Franklin County Compassion and Pride on Display at Fifth-Annual Pink Zone Basketball Night!

For the past five years, the highlight of the JV and Varsity girls basketball season has been the Pink Zone basketball games held vs.Richford High School.

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Photo Credit: Cold Hollow Photography

For one evening, these Franklin County rival schools join forces to raise funds toward the continued fight against cancer. The Pink Zone night also serves as a showcase of the athletic talents of the two schools’ dance, cheerleading, and girls’ basketball teams.

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This year was the best yet! The games were exciting with a spirited full-capacity crowd and the Richard A. Brown gymnasium awash with a sea of pink shirts, beads, hats, and other accessories.

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Additionally, the evening provided an opportunity to see the JV and Varsity players of tomorrow.

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The Fairfax/Fletcher grades 3/4 girls basketball team played an extremely exciting halftime scrimmage, engaging not only the crowd but also their own role model high school players who were thrilled to cheer on the future of BFA Fairfax girls basketball.

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Through the sales of pink beads, baked goods, game admission and 50/50 raffles, this annual event has raised thousands of dollars for the University of Vermont Cancer Center.

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As always, win or lose, the most important takeaway from the event is that when it comes to a great cause, we are all #oneteam.

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Best of luck to both schools and communities during the remainder of their winter seasons!

Taking Action with Data Through Alpine Dashboard

In order to support proficiency for all learners, there is an increasing need for FWSU educators to access clear, reliable data to drive instruction. By evaluating this data, teachers gain understanding about what’s working for students and what’s not. It takes insight to create a robust, balanced assessment system to help students become proficient learners.

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To help achieve this goal, FWSU has launched a new resource. Alpine Achievement is a premier data analysis dashboard for K-12 Schools. This system takes all of the data collected at each building and pulls it all together. Integrated data in the dashboard allows users find meaning and make connections. Teachers and teacher leaders can then move forward and take immediate action to improve learning.

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At the end of the first semester, an implementation team began working with the Alpine team to customize a dashboard to meet the needs of FWSU students and staff. Next, data assessment specialist Jody Laferriere began uploading and managing all of the data currently available to us – including classroom and performance information (state, local, and classroom).

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Next, several teacher leaders and administrators came together to learn how to navigate through the Alpine Dashboard during two training sessions. Staff received training on how to use the new dashboard to generate reports and graphs so they can then facilitate rich data conversations with teachers and data teams in each school. The two training sessions provided resources and tools on how to use the dashboard for progress monitoring and interventions for students to meet the needs of students.

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In our rapidly changing world, students need highly-developed, flexible, and applicable skills (transferable skills) that they will use throughout their lifetime. Alpine Dashboard will help educators monitor students and guide them in developing skills needed to become proficient learners.

Target 1 – Proficiency-Based Personalized Learning. FWSU students and staff design and engage in proficiency-based personalized learning that integrates collaborative inquiry, problem-solving, and creativity.

Indicator of Success:  Teachers provide learners with multiple pathways for meeting standards so that students achieve proficiency in essential areas of learning.

Being Mindful at Fletcher Elementary

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This popular graphic pops up on the Internet almost daily attached to some social media post. Although aimed at adults, the concept of the “stuffed brain” is even more present for children. Tracey Godin, MC Baker, Sandi Simmons, and Amy MacBeth, educators at Fletcher Elementary School, wanted to use the unique Launch FWSU opportunity to secure funding for mindfulness in FES classrooms. As part of the Launch FWSU innovation competition, all teachers could pitch proposals for $1,000 mini-grants. These teachers crafted a proposal to “address the stress” in students using mindfulness activities in the classroom.

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Here’s how they saw the issue: “The problem/need that we are targeting is increasing students’ sustained attention, focus, and participation. In a world of growing technology, our students are conditioned to constantly be doing more than one thing at a time. They can listen to music, text a friend, watch TV and do their homework simultaneously. Our multi-tasking culture is only going to grow as our technology grows. Therefore, our students’ brains are not being wired to be able to completely focus their attention on any one thing at any particular time. Unfortunately, this skill is being lost and often to the detriment of one’s sense of well-being, ability to learn and to manage stress. For these reasons, more and more people are turning to being mindful as a healthy way to handle living in our fast-paced, fractured culture. Mindfulness is simply the ability to focus on one thing during any present moment. More and more scientific research is showing the physical benefits to our brains and bodies when we practice mindfulness.”

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“More and more” may be an understatement. A recent article featured on the online education blog Edutopia, entitled Mindfulness is All the Rage–But Does it Work? looked at some of the current research on the effects of mindfulness activities on students. The article cites research that suggests students who participated in mindfulness activities for a specified duration of time had less stress, better behavior, and higher levels of well-being than their peers who did not participate in such activities. The article further notes that academic achievement receives a boost when students have the skills to self-regulate and stay focused.

One of the most accessible and popular mindfulness activities is yoga. Yoga4Classrooms reports that “Research on yoga in schools has grown exponentially over the past 5-10 years, and while the results are still preliminary, scientists are beginning to understand why yoga serves as such a valuable component of school curricula nationwide.” The team at FES proposed piloting yoga as a vehicle for teaching mindfulness in the fourth grade and was awarded funding through the Launch mini-grant to support this work.

The pilot is well underway and we are looking forward to learning more about mindfulness in FES classrooms as the year progresses and the grant proposal is fully implemented. For now, you can take a glimpse into the work via fourth-grade teacher Tracey Godin’s newsletter.

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A Splashing Success for 2017 Penguin Plunge!

On Saturday, February 4, 2017 at the Burlington Waterfront a team from BFA Fairfax participated in the Penguin Plunge.

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16 people representing BFA Fairfax took an icy dip in Lake Champlain to support the Vermont Special Olympics. This year’s team included BFA Fairfax faculty, students, community members and one student from Georgia school.

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To date, this team has raised nearly $4,500 in donations for Special Olympics. Special Olympics continues to accept donations until May.

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Madison Lutz was this year’s team’s top fundraiser with over $700 raised. Way to go Madison!

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A record-breaking 1,269 Plungers on 108 teams took the Plunge into Lake Champlain and raised an incredible $538,487 to support Special Olympics Vermont. That’s $64,000 more than we raised last year! All proceeds from the event will support sports training and competition opportunities, health screenings, and leadership training for children and adults with intellectual disabilities right here in Vermont.

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Special Olympics Vermont provides opportunities for sports training and competition for athletes with disabilities. Special Olympics Vermont provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in thirteen Olympic-type sports for more than 1,140 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The organization works to break down barriers for children and adults with disabilities and provide life-changing sports opportunities.

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Thank you to those who contributed and supported our Plungers!

Transferable Skills and the Engineering Design Process at BFA-Fairfax MS

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Over the past month, teachers at BFA-Fairfax Middle School have been attempting to redefine students’ Initiative Time (or Supported Study) experience to be more student-driven, with the purpose of helping students develop 21st-century skills like self-direction, creativity, leadership, and problem-solving.  Last month, for instance, students in Mr. Psaros’ (8th-grade social studies) Initiative Time visited Lake Champlain Chocolates to learn about chocolate production, then donated homemade chocolate to the St. Albans Rehabilitation Center as an act of service to the Franklin County community.  Similarly, students in Mrs. Messier’s (7th-grade science) Supported Study are choosing to participate in one of four project-based learning units over the course of the next several weeks.

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While considering ways to bring together science and math principles from their respective curricula and pose a challenging, authentic problem for students to take the lead in solving, Mrs. Hamm (8th-grade math) and Mrs. Barnes-Cota (8th-grade science) had an idea.  Over the past 10 school days, students in their Initiative Time groups have been immersed in an engineering design process, building and racing two different types of lego-like cars: solar-powered and battery-operated.  Students have worked in groups of four or five, building their cars in preparation for a race against other teams of students with the same type of car.  Students have been extremely engaged, and the air of competition is palpable.  Mrs. Barnes-Cota reports that students have built cars, recognized design flaws, collaborated with their teammates to fix those flaws, and rebuilt their cars to optimize performance.

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An interesting twist: this experience is the first of three.  This time, students are following the directions that come with the car kits.  Next, students will be free to modify and adapt the cars they have built to improve speed and distance.  Finally, in the third iteration, students will be given a pile of parts and just one simple direction: “Build!”  After each round of designing, building, and revising, students will be assessed (and will self-assess) on four of the five Vermont Transferable Skills:

  1. Clear and Effective Communication
  2. Creative and Practical Problem Solving
  3. Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  4. Informed and Integrative Thinking

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Students must demonstrate evidence of these transferable skills in order to graduate from high school.  These Transferable Skills are also the infrastructure for goal-setting within their Personalized Learning Plans, both in middle school and in high school.  Perhaps most important to note about this learning experience is that students are in the driver’s seat (pun intended) when it comes to their learning.

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BFA High School Science Department Welcomes New Faculty

As high school students started a new semester at BFA, they were greeted by new teachers in the Science department. Joe McSoley, a long time BFA teacher, retired in order to spend more time with his new grandchild. Tom Lane started a sabbatical leave so that he could finish up several research projects in Alaska and Cape Cod. Mr. Lane will return in the fall and will utilize his research to enhance the scientific investigation in his classes.

To fill their positions, BFA welcomed Marjorie Hollocher and Sara Coon to our faculty. Mrs. Hollocher teaches Anatomy and Physiology as well as Human Development. Ms. Coon is providing instruction in Biology. We asked them each a few questions to help us get to know them better.

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Ms. Hollocher

Where is your hometown? Falmouth, MA

Where did you go to college? University of New Hampshire

What were you doing before coming to BFA? Teaching High School Biology in New Hampshire and working on small organic vegetable farms.

What is your favorite science? Nutrition & Agriculture and Environmental Biology

What is your favorite food? Roasted Vegetables and Chips with Salsa

Any interesting facts about you that you’d like to share? I have toddler twins and can ride a unicycle

What do you like to do outside of school? Running, nordic skiing, and gardening.

What are your first impressions of BFA? My first impressions of BFA are a welcoming faculty, an opportunity for students to explore their passions for learning, and a unique collaboration of PreK-12 School Farm Program bringing the community together.


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Ms. Coon

Where is your hometown? St. Albans Bay, VT

Where did you go to college? University of Vermont

What were you doing before coming to BFA? I taught at Rutland High School, Rutland Middle School and Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center. During the summer I work on a local vegetable farm.

What is your favorite science? Evolutionary Biology and Geology

What is your favorite food? Homemade macaroni and cheese.

Any interesting facts about you that you’d like to share? During the summer I live “outside” in an open-air house.

What do you like to do outside of school? Rock climbing, hiking, growing orchids, knitting and hanging with my cat.

What are your first impressions of BFA?  All the teachers and students are so helpful and thoughtful!


The new science teachers have been busy getting to know students and colleagues. They have been collaborating with Mr. Pfeiffer and Mr. Grant around proficiency in science and working as advisors and support block teachers for the 9th and 12th grade. We are happy to have both teachers join our high school faculty for the semester.

Learning is a “Blast” at Fletcher Elementary

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Rigorous learning and having a “blast” can go hand-in-hand, as Fletcher Elementary School fifth graders found out recently. Brightly colored model rockets soared into the sky from the school playground, leaving a trail of smoke and newfound knowledge for the school’s fifth graders.

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The young scientists participated in a five-day, 25-hour learning experience at Starbase, an educational affiliate of the U.S. Department of Defense, located on the Vermont Air National Guard Base in Burlington. The program focuses on teaching students about physics, chemistry, technology, engineering, and math, along with possible careers in those fields.

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“It’s all hands-on,” fifth-grader Eric Wimble said. “We learned everything by doing experiments and projects and that will help me remember better than just reading a book.”

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Starbase lessons include everything from exploring an actual F16 fighter jet in the hanger to flying a variety of planes using high-tech flight simulators. Other lessons focused on learning about gravity through cooperative games and learning about air pressure by experimenting on marshmallows.

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“Everything we did was related to an actual real-life problem or idea,” fifth grader Chase Murray said. “It just made sense.”

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In addition to academic concepts, the Starbase program aims to foster collaboration and healthy decision-making by students, as well as building community and exposing students to cutting-edge technology. Each “Starbaser,” as they have come to be called, selects a “call sign” for themselves, just as pilots on the base would do. Students and staff are referred to by their call signs, which reflect one of more personal interests or attributes, throughout the Starbase experience.

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Starbase opened its doors in 1994 and has more than 1,300 student participants annually. There are both Burlington and Rutland, Vermont, campuses.

During the program’s physics component, students study Newton’s Laws of Motion by conducting hands-on experiments that include building and launching model rockets. Many parents and much of the rest of the school turned out to watch the Fletcher fifth graders launch their rockets in early February. Other Starbase topics include fuel 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.

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“Starbase is a combination of rigorous and fun academics, career exploration, and the teaching and building of community and social skills,” fifth-grade teacher Cassandra Underwood said. “It’s the whole package, and it takes place in an exciting and engaging atmosphere.”

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Building blocks of matter, physical and chemical changes and atmospheric properties are all emphasized in Starbase’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 make-up) are featured.

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“It just makes you want to learn more and more,” Murray said. “It’s so much fun that you can’t get enough.”

Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments – FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Action Steps – (1) Increase access to resources for all students. (2) Provide students with access to content, resources and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls. (3) Develop opportunities for students to demonstrate transferable skills in authentic settings.

Indicators of Success – Staff, students and the community embrace digital, social, mobile learning styles. (2) The school calendar and definition of the school day is flexible and responsive to the needs of students. (3) Students engage in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings. (4) Flexible learning environments are the context for collaboration and extend beyond the classroom.