Student Leadership and Community Engagement In Action at BFA Fairfax

Last Friday was one of those days as a principal that remind me why I do this job.  Interestingly, I spent most of the morning and evening in the Richard A. Brown Gymnasium. Over the course of two events, I noticed many things that reminded me that I work in a really great place that supports our kids and provides them with authentic opportunities to lead and learn.


The morning event was our Middle School Celebration of Learning, a student-run assembly in which every student has a role in presenting the range of experiences our students have undertaken during the winter months.  The band and chorus provided the bookends to an hour of poetry, seasonal photos, recognition of staff members, co-curricular experiences, community service, flexible learning opportunities, and the variety of ways we engage our community and world partners.


The evening occasion was a High School Coffee House, which was also organized and run by students.  Many students, teachers, and parents from the seventh-grade class volunteered their time, and proceeds from the Coffee House will support their class trip to Boston next year as eighth graders.  Again, I was struck by the sense of community and belonging, the authentic opportunities for students of all ages to perform, and the energy and aptitude our students exhibit when provided the opportunity to lead.


I contemplated the efforts of adults that made these events possible.  Teacher leadership, collaboration, and strategic planning were evident throughout the day and evening, allowing for student voice and choice to permeate each event.  Thank you to all the staff members that gave of their time for our students.  I appreciate all the parents and families that support our school and students by attending and valuing these flexible learning experiences.


Over the weekend, I pondered the importance of such learning experiences. How might we continue to develop and sustain these opportunities, balancing their complexity with careful planning and resource allocation? How do we ensure that students continue to have a say in their academic journey?  Questions such as these continue to challenge and inspire me as a leader.  Simultaneously, they remind me that I am privileged to work at BFA Fairfax.



Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

VSO Performs at GEMS, Students Learn About Musical Instruments

This week, students at Georgia Elementary enjoyed a special visit from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s “Fanfare” Brass Trio.

GEMS Symphony 1

Fanfare members Glendon Ingalls (trumpet), Ron Wold (French horn), and Bear Irwin (trombone), played a variety of musical styles and demonstrated how the instruments produce sound and how each one has changed since its beginning.

GEMS Symphony 2

This rave review from a school is typical: “Fanfare’s performance was entertaining, informative, and tuned into the attention spans and interests of young children. Our students were excited to listen and learn about each instrument.”

GEMS Symphony 3

These performances are part of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s statewide SymphonyKids education program, which reached over 26,000 schoolchildren last year with 278 presentations serving 175 schools in 141 different towns. The VSO’s traveling ensembles visit all corners of the state as part of an outreach program known as the Lois H. McClure “Musicians-in-the-Schools” Program. These lively concerts are met with overwhelming enthusiasm, as musical ambassadors spread the word that classical music can be fun!

BFA Fairfax Seniors Explore Citizenship Under the “Golden Dome”

Last week, BFA seniors took their annual trip to the Vermont Statehouse as part of their Senior Social Studies classes taught by Judy Stewart and Will Brooks. The visit occurs during the State Government unit of the course and ties into the Social Studies Enduring Understanding – “Citizens can have an impact on their quality of life when they understand how government structures work and how to access them” and the transferable skill, Responsible and Involved Citizenship.


The purpose of the trip is not to tour the capitol building, but to allow the students the opportunity to meet with a legislator to gather information about a bill that is currently under consideration.

Seniors Kevin M. and Cody W. were interested in H232: An act related to motor vehicle inspections. Kevin and Cody were interested in the bill because it would allow cars to be inspected even if the “check engine” light is on. During the visit, they were able to sit in the committee hearing while it discussed the act and later got to meet with Representative Brian Keefe, a sponsor of the bill.

“I think the act is a good idea. It was cool that we got to share our opinions with Mr. Keefe.” -Kevin M.While they were at the Statehouse, Kevin and Cody also had the opportunity to become registered voters. They were given the voter’s oath by Lieutenant Governor Zuckerman in the House Chamber.


While they were at the Statehouse, Kevin and Cody also had the opportunity to become registered voters. They were given the voter’s oath by Lieutenant Governor Zuckerman in the House Chamber.

“It is important to express your opinion. Your vote matters”-Cody W

This was Cody’s first visit to the “golden dome” and he found it quite interesting. In addition to his interactions with legislators, he located the “whisper seats” where two legislators could whisper across the hall and only be heard by each other. They also were interviewed as part of a Channel 5 story about the Act.


The students will continue to follow the Act through the end of the session and develop a written summary of the process and experience. The students certainly gained insight into the government process and realize how easy it is to participate in government in Vermont.


Earlier this Spring, FWSU Title One schools had their Annual Parent Meetings. This blog post, written by Frances Frost of the US Department of Education, is a follow-up to deepening understanding about the importance of parent engagement in schools.*


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shifts the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) focus on parent involvement to the more dynamic focus on family engagement. If you have ideas to share about Parent Engagement in FWSU, please contact Linda Keating, Director of Curriculum.


“On December 10, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), our national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. In developing plans and implementing ESSA, stakeholder engagement – including parents – plays a crucial role in improving student outcomes in our schools. Family engagement is crucial at the national, state and, particularly, local level where you can make a difference in your child’s school and classroom. “Engagement” is about more than families’ one-way receiving of information and sponsoring fundraisers at school. It’s the opportunity for families to be active and integral participants in their children’s education.


