The FWSU Story: Fletcher School Creates Week-Long Send-Off for Graduates

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Fletcher Elementary School sixth graders pose for a group picture earlier in the school year. Back row, left to right, are Collin Wolfe, Jayden Pratt, Cody Gelineau, and Justus Cota. Front row, left to right, are Maggie Short, Eli Tinker, Jude Buskey and Sabrina Nadeau. Photo Courtesy of Finest Image Photography

Fletcher Elementary School graduated eight sixth grade students on June 12, but not before a week-long celebration of the group’s accomplishments. With current health guidelines prohibiting large in-person gatherings like graduation, students, families and staff took to the internet with one celebration of the graduating class each day during the week. 

On Monday, the school published individual profiles of each student, one about every hour. Students were asked a series of questions that included talking about their biggest accomplishment, the type of job they see themselves having in the coming years, what they are most proud of, and what advice they would give incoming sixth graders. The profiles were published to a variety of internet locations, including the school’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Fletcherelementaryvt/.

The graduates’ families joined in the fun on Tuesday by contributing photographs of their students from birth to present. The photographs were compiled into a visual and musical tribute by sixth grade classroom teacher Lorrene Palermo. The video may be viewed here:

Staff members at the school remembered students on Wednesday with a video tribute filled with stories and fond memories, while Thursday’s celebration came in the form of a special song penned especially for Fletcher Graduates by Vermont artist and Pacific Records recording artist Chad Hollister, who incorporated students’ names and attributes provided by the school into a custom song that he then performed live-to-video and was released on the internet. View the song here: 

Friday’s limited in-person presentation of diplomas included an individual processional for each graduate through town and included two cars from the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, a firetruck from Cambridge Fire Department, and one of the school’s busses. Staff members lined the front of the building and cheered students on as they arrived. Each graduate received their diploma and a box of personalized graduation cookies that included a diploma, 2020 number cookies and their name.

Fletcher sixth grade graduate Cody Gelineau holds a box of personalized cookies he received with his diploma lst week. Photo: Chris Dodge

This year’s Fletcher Elementary Graduates include, Jude Buskey, Justus Cota, Cody Gelineau, Sabrina Nadeau, Jayden Pratt, Maggie Short, Eli Tinker and Colin Wolfe.

Jude Buskey with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Justus Cota with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Cody Gelineau with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Sabrina Nadeau with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Jayden Pratt with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Maggie Short with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Eli Tinker with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Colin Wolfe with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker

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

The FWSU Story: Summer Time!

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Another year is complete, albeit an unusual one for sure! The summer season is now upon us and this past week’s warm weather is welcomed. Many thanks to the students and families for the perseverance and grit these past few months. The summer vacation is now a time to explore nature, splash in lakes and pools, and catch fireflies.

Students were asked to try their best to learn from home and families were asked to support this work the best they can. All in all, I would say given the circumstances that it was a success. Schools will now turn and focus on what fall will look like. Stay tuned for information throughout the summer as the model is worked and re-worked based on guidance from the Agency of Education and Department of Health. 

To the seniors of BFA, the eighth grade students at GEMS, and the sixth grade students at Fletcher Elementary, good luck in your next chapter. Too everyone, have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable summer vacation! 

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand

Last Day of School!

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On this last day of school for 2019-20, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all of YOU; the families, students, staff, teachers, para educators, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, administrators, board members and the FWSU community at large. We have conquered the unimaginable together and proven to ourselves just how much we are capable of. We are so proud of every one of you. And we will return next year stronger and ready to face the challenges ahead!

Update on Food Delivery
As the school year ends, we have learned that we will be able to continue providing food to children aged 18 and under at least until June 30. Please contact your Principal for more information. For BFA families, if you are interested in picking up food starting June 11, please complete this form: Food Needs June 11-30

Have a great summer, everybody! Congratulations to the Class of 2020!!

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior Abby Sweet.

When did you start school at BFA?
I started school at BFA in 7th grade transferring from Fletcher Elementary School.

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
I don’t have one specific memory from my time at BFA, but I have many. I loved playing sports, hanging out with my friends before and after classes, and talking with teachers about a variety of things.

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I will be going to the University of Vermont as a Mathematics Major.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
If I had to shout out any of my teachers it would be my advisor Mrs. Fink. She has been there for me since I started high school, and helped me with everything from college essays to helping me realize I really liked math and wanted to continue learning it.

Which changes since COVID-19 closed schools have caused the greatest stress? 
One thing that caused me stress was studying for AP exams at home. Another thing was starting my summer job again while I was “in-school.”

Which changes have led to some relief of stress?
I now don’t have to worry about waking up late and being late for school, which stops a lot of my morning stress.

Which people/relationships are helping you through this time? 
My friends have been helping me through this time a lot, especially since we are all feeling the same thing together, along with my family for having to put up with me all the time now!

What are you doing to maintain connections with school friends, particularly the members of your senior class during school closure?
My friends and I have Zoom calls and talk almost like we would at school. We also go outside and social distance while hanging out, which is fun and sad at the same time.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior Kieran Shea.

When did you start school at BFA? 
I started at BFA in preschool.

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
Probably going to New York City this year. It was fun to see the city and hang out with my friends. 

What are your plans after graduation?
I’ll be attending Plymouth State University and majoring in Social Studies Education (5-12).

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
I’d like to shout out Mr. Emery. He has taught some of my favorite classes I have taken in high school. He always makes class enjoyable even when the material gets a little boring.

Which changes during COVID-19 School Closure have led to some relief of stress?
I haven’t been tired all the time. I have gotten the best sleep I’ve had in years. 

What are things that are bringing you some joy/fun (e.g. activities, hobbies, experiences) during this period? 
I have been running quite a bit, and I’ve also been fishing. 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior Kiana Labor.

When did you start school at BFA?
I started in Kindergarten. 

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
Picking a favorite memory is not easy, I have spent 12 ¾ years at BFA. There are certainly many memories to choose from. I think some of my favorite memories were cheering at basketball games, specifically the playoff games and the Pink games. I loved the student energy and I really felt a sense of community at these games. 

What are your plans after graduation?
I am attending the University of Tennessee Knoxville this fall as a pre-professional exploratory science major.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
It is really hard to pick just one teacher, I have had so many teachers that have impacted my time at BFA, however my advisor Sara Villeneuve has pushed me to be the leader I am today. She was not only my advisor, but also the advisor for NHS and I have worked closely and admired all her hard work over the years. 

Which changes have caused the greatest stress for you during school closure?
I think at the beginning what was causing me the most stress was not having a traditional graduation, but as I have been part of the planning process, I am excited for the upcoming celebrations. 

What are things that are bringing you some joy/fun (e.g. activities, hobbies, experiences) during this period of school closure? Why do you think that is?
I am normally very busy, I come home to change quickly and do homework and I am off to my next practice or event. The past three months have allowed me to spend a lot more time with my family, which I am thankful for, especially since I am going to be out of state this fall.

What new learning and new perspectives have you gained and how will you integrate them into your life moving forward?
I have always been a planner, I have been planning and envisioning what the end of my senior year would look like for years.  My plan was not what happened. However, what this pandemic has taught me is to be adaptable, to live life more day-to-day, and to be thankful for what is happening in my life at that time. 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Fletcher School Champions Creatively Alive Children

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There is beauty all around us, but never more dynamic than when the aesthetic beauty of a child’s artwork meets the heartfelt beauty of wanting to make the world a better place. This collision of tangible art and a more abstract desire to make a positive contribution to the earth and its inhabitants is the backbone of Fletcher Elementary’s grant-funded work, “making the world a better place, one piece of art at a time.”

Earlier this school year, Fletcher Elementary received $1000 in Crayola art supplies and $2500 in cash to support the art program through Crayola’s partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the Championing Creatively Alive Children grant.

Fletcher teachers and children were thrilled to see the Crayola art supplies arrive. Many of us watched the truck be unloaded and the stacks of boxes piled high in our school office. If you looked up the words “motivation” and “inspiration” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of that exact moment at our school. Smiles, giggles, excitement and gratitude abound. The children couldn’t wait to get started and the new art supplies provided both historical favorites and experiences with a variety of new media.

Guided by Art Teacher M.C. Baker and School Counselor Lisa Coale, the students’ first theme focused on kindness. “Be Caring” is a schoolwide expectation in Fletcher, and what better way to show caring than to be thankful. Since this project took place around the Thanksgiving holiday, students and staff expressing gratitude seemed a logical springboard for our artwork. Our students created “kindness rocks,” palm stones that portrayed stunningly vibrant designs that represented the aesthetic beauty of incredible art. After wrapping the stones in tissue paper and designing individual gift boxes, our entire school gathered for a kindness rock exchange. Students gave their palm stones to each other, and at the same time shared why they are thankful. This was truly a celebration of kindness, gratitude and amazing art that was possible only with the support of this grant. Gatherings such as this are the backbone of community-building in our school, but never with such flair as when we added the creativity of artwork, in which our children took great pride and a sense of accomplishment.

In subsequent weeks, students shifted their focus to noticing beauty in the natural world and capturing its essence through art. Since curricular integration, particularly literacy, is a goal in our school, our Art Teacher, M.C. Baker worked with classroom teachers to create books with each classroom. Classes worked with themes that corresponded with our Four Winds Nature Program, a hands-on science initiative that immerses children in the wonder of the natural world. Classes explored themes such as color in nature, animals, sound, community togetherness, Vermont and space. Students created artwork and associated writing that have been professionally reproduced in full color to create books that children and families will cherish, and which help children be more mindful and purposeful about seeking out and appreciating the beauty of our world. Teachers appreciated the strong connection between art and literacy. Knowing that not all students learn the same way, and there are multiple pathways to understanding and demonstrating competence, this work has solidified creative efforts as a means of teaching virtually any student any subject and letting them show their understanding.

Supporting students in showing and demonstrating kindness, as well as finding and appreciating beauty in the natural world, was our goal. And we made it! Through amazing conversation, art and collaboration, our students are both better artists and people, as are the adults. Thanks to Crayola and the NAESP for your support of our school and children. No doubt we will all reap the benefits. The children really are our future. The future of art. The future of kindness. And the future of beauty.

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

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior, Claire Bushey.

When did you start school at BFA?
I started at BFA in 7th grade. I had previously attended Fletcher Elementary School up until 6th grade. 

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
I would have to say some of my favorite memories are from lunches with my friends, whether it was working on calculus homework or playing games like telephone.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will be attending UVM as a member of the Honors College in the fall. I am majoring in chemistry.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
I would like to give a shout-out to Mr. Pfeiffer, who was an amazing teacher in all the classes I had with him. He saw my captivation with chemistry and was willing to give up his free period during the first semester of this year to do an independent study with me in Chem 1C. He continued to work with me even after we finished the typical Chem 1C work. He took even more of his time to review some old topics that he felt would benefit me next year in college, and then teach them to me. I am incredibly grateful to him. 

Which changes have been pleasantly surprising about the closure of school due to COVID-19? 
One big change from working from home with both my parents being home as well, has been a lot more family time. I’ve appreciated being able to go and talk with one of my parents when I’m taking a break from school, or being able to go downstairs and explain Hamlet and what’s happening to my dad as I read it. 

What are you doing to maintain connections with school friends, particularly the members of your senior class during school closure?
My friends and I have used several different methods of staying in touch through the quarantine. We’ve done quite a few Zooms and occasionally after a class Zoom we will stay back and do work together. We have also, as the state’s restrictions have eased up, had some socially-distant gatherings where we have been able to see each other in person. 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

Letter to FWSU Families

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June 1, 2020

Dear FWSU Education Community,

The first day of June is typically a day we think of upcoming graduations, summer vacations, and wonderful weather. This year on the first day of June there are other things weighing on our minds, as well.

As we work to navigate the process of educating and providing services for the students due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are also faced with significant impact on our students and adults within our community on the recent killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor among many other Black Americans. As we are witnessing across the country and here in Vermont, this event continues to impact many people, and is shown in protests calling for justice spreading across America and the world. 

We recognize how painful this senseless tragedy is for many members of our community.  While conversations about race may be difficult to have, it is essential that they take place in order for our community and our children to move forward. It is never too early or too late to begin these discussions with your children. As a supervisory union, it is important for us to continue to commit to our shared values that: diversity is an asset; every individual has equal human value; and that a secure and safe environment and peaceful conflict resolution are essential to learning and to society. Below are a couple resources to support conversations. 

Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race

100 race-conscious things you can say to your child

We are committed to ensuring equity for all students, and understand that ridding our system of inequalities connected to race, gender, language diversity, socioeconomic status, and other forms of marginalization, is key for all students to thrive in a global society. Our schools are committed to a culture free from bias and inequity. Together we can provide opportunities for our children to effect change. We need to create and foster environments where every person feels welcomed, accepted and valued. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Click Here for a PDF of this Letter.

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior, Owen Senesac!

When did you start school at BFA?
I started in 2007. 

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
My 6th Grade class trip where my grade went to a suspended obstacle course.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will spend 3 years at Castleton University studying business.  

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
Mrs. Skerrett! She was the coach of GEO BEE team, which is quite possibly the best after-school club. 

What are you learning about other people (both close others and not-so-close others) as a result of the present situation? 
I’ve learned that people (or at least me) enjoy the simple things associated with everyday routines, like a walk or a morning conversation.

What new learning and new perspectives have you gained, and how will you integrate them into your life moving forward?
Through watching and reading news and articles I see that life can be a lot worse than missing graduation, prom, etc. So moving forward, I will be much more thankful for the simpler things I have.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior, Madison Fitzgerald!

When did you start school at BFA?
I started school at BFA in preschool. I’ve been at this school my entire life!

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
My favorite memories will always be the Fall Musicals. I was in the musicals ever since the sixth grade, and I loved them. They definitely had an impact on myself as an actor and as a whole. It taught me to get out of my shell and essentially be myself.

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I am attending Champlain College in Burlington as a Game Art major.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
This is very hard, since I loved all my teachers. I’d have to say Mr. Lane! He has always been there to help me and I feel like I can talk to him as a friend and mentor rather than a teacher. He loves what he teaches, you can always tell! He gives very good insight and has helped me become both a better builder in Set Design and a better person overall. You can always sit down and have an engaging conversation about anything with him.

What are things that are bringing you some joy/fun (e.g. activities, hobbies, experiences) during this period? Why do you think that is?
I have been drawing, doing embroidery, and Animal Crossing! I’ve always been super creative and loved art. That’s why I’m continuing it in college. As for Animal Crossing, the game is just very wholesome and it’s fun to create your own little island. 

Which people/relationships are helping you through this time? 
My family, friends, and boyfriend have been helping me greatly! They are very good listeners, and always come to help when I am in need. Sometimes it is hard to keep in touch despite COVID-19 due to work and such, but we still manage! They come through with animal videos when I need them most. It’s been hard for all of us, but we’re in this together.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight -Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior, Mahlia Parsons!

When did you start school at BFA?
I first started school here at BFA when my family moved to Fairfax six years ago.

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
The opportunity to travel to China in 2018 is an experience I will never forget. I was able to go into the schools there, connect with the students, and sit in on a few of their classes. Every person we met was so welcoming and just as excited to meet us as we were them. To get to meet the students, staff, and learn about the education system in their country was so unique and engaging. Some of the students I met while there I am still in contact with to this day, two years later.  

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I will be attending Castleton University as a part of the Honors College in the fall where I will be majoring in Political Science. 

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
Ms. Thorsen. Not only is she a wonderful person, she was the first to tell me to push myself to greater heights I didn’t know were even possible for me to achieve. Her wisdom and guidance in both the realms of school and life have been invaluable and I am so fortunate to have had her as a teacher and mentor over the years. 

What are you learning about yourself as a result of the coronavirus-related shifts in your life? How have you come to learn these things?
I am coming to see that I am a self-starter, one that will not rest until things are completed to the best of my ability, and earlier than the given deadline. I don’t need to be in a classroom setting to have the motivation to complete my work with the same urgency and level of effort had the closure not have happened. The desire to continue to challenge myself to produce the same quality work as I would in a traditional setting has made itself evident and it is something I look to take with me wherever I go. 

What new learning and new perspectives have you gained and how will you integrate them into your life moving forward?
The one thing I can say I have learned from all this is that we all must be grateful for what we have, where we are, and the people in our lives as tomorrow is not guaranteed. There is so much uncertainty in the world right now that it has given me a new appreciation for those who have supported me and helped me get to where I am today. I am making sure now more than ever to let people know what they mean to me and how much I appreciate them.  

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Grow Hope by Planting Seeds

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Fletcher Elementary School students are growing both hope and vegetables thanks to a collaboration with the Northwest Healthy Roots Collaborative and RiseVT.

Fletcher Elementary School students Connor Macaulay, grade 2, Cailin Macaulay, grade 4, Patrick Lawton, grade 2 and kindergartener Cole Lawton, prepare to plant bean seeds they they received as part of a distance-learning collaboration between the school and local wellness groups. The project aims to connect students throughout Franklin and Grand Isle Counties and teach about healthy, sustainable and local foods. 

On May 7, Fletcher Elementary families received packages of bean seeds to be grown at home, along with instructions for inside and outside planting, links to gardening videos, seed sprouting ideas and additional activities for at-home learning that teaches children about soil types, animals that live underground, the soil cycle and how to begin creating their own soil through composting. 

One of the goals of the project is to create a sense of unity between Fletcher students and other Franklin and Grand Isle County students who are participating in a common activity, despite being separated by the school dismissal. Additionally, the project aims to help students understand the importance of a resilient local food system where families are connected to, and nourished by, local farms and food.

“There has never been a more important time for our communities to feel connected, healthy and hopeful,” Rachel Huff, of the Healthy Roots Collaborative’s Farm to School Program, said. “We feel planting a seed is one of the greatest ways to place hope in a positive future. We hope by growing this small bit of food at home students can feel grounded and in control in these ungrounded times.”

According to Huff, sparking an interest in the local food system and eating healthy food through hands-on, authentic learning is also an essential part of the project. A total of 3000 seed packets are being distributed to children in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.

“The act of growing things, particularly plants that produce food in the end, is a rich and meaningful experience for kids,” Fletcher’s third and fourth grade teacher, Tracey Godin, said. “Academically, it promotes scientific and mathematical observations and processes that will strengthen students’ abilities to be critical thinkers. Students learn to care for the plants and understand their needs, which promotes responsibility, and they look forward to the end result of their hard work. With this project, it also gives them a sense of unity with other children and families in our area in a time when we have to be apart.”

Godin’s classroom has participated in a multi-year partnership with the Healthy Roots Collaborative that has brought them to local farms and introduced farmers into the classroom.

The Northeast Healthy Roots Collaborative is a regional food systems program supporting the growers, producers and consumers in Franklin and Grand Isle County. They provide food-related education, access and infrastructure. RiseVT is a wellness program based at Northwestern Medical Center that encourages wellness through healthy food choices and physical activity.

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

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 5)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the fifth installment in the series.

Allison MacKenzie, GEMS Grade 3 Elementary Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…
The greatest loss I have felt in this experience has been the lack of in-person connection to my students and colleagues. Amazingly enough, I miss the jolt that my morning alarm clock gave me each day — that feeling that my own children and my students are depending on me to guide them through the day. I long for that urgency I felt in the early hours of the morning that demanded a certain routine that has changed significantly. I miss greeting my team-mates and co-workers in the hallway and the morning exchanges we would share about our lives. I miss seeing all of our students’ faces come into the building each day to greet us in their chosen way. The community that is built in the walls of a classroom is truly amazing. I miss that. Teachers and students develop relationships with one another that allow us to gauge each other’s moods and needs for the day so that we can respond accordingly. I miss that sense of knowing what is going on for them. The greatest silver lining is that we work in a district that values the social and emotional well-being of our students above all else. I still feel the presence of that value every day. I feel that we have remained connected as a school community and that we are still doing our very best to respond to our students’ needs and to be there for them through this trying time. I am incredibly impressed by the work their families are doing to keep them connected and engaged.

Looking forward…
I really can’t wait for that first day when we can all be together again. When I think about our first day together, I am most looking forward to simply greeting everyone. I know that moment when students re-enter school is going to be one of the most amazing experiences I will have had as an educator. I have always loved and appreciated being able to do this work, but I appreciate it on a completely different level now. We have been asking ourselves, our students, and our families to be patient. We have sent the message that we are all in this together and that we will get through this. One of my favorite quotes that was shared by another teacher in a video GEMS made was “Every storm runs out of rain.”  I think it’s going to be incredibly powerful for all of us, students and staff alike, to know that we did, in fact get through this…that this “storm ran out of rain” and that we are all together again.  

Hopes and dreams…
My biggest hope for my students is that they stay happy and healthy. I hope that they talk about their feelings and that they reach out for support when they need it. I hope they remember to breathe fresh air everyday and to smile.

I hope they stay engaged with school as much as they can. I hope they find the value in helping out at home.  I hope they continue to learn.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 4)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the fourth installment in the series.

Sara Villeneuve, BFA Fairfax High School English Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…

My regrets are really for my seniors. As a class of 2020 advisor, my heart breaks for their missed experiences. Prom, class trip, spring sports, drama festival, class day, alumni banquet….there are so many events that mark the end of the year and focus on celebrating our seniors. This class has had a challenging four years of school…they are the first class to graduate with proficiencies and we have “tested” out all sorts of new initiatives with them. They are so resilient and willing to roll with the punches. This blow just feels like too much. They will be the first class to finish school under a Stay at Home order. I know we will do everything that we can to celebrate these students as a school and as a community. It has forced us all to focus on the things that are really most important. I love their creative thinking and ingenuity. No doubt, they will design the most unique graduation ever. I will never forget them!

So much to miss….

I sincerely miss being with students and colleagues everyday. I am an extrovert so I always love being around people! I thrive on the social interactions of education. I miss seeing people in the hallway, laughing with students, and chatting with colleagues. I think learning is a very social process and I try to design my courses with a lot of student engagement, discussion, and peer interaction. Remote learning has made this very challenging. I love it when we can have our “Online Video Classes”. Just seeing my students laugh, interact, ask questions, and talk about their learning brightens my week. I miss my classes, NHS meetings, Coffee House planning…all the other fun stuff that’s also part of my job at BFA. 

Hopes and dreams…

My biggest hopes are that all of our students and their families stay safe and healthy and that our world will be able to return to normal soon. I hope we can all look back on this and find we learned just how strong we are as individuals and as a community. I see the hard work, dedication, and thoughtfulness of our students, parents, and town(s). Everyone is doing their best to get through this difficult time. I hope students will recognize their personal growth and tenacity. 

Jensen Welch, BFA Fairfax High School Math Teacher

Things have changed…

The greatest loss is the daily interactions I get to have with my students and colleagues, the interactions students get to have with their peers, and the social learning and non-verbal communication that takes place in all those interactions. I’m continually telling my high school students that they must communicate with me using their words how they are feeling because we are no longer in a room together where I can read their facial expressions or body language to see if they are having a good or bad day or see if they understand the math we are doing or not. The greatest silver-lining for me personally has been finding the time to exercise more! Each morning when I might have been heading to the shower, getting ready for work, and then out the door to school, I’ve instead been heading outside for a run or walk, or I’ve been doing some online yoga.  More exercise has made my heart and my head happier and healthier. 

