Watercolor Grant Brings Out “Stroke” of Genius in Fletcher Students


Students at the Fletcher Elementary School are experiencing a “stroke” of artistic genius thanks to a grant of materials from the Vermont Watercolor Society.


Founded in 2014, the VWS’s “I Can Paint” program has been awarding artist-grade watercolor painting tools and supplies to students in grades three through eight for the past three years. During their first year, the group distributed 60 kits. In 2016, over 200 kits were gifted.

The Vermont Watercolor Society, founded in 1995 by a small group of painters, now boasts over 240 members and aims to promote an awareness and appreciation of the medium. Their gift of watercolor kits is made directly to students with the hope that they develop an interest in art and use the materials beyond class time.

“It was really fun to use these materials,” sixth grader Zachary Bushey said. “The colors were interesting and there were a lot of them. These materials were different from what we regularly use. They were professional grade. I have never had a kit that came with all of the colors you need.”


Each kit contained a variety of paints, brushes and high-quality watercolor paper, and is distributed without regard to artistic ability.

Asked why watercolors are an important medium for students, Art Teacher M.C. Baker said, “Watercolors are just one of those accessible mediums that kids can find and use at home. The gift of these high-quality materials is a great hook to get them interested. Watercolors are not like other mediums that kids only have access to in school. It’s a really nice, portable medium that students can continue to find and use, even after the gifted supplies are gone.”


“Painting with watercolor requires a particularly focused look at what it is that you have chosen to paint.” VWS President Mark Neilsen said. “Our hope with this program is that the act of painting in watercolor will require the participants to slow down, to concentrate, and to increase their powers of observation of the world around them. “

In Fletcher, sixth graders completed a portrait study that was also integrated into their math class, among other projects.

“I thought that they were just a lot better quality than the kits we usually use,” sixth grader Shaun Gibson said. “They had lots of paint and better brushes. It’s just easier and more fun to paint with the better materials. I feel more like an artist.”


The “I Can Paint” program is supported by individual and group donors, as well as grant funding. In 2016, over $5,000 supported the assembly of 258 kits valued at $25 each. In the three years since the program’s inception, over 380 students throughout the state have been reached. Volunteers from the Society also provide watercolor instruction in classrooms.

“Schools just don’t have the budget to always buy the very best materials,” Art Teacher M.C. Baker said. “This gift of great tools and supplies has been the first time that some students have worked with such nice materials. They instantly take the projects more seriously. They are more engaged and more curious because they become real artists.”


The Fletcher School will participate in an annual show of student work produced with the materials to be held at Towle Hill Studio in Corinth.

“Better materials just improve the quality of art and the motivation of children,” Baker said. “They just feel like more authentic artists when they know that they are using materials that professionals are using.”

Read more about the Vermont Watercolor Society.

Target – Engaged Community Partners: FWSU staff and students engage in authentic learning opportunities with local, regional, state and global partners to make a difference in their community, state and world.

Indicators of Success: (1) Students pursue interests and opportunities, challenge convention, and make positive contributions in their community, state, and world. (2) Collaborative projects and partnerships are part of the fabric of the broader community. (3) Students and staff participate in a global dialogue with partners located outside of their school community and engage in authentic investigation and problem solving.

Action Step: (1) Plan and manage instruction to address problems relevant to students and their community; design and present solutions to authentic audiences.


Annual Ellie Bilodeau Awards & Celebration of Literacy at GEMS

GEMS celebrated the 14th annual Ellie Bilodeau Memorial Book Award this week. This yearly event fosters, celebrates, and promotes the love of reading among our students throughout the school. The awards continue on in memory of Ellie Bilodeau whose own love of reading inspired so many.

GEMS Billodeau Award

Each teacher at GEMS selects one of their students to receive the annual award. The Bilodeau family funds the gift of a book to each student in recognition of their passion, dedication, and commitment to becoming a better reader. During the celebration, each teacher speaks about the wonderful qualities of their students, sharing why a specific book was purchased just for them.

It is an exciting event filled with laughter, memories, and the joy of reading. Children and parents are equally proud as awards are presented.

“We are so grateful for the generosity of the Bilodeau family each year. They are a wonderful family and committed members of our community.” – Principal Steve Emery

Sixth Graders Attack Decimal Operations and Community Issues Simultaneously

Students in Mrs. Young’s sixth-grade math class at BFA-Fairfax collaborated to benefit Franklin and Chittenden County organizations during a service learning unit on decimal operations.

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Students deliver precooked meals to the food shelf


Mrs. Young — realizing that one of the most common settings for the use of decimals is the wide variety of calculations that can be done using money — came up with the idea of having students do a community service project on a limited budget.  Students utilized decimal operations and expository writing to come up with a written proposal for their service project, as well as a budget tabulating all of their anticipated expenses.  The funds used for these projects were left over from the fundraising that sixth graders had done the previous month to pay for their year-end trip to Lotus Lake.

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A bat house created by sixth graders to buffer local bat populations


A few groups sewed blankets and teddy bears for University of Vermont Medical center, the hospital in Burlington.  Others crafted toys and treats that were donated to the Franklin County Animal Shelter. Still other groups cooked meals to supply the Chittenden County Emergency Food Shelf.  Another group, after reading that the local bat population was declining (and that bats are an extremely important link in local ecosystems), built bat houses to be distributed throughout Fairfax.

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Delivering toys and treats to the Franklin County Animal Shelter

Students then delivered their creations to all of the community organizations that they benefitted.  According to Mrs. Young, students were extremely engaged, and they looked forward to the trip to deliver their creations to community organizations throughout the unit.

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Making blankets for the hospital


Facility Upgrade Project Planned for BFA Fairfax

BFA Fairfax has a long tradition of education within a single school building and serving as an anchor within our community. We are proud of our commitment to instill a sense of community in our students as well as our belief that a PreK-12 school building is an essential community asset. BFA Fairfax was built in 1903 through funds left in the Hiram Bellows Trust. For over 100 years, the Fairfax community has remained committed to a single building that meets the social, emotional, and academic needs of all students in our town. For the past 25 years, all major facility upgrades to the high school and middle school have been deferred.

BFA Redesign 1

In the spring of 2014, the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee (LRFPC) was charged by the Fairfax School Board to consider the needs of our school building as we prepare for the next 25 years. The committee is made up of community members, staff, administration, and school board representatives. We meet monthly with Black River Design Architects to evaluate and maximize our space needs and to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.

A process emerged over the past year which produced several dynamic solutions for helping meet our goal of preparing to serve our students and community for the next several decades. We have conducted assessments of our building’s mechanical, electrical, architectural, and code and compliance/life safety needs.

In the fall of 2015, as Franklin West Supervisory Union began to investigate options under Act 46 as required by law, it became apparent that any long-range plan for BFA would depend on the direction taken by the Act 46 committee. Thus, the LRFPC took a hiatus pending the conclusion of that work. In the end, the FWSU Act 46 Study Committee did not recommend any action toward consolidation. Since there was still an identified need to prepare our building for the future, the LRFPC began meeting again in November 2016.

Prepared with additional information from the Act 46 study, the committee partnered with Black River Design to update the school facility — not only to provide additional opportunities for our students but to also create spaces that would benefit the entire community. The aim was to create flexible learning space for our students and provide a robust high and middle school experience as we considered the potential spaces as resources for community involvement. In February 2017, the architects presented a plan that will meet our school and community’s needs for the next 25 years.

BFA Redesign 2

Highlights of the plan include new science labs, a middle school gymnasium, an auditorium, flexible workspaces for students and community groups, and the return of the original entrance to the front of the school. After 25 years without any major building updates, the time has come to invest in our school and community to ensure that our facility and programs remain attractive and viable for years to come.

Black River Design shared their proposal with the Fairfax Board of School Directors on March 13th. The board moved to proceed with a bond vote in the fall of this year. The committee, the board, and the architects will work together to provide details of the proposal to the community, answer your questions, and hear your feedback. The plans shown here are in draft form and will be updated throughout the process. Community input is important so please make your voice heard. The committee and the board are excited about the potential for our school represented in this proposal and we look forward to discussing it with you. Please be on the lookout for upcoming opportunities to learn more about the project.

FWSU Amplifies Personalized Learning for Professionals

In an effort to further personalize learning for FWSU teachers this year, in addition to the FWSU Professional Learning Institutes, teachers were offered an opportunity to extend and deepen their professional knowledge and skills through a graduate-level independent study.

The FWSU Deeper Learning Institute is an action research model for professional learning which uses the Plan-Do-Study-Act Model. Teachers design and execute their plan to address one or more areas of professional practice in teaching and learning, incorporating one or more of the 4 Targets of the FWSU Action Plan: Proficiency-based Personalized Learning, Leadership, Flexible Learning Environments, Engaged Community Partners.

To accomplish their goals, participants in the Deeper Learning Institute create and implement a Personal Learning Plan and both develop and use Professional Learning Targets and Scales to help themselves deepen their own learning of 21st century pedagogy that also results in Deeper Learning competencies for students in the areas of content knowledge, transferable skills, and growth mindset. These competencies will help our students reach new understandings and growing levels of proficiency.