Re-think family engagement, not to add burden to already-busy parents or work to teachers’ increasingly packed school day, but instead to build relationships between two crucial components of a child’s life together –families and school personnel –to further support their successful education, well-being, and development.


As a parent, you have plenty of options, depending on availability, interests, skills, and personal constraints, to be engaged. Look for opportunities that work for your family.

  • Establish positive relationships with school administrators and teachers. If you haven’t met your child’s teachers yet, request a short meeting or send a quick email to introduce yourself and let them know you are there to support your child.
  • Meet with teachers about academic and social development goals for your child. Ask what your children should be able to do at his/her grade level. Ask what you can do to support learning at home. Share ideas of how the teacher can better support your child in class. If your child needs special education services – ask for a thorough explanation of options and services available. Check the Parent Checklist to get started.
  • Attend PTA or parent organization meetings and find out about the issues in your school. Ask questions if others aren’t bringing up the things that matter to your child’s success or your community.
  • Volunteer on a committee that focuses on an activity or an issue important to you, whether it is school transportation, safe places to play after-school, teacher diversity, bullying or academics.
  • Voice your opinion to local and state Boards of Education and local, state, and national elected officials on things that matter to your family. Write letters, make phone calls, or attend public meetings. Check local jurisdiction or state government websites for contact information and meeting schedules.
  • Each state, by law, should have parents engaged in the process of developing and implementing ESSA for the 2017-18 school year. Check your state’s education website to find out about your parent representative and the developing plans.
    Being engaged in education doesn’t require endless free time or multiple degrees and in-depth knowledge about schools. You just need a concern for your child and a little bit of time to act on that concern.

You’re ready! #GetEngaged!”

Frances Frost serves as the Family Ambassador, U.S. Department of Education. Find her on Twitter @FamiliesatED 

*This post originally appeared as “Are you ready to be engaged in education?” in HomeRoom: The Official Blog of the US Department of Education

Organic Artist Nick Neddo Visits GEMS


At the end of March, the GEMS Art Department hosted artist and author Nick Neddo. He is a sixth-generation Vermonter whose lifelong pursuits include the study of the natural world around him, exploring Stone Age technologies, and creating art.


Even before he begins a piece of art, he spends a significant amount of time preparing and making the tools and materials needed to make the art.  He uses only materials that he can find from the landscape around him.


He shared with our students not only his amazing art and handmade tools but also his curiosity of how things are made and the all the possibilities hidden in the natural world.


Nick shared his work with the students. He taught the students how to crush rocks to make paint.


He taught the students how to crush rocks to make paint.


Everyone enjoyed painting with their own handcrafted paint!

Artist in Residence – Puppet Kabob Returns to GEMS!

“In my own philanthropy and business endeavors, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities….the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”
Paul G. Allen, Co-Founder, Microsoft


Yesterday we were lucky enough to have a few local guest artists visit our classroom, Sarah Frechette, along with mother Carol and partner Jason. Sarah is an artist, puppeteer and founder of PUPPETKABOB, a puppet company that has toured nationally to schools, libraries, theaters, museums and festivals.(check out her website at:

Sarah taught us how to assemble our colorful butterfly puppets with dowels, paint, symmetry and pom poms! We will be bringing our butterfly puppets to a whole school assembly where we celebrate being GEMS at Georgia School. The students will be able to bring them home after the assembly.


We are so fortunate to have Sarah and Jason each year.  Content is ever changing, their level of excitement and enthusiasm is second to none. I know from the prideful smiles and laughter that our students LOVE having them here as we all do.  Thanks to their awesomeness and for everyone’s continued flexibility and fabulous work with our students!   — Principal Steve Emery


Target 4 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.

Indicator of Success -Collaborative projects and partnerships are part of the fabric of the broader community

Action Step – Engage community partners in a focused, collaborative inquiry process to address community needs

BFA Fairfax Takes The Field with New High School Lacrosse Club


BFA Fairfax prides itself on the number of co-curricular options available to students.  At any given time during the school year, 60-80% of our student population participates in one of our various teams, clubs, or organizations. Continuing the tradition of creating new opportunities for our students, BFA Fairfax is extremely excited to be offering our first high school lacrosse club this spring.


With the growth of the sport of lacrosse nationwide, and more specifically in the State of Vermont, the number of students of all ages in our greater community participating in the sport has been consistently increasing.  For the past number of years, the few BFA Fairfax students who have been interested in lacrosse have had the option of participating in programs at other schools through the VPA Member to Member Agreement process.  With the increased popularity of lacrosse in the greater Fairfax community, the number of students interested recently exceeded Member to Member limitations.  Through the cooperative efforts of parents, the Fairfax United Lacrosse Club, and the school community, BFA Fairfax is now fielding its first club-level lacrosse team.


Over the next two years, the BFA Fairfax lacrosse club will be looking to garner numbers, interest, and adequate field space to assess whether or not a Varsity level lacrosse team could be a future sustainable co-curricular option at BFA.  Student athletes have been practicing diligently, and we are all extremely excited to see them take the field in their first game later this spring.  Thank you to all who have supported this new era of BFA Fairfax athletics, and best of luck to all!