And changes are stressful…

It was very stressful at the beginning of the school dismissal when the information and the expectations were changing so rapidly. Everyone was doing their best to adapt and modify on the fly, but the whiplash of the situation coupled with the sense of loss was overwhelming at times. Luckily, I think we’ve all settled into more of a routine. The other stress that has not gone away despite a routine being established is the challenge of being a working parent. It is hard trying to find balance and harmony in doing my job, guiding my own children through their remote schooling, and finding time to also do fun family activities. I was pretty good at compartmentalizing my “home” world and my “work” world before, and now everything is all jumbled, so I’m switching from responding to a student email one minute, to asking my youngest daughter how many ways she can break apart 9 the next minute…it is distracting for all of us. But I think everyone has been super patient and understands how challenging this is for all.

Hopes and fears…

My hopes for my students are that they gain some confidence in themselves and see how much they actually know and how much they can accomplish on their own. I’ve been so impressed with most students as they continue to work through content, ask questions, revise practice work, and they just keep going! They should all be super proud of themselves! I am of course then worried about those few students who I have not heard a lot from. For some I can’t address from afar the barriers they are facing that are preventing them from doing their school work; for others I seem unable to motivate and support them without being face-to-face. For a few I’ve been able to reconnect with, I think they appreciate the extra effort teachers make when we reach out individually, and the accommodations we’ve made to help make sure they can be successful from home. I am less worried about the academic progress of these students and more worried that they are feeling disconnected from their peers and a supportive school environment. But I believe in resilience and hope everyone is finding their way through this health crisis.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Teacher Appreciation Week

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Dear Educator:

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Thank you for all you do to support the students and families across FWSU. 

We are in difficult times and you have risen to meet the ever-changing challenges. On any given ordinary day the number of tasks you take on, both big and small, to support students is huge. Now, add to that remote teaching and learning. Teachers are truly amazing people.

As I write this I cannot stop thinking about the teachers I had growing up. Teachers who believed in me, supported me, and challenged me. Teachers who gave me direction for my life, and who are the reason I became an educator. You are doing that with your students. You are making a difference!

I encourage you to take this week to pause and reflect on the difference you are making. This is especially important in our current situation, where your creativity, patience, and dedication has shown through. 

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 

~Christopher Robin to Pooh, A.A. Milne

Thank you for all you do!

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 3)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the third installment in the series.

Heather Brown, GEMS Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…

Even though we are connecting with students everyday, my greatest loss is actually seeing all of my students everyday. I miss greeting them in the morning and when they enter my class. I miss having a student run up to me to share about their book or that they finished their book. I miss them giving me recommendations for books. I miss joking around with them. I miss seeing their smiles when they are celebrated. I miss sitting down next to them to help them with their assignments. It’s overwhelming to think about how much I miss them. There is so much you know and understand about your students when you are face to face with them. Are they having a good or bad day? Do they need something? It’s hard to know these things without seeing them everyday, without being able to read their facial expressions and their body language, without being able to talk with them and ask them how everything is going. I hope my students know their teachers are here for them if they need anything, even though we are not seeing them every day. I firmly believe families and teachers need to work together to educate the whole child. A silver lining to this remote learning is how the bridge between home and school has strengthened. Communication and parent involvement in their child’s education has increased dramatically. Families and educators have truly had to work as a team to navigate this new way of learning. Everyone has learned new tools to communicate with each other and learn together. I think as we move forward and beyond this difficult time, the home to school gap will have drastically narrowed. These relationships will emerge much stronger than they were as a result of this pandemic.

I wish I’d known…

I think about those last few days before school was dismissed a lot. Everything happened so quickly. I wasn’t prepared to only see half of my students that Monday after learning about the dismissal. I found it difficult to balance giving my students honest and realistic information, while keeping their worries at bay. I always say goodbye to my students when they leave school for the day, but for some reason, when I said goodbye that last day, I could feel it was going to be goodbye for a while. As I watched them walk down the stairs, I could feel emotions arising like it was the last day. If I had known, I would’ve wanted to tell my students how amazing they have been this entire year and how proud of them I am. I would’ve shared how much I was going to miss them and how confident I am in their abilities as they transition to seventh grade. And I would’ve made sure they took home more books! 🙂

Hopes and dreams for students…

I am so proud of the way our sixth graders have navigated this new way of learning. So many of them have matured and taken on this huge responsibility with ease.  I’m impressed with their independence and willingness to persevere through challenges on their own. I hope my students remember to take these skills along with them into their future, to remember this time, to remember they possess these skills deep within themselves, and that they can accomplish anything.

Lorrene Palermo, FES 5/6 Teacher

Looking back…

On March 17, our last day together, my students prepared materials for younger students to have during their learning at home, organized materials for those classmates who were not there, and prepared the iPads for future learning. It would be the last time those busy hands and chattering kids would be in our classroom; the last time I would hear the sounds of students for the remainder of the school year. Somewhere deep inside I just knew that we would not be returning to school to finish our year together, but I put that feeling aside and hoped that we were. COVID-19 changed everything that day. 

Finding balance…

We all went home, and for four weeks I tried to find a balance with work and home. During our Maintenance of Learning phase, I worked hard to make contact with all my students via a phone call and lots of messages in Schoology to assure them that I was still there for them. My work days became longer and more stressful because of the amount of screen time.  Not having a set schedule made it so that days started to blur together. Some days were better than others, but many days I found myself emotionally drained by noon. Those were the days I needed to disconnect from technology and go outside and get fresh air or just go take a nap. Once expectations were set for the Continuity phase of our remote learning, I was able to put a plan in place and find my teaching rhythm again. Planning is becoming more fluid. and I am working hard to utilize my colleagues, my village, to support my needs and those of my students. The staff meeting is now a highlight in my week to see friendly faces who understand what I am going through. 

Finding joy in the smiles and voices of children…

Just before spring break I returned to school to make copies and gather materials for teaching and found the silence of school, during what would have been a normal day, to be unsettling. No school should ever be quiet. While I was there I had picked up some artwork for some of my sixth grade students who were working on an art project they had started with the guidance counselor. With art and paint, I set off to the students’ homes and dropped off the supplies so they could finish while they were at home. The smiles on their faces said it all. Seeing my students each week via a virtual meeting or just talking on the phone is what has brought me joy during this unprecedented time.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 2)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the second installment in the series.

Emily Wills, BFA Fairfax Middle School Language Arts Teacher

A new rhythm to teach to….

My teaching and planning rhythm has changed quite a bit. It is challenging to plan for a half-hour of work, four times a week, and still feel as if I have any fidelity to our curriculum and high-leverage standards. However, I am also very mindful that I want students and families foremost to focus on health and well-being in this stressful time. I am adjusting by planning out roughly how a lesson would have proceeded in my 55-minute in-person class, and then getting creative about how I can reduce or alter work to hit at the most essential targets. I usually plan now for a full week at a time, since weekly plans are being sent home to families on Friday. I used to feel more nimble in my teaching and adjust the next day’s plans based on formative assessments and how today’s lesson went.  

Taking care…

One of my must do’s for self-care during this time is walking my dog.  Fozzie and I go out every day to stretch our legs, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. I usually do this as a break late-morning.  This also gives structure to my work day and gives my eyes a break from the screen. I stop checking school email at 7pm each night, because otherwise I just become glued to my computer and start to get headaches. I also need that stop time as a guideline for myself to “turn off” for the day. My students have the structure of me posting an update to Schoology each day with that day’s work, helpful links, and other information. It gets them into a routine like I would have in my classroom, listing the day’s agenda on the whiteboard. It also keeps me organized.

It’s new by design…

The new learning I have gained from this time is that I do some activities in my units of study that are not crucial for addressing the high-leverage standards or curriculum. They aren’t busy work, but they aren’t a streamlined way to teach and learn a skill. I have had to pare down what I do during this time of remote learning, and it’s giving me a new perspective on how to run my lessons when we’re back together at school. I will try to use more focused strategies, as I am being “forced” to do now. I also will go back to using humor and laughter as a tool to connect to kids, which is much harder to do over Schoology! 

JoAnn Harvey, GEMS Elementary STEM Teacher

Connect and learn….

I have really enjoyed getting the chance to thoughtfully respond to each of my student’s questions and comments. I would rather do this live, but this virtual teaching takes away the distractions of being in a large group and allows me to just “be” (virtually) with one student at a time. It has made me develop an ability to be more present and thoughtful. I am responding to all of students’ comments and questions in great detail, creating videos for them to respond to, and leaving voice memos. It’s a lot of putting things out there, and I’m not sure how it’s working. 

Missing so much…

I so miss interacting with my students, listening to their questions, building, creating and problem solving together. I miss their smiles and hugs. Teaching is all about connecting for me, and the human connection is gone for now. The greatest loss has been the physical energy that interacting with students provides me both emotionally and psychologically. The energy and responses, and sometimes non-responses, are what make how I teach work. It’s almost like doing stand-up without an audience. I always knew I was a social person, but now I realize how much I really need the feedback from students and the energy I get from interacting with students and colleagues on a regular basis. I just want to catch up and see everyone. I want to listen to all of their stories about how this whole experience went for them. I want to talk, play, and laugh together. Based on this experience, I know I will appreciate human interaction at a much deeper level than ever before.

Hopes and dreams…

I hope the big take-away is that the best instruction is instruction that integrates all content areas and connects to real life experiences–done in collaboration with colleagues, it’s possible!

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Keep Social-Emotional Learning Alive At Home

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Be respectful. Be responsible. Be safe. Be Caring. 

For students at Fletcher Elementary School, these are words to live by. Part of the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach to social-emotional learning, the expectations apply across settings including the classrooms, halls, cafeteria, playground, busses and on field trips, among other locations. They are proactively taught, modeled and practiced throughout the year, and students are recognized for following the rules at both the classroom and school level.

But, what happens to all that work when students are not in school?

“The beauty of our school-wide expectations is that they are universal,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “Being respectful, responsible, safe and caring is the right thing to do in any setting. In many ways, calling the rules school-wide expectations could be a little misleading because this is how we want our adults and children to conduct themselves regardless of where they are. In school, at a movie, in the grocery store or at home.”

Being flexible has been the key to keeping this work alive in Fletcher. Shortly after the Governor dismissed students from on-campus classes, the school issued a design-a-token challenge. During a typical school year, students would ordinarily be recognized with a small wooden token sporting the school’s falcon mascot and the four expectations for following the rules. The tokens would come from a staff member. However, with students at home, that isn’t possible in the same way.

“We asked students to design their own PBIS tokens on paper using our four rules, but applying them to things they might do at home, like helping cook dinner or getting ready for bed,” Locke said. “While we’d much rather be working with our students in person, the stay-at-home order is a brilliant opportunity for students to practice generalizing these great practices to settings beyond the school building. Simply put, we didn’t want to lose momentum and we wanted to help students understand that they can be behavioral rockstars anywhere they go, in school or elsewhere.”

Tokens designed by Maggie Short

In a letter to families, the school challenged children to include the four rules on their self-designed tokens, but gave full artistic license to the students. Entries included designs such as rainbows, trucks, family portraits, and one student drew a picture of himself helping out with after-dinner dishes. There were more than 50 entries from which three winners were randomly drawn to receive prizes provided by RiseVT, a wellness group that emphasizes physical activity, good eating habits and mindfulness, based at Northwestern Medical Center. Winners received cookbooks and water bottles.

Token designed by Cody Gelineau

“Designing the tokens at home reminded me of our four expectations to be respectful, responsible, safe and caring,” sixth grader Cody Gelineau said. “It reminded me that the rules are not only good for school but for home, as well. It was a good reminder that doing those things everywhere you go is what you should do, not just at school. Plus, I love art and it was a fun way to remember how to conduct myself.”

Token designed by Autumn Bushey

“Supporting students in making meaningful connections between school and home is really important,” Special Educator Sarah Tucker said. “Helping students see our expectations as universal – across settings – supports them in making meaning of what is taught here at school, even when we can’t be in the building. And, it makes sense to connect this work to our relationship with RiseVT because of the strong interconnection between physical and social-emotional health.”

For the past two consecutive years, Fletcher Elementary has received recognition as a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Exemplar School by the Vermont Agency of Education and University of Vermont. Even before the school closure, the school supported students in setting the bar high for behavior at home by challenging students during school vacations and over the summer. The Exemplar designation is the highest level of recognition within the PBIS system, signifying a reduction in rule-breaking behavior and an increase in academic performance.

Token designed by Quinn Mauck

“During the school closure, our teachers and staff have become even more creative and passionate about staying connected with students and moving forward with important learning,” Director of Curriculum Linda Keating said. “Now, more than ever, developing and maintaining routines and relationships is important, and Fletcher’s work to advance PBIS and continue to support the social-emotional learning and wellbeing of students beyond the school building is a great example of their commitment to children and families.”

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

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 1)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 

Kristie French, BFA Fairfax Elementary Preschool Teacher

Missing students…

One of the things that I miss most is greeting my kids in the morning: seeing their excitement as they arrive at school each day; saying good morning, giving my kids a high five or hug and letting them know that it’s going to be a great day.

Staying connected with students to nurture relationships…

Teachers in the elementary school are using Seesaw to connect with students and families. Preschool learning happens through social connection and learning through play. Being away from school makes building and maintaining relationships tough. To support continued social connection I try to post lessons that encourage children to engage with nature, their families and continue to learn through play. Each week we have shared topics to support conversation between myself and the students, story read alouds, hands on math/literacy and video messages to each child. My goal is to continue to stay connected to each of them in a fun and engaging way. Families are trying to find a balance between work and homeschool now so it’s important to keep learning fun and limit stress if possible. I’ve been including fun links to jokes, songs, and activities to encourage fun while away. I’ve also included videos in my assignments to support parents in teaching their children, along with supplemental materials for the added time that families have at home with their children.

Silver linings in difficult times….

Having to be at home has given our family more time to connect, spend time together, talk and be silly. My youngest son and I have begun exercising together. My older son and I have enjoyed getting in some driving time and listening to music and chatting. As a family we have watched movies, worked on home projects, and done some fishing. This extra time together is something I appreciate the most about this whole thing.

Danielle Drogalis, BFA Fairfax Middle and High School Math Interventionist

Relationships, relationships, relationships…

I am totally missing my students these days!  The middle school/high school age groups are what I live for. They are humorous, clever, and creative and the world is always better because they are in it. I have been trying to stay connected with them by attending their Zoom classes, creating instructional videos to support their math learning, writing emails, hosting advisory Zooms, texting and sending videos to my advisees telling them hello and offering a bit of chat. I love hearing back from my students. It truly makes my day.

Getting by with a little help from my friends…

Staying connected with colleagues is incredibly important. It helps me feel grounded and part of a team as we strive to do what is best for students in these strange times. I get to see my colleagues weekly in full faculty and smaller groups of Zoom meetings and just seeing their faces and hearing their voices is strength-giving. As a support teacher, I am always re-evaluating how I can best support my colleagues and they always welcome my partnership. I am very grateful for my colleagues and teams at BFA Fairfax.

Pleasantly surprised… 

I’m not going to lie…I love not having to use part of my day for travel. I have found that removing travel has added time to my day in a way where I can move seamlessly from one task to another.  It may be more that the transitions are more fluid that I feel like I am less likely to import unnecessary stress into my day. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson in this ‘Great Pause’…that I can choose to welcome calm and breathing regularly into my day. I don’t have to step into feelings of stress simply because those are most common and familiar.

And when we’re together again…

Oh man! When school is back I look forward to the reunion that is US!  I bet the energy in the rooms and halls will be full and exciting, and we will all be relieved to be together again and at school. Imagining the first days of all of us being back fills my heart and even makes me a bit emotional as I try on the thrill and relief of us all being back together again. It will be sweet for sure and tears will be OK!

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

For FWSU School Closure Resources for parents and guardians, visit the COVID-19 page on the FWSU website.

The FWSU Story: Spring Break

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This is not our typical April Break, but in these difficult times, taking a break to take care of ourselves and each other is really very important. We have opened many new pathways to engage and interact with each other to stay connected while apart. We appreciate all of you so much. Our educators, our students, our families, and our communities are doing extraordinary things during these extraordinary times. We see you! 

Here are some messages of encouragement for you all from our amazing school administrators! 

Mr. Walsh: “Thank you for your ongoing support and flexibility during this challenging time. I am so appreciative of all our staff that have been so flexible, hard working, and focused on supporting all students and families. The video of our staff and the video of our students reminds me how fortunate we all are to work and live in a community that is committed to supporting each other. We will get through this challenging time because we are in it together. A big virtual hug to all of you!”

Mr. Brown: “This situation is stretching all of us to explore what it means to be teachers, learners, families, and community members. It is inspiring to see, especially in this time of crisis, how committed we are to helping one another. We will make it through this together!”

Ms. Witalec-Krupa: “The strength, resiliency, patience and creativity of our students, staff, teachers, advisors, coaches and families during this time is inspiring. We can’t wait to see you all again! #WeWillGetThroughThisTogether”

Mr. Tague: “I am proud of the adjustments that teachers have made to make this transition to remote learning, the work that students have done to stay connected and engaged with school, and the support that families have provided to their students, the school, and each other. No one could have imagined how different school would be when we returned from our February break!”

Mr. Dodge: “It is both moving and inspiring to see how our entire staff, and all of FWSU, has stepped up to the plate during this challenging time. Everyone from foodservice to support staff to bus drivers and teachers has shown an unwavering commitment to children and families. Many are doing this work while supporting their own families at home. I have never been more proud to be part of FWSU.”

Ms. Conrad: “There is nothing more inspiring than watching a community pull together during times of crisis. The FWSU and Georgia community is blessed by the inspiring ways in which each member of our community is pulling together to problem-solve and create flexible solutions to care and take care of each other.”’

Mr. Emery: “Be well, rest up, and continue to be #GemsStrong”

Meal Delivery Continues During Spring Break

Deliveries will continue during break to children who are currently receiving schools meals. There should be no change to service. If you would like to begin receiving the daily weekday delivery of breakfast & lunch for your child(ren) ages 18 and under and enrolled students over 18, please email your district’s school principal. Email addresses are listed on the FWSU COVID-19 webpage.

FWSU Continuity of Learning Information

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March 27, 2020

Dear FWSU Families,

As you learned last evening, Governor Scott has closed schools to in-person instruction through the end of the school 2019-2020 school year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are disappointed that we will not be connecting in person and on campus, we will continue to work closely with you to provide the safest, best education for our students. Thank you for everything you are doing during these challenging times! 

On March 23 our schools began their remote learning as part of our Continuity of Education Plan (Maintenance) for our students. This current plan is intended to address maintaining connection and engagement through various enrichment opportunities at each grade level to make sure students still feel connected to a sense of school community. This phase will continue through April 13, as we work with the Agency of Education to transition to the Continuation of Learning Plan.

The Continuity of Learning Plan will be a new phase of partnering with you to continue educating students remotely, and it will continue through the end of the school year. Information will be shared with students and families as we receive planning guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education. 

As always, the health, safety, and well-being of our students are our first priorities. We will continually work to improve our meal delivery system and provide childcare for essential workers. Our educators will continue to refine our systems to support learners who had previously been receiving services while school was open. 

As noted, we continue to receive ongoing guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education necessitating updates to families. This letter, along with other resources for families, including health information on COVID-19, lunch information, and childcare for essential workers are located on the FWSU and school websites under the heading “COVID-19.”  This site will provide you with access to the most up-to-date information. 

During our current phase, we’d appreciate it if you took a couple minutes to complete this brief survey, and additionally you may receive a phone call survey as well. This information is critical in helping us design the most effective and impactful learning experience.

Thank you again for all you’ve done through these challenging times. We miss the students, and we recognize the struggle this has been and will be moving forward. We appreciate your partnership in this work, and we remain available to support you. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Governor Phil Scott Dismisses Schools For In-Person Instruction for Remainder of 2019-2020 School Year

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Good evening. This evening Governor Scott announced that Vermont schools will remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year as a result of the COVID-19 virus. While we are disappointed that we will not be connecting in person and on campus, we will continue to work closely with you to provide the safest, best education for our students. Our meal program and remote learning will continue for the remainder of the year. We will provide more information over the next few days as we gain direction from the Agency of Education. As we continue to navigate this unprecedented event, rest assured that we are thinking about all of you as we work through the many decisions that need to be made. Thank you.

Montpelier, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott today directed schools to remain dismissed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Districts will close schools for in-person instruction and be required to implement continuity of learning plans for remote learning. This extends the Governor’s previous directive dismissing PreK-12 schools from March 18 to April 6. 

This decision was made in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education in the continued effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. To minimize disruption to students’ learning, the Governor’s order directs school districts to come up with plans for distance learning by April 13. 

“The education of our students and the bonding and learning experiences they have at schools are tremendously important, so I fully appreciate the impact and difficulty of this decision,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I also recognize it will be challenging for some schools to implement remote learning through the end of the year. But I’m encouraged by the creativity I’ve seen from administrators, educators and parents already, which is why I know, together, they can rise to the occasion.”

Governor Scott also noted that some school districts have also set up creative and critically needed programs to offer onsite care for their students whose parents are working on the frontlines in this response. “These educators and staff who are finding ways to support these families have been critical to our COVID-19 response efforts and I am so proud and appreciative of their hard work, creative can-do attitude and their willingness to step up in this moment of service. These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system.” 

The Agency of Education will provide technical guidance to districts on how to implement continuity of learning plans by the end of the week, specifically looking to address challenges around equitable access to learning opportunities, Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities, continuation of school meals, and school attendance and school calendar requirements. 

The Department for Children and Families will also provide updated reimbursement provisions for providers who are not currently offering services and for providers who are delivering child care through this health crisis. 

Download the Press Release here.

Read the full directive here:  https://governor.vermont.gov/content/directive-5-continuity-learning-planning-pursuant-eo-01-20

For the latest information and guidance relating to Vermont’s COVID-19 response, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.

Requesting Childcare for Essential Persons

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Per the Gubernatorial Directive issued by Governor Scott, childcare is to be provided to families with persons working in a field included on the Essential Persons List for COVID-19 Response. If you are employed in one of these fields, please complete this webform, which collects information to connect the families of essential workers with child care in schools and licensed child care programs that are operating to provide services now through April 6, 2020. Families can also call 2-1-1 ext. 6 or 1-877-705-9008 to speak to a childcare referral specialist. 

Essential Persons List for COVID-19 Response:
https://vem.vermont.gov/sites/demhs/files/Essential%20Persons_03182020.pdf

Webform to Request Child Care for Essential Workers:
https://webportalapp.com/webform/essentialworkers

Letter to FWSU Families – March 17, 2020

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Dear Families:

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to work through the complexities associated with COVID-19 and dismissing school for students. The next three days – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – are a transitional period. Be on the lookout for additional information.  

As a reminder, schools are closed to students and families beginning tomorrow, March 18. This will last at least until April 6, and possibly longer. I will continue to send regular communication over the next couple weeks, and you will also hear from teachers and administrators.