Participants are required to target one or more of these areas of Deeper Learning in Professional Practice in their learning plan:

  • Curating Learning: How do I build a big picture perspective of the goals and outcomes of proficiency-based learning along with the personal skills and interests of my students into my planning process?
  • Launching Learning: How can I construct lessons and learning opportunities that invite students into the learning process and maximize their success in a proficiency-based learning system?
  • Consolidating and Transferring Learning: How can I use a variety of strategies and tools that will ensure all students can consolidate and transfer important learning in meaningful and personal ways?
  • Assessing Learning: What kind of assessment strategies can be used to enhance learning impact, close the gap between teaching and learning, and provide reliable evidence of proficiency?
  • Personalizing Learning: What kinds of designs help to make learning personal and how does that impact instruction that must be designed to meet the needs of all students in progress toward proficiency?
  • Supporting Learning: How do I create strong, caring, and trusting relationships with students to facilitate and personalize learning, and ensure that all students get the instruction and intervention they need to make continuous progress toward proficiency?
  • Leading Learning: How can I participate fully in my school and contribute to a culture of practice and engagement in quality, proficiency-based learning systems?

In May 2017, the participants will attend a culminating event with their peers and invited guests to present their findings along with a plan to standardize their actions and impact larger-scale school improvement.

GEMS Students Raise Awareness and Funds in Empty Bowls Project

In early January, GEMS students in grades 5-8 were encouraged to design and produce soup bowls, showing off their creative sides with bowls formed in many shapes and really cool colors and designs. The bowls the students made were in addition to their regular art class expectations.  They generally took four to five art classes to form the clay, glaze, and fire to get their finished bowls.

Empty Bowls

On March 16th Georgia residents were invited to an evening of sharing a warm bowl of soup in one of those student-made ceramic bowls. Participants either purchased one of those student-made bowls for $5 or reserved a special bowl in advance which they picked up at the event.

Empty Bowls 1

Soup and bread were donated by The Abbey, Center Market, Georgia Market, student council, Daisy Troop #51777, FWSU, and by local families: the Heths, Waites, Volatile-Woods, Haags, Lamberts, Rainvilles, Mildrums, and Riders. Soup selections included chicken noodle, corn chowder and many other wonderful flavors. This event raised almost $600 which will go to the very grateful Georgia Food Shelf.

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Thank you to all who came and special thank yous to Mrs. Crosby and Mrs. Hogg, our Art teachers, for organizing the event, and also to Karen Thompson, the Abbey chef for GEMS.

BFA Fairfax Grooves into “Music In Our Schools Month” with UVM Top Cats!

On March 9, the UVM Top Cats performed at all-school morning meeting for the elementary school. The UVM Top Cats are the University of Vermont’s only all-male A Cappella group on campus. Staff and students in grades PreK-5 had the opportunity to watch this fantastic performance!

Through coordination with elementary music teacher Sarah Wolff, and in recognition of Music In Our Schools month, the Top Cats treated students and staff to a fun, lively, and memorable a cappella performance. With the group singing a mix of old standards and new top 40 hits, there was an abundance of clapping, snapping and head bopping in throughout the school both during the show — and for the remainder of the school day.

The Top Cat’s performed a variety of repertoire including favorites like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Good Old A Cappella.” Their performance and humorous stage presence brought joy and laughter to all!

According to their Facebook page, “The UVM Top Cats were founded in 1981, and have been a staple of UVM’s campus life ever since. We are UVM’s finest all-male a cappella group; a selection of UVM students bound together for the rest of our lives (or at least around four years) by the cohesive powers of music.”

Answering an abundance of student questions after the performance, the group members greatly piqued student interest, and it soon became very clear that BFA Fairfax has a number of potential budding a cappella singers in our midst.

Ms. Wolff brought the Top Cat’s in to help advocate Music in Our Schools Month. Music in Our Schools Month celebrates and promotes the benefits of high-quality music education programs in schools. The UVM Top Cats performance was just one of many events happening at BFA Fairfax to celebrate music in our schools during the month of March.

Additional events included:

  • The 40th Army Band Clinic and Concert with BFA Fairfax band students
  • Pops Concert featuring the combined BFA Fairfax and Fletcher bands, as well as the BFA Fairfax middle and high school choirs.

BFA Fairfax is thrilled to be hosting fantastic musical opportunities for our students and community, and we look forward to the continued growth of our music programs. Thank you to the UVM Top Cats for helping us kick off Music in Our Schools Month!