The FWSU Story: Read to A Dog at BFA

Fozzie enjoying a story

As a special educator, I am always looking for engaging and unique interventions to support my students’ academic and social-emotional growth. Luckily, I was approached by middle school educator Emily Wills, who is currently on sabbatical completing her Masters in Education, with the idea of having her dog Fozzie, who is training to become a therapy dog, work with some of my students. It seemed like a natural fit for students to participate in Read to A Dog activities and I was curious how reading to a dog would support their fluency and build self confidence.

There have been several studies in recent years that indicate that reading to a dog (or any pet) can increase reading skills. The University of California Davis Study from 2010 found that children’s reading fluency increased 12% after a 10 week intervention where the students read to a dog for 15 minutes. Another study, conducted by a doctoral student at National-Louis University in 2009, found that students who participated in the Sit Stay Read program increased their oral reading fluency by 20%.

Fozzie with his Kong and a book on Epic

Every week, since returning from February vacation and ending just before April vacation, students in my learning environment have had the opportunity to practice reading a book about dogs with Fozzie. Our first week of Read to A Dog students had a lot of questions about Fozzie as they read the book Hero Therapy Dogs. By week two, each student was now practicing their own book about a dog to read. On week three, each student’s prosody (expressive reading) began to grow as they read their stories to Fozzie.

Fozzie with Mrs. Wills and students

With each week, the students’ confidence grew and their fluent reading became more natural. On the last week, their reading was far stronger than it had been when we started. At the end of our final Read to a Dog day, students shared that reading to Fozzie made them feel less nervous. They noted that Fozzie never laughed at them when they made a mistake. One student shared that she felt less anxious reading to Fozzie while another said that it was easy to read to Fozzie “since he’s super cute!”

Fozzie getting some love

It was a joy to observe the growth in these students as they participated in Read to a Dog. This experience has proven to me that reading to a pet is the best way to increase reading fluency and reading confidence. Please check out the Fairfax Library page to learn more about upcoming Read to a Dog opportunities.

Fozzie and Mrs. Wills

Contributed by BFA Fairfax Middle School Special Educator, Marcy Perrotte

The FWSU Story: Brancher Literacy Project Supports Fletcher’s Fledgling Readers

A Fletcher Elementary School literacy project has helped the town’s youngest residents spread their wings with books and reading this school year. The school’s Brancher Literacy Project distributed nearly 500 high-quality children’s books to Fletcher resident three and four-year-olds, most of whom do not yet attend the school.

The name of the program is significant. A brancher is a baby falcon who has not yet learned to fly and hops from branch to branch in a tree. Fletcher School’s mascot is the falcon. The Brancher Literacy Initiative name was created for the town’s emergent readers who are just learning about print but may not be reading yet themselves.

In August, 2018, the school received a $3,000 federal grant to fund the project, including books and the necessary supplies to assemble and mail the monthly packages. In each mailing, participants received between six and twelve books to share at home and keep.

“Axel has absolutely adored the Brancher Project, as have I,” parent Liz Tower said. “When the package comes and I tell him he has new books, he can’t wait to see what they are. He wants me to read all of them to him immediately, and then he tells me in what order he likes them. He also loves that he’s getting mail addressed to him. He feels so important.”

The school’s goals for the project included supporting children’s love of stories and reading, building increased language and vocabulary and encouraging families to spend time together with quality children’s literature.

“All four of my kids get excited when the new books come home every month,” parent Deedra Austin said. “Rosa takes the envelope and hugs it to her chest before giving it to me to open. She is even trying to read and say what we have said. She didn’t try to talk a lot before getting the books, and I have also noticed that her older siblings are getting more fluent in their reading out loud. There have been many improvements for all of them since the start of this project.”

“The research is clear about early language and literacy,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “The greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age five. In fact, the brain triples during the first year of life and is almost fully formed by age five. Yet, most of our resources support children beginning in kindergarten. Projects like this bridge that gap. The earlier children begin to hear and use language, and enjoy stories, the more success they will have later on.”

“These books have given my children a way to interact with each other in a positive way,” Austin said. “In a way that doesn’t involve a TV or Kindle screen. This project gives quality entertainment that can easily be shared or taken on an outing with ease. Rosa is always grabbing a book to look at, or to have someone read to her. Her brothers and sisters love reading to her.”

“Experts are in nearly complete agreement that babies and young children should routinely experience shared books during the first weeks and months of life,” Locke said. “It builds motivation, curiosity and memory, in addition to a whole host of reading and language skills.”

The school is currently exploring funding to continue the project in the fall.

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: Fletcher Students Take A Closer Look At Behavior

Fourth and fifth graders at Fletcher Elementary School spent some time analyzing their year-long cumulative behavior data during a Guidance class last week. With the support of School Counselor Lisa Coale and Classroom Teacher Rebecca Cardone, students took a closer look at their collective behavior referrals by day of the week, time of day and problem behavior. 

The school tracks behavior referrals online using a platform called SWIS, the School-Wide Information System, which allows staff to sort and view data many of different ways. SWIS is part of a larger structure called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. 

“We can drill down and really look closely at the specifics of both positive and rule-breaking behavior,” Coale said. “As a result, we can continue to support students’ successes and put in place some very specific targeted interventions to help clear up any challenging situations.”

SWIS allows staff to analyze behavior referrals time of day, number of referrals per day per month, location, day of the week, problem behavior, grade and student.

During the same timeframe last year, students in this class had a total of 75 behavior referrals, classified as either Buddy Classroom visits (minor behaviors) or Office Referrals (more serious or ongoing behaviors.) This year students have reduced their referrals to 17. 

“Using data helps students identify exactly what they are doing well and what they can work on,” Coale said. “Analyzing their own data and helping to create a plan of action promotes buy-in and makes it more likely that they will follow through on the strategies put in place.”

Students worked in three groups, each analyzing one aspect of the data. In the end, one student from each group reported out to the others on their observations. We invite you to watch their video report, shared 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: GEMS Art Show and Art Night 2019!

On Friday April 12th GEMS celebrated our student artists. We hung art work from all the students from kindergarten to 6th grade and featured art from the 7th and 8th grade choice art classes. The show was open for all the classes to enjoy during the day, then at night we held an art fair for families to enjoy the art show and make art together!

Kindergartners are drawing their favorite art work during art class.

The GEMS art department would like to thank the GEMS community for making Art Night 2019 such a great success! A big shout out to all the parents, staff, former staff, and student volunteers who helped set up, lead art activities, and clean up the entire show after all the fun. And of course a big congratulations to all the student artists whose hard work was admired by all!

If you missed the art show and art night this year, I hope we see you 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: Two weeks of cultural exchange with students from La Rochelle, France

For the past two weeks, seven students from a special American Studies program at Fénélon school in La Rochelle, France, have been living with host families in our community and attending classes with BFA correspondents. The purpose of their visit was to deepen their understanding of American culture and broaden their mastery of English.

It didn’t take long for these exceptional students to integrate themselves into BFA culture, participating in classes, taking notes, doing assignments, even taking assessments! They also joined in extra-curriculars: playing ultimate, singing at the coffee house, and helping with concessions. Our students enjoyed talking to them in English and French, and everyone developed a deeper appreciation for each other’s language and culture. “It was so cool to be able to meet them. It is such a good experience to meet people from all over the world and now I have friends all over the world,” said BFA sophomore Laurel Samson. “I think it’s cool to learn about other cultures. It can be really similar but also really different.”

The Fénélon students shared some of their impressions of an American high school. “I love how free it is. In France, the teachers are really strict and make you pay attention to the lesson. Here, if you are not paying attention, the teachers think of it as your problem. I also like that you are free to eat where you want,” said Samuel. Alexandre shared, “I like the school, I like the fact that everybody knows everybody. There are fewer students so students can advance more quickly in their subjects. Also, I met very nice American students.”

Alexandra observed, “I met some really lovely people and I am so happy to meet them. It is not at all like France, but I like it. Here, I really connected with the teachers. I like that the classes are the same every day, it is not as tiring. At home our schedule is hectic.” Her favorite foods were mac and cheese and breakfast sandwiches. Marie and Alix both said that they really enjoyed being here and meeting so many nice people and they wished that they could stay longer. After their return to France, their chaperone and director of the program, Claire Kerhuel-Castel, wrote, “Thanks again for a wonderful visit. The students were gushing about it in the van all the way back! How nonjudgmental people were, what a great school spirit, the plans they had to see each other again…”

Connecting with the UN global goal #17: Partnerships for the goals, we hope that this exchange will be the beginning of a partnership with Fénélon and that our schools will continue to build relationships between students and teachers to promote language learning and cultural understanding, and we look forward to planning more opportunities for exchange in the near future.

In Boston
Riding a school bus to Montpelier (there are no yellow school buses in France!)
Visiting the Vermont State House
Meeting Rep. Murphy with the AP gov class

Alana Toracca is a French Teacher at BFA High School.

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Reflect on Bridge Building Experience and Competition

Students in grades 4, 5, and 6 at Fletcher Elementary recently showcased their self-designed bridges at the annual bridge building competition at Vermont Technical College. The project supports students’ design process skills and teamwork. Below are reflections by four students on their experiences.

Bridge Building Competition: Crushing the Competition!

By Camrynn Slingerland, Grade 6

Have you ever been to a bridge building competition? My school has. It was at VTC in Randolph, Vermont.

In a group at school we made a bridge out of popsicle sticks and glue and we had an option of using dental floss. When we got to the competition, a gentleman there used a machine to apply pressure to everyone’s bridge to see whose bridge held the most weight out of them all.

My group’s bridge held the highest amount of pressure out of the three sixth grade teams! I felt very happy because my group estimated that it would hold only 10 pounds! Our bridge held a total of 92.5 pounds. Someone in my group almost looked like she was going cry she was so happy! After that I felt very relieved because it was just all over. No more being nervous and no more stressing on how we can make our bridge stronger.

Here is just a little bit about the winning team. Usually people that get into the competition get a little intimidated by that school because they’ve won for the past 3 to 4 years. Their bridge is very strong. They work on Saturdays and also stay after school to work on their bridge. The one thing I noticed is that not a lot of people used dental floss. Well, not their team at least. My group did because we find it a lot easier to hold the bridge because the dental floss can be stretchy. The winning team usually gets a gold medal for the strongest bridge.

Through this experience I’ve learned what I would do better next time. Something I want to do next time is maybe not to make the truss or the top so thin and maybe add more popsicle sticks. Something I learned is that the stronger the bridge is the less likely it is to not break or snap in half. It’s probably going to fall forward or backward. Because it’s so strong it will be hard to break in half, like People’s Academy (the winning school). Their bridge fell backwards.

I really encourage people to go to the bridge building competition because it’s a great experience there. You get to hang out with your friends and watch people crushing bridges.

VTC Bridge Building

By Bryant Matton, Grade 6

What is bridge building? Bridge building is a competition about building a bridge out of popsicle sticks, glue, and dental floss. The team’s bridge that holds the most amount of weight wins.

We had three weeks to build our bridge. My group had different assignments like, building the abutments, truss, and deck. Our group built several abutments until we made square abutments with a crosshair type design. At VTC, there were about sixty seven teams competing and four of the teams were from Fletcher. My team thought our bridge would hold 15 pounds but it held 70.2 pounds. The winning team, Peoples Academy’s bridge, held about 2081 pounds.

Bridge building is really fun and it’s a good team building activity.

Spilling the Tea about VTCBBC

By Ava Ardovino, Grade 6

Did you know that one team’s bridge held over 2,000 pounds? Well it did! Every year VTC (Vermont Technical College) hosts a bridge building competition for grades 5-12 to build a bridge and then watch it get crushed! If you have an interest in Civil Engineering I strongly encourage you to to enter this competition!

First, you have to build the bridge! In my opinion, this was the most fun! We had 3 weeks to build a bridge made out of popsicle sticks, floss, toothpicks, and Elmers glue. Each team also had to make sure that a 1000 mm by 150 mm box could fit under it and it couldn’t weigh over 13.32 lbs. Second, was the judging and bridge crushing process! When the judges were judging our bridge they asked us questions like what truss design we chose, how we designed our abutments, and how we chose to build our bridge. After that we got in line to measure and weigh our bridge. Our bridge weighed 4.5 lbs. Finally, it was time to crush our bridge, using a hydraulic machine that measured pounds of pressure (or weight)! Our bridge ended up holding 55.6 lbs. We grabbed our bridge and took a picture with it, then it was time for lunch!

Lastly, was the award ceremony! Some of the awards that you could win were best presentation, lightest bridge, best looking bridge, aesthetics, and most weight it could hold.

The event’s main idea was for kids who are interested in Civil Engineering! VTCBBC is a great way for kids to use their knowledge about Civil Engineering and make a popsicle stick bridge with it!

Do You Have What It Takes?

By Reagan Baumeister, Grade 6

Have you ever wanted to test out your bridge building skills in a real competition? Well, if you do, you can go to the VTC bridge building competition and and test out your skills in a real competition against real teams and a real college! There also provide a really good lunch.

You get about two or three weeks to build your bridge back at school. When you get to VTC, you walk straight to the bridge crushing room. That’s where the “gordinator” sits. The gordonator is the machine that crushes your bridge and measures how much weight it can hold. Your team will get a number and then you wait for your bridge to get crushed!

After your bridge gets crushed you go up to the lunch room and eat lunch. They have pizza, mac and cheese, cookies and ice cream. They also provide drinks and much more.

After lunch, you will go back and have an award ceremony, which is probably the most exciting part of the trip. You get to see all of your data from your bridge. The ceremony is the best part because you get to see if your bridge was good enough for any of the awards. After that you go back to the school.

The competition is really fun over all. Do you think you have what it takes to win well you can find out at the VTC bridge building competition?

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: Remembering FWSU Superintendent – Ned Kirsch

Photo of Ned Kirsch
Norman (Ned) Kirsch

The Franklin West Supervisory Union unexpectedly lost our Superintendent, Ned Kirsch on April 10.  We are deeply saddened by this loss and our hearts go out to Ned’s family, friends, and colleagues.  He was a remarkable person that made a profound impact on public education.

Essex – Norman (Ned) Kirsch , passed away on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. He was born to Charles and Anne (Schwartz) Kirsch in Southampton, NY. Ned was a 1984 graduate of Westhampton Beach High School, Westhampton Beach, NY. In 1988, he graduated from the University of Maine and continued his studies at The Vermont Law School where he received his Masters of Studies in Environmental Law (MSL) and his Juris Doctorate of Law. At The University of Vermont he furthered his commitment to education and earned his Certification of Advanced Study on in Educational Leadership.

Ned made a tremendous impact on education, serving as principal for the Milton Town School District, the Essex Town School District, and as a Superintendent of the Franklin West Supervisory Union. He was recognized as Vermont Principal of the Year for his leadership at Essex Middle School. He was a strong advocate for the physical, social, emotional and educational well-being of all learners. Ned was often and preferably in classrooms engaging with students about their learning. He always encouraged people to collaboratively move forward in the ever changing educational climate. As an innovator for change, he advocated for technology and was instrumental in championing ways to make the global environment accessible for students in rural Vermont.

Leadership qualities were evident early in Ned’s life as he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. In 2011, the Vermont Chapter awarded Ned the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit for using CPR to sustain the life of his eldest brother. Ned’s vision for education, as well as life, was always evolving. He was an active participant on multiple organizational boards and committees at the local, state and national levels.

Ned loved the mountains of Vermont and the beaches of Westhampton. He was an avid skier, creative cook, and world traveler. Among his passions were sports, politics, personal and professional beliefs, reading, storytelling and any and all traditions. Ned loved letting go in the garden, kicking back with music, family, friends, and pets. His infectious smile, humor, laughter, and quick, witty ways brought energy to any room or space. Ned’s dynamic personality radiated confidence. He nurtured and inspired others to grow and never give up. He was dedicated to being a responsible and affectionate provider for his family. His most treasured roles in life were as husband, dad, son, brother, uncle, and friend.

Ned was predeceased by his father Charles Kirsch and his brother and sister in law, Jeffrey and Nancy Kirsch. He is survived by his wife Coree (Greenbaum) Kirsch of 23 years, and his beautiful children, Abigail (Abby), and Colby and his favorite dog, Addison. He is also survived by his mother Anne (Schwartz) Kirsch of Westhampton Beach, NY, brother David (Joan) Kirsch of Essex, CT and his sister Pam (Mike) Magnan of Bethlehem, PA, in laws Art and Sue Greenbaum, sister in law Kari Greenbaum and Kaija Johnson and nephews DJ Kirsch, Riley Kirsch, Jacob Magnan, Samuel Magnan, and niece Molly Magnan.

There will be a Celebration of Life in Ned’s honor on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Location to be announced on

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in loving memory of Ned can be made to: Essex Rescue, Inc., 1 Educational Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

We thank first responders and professional providers for helping us navigate this difficult time. Our deepest gratitude is extended to family, friends, colleagues the community and all those that new Ned. Your love, comfort and caring ways continue to give us strength.

Ned, you will always be missed but with us forever in our healing hearts. Go Mets! Go Jets! “R-E-L-A-X, relax”

Published in The Burlington Free Press on Apr. 21, 2019

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