Here are a few things to consider over the next few weeks:

  • Remote learning, particularly in rural areas and where social distancing restricts student interactions, can feel isolating for children. If you have the resources, participate in FaceTime or Skype calls or send audio messages with friends and classmates.
  • We are not “shutting the doors” to our families. While schools won’t have staff there all the time, voicemail and email will be monitored, so feel free to contact your teacher or the school with questions. 
  • Remote learning is unique, and sometimes difficult. The key is active participation. Putting routines and structures into place helps children stay focused as they work through activities.
  • FWSU is continuing to organize and design a process for effective and efficient food service during his dismissal period. Look out for additional information.   
  • Should your family face economic hardship as a result of COVID-19 you may submit a new free and reduced meal application. Families may apply for school meals at any point in the school year based on their most current income. Applications can be found on the FWSU website or by calling the school.
  • If you need to pick up student items or materials please contact the school first to arrange an appropriate time to do so.
  • FWSU administrators and educators are working together to develop learning plans for all K-12 students using a variety of methods to ensure learning access for all students during school closure. Parents will receive regular communications about remote learning expectations for their child.
  • Continue following recommended guidelines for preventing germs, including:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Your school’s administrators, teachers, and staff have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare learning opportunities for students over the next couple of weeks. Preparing for remote learning is challenging, and I am proud of the work your school’s educators have been doing! 

Finally, I thank each of you – the parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends – for all you have done to support this process and for all you’ll be doing in the next few weeks or longer. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Letter to Families Re: Governor’s School Closing Declaration – March 15, 2020

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Dear FWSU Families:

We find ourselves in a rapidly changing, uncharted situation due to COVID-19. We are grateful for the guidance and support that we have received from the Vermont Department of Health, the Vermont Agency of Education, and the Governor’s Office.

On March 15 at 3:20 p.m., Governor Scott announced that statewide school closure will occur no later than Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The purpose of this message is to provide you an update of the actions the FWSU will take as it relates to Governor Scott’s School Closure announcement.

First and foremost, student attendance at school on Monday and Tuesday is a family decision. For these two days, FWSU attendance policies and procedures will be waived, and no student will be penalized for not attending. As always, if your student or a family member is sick, we encourage you to keep your student home.

The FWSU leadership teams will be working with our employees to plan for the support of our students and families during the closure of school. To be clear, our primary areas of focus include the well-being of our students, families, and employees. The plan that we are developing will strive to encompass all of the components that Governor Scott has referenced in his statement/press conference.

Thank you for your patience and flexibility as we move forward. You can expect regular communication from our district so that we are keeping you informed. We are doing all we can to make sure these priorities are taken care of to the best of our abilities.

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

FWSU COVID-19 Update

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Dear Parents and Guardians,

This morning, superintendents from Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle County participated in a meeting with Dr. Mark Levine, the Commissioner of Health from the Vermont Department of Health and Vermont’s Education Secretary, Dan French. We learned that Governor Scott will be holding an important press conference at 5:30 pm today that should provide new and specific information for all Vermonters to follow.  We anticipate that the guidance will include broad-based health recommendations, information on potential school closure and/or dismissal, the role of schools in mitigating COVID-19, updated travel recommendations, and what individuals can do to keep safe including social distancing. Once the Governor has provided direction, our district leadership will determine the next steps for our schools and we will be back in touch with families and staff as quickly as we can.

Sincerely,

Don S. Van Nostrand

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand

The FWSU Story: BFA Elementary Students Spend Time With Therapy Dog, Jazz

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Earlier this fall, I was contacted by a community member who was interested in spending some time in our elementary school with her therapy dog, Jazz. Jazz is a black Labrador Retriever that has been certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs of Vermont. I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity, not only as a dog lover, but as a school administrator trying to integrate effective ways to support all students.

“I like reading to Jazz because it is fun.”

After an initial inquiry, I quickly received commitments from ten teachers that were excited about this opportunity and willing to participate. After an orientation with students and staff, we settled into a consistent weekly routine.

“Jazz puts a smile on our face.”

Jazz and her handler Margo Rome spend a half an hour in the classroom making connections with students while they learn and engage in activities. Jazz and Margo often listen while students practice their reading or they participate in Morning Meeting with the entire class. Jazz loves the attention and often lays on her back for belly scratches. Jazz is now a celebrity in our elementary school and is greeted and petted by all as she walks down the hallways.  

“Jazz is quiet and calm while we read and she keeps us calm and quiet.”

Research has shown that therapy dogs positively affect our brain chemistry, reducing the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the hormone oxytocin that helps us feel regulated and comfortable. Interactions with dogs have also been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to a more calm learning environment.  

“We love reading with Jazz.”

Our students and staff share that having Jazz and Margo spending time in classrooms has been a positive experience and look forward to their time with Jazz and Margo each week. This resource is another way we can support students that have experienced trauma or that benefit from the opportunity to engage in mindfulness and regulation activities. I encourage you to explore having a therapy dog in your school through Therapy Dogs of Vermont at  therapydogs.org.  Our school has greatly benefited from participating in this experience.

“I like reading with Jazz because she was listening to me.”

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

The FWSU Story: Winter Wellness Program Helps Keep Fletcher Students Healthy

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An age-old tradition that heats up in the dead of winter is promoting good health and new skills for students in Fletcher. The school’s Winter Wellness Program, which includes outdoor school-based activities as well as skiing and snowboarding at Smuggler’s Notch, aims to promote an enjoyment and appreciation of outdoor recreation, healthy exercise habits and positive social skills. 

Weather permitting, the program runs for five consecutive Friday afternoons beginning in February, and has been in existence for more than 20 years. Some former Fletcher Elementary students have now returned as part of the 18-parent cadre of mountain chaperones that are making this year’s skiing and boarding component of the program a slope-side success. In addition, all school staff participate in the program by chaperoning at Smuggs or during outdoor activities at school.

But, the familiar faces on the Mountain didn’t end with the parents and staff members that hit the slopes with students. The program has served as inspiration for several adult former Fletcher Elementary students who have gone on to become instructors at Smuggler’s Notch and now facilitate lessons and serve as inspiration for their younger Fletcher counterparts.

According to Aimee Tinker, a parent volunteer who coordinates the skiing and snowboarding component of the program, the benefits of the program go well beyond learning the technicalities of the sports.

“There is also an important social piece where students are in a new setting with their peers, teachers, parents and new adults,” Tinker said, stating that students practice flexibility, adaptability and respect in addition to receiving ski or snowboarding instruction and having fun.

Tinker is convinced of the educational value of the program. “They learn so much,” she said of the students’ experience at the mountain. “This is not a waste of a Friday afternoon. It is an educational field trip with instructors and skills, social and otherwise.”

Drew Tolbert agrees. He is the former sales and promotions coordinator for the mountain and a former snowboard coach who has worked with many Fletcher Elementary School groups. “The students are being athletic and healthy,” Tolbert said. “Beyond that it’s all about the mountain experience. It’s less about being involved in a really traditionally strict class and more about developing an appreciation of the mountain environment and working as a team and build camaraderie as we go through challenges together. Students really learn how to look out for each other. It really becomes a team effort”

One in five children in the U.S. are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Obese children are also more prone to stress, sadness and low self-esteem.

“Fletcher’s Winter Wellness Program does a great job of getting kids out and moving,” School Nurse Tara McMahon said. “It is so hard in the winter months to get in the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. Learning to downhill ski, snowboard, cross-country ski, skate and snowshoe helps our students develop a lifelong love of the winter outdoors and to stay physically fit.”

For students that may struggle in a traditional school setting, Tinker says the program provides an opportunity for them to shine outside of the classroom. “They get up on that mountain and they are often a totally different kid,” Tinker said. “They are all smiles and the folks at the mountain always say that Fletcher has the best behaved kids. They really do model what they learn in school.”

Smuggs staff credit much of the students’ positive behavior to the program’s emphasis on choice and leadership opportunities for kids, citing that many instructors get to know students over time and develop positive, trusting relationships that allow students to act as role models for others.

“We’re moving to a way of teaching that gives them ownership,” Tolbert said, stating that it is important for children to have the flexibility to explore their own learning styles during lessons. “There is no shortage of teachable moments, both socially and otherwise, framed around a fun, exciting sport. It is fantastic to see it unfold.”

Smuggler’s Notch offers students in the program substantially reduced ticket, equipment rental and lesson prices. The same items are free for adult chaperones. The resulting five-week reduced cost per student is $180, compared to a traditional cost of $715. Similarly, the savings is $985 per chaperone. Smugglers’ Notch also offers SNAP, the Smuggler’s Notch Adaptive Program, which provides individual lessons and instructors for students with disabilities.

In addition to the physical activity offered by the program, Tinker believes that it strengthens relationships between teachers and students.

“Students are surprised to see their teachers out of the classroom element,” Tinker said. “They get to see them in a non-instructional, non-authoritative setting. They just get to be with them.”

In addition to the ski and snowboard opportunities at the mountain, about half of Fletcher’s students remain at school and participate in outside activities. In addition, for the past two years, the school has offered off-campus snowshoeing. 

“The goal of Winter Wellness is to teach and encourage students to embrace and enjoy their physical environment and the outdoors even during some of the coldest, darkest months of the year” school counselor Lisa Coale said. “Research shows that enjoying time outside has significant health benefits including improving focus, combatting depression, anxiety and stress, eliminating fatigue and even improving short term memory. By providing space and time for our students to enjoy the outdoors, engage in physical activities and connect with their school community we are also simultaneously supporting their social-emotional wellbeing.”

During the past several years Fletcher’s Winter Wellness program has expanded from only allowing participation by students in grade three and beyond, to now including students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Just because the students are young doesn’t mean they can’t do it,” Tinker said. “The earlier the better when it comes to promoting healthy habits and a love of being outside in our beautiful state.”

“During Winter Wellness students participate in a variety of activities with groups of adults and students they don’t normally get to interact with on a daily basis at school,” Coale said. “This change to their normal routine requires students to practice flexibility, promotes new and different social engagement, and above all else, creates new opportunities for learning as they participate in activities some students have never tried before.”

“Being at the mountain is great,” cross country skier and fourth grader Harrison Frennier said. “It’s a change of pace to be outside and moving around. It’s a good way to be healthy and enjoy nature at the same time.”

“It’s fantastic,” fourth grader Koda Chipman said of his experience skiing during the program. “I want to be outside all the time and especially during school. This is very good for your body and your mind.”

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

Updated Information on COVID-19

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The Vermont Department of Health has provided updated guidance in regards to COVID-19 (coronavirus). 

As of March 4, travelers returning from China, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Iran should stay home for 14 days and practice social distancing. 

If your child(ren) returned from those countries in the last 14 days you must inform the principal at the school(s) they attend immediately. You should also call the Health Department at (802) 863-7240. 

The Health Department will be in regular contact with travelers for 14 days following their return to monitor symptoms of shortness of breath, cough or fever. No medical certification shall be required during this incubation period and your child will not be penalized for their days absent. 

For more information please visit the Vermont’s Agency of Education’s website: COVID-19 GUIDANCE FOR VERMONT SCHOOLS, or contact your school’s administration.

Agency of Education Offers Guidance on Coronavirus

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With the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) on everyone’s mind, this past week Secretary Dan French from Vermont’s Agency of Education distributed guidance to schools. To read his full memo click here.

As of the memo date there are no cases in Vermont. If this changes, then schools will be notified by Vermont’s department of Health and Agency of Education.

Use the same precautions you would for keeping the cold and flu at bay:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve or a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

If you have additional questions please visit the Vermont Department of Health’s COVID-19 website or dial 2-1-1 for more information. As always, keep their children home when they are sick.

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax Athletic Department Featured in High School Today Magazine

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BFA Fairfax garnered national attention this week with the release of the February 2020 issue of High School Today Magazine. Our own student athletes and programs were the featured cover article for this month’s issue that is distributed to every high school, school board, and thousands of coaches and activity advisors across the United States.  

In an article titled “Putting Fun Back in High School Athletics”, BFA Fairfax’s philosophy of learning, fun and inclusiveness were highlighted, specifically featuring the annual Fairfax Relays cross country race.  The article also included numerous photos of our athletic programs and the unique opportunities they provide for our students and our community. 

Links to both the digital (including pictures) and text version of the article can be found below.  We are so proud of our students and programs, and thrilled with this national spotlight which truly depicts the BFA Fairfax motto of “small school, big opportunities.”

Click here for DIGITAL VERSION

Click here for TEXT VERSION

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

BFA Students Selected for Vermont All State Musical Festival

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FWSU is proud to announce that Madison Lutz and James Kalbfleisch, sophomores at BFA, have been accepted as members into the highly selective Vermont All State Festival in held in May. James will be performing in the All State Chorus ensemble and Madison with the dual honor of being selected for both band and chorus has elected to perform with her saxophone in the All State Band ensemble.

Madison Lutz member of BFA chorus, chamber chorus, band, and Jazz Band

The Vermont All State Music Festival is an annual event supported by the Vermont Music Educators Association (VMEA) and operated by the Vermont All State Committee. The Festival offers musicians from Vermont’s high schools the opportunity to perform in a band, orchestra, chorus or jazz ensemble under the direction of some of our nation’s finest conductors. This year, the Vermont All State Music Festival will be celebrating the Year of the Woman by having all four ensembles conducted by women directors and a portion of the selected program coming from women composers.

James Kalbfleisch, member of BFA chorus and chamber chorus

The 2020 spring festival will be hosted by North Country Union High School May 6th – 9th. If you would like to attend, please see to the 2020 Festival Schedule.

Congratulations to Madison and James whose hard work and dedication to the arts has earned this incredible honor reflecting their student leadership!

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

The FWSU Story: Flexible Learning Opportunities – Personalizing Non-Traditional Learning

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When you think of school, do you think of making turkey calls? Learning strategy through board games? Designing T-shirts? Creating virtual and augmented reality? 

Would this fit in a regular school day?  Can students have a voice in proposing and designing their learning?

To affirmatively answer these questions in grades 5-8 we have F.L.O. (Flexible learning Opportunities).  Originally designed as a way to creatively schedule for non-traditional learning, we sought out student interests and designed offerings for our students in grades 5 & 6 as well as 7 & 8. 

Each Friday, we get creative with our schedules. Students join their group for approximately one hour to dive deep into a topic of interest that they have picked.  This FLO session is a 6 week cycle with a culminating showcase on February 21 at 2pm (We hope that families will join us- to experience the amazing learning that our students have been engaged with!)

Beginning in late December/early January teachers began discussing and surveying students to determine themes for our offerings.  Teachers had some ideas, but so did students. From these discussions, we created the following offerings. These range from hands-on to high-tech; from practical to personal; and through all of the offerings, students are encouraged to expand their understanding and interests.  This has also been an opportunity for students to work in different groupings and with different adults, many of whom are also able to share their passion for the topic.

Grades 5 & 6 StrandsGrades 7 & 8 Strands
Bridge Building
iMovie
Cooking
Strategic games
Art
Theater Games
Wellness Community
Virtual and Augmented Reality

Art
Community Service
Cooking
Dance
Dungeons & Dragons
Engineering (& Bridge Building)
First-aid
Strategy Game
T-shirt Logo Design
Turkey Call Making
Yearbook
FLO at BFA Fairfax Middle School

dive into their FLO Activities. Each week, it has been a joy to see students learning and passionately engaged in pursuing their interests, building community and pursuing what is possible!  

As a culminating activity, we look forward to welcoming families to share in the learning (and performances) with our young people this Friday, February 21 at 2pm for our first FLO.Case (showcase)!

Future Pizza Entrepreneurs
Learning to make a Turkey Call

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Blog: Georgia’s Got Talent!

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On Thursday, February 13th, students, staff, and families gathered to admire, and be entertained by, the diverse student talent that walks our hallways. For the 28th Annual Celebration of Talent, GEMS students showcased their skills.  Among them were dancers, singers, pianists, comedians, and instrumentalists…. a variety of talent that was fun to watch and extremely entertaining.

Behind the scenes, students videoed each performance, took responsibilities for the setup and break down of equipment, cast lighting on each performer and were an integral part of supporting each act.  Student council members decorated prior to the show and were on hand to pass out programs and assist in any way.

Nancy Volatile-Wood and Jessica Sweeney have taken the lead in providing this wonderful opportunity for years.  Their support of each student and encouragement of each individual performance is recognized by our community and they are prideful of each students growth over the years.  The progress they see in each musician, dancer, and artist is extraordinary and their smiles say it all.

We look forward to the 29th Celebration of Talent next year!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: James Tager Announced as Superintendent of Schools

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Franklin West Supervisory Union is pleased to announce that James Tager has been selected as Superintendent of Schools effective July 1, 2020. Mr. Tager currently serves as Superintendent of Flagler Schools in Flagler County, FL. Prior to his current position he served many educational positions in Florida, including Deputy Superintendent, Principal and Curriculum Director, Special Educator and many teaching positions. 

The decision comes after the Franklin West Supervisory Union Board of Directors interviewed two finalists after day-long interviews with students, faculty, staff, administrators and the board on February 11, 2020. The Board voted unanimously to offer James Tager a one-year contract from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. 

Mr. Tager has an extensive background in education with accolades for his dedication to education such as Educator of the Year by the East Central Florida Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, Secondary Visual Arts Principal of the Year, and Administrator of the Year by several Florida associations. He was also named Five-Star Coach for an International Special Olympic Gold Medal Team. Franklin West is confident that Mr. Tager’s administrative experience will continue to move FWSU with our vision in “A belief in what is possible”.

FWSU Board Chair, Tara Sweet said, “The FWSU Board is pleased to welcome Jim to our supervisory union. His vision and collaboration skills make him a great fit to help move FWSU forward with our belief in what is possible and in continuing to provide the best possible education for all students within FWSU.”  Mr. Tager’s family is excited for the move to Vermont and to be a part of our communities. Mr. Tager said, “You made my day. I am very excited for this opportunity.”

The FWSU Story: Global School Play Day – February 5, 2020

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What if the whole world went on a playdate one day a year? That’s the idea behind Global School Play Day, an international movement to recognize and celebrate the value and importance of time for unstructured, screen-free play in our children’s lives. 

As explained in the Global School Play Day Press release, “In 2015, a small group of six educators took action and created Global School Play Day because of their concern that adults and technology were encroaching on playtime for children. On February 4, 2015, the first year of Global School Play Day, over 65,000 children participated in the first ever Global School Play Day after only four weeks of social media promotion from those six educators.”  

Fletcher Elementary Students with their Rockets

This year, 554,632 participants from 75 nations participated in this special day, and schools and classrooms within FWSU were among them. The idea was first shared by Marcy Perotte, one of the members of the FWSU Whole School, Child, and Community (WSCC). The team discussed the idea, which supports several of the 10 areas of wellness the FWSU WSCC focuses on, and then brought it to the building principals and fellow teachers. 

From rocket launches to board games, students engaged in play that inspired curiosity, self-direction, fun, problem-solving, movement, kindness, and connecting and communicating. As GEMS Elementary Principal, Steve Emery noted, “Play is an essential part of learning and should be implemented throughout every student’s day. The transferable skills utilized come naturally and allow for individual growth within each performance indicator. What is showcased on Global School Day of Play should be a necessity for all age levels each and every day.”  In our first year of global participation, we did not play all day…but extra time and attention were  dedicated to the spirit of the day. Getting discussion percolating about unstructured, screen-free play time opportunities is one of the goals of participation in this day. In FWSU, the value of play is reaffirmed by such a celebration. Our schools do understand the importance of play and have tried to create flexible learning environments that encourage the intersection of play and learning in much of what we do. Fletcher Elementary principal, Chris Dodge summed it up, “Play really is children’s work. Learning and play go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive. Through play, children learn essential social and academic skills that set the stage for a successful school and life experience. Too often, play is misunderstood and undervalued when in fact it’s time very well spent.”

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

Franklin West Supervisory Union Superintendent Finalists Announced

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The Franklin West Supervisory Union Board is pleased to announce that Dr. Wendy Baker and Mr. James Tager have been named as finalists in the search for a new, permanent superintendent. The two candidates will be touring the supervisory union and meeting with the FWSU board on February 11. All members of the community are invited to meet both candidates at public forums in the Flex Room at BFA Fairfax. Dr. Baker will be available from 6-7 PM and Mr. Tager will be there from 7-8 PM. Everyone meeting with the candidates is encouraged to provide feedback to the board through a brief digital survey immediately following the forums. The board encourages you to bring a device with you, although some will be available on site during the forums.

Dr. Wendy Baker has served in a variety of roles during her thirty years in the field of education.  A nationally board certified teacher, Dr. Baker served as a Superintendent of Schools in Bradford, a Principal at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville, and as an Executive Director with Southern New Hampshire University through SNHU’s Vermont Satellite Campus. Dr. Baker’s career interests include the dynamics of student and educator success, innovative program design, and international education. She has led teams of Vermont educators into local school systems on five continents, and she is an invited speaker on systemic approaches to preparing students for success as members of global economies and leaders of equitable communities.  Wendy currently serves as a member of SNHU’s doctoral faculty and as a Governor at The Studio School in Liverpool, UK. She lives in Colchester with her husband, two dogs, tall stacks of books, and generations of Vermont memories.

Mr. James Tager currently serves as Superintendent of Flagler (FL) Schools following a long career in education in Volusia County, FL.  He believes all students possess an innate talent or gift that can be used to accelerate their positive growth to become highly educated, responsible citizens. Among his many honors, Jim has been named Educator of the Year by the East Central Florida Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, Secondary Visual Arts Principal of the Year, and Administrator of the Year by several Florida associations. He was also named Five-Star Coach of the Year and served as the Coach for an International Special Olympic Gold Medal Team. A native of Ohio, Mr. Tager and his wife Jodi are avid runners completing 2 half marathons a year. Together they have four children including three daughters; a speech pathologist, a law student and a psychology major in south Florida, and a son who is a teacher in North Carolina. 

The FWSU Board intends to announce its superintendent decision by Friday, February 14. 

The FWSU Story: BFA 2020-2021 School Budget Update

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On Monday, January 13, the Fairfax Town School District Board of Directors voted to present a budget of $13,760,921 to the taxpayers of Fairfax at Town Meeting on March 03, 2020.

This budget represents a 6.67% increase in expenditures and a 7.25% increase in per pupil spending ($14,032.09) compared to last year’s budget. Although increasing, our per pupil spending remains significantly lower than the Vermont average per pupil spending, which is $17,133. The per pupil spending information is what appears on the ballot on Town Meeting Day. 

This budget represents essentially a rollover budget, meaning it keeps our staffing, instructional programming, co-curricular offerings, and supplies relatively the same as the previous year.  Here are some of the areas that are contributing to the increase in this budget:

  • Transportation- With the help of a grant, we are purchasing two electric buses.  The district is responsible for the first $90,000 of each bus (roughly the cost of a traditional diesel bus), and the grant pays any additional cost.  The grant also covers installation of infrastructure and mechanical training.
  • Health insurance– Accounts for slightly more than 11% of our total expenses, which increased by 12% this coming year.  
  • Pre-Kindergarten- Act 166 tuition budget increased by $36,579 over FY20 budget. Estimating 55 students at an announced rate of $3,445.

The School Board was mindful of taxpayers as we developed this budget, remaining aware of the community’s capacity to pay for an increase. Our goal was to present a budget that maintains our current programs. Given the percentage increases, the School Board and Administration could not support the inclusion of any additional expenses.

We have been fortunate to have lower percentage increases in the previous years that have also allowed us to add programs and support without significant increases in taxes. We are confident that the presented budget will continue to meet our student needs.  The tax impact on home values is listed below:

In addition, there will be a separate article for $200,000 that will be used to replace three roofs.  After the most recent bond request was defeated on December 03, 2019, we have identified this as the most critical current need.  The article would replace one high school roof that had a 2017 replacement date, a middle school roof over the 1943 wing and the elementary roof over the gym that were both slated for replacement in 2019. If this article successfully passes the tax impact on home values is listed below:

We will be sending out a budget flier with more detailed information about the 2020-2021 school budget. You are invited to attend the next School Board meeting on Monday, February 10 at 6:30 pm in the FLEX Room where the school budget will be presented. There will also be a presentation on Saturday, February 29 at 10:00 am in the Elementary School Gym of the town and school budgets.  Finally, the town and school budget vote will occur on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 03 in the Middle School Gym from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm

We encourage you to learn about our budget proposal and feel free to contact Justin Brown jbrown@fwsu.org, John Tague jtague@fwsu.org, Geri Witalec-Krupa gwitalec@fwsu.org, or Tom Walsh twalsh@fwsu.org, if you have questions.  Thank you in advance for your support of our students and staff. 

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Experience “Out of this World” Learning at STARBASE

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Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning just doesn’t get any more exciting than watching a pair of sleek F-35 jets thunder off into the horizon. Or, does it? How about building flatulence molecules (yes, that’s a fart!) to learn about the periodic table of elements or designing actual working rockets that travel more than 200 feet into the air to accelerate one’s knowledge of Newton’s laws of motion? These adventures, and more, are being experienced by Fletcher’s fifth and sixth grade students.

The class has been on the Vermont Air National Guard base in Colchester as part of a five-day program called STARBASE. An affiliate of the U.S. Department of Defense, STARBASE focuses on teaching students about physics, chemistry, technology, engineering, and math, with an emphasis on possible careers in those fields. Students spend 25 hours in the STARBASE facility and the instructors also teach lessons at the school.

“Programs like STARBASE are important because it gives learners opportunities to see how science, technology, engineering, and math can be applied to everyday life,” Fletcher’s fifth and six grade teacher, Lorrene Palermo, said. “Since STARBASE is located at the Air National Guard base it also allows for students to see these important life skills in everyday careers. We had the opportunity to visit the Fire Department on base and made many great connections to student learning that we experienced at STARBASE.”

It was Amelia Earhart herself who once said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” In many ways, this has become the teaching mantra at STARBASE Vermont, where the lessons are hands-on and include everything from exploring jet technology in the hanger and flying planes using flight simulators, to studying gravity through cooperative games and learning about air pressure by experimenting on marshmallows.

But, the program teaches much more than science. Its mission includes fostering collaboration and healthy choices, exposing children to cutting-edge technology and building a sense of community. Each “Starbaser,” as they are called, selects a “call sign” like a pilot. The call sign represents them personally and they are referred to by that name throughout the STARBASE experience.

“STARBASE has been my favorite part of the year. The science is just really fun to do. They teach it to you in creative and fun ways like designing a space shuttle that protects an egg when launched,” fifth grader, Collin Lucci, said. 

“They explain the lessons in a way that is fun and interesting,” sixth grader, Sabrina Nadeau, said. “They go over everything step by step to make it easier and it’s just fun to do things like design space vehicles on the computer and doing coding. It’s a fun place to be.”

STARBASE opened its doors in 1994 and reaches more than 1,300 Vermont students annually. There is no fee for schools to participate. The program even offers schools financial support with transportation. During the program’s physics component, students learn Newton’s Laws of Motion through hands-on experiments that include building and launching model rockets. Other topics include fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, much of which is learned through experiments and observations of military planes that enter and exit the base on which STARBASE is housed. 

“I liked building different shapes on the computer that helped me design my own space shuttle,” fifth grader,, Fletcher Simonds, said. “Math and literacy are still part of STARBASE, but with explosions in a tube and other cool stuff it’s very exciting.”

“It was really cool to get to see planes taking off right outside the window. The whole time we’re there it’s about science and testing out our theories and learning about the work that scientists do,” fifth grader, Maddie Weaver, said. 

Students also had the opportunity to meet and speak with Brigadier General Greg Knight, the Adjutant General for the State of Vermont, who is responsible for the recruiting, administration, equipping, training, maintenance, and readiness of the 3400 Vermont National Guard soldiers. Knight spoke about the importance of school and taking every educational opportunity they were given. 

Building blocks of matter, physical and chemical changes and atmospheric properties are all taught as part of the program’s chemistry strand. Additionally, technology innovations including the latest in mapping, nanotechnology, robotics, and chromatography (a method for separating organic and inorganic compounds to determine their composition) are features.

​Three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD), along with information about the engineering and design processes, comprise the engineering elements of the program, while number relationships, measurement, geometry, and data analysis bring in the math. Among other projects, students used computers to design unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Place-based experiences such as STARBASE spark memorable learning opportunities for our young students,” Fletcher’s Instructional Coach, Denette Locke, said. “From these experiences we are apt to be in the presence of the future chemist or scientist who creates the next great cure or helps to come up with the solution to global warming. Perhaps the community partners on the base inspired a future firefighter, pilot or the next general. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical learning will transfer back to their in class learning and that of future dreams, inspirations and careers.”

Students’ last STARBASE experience is scheduled for early February, when they will launch their homemade rockets at the school.  Read more about STARBASE Vermont here.

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

The FWSU Story: School Board Appreciation

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On January 15, 2020, the Vermont legislature passed a resolution declaring January as School Board Recognition Month. Let’s pause and say “Thank You” to the community volunteers who serve as school board members. 

Fairfax School Board: Student Rep. Shane Seals (’19), Mike Bruso, Sandy Alexander, Elaine Carpenter, Kathi Muehl, Scott Mitchell, Student Rep. Kieran Shea (’20)

Across the FWSU, we have fifteen members serving three separate districts and a supervisory union. The common saying when deciding to run for school board is “its only one meeting a month.” Sure, board members attend monthly meetings. They also serve on committees and as a part of other boards such as the SU board or the Vermont School Boards Association board. They are an essential conduit to the community, receiving feedback on all aspects of our schools and providing critical information to families and taxpayers throughout the year.

Fletcher School Board: Jess Graff, Betsy Lesnikoski, Aimee Cardinal, Tara Sweet, Melissa Sargent-Minor

Key work of school boards is to raise student achievement and they do so by creating a shared vision and setting direction through policy development, providing accountability for student achievement results, and developing budgets aligned to district and local goals.

Georgia School Board: Fred Grimm, Kate Barnes, Ben Chiappinelli, Carl Laroe, Andrea Milne

Visit this page to view the 2020 State Resolution. School board meeting agendas and minutes can be located on the FWSU website under the BOARDS tab.

FWSU Board: Betsy Lesnikoski, Elaine Carpenter, Aimee Cardinal, Tara Sweet, Scott Mitchell, Ben Chiappinelli, Kate Barnes, Carl Laroe (Not Pictured: Mike Bruso)

Please join me in recognizing the work of school board members. Let them know the hard work and dedication is noticed and appreciated!

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand

The FWSU Story: Educators Earn Digital Promise Micro-Credentials through FWSU Graduate Course

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During the fall semester, 13 educators from across the district enrolled in the FWSU digital course, Designing Experiences For All. The course was designed to allow teachers to select their own personal pathway to research, design, and implement an innovative experience for students.  All of the participants were able to expand their learning and design planning along with Greg Kuloweic, Edtech Teacher during the FWSU November Institutes.

These teachers were then challenged to demonstrate their learning by submitting an application for a micro-credential through Digital Promise’s competency-based recognition for professional learning. 

In order to maximize personal learning, teachers were given a choice of which micro-credential best suited their pathway to learning. Teachers selected from the following micro-credentials:

All participants in the course applications were reviewed by an independent evaluator and all were awarded micro-credentials!

Congratulations to Tammy Boissoneault, Marc Choiniere, Eric Hadd, Dana Hamm, Deb Howard, Sandy Leclair, Vicki Pinault, Lorrene Palermo, Ben Pasoros, Sharon Rock, Sean Theoret, Eve Thorsen, and  Erin Young.

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

The FWSU Story: Early Release Days – What do the staff do on those afternoons?

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This school year, as a supervisory Union, FWSU’s calendar includes three Early Release Days.  One in October, this past Monday – January 20, and a third on March 25. Each of these days allow professional staff time to work together throughout the district  in order to build capacity and opportunities for student learning and growth.

This past Monday, Principal Conrad and I had the pleasure of working with both the GEMS and the BFA Fairfax grades 5-8 staff.  We had the pleasure of facilitating discussions with staff to further refine our teaching and assessment practice with Transferable Skills. Transferable Skills identify the crosscutting targets for skills that FWSU believes are important to be successful in and beyond school.

As a district, FWSU has agreed upon the following transferable skills across all subjects:

As Our Transferable Skills are woven throughout all of our teaching and learning, it is our purpose to ensure that all students become informed, literate, critical thinkers who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors in school and beyond.

Our work is to continually define, refine and differentiate what each of these skills looks like across grade levels; how students demonstrate or struggle with them; as well as how to we can more consistently teach and assess them across grades 5-8. This requires sustained time and effort. These early release times provide essential, deep work time for educators to engage in rigorous and thoughtful conversations in service of greater clarity, coherence, and focus for our work with students.

I can confidently speak for the participants in our session and each of the sessions taking place in Fletcher, Georgia, and Fairfax that this time is productive, essential, and absolutely helps us each to better meet the needs of all learners throughout FWSU.  And for that we thank you, our community, for supporting us in continuing to grow opportunities to support our “belief in what is possible.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: The Pulsera Project at GEMS and BFA

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“By sharing art, knowledge and ideas across cultural lines, we can create a more ethical and colorful world.”  – Pulsera Project

BFA Fairfax High School Spanish students selling items in the school lobby

As part of The Pulsera Project, BFA Fairfax High School and GEMS 7/8 Spanish classes participated in sales of fair-trade goods in November and December, 2019. Through The Pulsera Project (non-profit organization in the U.S.), Spanish teachers Kerri Brien and Laura Mathieu ordered original, hand-woven bracelets and bags made by artists in Nicaragua and Guatemala. The classes sold their merchandise at school for two weeks and all the money raised went directly back to the artists. 

Prior to the sale, Spanish students learned about poverty issues and conflict in Nicaragua as well as learning about individual artists (using videos and other materials by Pulsera Project). They also learned about the hardships faced in these countries and helped raise money to support community programs and fair trade employment.  The whole school increased their awareness and global citizenship. 

GEMS students shopping for free-trade items and reading about Pulsera Project

The positive impact by the GEMS school community was over $2,400, the equivalent to 1.2 houses or 8.6 months of fair-trade employment, or 40 months of educational scholarship.

Students inspect the hand-made items from Pulsera Project

At BFA, the students sold 139 bracelets and bags and raised $756 for Latin American artists.

Here’s what some of the students thought about the experience:

  • I felt like a good person for selling the bracelets. I felt like I was supporting the artists as a good cause.
  • It was for a good cause, all money goes back to artists. We’re not taking any of the profit.
  • Cool that unsold art goes from school to school.
  • When you learn how hard they worked to make it, you appreciate it more.
  • I liked it because was for a good cause. We learned about it beforehand, which was good.
  • Good idea to open up sale to whole school because it was for a good cause.

For further information, please visit http://www.pulseraproject.org. Congratulations to all who helped make this project a success!  

Students selling Pulsera Project items at GEMS

Today’s blog comes from Kerry Brien, BFA HS Spanish Teacher, and Laura Mathieu, GEMS 7/8 Spanish Teacher. Be sure to follow #FWSU on Twitter!

The FWSU Story: Thank You and Good Luck to Danielle Kiscak, BFA Fairfax Special Educator!

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Wendy Chase and Danielle Kicsak, Special Educators

Danielle Kicsak has been a special educator at BFA Fairfax for the past nine years. She formed many positive connections with students and staff. She has been an integral member of the middle and high school special education team. She is a prepared and conscientious teacher who works hard to support all learners. 

Danielle has contributed to the BFA school community. She was a facilitator of a student leadership team, Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST).  YATST is a network of youth and adult teams from Vermont high schools. The group works to ensure that students and adults are highly engaged in school improvement that is responsive to our rapidly changing world. Danielle actively worked to engage and strengthen the student voice. Through her work with the YATST team, they were able to successfully expand communication, understanding, and collaboration between our faculty and student body.  Her dedication and effort has contributed to making BFA a wonderful school.

Danielle is relocating to Florida at the end of January.  We have enjoyed working with Danielle, and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors.  She will be missed!

Thank you, Danielle! 

Danielle Kicsak, Special Educator and John Tague, BFA Fairfax HS Principal

We are fortunate to have an outstanding long term substitute, Paula Thompson.  Paula will join us for the remainder of the year.

Danielle’s colleagues had the following things to say about her:

“She is collaborative, kind and funny!  We will miss you!”

“Danielle has a great sense of humor!  Good luck in Florida!”

“Danielle has been a great team member!  She’s always been reliable and fun to work with!”

“She’ll be missed, and we wish her the best in her new adventure!”

“She has demonstrated great leadership to the support staff.”

YATST Team

Rachel McIntyre is the Director of Student Support Services at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY

The FWSU Story: Fairfax Presidential Scholars Honored in Montpelier

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On Monday, January 13th, the best and brightest high school students from Vermont’s Class of 2020 gathered at the State House for the Vermont Presidential Scholars Award Ceremony. This year, BFA had four students among the 25 students selected statewide. Natalie Bates, Nathan Langlois, and Mahlia Parsons were selected as General Presidential Scholars. Abigail Pease was selected as a Technical Education Presidential Scholar through the Burlington Technical Center. 

Mahlia Parsons, Abigail Pease, Natalie Bates, Nathan Langlois

The evening began with welcoming remarks from Secretary of Education Dan French. He congratulated students for their accomplishments and acknowledged the support provided by the families and teachers of those students. Each student was then called to the center of the House Chamber to receive the official certificate from Mr. French and to hear a summary of the accomplishments that led to their selection as a Vermont Presidential Scholar.

Mr. French and Natalie Bates

Natalie Bates was selected for her work supporting proficiency at BFA. Natalie has been an active voice working with students and teachers to transition to a proficiency based system. Natalie also worked with Up for Learning to increase student voice in our school and has presented for that organization at schools within Vermont and at a National Conference.

Nathan Langlois was selected based on his ever expanding role within the student run Coffee House at BFA. He has served as emcee since his freshman year and has grown in confidence and performing ability throughout the years. Nate is an active participant in cross country running and nordic skiing while demonstrating excellence in his academics. 

Abigail Pease was selected by the Burlington Technical Center. She is in BTC’s Health Sciences program and excels both in and out of the classroom. Abigail plans to pursue a career in a health related field after graduation.

Mr. French and Mahlia Parsons

Mahlia Parsons was selected for her overall leadership and involvement in school and community activities. Mahlia has attended National Leadership conferences. She participates in drama, cross country running, nordic skiing and track and field.

We are extremely proud of our Vermont Presidential Scholars and their achievements. We know that they will continue to represent the very best of BFA and Vermont as they continue their studies.

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

The FWSU Story: Building Responsible and Involved Citizenship through Restorative Practices

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As GEMS works on clearly articulating our Transferable Skill Proficiencies this year, an area of focus has been on the Transferable Skill: Responsible and Involved Citizenship, particularly through the indicator of “students take responsibility for personal decisions and actions”.

This is a hefty skill that many young adolescents need support, feedback, and structures to know how to handle tricky situations.  Middle Schoolers often are working hard both inside and outside of the school in learning how to create strong relationships with others and with those relationships sometimes conflicts occur.  So how do we as a school help students with learning how to manage those conflicts…with peers, friends, teachers, and sometimes even parents. 

As a school, we are often asking ourselves:

  • How do we teach students to handle and resolve conflicts? This includes helping students learn how their actions or words impact others. 
  • How can we proactively work to reduce conflict? 

At GEMS, we have started a deep dive this year into better understanding more about Restorative Practices and how this way of thinking can move us from managing student behavior towards a more constructive approach of helping students learn about the impacts of their behavior. This emphasizes the focus on the harm done to a person or community and creates a problem-solving approach that helps students learn from their mistakes and take an active part in restoring their relationship with those who were harmed.

What are Restorative Practices? 

“Restorative practices are a positive, disruptive force to realizing greater equity in education and stronger relationships. They provide greater balance and strength to the youth-adult partnerships in learning, greater opportunity for building empathy, bridging differences, and strengthening more just, joyful, and sustainable communities.” (UP for Learning website). 

How is Georgia working to build our capacity in this work? 

Georgia Middle School continues its learning towards understanding a Restorative approach to relationship building during this year both with our students and our staff.

One way we have embarked on this work is through UP for Learning’s Restorative Practice Youth-Adult Partnership program. We have five students that are leading the charge at Georgia Middle School in learning more about Restorative Practices and creating an action plan to help engage our faculty and students in building strong classroom communities. These five students along with Melissa Fisher have attended Circle Keeper Training and our last training was held at Fairfield Central School on January 8th where students were asked to create and implement an action plan around Restorative practices.  Students are excited to plan more together in the upcoming weeks to share their learning with our faculty and begin to put their plan into action. 

In addition, there have been several opportunities for faculty and staff to participate and better understand restorative approaches during our in-service days. Most recently, during our November Learning Institutes, middle school teachers and paraprofessionals from GEMS joined teachers from BFA-Fairfax to better understand the tiers of Restorative Practices including how to build a community where everyone has a voice and belonging. We also began to look at ways in which we create routines to support students re-entering the classroom when they have been absent for any reason. Everyone left hopeful for continued work and collaboration in hopes our implementation process will continue to move forward.

The emphasis on further strengthening our learning communities by focusing on relationships is a critical role for ensuring all of our students feel that they are valued, safe and able to learn in a supportive classroom and school. Establishing a culture where we circle up and communicate as a community and share our human experiences create benefits well beyond just creating a strong learning environment. It creates a system and routine that enable students to work on conflict resolution when harm has been done. It provides the foundation for us to use those mistakes or incidents as a moment of learning for those impacted to have space to identify how the action or inaction of another person affected them and collaboratively for students to create a plan to move forward in a positive way. 

Julie Conrad is the Middle School Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her at @JulieConradVT

The FWSU Story: Innovating the Playing Field – eSports at BFA Fairfax

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Just as technology itself is ever-evolving, so too is BFA’s TASC (Technology and Society Challenge) Club.  This spring, the club is working to establish and enter a team in an eSports League. This spring, we will be connecting with PlayVS, a nationally recognized High School eSports organization affiliated with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to get started.  

An eSport is exactly what it sounds like: similar to more traditional sports, eSports teams compete in a variety of electronic games in organized seasons throughout the calendar year, leading up to finals and championships for top-ranked teams. eSports take place at state, regional, national, and global levels. eSports require a large amount of commitment and dedication by each of the team’s individual members. Players meet to strategize, practice, and learn to work together as a cohesive unit.  

eSports offer students, many of whom may not opt into other extra-curricular activities, an opportunity to build team-based character traits and demonstrate transferable skills they can carry with them well beyond high school: Self Direction, Clear and Effective Communication, Creative and Practical Problem Solving, Informed and Integrative Thinking, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship (the foundation of BFA’s Learner Traits). In order to be successful, teams have to have excellent forward-thinking, decision-making, and communication skills.  

Similar to traditional sports, eSports help students to cultivate a sense of community, connection, and belonging within their school. We know from contemporary research and data, a sense of belonging is one of the greatest factors affecting individuals’ wellness.  

Here are some of the things our current BFA Fairfax students had to say about the potential of eSports as an opportunity at our school: 

  • “Being able to do something I’m interested in at school makes me feel happier while I’m at school.”  
  • “Most of the school’s extracurricular activities are basically sports, so having other opportunities that aren’t sports would be good for building team spirit for those who aren’t into traditional sports.” 
  • “eSports teach cooperation and teamwork and the value of good communication. And they teach us that we’re stronger when we work together.” 
  • “Playing team games works on students’ communication and strategizing with your team to defeat the opposing team, and helps your team to come closer together.”

And then there are the opportunities for the future. BFA High School student, Jonny Gillilan, has already participated in an eSports challenge on his own time through Norwich University, earning a $6,000.00 scholarship for his future steps. And Norwich isn’t the only school that has an esports program by any means. 175 Colleges and Universities across the country currently offer officially recognized eSports programming through the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE). The majority of these schools all offer eSports scholarships as well, and the number is growing every year as eSports continue to rise in popularity.  

Sean Theoret is the Technology Integration Specialist for BFA Fairfax High School. Harold Vance is Flexible Pathways Coordinator for BFA Fairfax High School.

The FWSU Story: Our Work To Implement PBIS Universal and Targeted Interventions at BFA Fairfax Elementary

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Each school day, BFA Fairfax students arrive with a range of academic and social-emotional needs and experiences. In response to the needs of our students, we are currently in our third year of implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at BFA Fairfax Elementary School. PBIS has provided us a framework to teach school-wide behavior expectations, respond consistently to student behaviors, and use data to make decisions.

According to the research provided by PBIS.org:

“PBIS is an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all of the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes every day. It is a way to support everyone to create where all students are successful. PBIS is not a curriculum, it is a commitment to addressing student behavior through systems change. When PBIS is implemented well, students achieve improved social and academic outcomes, schools experience reduced exclusionary discipline practices, and school personnel feel more effective.”

During the first two years of our PBIS work we focused on implementing our universal practices. This work focused on consistently using positive, clear and non-judgmental language school-wide. We purposely taught school-wide expectations for all settings during the first weeks of school, after vacations, and as frequently as necessary. As a staff we developed and refined our acknowledgment process, implemented behavior protocols to respond to unexpected behaviors, and developed frequent opportunities to celebrate our students for demonstrating responsible, respectful, safe and caring behaviors.  

Last spring we began the process of implementing targeted practices and systems to provide support for students who are not responding successfully to universal supports. Our focus broadened to include ways to identify, respond, and support students exhibiting challenging behaviors. This included developing a targeted intervention team that meets weekly to review behavior data, develop behavior intervention plans, coordinate interventions and provide access to training and support for staff. 

A critical component for our school was the addition of a School-Based Behavior Consultant through a partnership with Northwest Counseling and Support Services. A School-Based Behavior Consultant provides schools with critical behavioral expertise required to support the implementation of the targeted intervention system, as well as individual behavior interventions and supports. We are so fortunate to have Caitlyn Trainer join our team. She brings experience with clinical and behavioral programming, behavior assessment and planning, data collection, and collaboration with school staff. Caitlyn has been actively working within classrooms in order to provide general support and make recommendations to school staff around how to best support the needs of all students. Caitlyn has been able to utilize modeling strategies to demonstrate for staff how to effectively respond to both negative and positive behaviors and how to provide adequate reinforcement. 

The impact of our targeted interventions, in coordination with the School-Based Behavior Consultant has been immediate and effective. The data and feedback indicates that students who were missing instructional time due to significant behavior challenges are successfully responding to the increased support and skill development. We still have significant work to do, but are excited by the progress in our development of additional tiers of behavior support. I encourage you to explore PBIS and to connect with your local mental health provider to investigate opportunities to collaborate in providing behavioral expertise and support for your students and staff. 

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount