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.
“By sharing art, knowledge and ideas across cultural lines, we can create a more ethical and colorful world.” – Pulsera Project
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
Rachel McIntyre is the Director of Student Support Services at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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