Emily Wills and Jennifer Skerrett featured an authentic humanities approach to what it means to be a peacemaker. The intersection of transferable skills, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and thematic humanities is a hallmark of FWSU’s commitment to innovative, personalized learning opportunities that integrate a global perspective.

Linda Keating, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union.

The Great Peacemakers

7th graders at BFA Fairfax recently completed their cross-curricular unit on Transferable Skills and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  Jenn Skerrett (social studies), Emily Wills (English language arts), and Ethan Wise (Teacher Apprenticeship Program intern) worked together to support students’ exploration of these two important areas of learning.  

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals to help make the world a better place.  By 2030, the Goals hope to end poverty, fight inequality and address the urgency of climate change.

Meanwhile, in 2016 the Vermont Agency of Education put forth five overarching Transferable Skills to cut across content areas and complement the new proficiency-based graduation requirements.  The Skills are:  clear and effective communication, creative and practical problem solving, informed and integrative thinking, responsible and involved citizenship, and self-direction.

Over approximately 10 in-person class days, the 7th graders read the book Great Peacemakers by Heather Chase and Ken Beller.  This nonfiction text covers 20 people who have all taken different pathways to peace:  choosing nonviolence, valuing all life, honoring diversity, caring for the planet, or living peace.  

Students then selected one peacemaker to study more in-depth, and created a presentation to connect that peacemaker to the Transferable Skills and The Global Goals.  Then, they extended their thinking outward to link their peacemaker’s mission to an ongoing cause today.

In the past, Mrs. Skerrett and Mrs. Wills have combined their classes for this project and done presentations in a mixed group.  This year, COVID-19 protocols forced them to be creative.  While keeping their pods safe and separate, the teachers used Zoom to allow students in different classrooms to watch each other present and see each others’ slideshows.  This also made it possible for FWSU Curriculum Director Linda Keating to join the audience for some of the speeches.

7th grader Emma Foster said of the project, “it gave me a chance to learn about someone I had no idea existed.  I found it fun to speak in front of people about things I learned.  It let me put two concepts together, and connect Transferable Skills and Global Goals to Oscar Arias.  I really liked it.” 

Co-Written By:

Emily Wills, Grade 7 Language Arts Teacher at BFA Fairfax


Jennifer Skerrett, Grade 7 Social Studies Teacher at BFA Fairfax

Enjoy the break and Take Care of Yourself and Your Family!

In more usual times, February break is a time for escape and recharging. For some, it is a time to get out on the ice and fish, go for a ride on the snow machine, or travel someplace warm.  This year, as we all know far too well at this point, is different. With the restrictions that the pandemic has imposed on us around who we can and cannot see, and where we can (and more often) cannot go, many of our usual routines are going to be different this February break.

However, as we head into the upcoming week, many of us have more time on our hands than usual; and with that I offer some resources and reminders about taking care of yourselves and your families. COVID fatigue is a real thing and it is too easy to get frustrated and “forget” the guidelines that we all have been working so hard to follow when our routines are upended (even by a vacation).

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had shared with Dr. Joelle Van Lent, PsyD in December about supporting our young people during these hard and often unpredictable times.  We divided this conversation into two 10 minute chunks. The first is about routines and supporting remote learning.  The second is about supporting our young people with worry and uncertainty about our situation. 

On February 15, 2021 we hosted an open workshop with Dr. Gillian Boudreau focused on helping your child manage anxiety. While we are unable to provide a recording of this session, we are happy to share several resources from this workshop.  We also highly recommend Dan Siegel’s and Tina Bryerson’s book: “The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired.”

Also, I would be remiss if I did not include our fabulous BFA Nurses’ Newsletter.  Michelle, Amy and Nicole are constantly keeping us updated and informed on the latest news.  Their professionalism, tireless dedication to keeping our students and all of our staff safe (at all hours and through too many weekends to count) are legion. 

Nurse Amy Black caught mid-errand between buildings.
Nurse Michelle Sheehan supporting our elementary students and staff.
Nurse Nicole Ducharme keeping us informed about health updates and supporting our students.

“I would like to remind everyone to keep up all the good work they are doing: hand-washing, keeping distance, wearing their masks. We have noted that this helps keep us safe from Covid but also has kept the normal winter illnesses down. Mask on faces, six foot spaces, uncrowded spaces!”

—Nurse Amy Black

Please be safe during this break, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. As always remember to wear your masks, keep your distance, wash your hands, and just hunker down and find joy in what we do have in our immediate surroundings.  We just need to hang on a little longer so that we can all come out of this together. 

Be well, take care and enjoy the February respite.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

Franklin West Supervisory Union Accepted into National Network of Innovative School Districts 

Franklin West Supervisory Union joins Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, will partner with other leading educators, entrepreneurs, and researchers from across the country

September 30, 2021 | Fairfax, Vermont Franklin West Supervisory Union was accepted into the League of Innovative Schools, a national coalition of forward-thinking K-12 school districts organized by Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization with the mission to accelerate innovation in education and improve the opportunity to learn for all through technology and research.

Franklin West Supervisory Union was selected from a competitive national pool of applicants based on its educational leadership, innovative vision for learning, key achievements and evidence of results, and demonstrated commitment to equity and excellence.

“We are excited to continue our work with the League of Innovative Schools which began under Superintendent Ned Kirsch. Our “Belief in what is possible” and Action Plan goals align with the work of the League. Our collaboration with other innovative leaders and school systems has the potential to positively impact our students” 
– John Tague FWSU Interim Superintendent

The Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, launched at the White House under President Barack Obama within the United States Department of Education in 2011, accepts new members through an open application process once per year.

The full list of members can be found at

“Now more than ever, the League of Innovative Schools recognizes the impact that equity, access, and opportunity can have on student outcomes,” said Dewayne J. McClary, director of the League of Innovative Schools. “The League strives to build a collaborative of close-knit districts that work together to eradicate the impact of inequitable practices, outdated instruction and resources, and districts working in silos. Part of our mission is to transform the systems and policies that create barriers for marginalized students.”

League members are represented by their superintendent, who commits to:

  • Attend biannual League meetings, which feature classroom visits, collaborative problem-solving, and relationship-building with peers and partners; 
  • Participate in League cohorts and challenge collaboratives on a broad range of topics relevant to the changing needs and priorities of school districts; 
  • Support Digital Promise research and provide critical feedback so it translates easily into classroom experiences and expands what we know about teaching and learning; 
  • Engage with entrepreneurs to advance edtech product development steeped in the latest learning science and meets district needs; and 
  • Participate in the League’s professional learning community by connecting with other members online, in person, and at each other’s school districts.

Working at the intersection of education leaders, researchers, and developers, Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools provide an environment for superintendents and district leaders to share and learn from best practices; leverage research and participate in continuous improvement models; engage in research and development (R&D) projects with peers to address education’s biggest challenges; and implement new technologies and innovations in their school systems.

In addition to superintendents’ participation, there are also opportunities for other school administrators, principals, and teachers from member districts to participate in League and Digital Promise-related initiatives. 

The League will officially welcome new members at its fall hybrid meeting on October 20-22, 2021, held online and in-person in Washington, D.C. The new members’ entrance into the League extends the network’s reach to 125 districts across 34 states, and expands its cumulative impact to 3.8 million students served over time.

For more information on the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, visit:


About Digital Promise

Digital Promise is a nonprofit organization that builds powerful networks and takes on grand challenges by working at the intersection of researchers, entrepreneurs, and educators. Our vision is that all people, at every stage of their lives, have access to learning experiences that help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive and continuously learn in an ever-changing world. For more information, visit the Digital Promise website  and follow @digitalpromise for updates.

Brains, Learning and Creative Uses of Swim-Gear

Tristan in a swim cap

You may look at this picture and wonder why Tristan is wearing a swim cap. No, we have not started a swim club. If you look closely, the students are starting to draw diagrams on the swim cap. Diagrams of what you ask? 

What students are working on is an activity as part of their work on a unit about famous Vermonter Phinneas Gage.  This brief summary comes from the Smithsonian Magazine

In 1848, Gage, 25, was the foreman of a crew cutting a railroad bed in Cavendish, Vermont. On September 13, as he was using a tamping iron to pack explosive powder into a hole, the powder detonated. The tamping iron—43 inches long, 1.25 inches in diameter and weighing 13.25 pounds—shot skyward, penetrated Gage’s left cheek, ripped into his brain and exited through his skull, landing several dozen feet away. Though blinded in his left eye, he might not even have lost consciousness, and he remained savvy enough to tell a doctor that day, “Here is business enough for you.”

In 8th Grade English Language Arts for the past several weeks, students have been studying the story of Phinneas Gage and how what we know about the brain has changed over time. Students have studied his story and been actively involved in discussions on the parts of the brain and their roles in how we learn and experience the world. 

What was so amazing about the swim-cap activity is that students worked together to diagram this amazing organ, that we all have, and all of its parts and functions.  Beyond the story of Phinneas Gage, students learned about the frontal lobe (planning and predicting), the amygdala (flight, fight, and caretaking), and where these and the many other parts and functions are in all of our skulls by diagramming each other’s brains). 

What was particularly exciting is that as I walked through classes in the days after the Phineas Gage unit was completed, students still had their diagrammed swim caps next to them.

As students As they showed off their caps, they were able to highlight what we used to think on one side and what we now know about the brain on the other side.  Even better, was that students were excited to show off and explain how our understanding of the brain has evolved from Phrenology (that was in vogue at the time of Phinneas Gage), to more scientific and nuanced contemporary understanding of the different parts and functions that we understand today.  

I am so grateful to work with amazing colleagues like Emily Wills, who designed this unit. I am also particularly grateful to the students who so actively participated in discussions, debates, and creative designs to show their thinking and learning.  This was just one of the many reminders each day of how wonderful a place BFA Fairfax is.

| Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator