Student Perspectives on Coming Back to School 4 Days Per Week

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Now that we have had our 5th and 6th grade students back four days per week for the past two weeks, things are almost starting to feel normal.  To adults, sometimes it is easy to think that we are making progress and strides, but it is important to also listen to our young people’s perspectives. 

This week, some of our 5th and 6th grade students were gracious enough to speak with me about their perspectives on the shift back to 4 days per week. I hope you will appreciate their thoughts as much as I have.

5th grade student Tim
It’s nice to be back with friends and in a bigger group. I do miss working at my own pace, though.

5th grade student Kayleigh
“It’s fun to be back, especially with friends. Sometimes people forget to keep their masks pulled up, but it’s good to not be stuck at home so much. I am able to understand the work so much better, especially because we practice it in class before we work on it at home.

5th grade student Ava
“I like it better being in school 4 days a week. We can get help whenever we need it. It’s easier to do stuff because we practice it first while we are in class.  Now we can relax when we’re at home.

6th grade student Ava
“It feels more normal. There’s more work. I learn better with more people around. I am excited to be back. I sort of like that we have to wash hands and people are keeping their distance and not breathing on you. It feels really safe. I like having our own space. Even though the desks are small, it’s better to keep organized.

6th grade student Theo
“It’s easier to learn when we are here (at school). We can ask more questions and it’s easier to use technology (sometimes the wifi is slow at home). It’s a lot easier to look up what I need for classes.  Sometimes it is a little difficult to see the board because of people’s heads and all of the plexiglass. But all of the hand washing is good because it keeps us healthy.

6th grade student Emily
“It’s very nice to be back, but it is louder sometimes with more people here. Class is really calm (but recess is still fun). It’s a good (just right) amount of work.

6th grade student Noah
I am surprised that the classroom is almost never out of control, even with more people.  Everyone has their own space with tiny tables.

6th grade student Cohen
“I liked being home, and it’s a little cramped now that everyone is back.  But now I’m getting more learning done. Now I’m in longer classes instead of watching videos and just doing work. It feels like things are getting back to normal now that we can see everybody.

6th grade student Isabel
It’s good to be back and that there is less remote work. When we’re at home we can’t interact with the teacher or each other. My parents can help, but they don’t know the work as well. Seeing so many people during recess is nice. I missed everyone after 10 months of not seeing them. Some of my closest friends weren’t connected with my family, so it’s nice to be able to see them now.  It’s awesome to be with the teacher and ask questions and get help if we’re confused. It feels easier to ask questions in the room. I think it’s better because it feels more focused.  It actually feels really safe to be back with everyone. Teachers are really working hard to help everyone follow the procedures to keep us safe.”

We are all grateful for the time we do have together in school. We continue to be thankful for all of our students, staff and families in their support of the work we do to keep everyone safe, healthy and in school.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

GEMS TV EXPRESS Creates Cricut Design Videos

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Earlier this year, we shared how GEMS TV Express modified it’s format to allow students to learn in a hybrid environment. You can learn more about it with this link to the previous post.

One of the GEMS TV Express 7th grade classes unanimously decided to learn how to use the Cricut Smart Cutting Machine so they could create tutorial videos for designing personalized face masks. When given the choice of any video project to work on, the group enthusiastically decided to all work on the Cricut, one of the design tools in the innovation lab, for an authentic project during this time of COVID.

First, the students took the time to learn how to use this innovative tools themselves. Once well versed in the design process, they began to produce videos on how others could use the Cricut to create masks. The students drew upon their own design experiences including prototyping and redesign when plans needed revisions.

In the near future, THE GEMS TV Express will be publishing their video tutorials on how to effectively design and create personalized face masks.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech

BFA Fairfax Prepares to go LIVE with Broadcast of 2021 Indoor Athletic Events

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After much excitement and anticipation, winter sports at BFA Fairfax have begun! With essential safety protocols and procedures in place, our High School basketball, cheerleading, and Nordic ski teams began skills and conditioning practices the week of January 11 (Phase 1), and transitioned to traditional practices involving incidental contact, inter-squad scrimmages, and formal outdoor ski events as of Monday, January 18 (Phase 2).  With the High School teams well under way, Middle School teams will begin practices the week of February 1st.

As we await permission from Governor Scott to transition to Phase 3 of school athletics, which will enable our High School indoor sports teams to compete against other schools, one of the most frequent questions has involved how parents, families and fans will be able to view their indoor teams compete, given that spectators will not be allowed for in-school events this year.  

We are extremely excited to share that through the creativity and ingenuity we have already seen on display at BFA Fairfax through virtual concerts and the upcoming dramatic arts performance, we will be broadcasting our High School indoor athletic events LIVE on YouTube! This platform will allow anyone, anywhere, to access these athletic events free of charge! 

Not only will the broadcasts serve as a way to watch some of your favorite BFA Fairfax sports teams live, but it will also allow our Media and Communications, and Public Speaking students to apply their class learning in real-time, as those students will be serving as camera operators and play-by-play announcers. 

Additionally, because the events will be broadcast on YouTube, there will be an archive of the games, which will be a bonus for coaches, families, and players to access whenever they choose. While this is a new endeavor, and certainly there may be a few unanticipated initial challenges, we are excited to see how it turns out, how it grows, and how it is received by the school community and families. 

Many thanks to BFA Fairfax Technology Integrationist, Sean Theoret for his expertise in bringing this idea to fruition. We look forward to the implementation of this opportunity as soon as we receive formal permission from Governor Scott to begin indoor events.

In the meantime, please mask up, follow health and safety guidelines, and ensure our students have a great winter season.

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Bad Auditions…On Camera

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On top of its impact on all aspects of our daily lives, the COVID pandemic has dramatically changed after-school sports and co-curriculars. Although some sports teams could come together for practices and limited competition, there was no outlet for those interested in the dramatic arts to come together and perform for a live audience. The One Act Festival performance was scheduled to be held the weekend before schools were dismissed by Governor Scott last spring. After weeks of work by our students, the festival was cancelled out of an abundance of caution. Later that spring, the auditions for this year’s fall musical (and ultimately, the fall musical itself) were cancelled. 

As the school year began, the leaders of the ensemble, Sara Villeneuve, Julie Filiberti, Christy Maynard, and Alana Torraca, were dedicated to finding a way to provide some sort of theatre arts experience for the middle and high school students who love drama. This fall, while the temperatures were still tolerable, they gathered outside on the lawn after school for theatre games. The students had some great ideas for things that they wanted to work on. They practiced improvisation, voice projection, role playing and character development – all while having fun. 

After the weather became unsuitable for gathering outside, the group went virtual, moving the games online. They did a read through of four different scripts that were specifically written to be performed on a virtual platform. A vote was taken to select the first show that the group would perform this school year. 

Virtual auditions were held with each cast member privately auditioning for the character they most wanted to play. The dramatic coaches cast all the students into the best fitting roles. A few additional character roles were written and added because there were more students interested than there were characters in the play. There are a few students working on behind the scenes support – website development, costume and prop organization, video editing and production, and publicity. Once the show was cast, the hard work of memorizing lines, developing characters, and rehearsing began.

The virtual platform brought its own set of staging challenges. They swapped challenges like voice projection with a stable internet connection. A focus on facial expressions took the place of blocking. Instead of stage lighting, there was a need to focus on personal lighting and framing on the screen. Set design swapped places with finding appropriate screen backgrounds, and detailed stagehand instructions took a backseat to behind the scenes technical controls. 

The cast rehearsed and perfected their characters and are ready to bring a live show to three live virtual audiences.

Show dates for their first show, Bad Auditions….On Camera:

Friday, January 29th at 7:00p.m. & Saturday, January 30th at 2:00p.m. and 7:00p.m.

There will be a chance for some live audience participation, so please give your support to these talented students and join into one of the shows! The QR Code below will provide access to the website with details and links for each show.

We hope to “see you” at the show!

QR Code to access the show website.

This blog was written by BFA Fairfax‘s:

Georgia Students ZOOM with NASA’s Astronaut, Zena Cardman

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Our Georgia 5th and 6th-grade students had the opportunity to learn about the importance of teamwork, persistence, and international collaboration in a Zoom hosted by NASA, Senator Patrick Leahy’s office and Vermont Space Grant. 

Astronaut Zena Cardman is a member of the newest Artemis class which is set to send the first woman to the moon by 2024. While she hasn’t been in space yet, she has been training for three years to prepare for future missions. The NASA administrator spoke highly of Ms. Cardman’s expertise in microorganisms, caves and deep sea; and their importance in future space exploration. She is young enough to not only potentially be on the 2024 mission to the moon, but potentially Mars further in the future. 

Zena Cardman spoke a bit about her education and a lot about the training to be an astronaut. She also spoke about the goal of living on the moon and eventually traveling to Mars. After seeing these slides and hearing more about the Artemis mission, the Zoom  moved to the Q & A portion of the program. Five of our Georgia 6th graders were able to ask their questions directly to Ms Cardman, via Zoom.

Eli Finch asked, “How do you become an astronaut and how do you train for space?”

Ms. Cardman spoke about the importance of following your passions, there are astronauts with lots of different backgrounds and educational experiences but they all have one thing in common: team oriented!

Sophie Nye asked, “What kind of food do you eat in space and do you like it?”

Zena spoke about trying lots of different dehydrated foods like those you might take on long camping trips. Some are not so great, but the lasagna and brownies are her favorite.

Claire Sicotte asked “Can viruses exist in outer space?”

Claire’s question had Ms Cardman answer with “we don’t really have an answer for that yet.” She recognized that a virus can live in human hosts as they travel into space, but part of the exploration of space is to find out what other things are out there including life supporting elements.

Callie Beyor asking Astronaut Carman a question.

Callie Beyor asked, “What is your prediction of how close we are to going into space and to develop something like a Space Hotel for citizens to use?”

Zena Cardman spoke about how there is already space tourism happening now. And how important collaboration between various countries and private companies making investments will be in lowering the cost of space travel for more people. She thinks that space tourism will be well within reach during the lifetime of our 5th and 6th graders. 

Our last student, Jack LaChance, unfortunately didn’t get ask his question of  “What or who inspired you to become an astronaut?” due to running out of time. However he is expecting an email soon with an answer to his question.

Thanks to Vermont Space Grant and Senator Leahy for hosting this event with NASA! A HUGE shout out to Ms. Doreen O’Brien for stepping up and helping coordinate this event for all of our 5th and 6th grade classrooms, our amazing IT and innovation specialists for their technical assistance in ensuring connectivity to all rooms, and our GEMS TV students for helping capture the event. Be sure to check out the next GEMS TV episode for more on this event!

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

Grade 3/4 Hunger Walk

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Just prior to the Holiday Break our BFA Fairfax 3rd and 4th grade students participated in a Hunger Walk where classes (in pods) walked from the school to our local food shelf to deliver food donations. Prior to their walk, students spent time in their STEM classes with Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. Myers learning about food insecurity, and those who may experience it in our country, state and community (United Nations Sustainable Goal #2 Zero Hunger). Our students were so moved by what they were learning that they pledged to make a difference. 

Students identified food shortage as a real need in our community and their hope was for all 3rd and 4th graders to be part of the solution. With a great deal of collaboration and creativity, they developed and implemented a plan to address food insecurity through the creation of our BFA Hunger Walk. The goal was to reduce hunger by bringing food items to school that could then be carried and donated to our local food shelf – in unity and in support of Zero Hunger. Participating in this authentic, meaningful learning opportunity not only raised awareness, but also fostered the development of student voice by empowering them to make a difference in their community.

The impact of this event extended far beyond the classroom. Students were so passionate about Zero Hunger that many advocated and created plans with their own families; donating money raised through the sale of toys over the summer, reaching out to neighbors and neighborhood associations raising awareness and collecting additional food items, creating banners, posters, signs, and more. Our students stepped up in ways that were unimaginable and we could not be more proud of how they embraced the opportunity to make a difference. 

Some of the more memorable student quotes that were shared while planning and walking include:

“We support zero hunger!”

“We are making a difference.”

“My muscles are sore but my heart is full.”

Our teachers are helping us change the world”.

A special thank you to Pastor Liz Griffin who helped educate our students about our local food shelf by creating a video tour (displayed below). No doubt, this authentic, inclusive, powerful learning opportunity will have a lasting impact on all who were involved.  

This blog was written by:

School Culture and a Sense of Belonging

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Having a sense of belonging and feeling welcome within your school is the foundation for developing a positive school culture. 

Taking the time to greet one another, making eye contact, and sharing a friendly comment to someone can be just what it takes to build a culture where everyone feels present. It is the power of words and human connection that can fuel a positive school culture.  


Human interaction is a necessity and research indicates that individuals thrive when such personal contacts exist. That is why it is important to plan meaningful opportunities throughout each day for students and staff to communicate and collaborate together.  It just might be the boost they need to establish a successful school day that is filled with productive, meaningful, and memorable learning opportunities.   


Our school’s Culture Committee plans opportunities for our Elementary School classrooms every month.  Although it has been different this year, as we cannot gather as an entire student body, we have been creative while planning; we have provided opportunities for pods where they can participate and share photos back and forth for their peers to see.  

This week’s opportunity was a Scavenger Hunt where clues provided allowed classroom students and teachers to work together to solve each clue and find the outside location.  Students collaborated, problem solved and then actively went to each location to be certain they had solved the clue correctly. 

It has been a great week for outside learning opportunities!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Keeping us Whole

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Ensuring all students receive as much in-person instruction as possible while maintaining health and safety in our schools has been a shared goal across all FWSU schools since we began our planning for this uniquely challenging school year.

Throughout these unprecedented times, FWSU administrators and teachers have continued to prioritize the comprehensive well-being of students and staff. We continue to internalize the Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community (WSCC) Framework as a north star for our attention to critical areas of health and wellness.

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model

The overarching purpose of the WSCC Framework is to establish greater alignment, integration, and collaboration between health and education across all school settings to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.  

FWSU schools’ initiatives for maintaining safe and healthy schools and the well-being of students and staff have reflected seven key components of the model.

Here are just a few of the alignment highlights:

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: FWSU schools have worked diligently to move as much learning outdoors as possible. Outdoor learning activities and outdoor classroom spaces have been created at each school. In addition to outdoor physical education, our students are outside, safely learning in a variety of subjects with hands-on approaches designed by their teachers. 

NUTRITION SERVICES: Since the initial closure of schools in March 2020, FWSU administrators have worked hand-in-hand with our food service providers, transportation, and families to ensure continuous access to breakfast and lunch. 

HEALTH SERVICES: Our school nurses have played both a critical and integral role in ensuring our schools could open safely in September and remain open. We are so grateful for their guidance, professionalism, expertise, and leadership. 

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL CLIMATE:  All of our schools have strengthened their approaches to social-emotional learning. Classrooms prioritize these approaches to ensure a climate that engages all learners and is responsive to students’ varying needs.

SAFE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT: Administrators meet weekly together and and with school-based team members, which represent many staff and roles. These team members, including our custodial staff, engage throughout the week to monitor safety. Our schools use all data and guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education to make timely, informed decisions about school safety during the pandemic.

FAMILY ENGAGEMENT: Engaging families in their children’s learning must always be a priority, but in our current learning contexts, it is an absolute necessity. Because some learning remains remote on certain days for all learners, K-12, schools have worked to increase and improve their communication with families, who are working so hard to coach and support many aspects of home-learning.

EMPLOYEE WELLNESS: Staffs are stretched and stressed. FWSU administrators and Leadership Teams pay particular attention to capacity issues and ensure that self-care is prioritized to the greatest extent possible. Our schools create space and time to be alert, proactive, and responsive to employee wellness concerns and needs. 

If there is anything that has been seriously challenged this year in our work with WSCC, it is our community partnerships. Although our commitment to these partnerships remains strong, many of our partners have been stretched very thin and some have experienced impacts in their capacity to partner. Due to health and safety meeting guidelines, meeting other than virtually is not possible. One of our partners, RiseVT, has continued to maintain their focus on our school and classroom partnerships through their programming and recognition.

FWSU is grateful for the continued support from RiseVT — they are making it work!

Click the photo below for a list of recognitions for our teachers and schools as they continue to demonstrate a strong commitment to the health and well-being of their staffs and their students.

RiseVT is in the process of working with Northwest Access Television to find a fun way to celebrate our teachers and schools virtually.

Stay tuned!

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum,
Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West
Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Fletcher Students Complete Community Service to Support Children and Families

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To ring in the new year, Fletcher Elementary students have finished one significant community service project and are beginning another. 
In December, students from Fletcher Elementary School collected 331 non-perishable food items as part of a school-wide food drive. Classes teamed up with the school’s parent group, Friends of Fletcher Elementary, to organize the effort that challenged students to see if they could collectively assemble 200 food items between all of the classes. 


“The food drive is really good because it helps people stay healthy and makes sure they have enough to eat,” student Lorelei Sloan said.

“You don’t always think about it but some people might not have enough food for their family and we need to help them.”


This is the first year that the school and parent group have organized the drive together with the goal of creating and distributing meal boxes to needy families within the town of Fletcher. Students discussed community service, and incorporated math skills into the drive by counting and sorting food items and graphing the totals each class contributed on a whole-school graph. The effort culminated in a virtual school-wide meeting during which students gathered the food for delivery. 

And, while the food drive has ended, the community service has not.

A group of students at Fletcher Elementary School are collecting the unmarked front covers of holiday cards in an effort to save lives. The cards will be donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital where they will be recycled into new cards and sold to benefit children’s care at the hospital. The Fletcher students have dubbed the project, Cards for Kids.

At St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, families never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food. Innovations in treatment for childhood cancer pioneered at St. Jude’s have helped push the childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent. Profits from these upcycled cards will support continued cost-free care and cancer research.

Cards donated to the school need not be separated or prepared in any way. Students will remove the unmarked covers and discard any portions with writing. They will also use the cards as part of math and writing lessons as they prepare them for shipment. Or, donors may remove the covers themselves, if they prefer.

Cards may be dropped off at the school (there is a collection box in the entryway) or mailed to: Chris Dodge, Principal, Fletcher Elementary School, 340 School Road, Cambridge, VT 05444. The deadline to submit cards is Friday, February 5, 2021.

Students are working to collect 6,000 cards, topping last year’s total by 500.

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

New Year, New Opportunities

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Moving Forward

We tentatively plan to return fifth and sixth grade students for four days of in-person instruction at BFA Fairfax and Georgia Middle School on January 11th, 2021.  Principal Justin Brown and Principal Julie Conrad’s faculty and staff have been preparing for quite a while for the return of fifth and sixth graders while focusing on maintaining the health and safety guidelines.  We will continue to follow guidance from the Agency of Education and the Vermont Department of Health in finalizing this decision.

Bright Spots

Congratulations to Principal John Tague and his team from BFA Fairfax who earned a College Success Award in 2020 based on their success in preparing students for college and ultimately career.  The College Success awards recognize public high schools that stand out in getting students enrolled in and staying with college.  BFA was one of ten public high schools in Vermont to win this prestigious honor.  GreatSchools.org cited BFA Fairfax with having 73% of its graduates enroll in an institution of higher education within sixteen months of graduation.  The organization also says that 83% of those students completed their first year of college and returned for a second year. 

Congratulations to Principal Chris Dodge and the Fletcher Elementary faculty and staff for being named a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Exemplar School for the State of Vermont.  This designation was awarded by the state level VTPBIS Team of the Vermont Agency of Education and the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion Collaboration at the annual PBIS Forum in Killington.  Fletcher’s PBIS Coordinator and School Counselor, Lisa Coale, accepted the award on behalf of the school.

Congratulations to Dorsey Hogg from Georgia Elementary and Middle School for being recognized as the Vermont Art Teacher of the Year.  Dorsey, who shines her light on many with a perpetual smile was presented with this honor by the Vermont Art Educators Association (VAEA).  Dorsey is a sculptor who transforms old books, and sometimes magazines into sculptures.

Happy Holiday Season

I continue to be impressed by the resilience that is aptly demonstrated daily by students, parents, faculty, and staff as we relentlessly navigate this historical pandemic for a period that has currently encompassed ten months.  Each individual student possesses a unique talent or gift which continues to provide a sense of joy that radiates like sunshine bringing positivity to us all.  I hope you all had a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year filled with a sense of hope for better days to come.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”   

Charles Dickens

Enthusiastically Yours,

James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

Electric Bus Update

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In the spirit of looking forward to a new year, one of the things that we at BFA Fairfax are looking forward to is the delivery of our new electric buses. While we were working through the tribulations of 2020, one of the projects we were working on in the background was the acquisition of new electric buses for BFA Fairfax.

Early in the 2019-2020 school year, BFA Fairfax won a competitive grant process that allowed us to replace two of our current buses with more efficient electric buses.  The real advantage of this award is that we would get two $350,000 buses, along with funding to support all of the related infrastructure including charging stations, training for drivers and related personnel for the cost of two comparable diesel buses. And we were due to replace two of our aging buses anyway.

Example Electric Bus: You can tell that it’s electric due to the distinctive blue wheels and bumper.

Over the past year, our partners in the grant process at the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation and Green Mountain Power have been immensely helpful. We have been meeting virtually each week throughout the past 12 months to arrange RFPs, review and approve bids, and plan for the smooth delivery of our buses and installation of necessary infrastructure. 

In August, with the approval of the board, we ordered our two buses. They are currently in production and we expect to have them delivered by the end of the school year.  I am also excited to share that, just before the holidays, the installation process for our charging stations has begun so that we can be ready for the arrival of our new busses this Spring.

Newly installed lighting and charging station bases (at no cost to BFA Fairfax!)

In the spirit of thanks after the holidays, I would like to thank Patsy Parker, BFA Fairfax Transportation Coordinator; Kate Cahalane at VEIC; and Randy Morton, FWSU Business Manager for their tireless attention to detail, flexibility and follow-through that has made this incredible opportunity possible and for bringing it to fruition.

Randy Morton, FWSU Business Manager
Patsy Parker, BFA Fairfax Transportation Coordinator

We can also not thank our drivers enough for their work to safely drive our students (regardless of vehicle type) to and from school every day!

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

BFA Fairfax High School Racial Justice Alliance

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BFA administrators and staff have been engaged in learning and conversations about equity for several years. Last spring, while we were on dismissal, racial justice came to the forefront of our students’ worlds, but we were not in a position to have daily conversations with them to help them make sense of it all. School had ended for the summer, but we knew we couldn’t wait for the fall to connect with our students about this important issue.

A group of teachers decided to put out an open invitation to have a discussion about what was going on in the world and how we could move forward together. 

“I am committed to making our school and community a safe and welcoming place for everyone.”

Christy M, teacher

Around a dozen students joined the first zoom session. They asked questions about the return to school and other topics before the conversation shifted to equity and racial justice in our school. 

“I felt it was my responsibility as person to try to better the community for the people of color in our school and community” -Jarrett, Grade 12

The students had a lot of questions and concerns. The students agreed that we should continue these conversations throughout the summer and that they would reach out to their peers to expand the group. 

“ In light of protests across the world, being a part of the Fairfax Racial Justice alliance is a way that I can help to make a difference even if that is just in the small-scale community of Fairfax. Small changes have big impacts.” -Emmaleigh, Grade 11

At first, the teachers facilitated the conversation, but somewhere in the middle of the summer, the students took over the agenda and the conversation. 

“Being a part of the Fairfax Racial Justice Alliance Group is important to me because I believe it is important to advocate for equality. I believe that now more than ever, we need to confront the racism in our country and communities and work towards a future of racial justice and equality.”

Charlotte, Grade 11

Their goal was to provide opportunities for the student body to join the discussion about racial justice in our school and in the world and ultimately improve the culture of BFA. Thus, the BFA Fairfax Racial Justice Alliance (FRJA) began.

“I feel that more needs to be done in our school and in extension our community to combat and prevent the normalized racism that is overlooked and ignored.“ -Melissa, Grade 10

Over the summer, the students continued to meet to make plans for their work and set goals. They met with consultant Rebecca Haslem to create the following mission:

 “Fairfax’s student-led initiative to address racial inequity within our community. By creating a safe space to hold conversations and educate both students and faculty, together we will form the skills to create a healthy and diverse school climate.” 

The group of students and teachers meets weekly during the remote Wednesday to continue their work and conversations. Franklin West Superintendent, Jim Tager and Director of Curriculum, Linda Keating have attended several of the meetings to offer support and resources for the student initiative.

“I joined this group because this is important to me. I believe that no one should ever be treated differently because of their race and I want to help make a difference in our school and our community” -Alaina, Grade 9

The students created and distributed a survey to the student body last week. After the holiday break, they will use their meeting time to analyze the data to help them make informed decisions about their next steps to have conversations and educate students in order to improve the school culture.

“It’s important to work in your small communities to be able to create important change, and starting at school I think is really important”.

Laurel, Grade 10

The student’s commitment to this important work is essential for all of the students of BFA now and in their future. 

“As a language teacher, my goal is to broaden and deepen students’ perspectives of other cultures and promote empathy with and understanding of other people. I am excited to see a student-led movement in our school that recognizes the importance of examining racial justice in our community, and I want to support their efforts to expand our understanding of diversity, inclusion, equity, privilege, and bias.” -Alana T., teacher

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

BFA Fairfax Music Students and Staff ROCK the 2020 Winter Concert

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As we approach the start of the new year, many would label 2020 as the “Year of Covid-19.” In our schools, however, 2020 should be labeled as the  “Year of Creativity.”  That creativity was on full display the night of Wednesday, December 16, when our Middle and High School music department put on their annual winter concert.  This year’s concert was both unique and inspirational, as it was the first-ever held in a virtual format. 

Through the tech savvy work of BFA Fairfax music educators Glen Wallace, Matt Davide, Christina Maynard, and Sarah Wolff, band and choral students have been accessing their lessons and curriculum in a virtual format this school year.  These educators’ pervasive “think outside the box” mentality has allowed for multiple student opportunities outdoors when the weather permits, or taking virtual lessons in the safety and comfort of their own homes.  

On the night of the winter concert, nearly 250 homes accessed the webinar platform, and with multiple people watching in each home, this could possibly have been the most highly attended concert ever.  Viewers were treated to a selection of songs by our Middle and High School Band and Chorus, as well as our Jazz Band.  Keeping with a student-centered approach, all selections were introduced by current music students, and families had the opportunity to write words of encouragement in between numbers.  

BFA Fairfax music students and staff have already begun to work on their next performance, a themed (TBD) concert slated for late winter/early spring of 2021.  Once a date and theme are finalized, we will share that with the community.  If the 2020 winter concert was any indication, this next concert will be an experience you don’t want to miss! 

Congratulations to our music students and staff, as well as the numerous parent and community supporters. We are so incredibly proud, and thankful for you all.

Happy Holidays!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Elevating Our Middle School Writers

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Georgia Middle School’s goal this year is for 100% of our students to develop and extend beyond proficiency as writers. We have begun this year with two main sub-goals in this process: have students writing regularly in every class and to instruct and support the ‘steal and slide’ strategy to all students.

As James Clear states in his book, Atomic Habits, “Success is the product of daily habits – not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” In order to create a culture where we all recognize ourselves as writers, we have committed to regular writing opportunities and experiences throughout our day. Students have been writing in all of their classes and learning strategies on how to make claims, support them with evidence and insight, and writing strong conclusions. Some of the great ways our student writers have engaged in sharing their learning through writing include: 

  • comparisons between a short story and a video adaptation,
  • state reports identifying key aspects of their geography and economy and comparing it to Vermont, 
  • arguments for or against “sameness” as they have read The Giver together,
  • problem solving explanations of their mathematical solution,
  • personal reflections in art class, 
  • letters to the principal about the benefits of recess in health class, and
  • daily reflections on the day’s lesson in Spanish

The investment we have made in building the regular habits with clear expectations around writing have begun to show great growth in our budding writers. Each week, teachers gather in teams to look at student work and discuss where our students are growing as writers and what areas they need to continue to develop. Discussions about how to provide specific and targeted feedback to students to support their ability to clearly communicate their thinking through the written word. 

“I think I have grown as a writer this year. This is because I have been writing more than I used to. I also learned more techniques to use in my writing. ” 

Exciting evidence of our amazing writers has come from our 5th and 6th graders. In a class-wide study of the novel, Deep Water, students have been learning about and engrossing themselves in understanding strong narrative writing. Lessons have emphasized the importance and implementation of figurative language and how strong word choice enriches your writing to help create strong imagery for the reader. Students have learned how these writing tools, along with dialogue, help to make the reader feel like they are in the story.

“I have grown as a writer by learning how to use other words for basic adjectives and verbs. For example, instead of saying said I could say replied, shouted, stated, etc. depending on the situation in writing. I hope to learn more about how to use similes and metaphors in my writing. I know what they mean but I would like to learn how to use them in all my writing/stories.”  

Recently students created their own ending to the novel. The examples of student work shows just how well our students have taken their new learning and have adapted to create their own strong voice in developing their own creative ending.

Here is a wonderful Deep Water ending from one of our 5th grade students:

We are excited to see our students blossom into writers and build pride in their written works. As we continue to pursue our goal of ALL students to develop and extend beyond proficiency as writers, we hope to inspire the next generation of storytellers as well. And if our student’s responses for what they want to learn next is any indication, we can anticipate some wonderful things from these budding writers. 

“I’ve definitely improved as a writer this year and I’m making a story about 4 kids who get trapped in a war in a different dimension and the only way out is if they win the war. The 4 kids names are Tommy, Sophie, William and Jacob and they live in an orphanage.”

“Something I hope to learn is how to write an amazing cliffhanger and a piece with impeccable detail.”

This blog was written by:

Celebrating Excellence in Education

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University of Vermont’s 2020 Outstanding Teacher 

Every year, the College of Education and Social Services (CESS) at the University of Vermont, together with Vermont supervisory unions and school districts, the Vermont Agency of Education, and the Vermont NEA, all join to honor the accomplishments of our state’s outstanding educators. 

This year’s University of Vermont Teacher of the Year consistently exemplifies all of the qualities synonymous with excellence. Kendra Myers, a Grade 4 STEM teacher, is a remarkable educator that possesses the ability to inspire through making meaningful, authentic connections with every student. She instills and models a love of learning, curiosity, and resilience through her ability to engage all students. 

Kendra routinely and tirelessly adjusts curricula to ensure that students are accessing the most relevant, meaningful content.  As someone who may appear modest or humble, she has embraced numerous new endeavors over the years with great success; having an enormous impact on how students view learning. Those who have collaborated with Kendra would use words such as student-centered, kind, compassionate, selfless and professional on all levels and in all aspects of education. 

Kendra Myers fosters the joy of discovery while modeling the utmost respect and genuine belief in all students. For Kendra, these characteristics, passions and values are evident in the classroom where you are apt to witness students highly engaged in hands-on projects, independently exploring new innovation or creatively reflecting on their work as part of the design cycle; often times simultaneously and seamlessly with little or no disruption.

The enthusiasm Kendra shares with students around learning content and new resources excites and inspires students to want more. To quote one of her students regarding their upcoming Hunger Walk,  “Mrs. Myers is helping us change the world!”

Kendra demonstrates that she is an amazing educator to the core and we are so fortunate to have this person as a member of our school and community. Congratulations on this much deserved recognition!  

BFA Fairfax’s Paraeducator of the Year

This year’s BFA Fairfax Paraeducator of the Year embodies the patience, skills and abilities that allow ALL students to learn and thrive.  JoJo Lynch continually and without hesitation will do whatever it takes to engage, advocate for, and connect with students in order to ensure their sense of belonging and success.  

JoJo will accept whatever task, challenge, or responsibility that is asked of her, and with a relentless level of determination will give everything she has to see it through to completion. JoJo is the first to offer assistance, support, and encouragement to students and colleagues alike, there is not a room that does not light up when she enters, and there is not a face without a smile whenever she shares her quick wit and humorous perspective in even the most difficult of situations. 

JoJo’s impact is not only felt at the elementary level, but rather over our entire Pre-K to 12 community.  We have not only been able to benefit from her skills as a paraeducator, but also as one of our school community’s biggest cheerleaders and fans who is willing to do pretty much anything to elevate school spirit, prompt a smile and laugh, and share that enthusiasm with others. 

JoJo is an extremely loyal colleague and friend, and an adored and highly respected coach who embraces and personifies the greater purpose of athletics in the lives of students. 

We are truly fortunate to have JoJo Lynch, this year’s Paraeducator of the Year, as a member of our BFA Fairfax family. 

This blog was written by:

THANK YOU to all of our dedicated bus drivers and safety monitors!

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This year has certainly been a change in the roles and responsibilities we have ALL taken on in our work to keep our community safe. The dedication and effort has been admirable as we witness these safe practices and behaviors daily. 

Our students and staff, along with families, have been modeling wise choices and everyone’s contribution makes a difference. 


Among our community, our bus drivers and safety monitors travel with our students daily. Welcoming students aboard and ensuring everyone is following safety protocols and current guidelines, delivering meals and student schoolwork to families within town, and monitoring everyone’s well-being as they safely transport our students to school.


It is in these times that we say “it takes a village” and our drivers and monitors certainly play a part.  We thank them for their service and for being a part of our community.

Thank you drivers and bus monitors!  We appreciate you!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Big Four Focus Feature: Writing in the Elementary Grades

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According to the Jump Into Writing! site: Jump Into Writing is “a new student-inspired, teacher-friendly curriculum that helps teachers apply the everyday skills they’ve already developed as classroom leaders toward establishing a writing workshop in their classrooms.”

“Jump Into Writing! supports teachers with

  • lessons that are easy to manage,
  • a logical sequence of routines,
  • a practical, accessible voice for real teachers,
  • carefully chosen mentor texts to inspire, instruct, and engage on multiple levels,
  • embedded support that helps teachers grow as writers while they teach.

Regardless of their writing workshop experience, teachers can jump in without feeling like they’re getting in over their heads.”

This year readying themselves with our SU-wide writing focus and some professional learning opportunities, elementary classrooms set a goal of “trying on” different aspects of the program. The “try-on” found an enthusiastic following in grades 3 and 4 in particular (for a more in depth look at implementation see the November 13 FWSU Story by BFA Instructional Coach Juliet King).

Recently I had the opportunity to not only see the program first hand, but to provide writing feedback to a small group of enthusiastic fourth grade writers in Allison MacKenzie’s fourth grade class at GEMS. The goals of the Jump into Writing Launch Unit is to get students acclimated to writing expectations, introduce/reinforce the workshop model, and ignite a passion for students to see themselves as writers.

That was my goal in coming to the classroom: to get students excited about their writing, the possibilities, and provide feedback as “one writer to another.”

Four brave and very talented writers volunteered to work directly with me via Zoom while the rest of the class listened. They were eager to share their drafting from their Writer’s Notebook. The Writer’s Notebook gives students a space to gather thoughts, brainstorm writing ideas, plan, draft, and think about next steps. 

After what quickly became my favorite experience of the year so far (I cannot wait to go back), I asked Allison MacKenzie to share some of her impressions of installing parts of the Jump into Writing program in her class this year. Here’s what she had to say:

“I really appreciate the pace of the Launch Unit and all of the tools that the students build for themselves in their notebooks.  This unit gives them some great places to go for ideas by teaching them to make memory chains, lists, use artifacts, special places, and emotions to give them topic ideas.  The launch unit also gives them a variety of structures to use, such as small moment stories and list poems.  I have noticed that the pace and structure of the program has been especially helpful in teaching reluctant writers.” 

What she shared next was what I saw with her class and was so impressed by so much enthusiasm for writing:

“My students are truly excited about their writing block each day.  They loved decorating their notebooks at the beginning of the year and this helped create a sense of pride for them. They remain as engaged as they work through to the publishing stage. It’s great to have students coming up to me, voluntarily wanting to share their stories, even if it’s not their conference day.”  

I am so grateful to Andrew, Delia, Jenna, and Mary for their willingness to share their writing with me and receive some validating feedback about their work.

As a former teacher and as the FWSU Curriculum Director, one of the most gratifying pieces of feedback I could receive from a teacher came from Allison a few days later:

“So as I sit here editing Delia’s story she said, ‘I didn’t think this was going to be good, but now it’s the best story I’ve ever written.’  She took your advice and is writing about the “other dimension.”  I’ll be sure to send you a copy when she’s done!”

I”ll be looking forward to it, Delia! 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum,
Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West
Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

BFA Presidential Scholars

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Last week, we were notified that four members of the senior class will be honored as part of the Vermont Presidential Scholars Program. The Vermont Presidential Scholars Program recognizes students for academic success, artistic and technical excellence, community service, and leadership. Across the entire state, 10 male students and 10 female students are selected based on nominations from teachers and administrators. 

Jarrett Sweet, Abigail Sweet, and Delaney Sweet-Werneke have been selected for recognition as Vermont Presidential Scholars. Riley Gallagher will receive Honorable Mention for her achievements. 

As pleased as we were to learn about their selection, we asked the students to share how it felt to them and their families when they heard the news.

Jarrett

  “I was so excited because my freshman year one of the seniors had also received the award and from that moment I had set a goal for myself that I wanted to earn the award. So it was a big goal I achieved for myself.”

  “My parents, I think were a little relieved because we were supposed to hear back on the 25th of November and it had been five days and I was getting a little sad because we hadn’t heard anything back from them. But, once we did my Mom and Dad were beyond happy with me and the hard work I had done during my high school career.”

Abigail

“I was definitely really surprised to be selected as a Presidential Scholar, it was a total shock to me and not something that I was expecting. I’m not going to lie–I danced around my house for about an hour when I found out. It just really means a lot when your hard work is recognized at such a high level, and I am very proud of myself and also feel very honored to have been selected!”

“My family was super excited and proud when I told them that I was selected as a Vermont Presidential Scholar! I called both of my parents while they were at work and my Dad’s whole class actually clapped for me over the phone! My brother was super happy for me as well.”

Delaney

“I actually checked the email in the middle of class, quietly went “yessss” and tried to start listening again. After Mrs Villeneuve was finished I told her I got it! I was very excited and super proud of myself for working hard and getting this award.” 

“Both of my parents were very excited and proud when they found out the news!”

Riley

“My parents were happy to see that my hard work is paying off.” 

“I completely agree with their proudness and acknowledgement of my hard work.”

Typically, the students are honored at a ceremony at the State House with remarks from Governor Scott and Secretary of Education French. Given the current health restrictions, there will be a virtual ceremony in January. Nonetheless, we are so proud to have these students join the list of BFA Presidential Scholars and couldn’t be happier for them and their families. Please join us in congratulating them.

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Storm Walk: An Integrated Arts Project at Fletcher Elementary School

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This year, in their Unified Arts classes, students have been collaborating on an integrated arts project. Students were charged with the task of creating a sensory walk that mimics the sounds and imagery of a storm. This project took place in their music, art and guidance classes.

In music class, students identified all of the sounds they hear during a thunderstorm. Then, they brainstormed ways to create those sounds using only their bodies. This process is called body percussion, and it allows students to engage with music inside without singing due to the COVID pandemic. 

In art class, students took these sounds and created abstract visual representations. These beautiful pieces of artwork were the result of a collaborative project where every student in the building had a hand in making them. The artwork will live in the halls of our school building and serve as a means to guide students through this sensory storm walk. 

Now that this project is completed, students will learn about their five senses during their guidance block. Students will understand that by activating one or more of their five senses, they can actually improve their ability to regulate their emotions, improve their attention and process their big feelings.

Please join us for a Storm Walk by viewing the video below:

Our hope is that through this collaborative integrated arts project, students can use this Storm Walk when they need a movement sensory break so that they can get back to class and continue learning. 

This blog was prepared by Lisa Coale, School Counselor at Fletcher Elementary. Her collaborators for this project were Art Teacher M.C. Baker and Music Teacher Jennifer McConnell.

A Belief in What is Possible

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I continue to be impressed with faculty and staff members at all three of the schools within the Franklin West Supervisory Union.  Recently I participated in a virtual quarterly data meeting with Karen Lehning, MJ Mitiguy, Haley Christie, and Lauralee Wilson from GEMS to hear about the important work that is happening in the area of mathematics at the school.  Some key takeaways included that even in the midst of a pandemic, the instruction continues to move forward for all students.  Some of the positives that this impressive group of professional educators shared is that the instructional staff is laser focused on the most powerful instructional concepts and skills, and interventions are in place for individual students who are moving forward with core instruction by providing for individual learning needs.  

BFA Fairfax Instructional Coach, Juliet King’s One Word 

“Kim Desjardins, our wonderful Elementary Art Teacher, hosted a teacher art hour where a group of us Zoomed in together to create visuals of our one words.” — Juliet King”

Another benefit that I have heard from teachers across the district is that “virtual” parent communications are a new practice that is creating more family engagement in the educational process.  Lastly, this team from GEMS spoke favorably of the positive relationships that are being forged with the flexible pivoting that is occurring among In-Person Learning, the Hybrid Model, and Remote Learning.  I feel encouraged that parts of what we all are learning as educators during this challenging time may result in some innovative practices that we can hold onto for a bright tomorrow.

This holiday season I continue to be impressed by the resilience of our students, parents, faculty, and staff as we all move forward together, doing the best that we can to provide learning for all students.  Stay safe and stay well.

Enthusiastically Yours,

James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

‘Tis the Season for Giving Thanks and Generosity

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Even during a pandemic we remember that giving is essential to our survival as a community.

Each year, we have a dedicated crew at BFA who help to organize a Thanksgiving Food Drive to provide meals to area families in need.  With all that has impacted our families during this pandemic, the needs this year were greater than ever.  However, our community continues to rise to the challenge.

Beginning in October, we asked each advisory throughout grades grades 5-8 at BFA to donate a particular ingredient to a bountiful Thanksgiving Meal.  This year, our students and families donated enough food to help feed 21 families for Thanksgiving! Our students absolutely knocked it out of the park this year. All of this would not have been possible without the powerhouse team of Ms. Black, Ms. Sheehan and Ms. Wehman, who organized, packaged and delivered meals (following safety protocols) on the Thursday and Friday prior to the holiday.  Thank you to our school nurses and our mental health team for keeping us safe, fed, and cared for amidst this whole pandemic.

Another annual tradition at BFA is The Mitten Tree, which hosts gift ideas for children in our community for the holidays. This year, the Mitten Tree will be virtual! Here is the link if you would like to participate. If you would have questions, please reach out to Amy Black, Michelle Sheehan or Nichole Wehman.

As a staff, we are also making monthly donations to support area families in need through a regular event we call $5 Dollar Fridays. Each week BFA staff are invited to make donations on Fridays to help provide holiday and break food to BFA Fairfax families. While this tradition had fallen by the wayside in previous years, it has been revived in order to give back during this time of need.

And, just for fun, the week prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday, we also hosted Spirit week for our students. For each of our cohorts in grades 5-8, we invited students to wear clothing representing their favorite sport or team on one day and pajamas on their second day. As you can see below, even in pajamas, we continue to prove that schools are among the safest places in our communities by keeping our distance, washing our hands, and wearing our masks while we have fun and learn. 

Take care, be well and stay healthy.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

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Continuing GEMS TV Express in a Hybrid Learning Environment

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GEMS TV started 3 years ago in 2017 as a a powerful communication tool to showcase and share the innovative work of GEMS students and Staff. You can click here to see the original blog post when GEMS TV was launched. In the following year, GEMS TV evolved into GEMS TV Express, a weekly newscast written and produced by middle school and elementary students working collaboratively to produce a high quality, informative, and entertaining news broadcast. You can click here to see the original blog post showcasing the launching of GEMS TV Express.

(photo was taken prior to 2020)

This year, GEMS TV production has been able to continue in a hybrid learning environment thanks to the hard work and planning of Mr. Hadd and Mr. Clow, educators in the innovation lab. Using digital learning tools, they have coordinated multiple small groups of students who attend school on different days to produce episodes.

Although most of the materials are designed in the actual classroom, GEMS TV students have also begun to do some production work at home remotely, another modification of learning in a hybrid environment. It is the hope that this will continue to improve as the classes adapt to learning remotely. Using Zoom, 8th grader Logan Grimm was able to remotely make a video that was then edited along with Mr. Hadd who was at GEMS. You can check out the blog post featuring that video here.

To ensure smart safe productions, GEMS TV has been modified this year. This includes filming episodes outdoors, so students do not have to wear masks during an episode. In addition, instead of creating weekly broadcasts, they are creating a series of specialized episodes, shared on a playlist to share with students. The smaller class sizes in a classroom setting have allowed 7th graders to take on more responsibilities than ever before; including editing under guided supervision and the expertise of Mr. Clow.

Check out this video one of the specialized episodes created by GEMS TV at the beginning of the school year as a resource used to help families tour the school in a virtual setting.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech

Creative Efforts Keep Students Intrigued at Georgia Middle School

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The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is attributed with the saying “change is the only constant in life.” While changes are almost always constant, particularly in this year, there are two other constants within our school: creativity and curiosity.

Health and safety guidelines and routines keep our students and staff safely spaced throughout their day at Georgia Middle School. Some may believe that this social distancing would prove to be prohibitive to our students being able to work and learn together. However, the combination of the creativity of our teachers, the caring of all our professional staff, and the ongoing curiosity of all our students has been a constant observation in our hallways, outside spaces, and in our classrooms. 

One of the areas that has been most greatly affected by the state safety guidelines is our music department. However, Mr. Gribnau has been both creative and flexible in providing ongoing music instruction to our students this fall. Our 5th and 6th grade students have been studying drumming and have become quite proficient in their efforts, as seen in the video below. Likewise, Mr. Gribnau fills much of his day in providing online instruction to small groups or individuals to support their growth in their instruments. 

Full video available here.

Our student’s curiosity and collective collaboration can be seen in many of our classrooms. A recent collaboration between our long-term substitute art teacher, Kait Jewett and math teacher, Mr. Coppenrath had students working to create collaborative art installation for our hallway blending the application of both their mathematical scale knowledge and artistic talents with a paint brush.

Above all, our students’ curiosity and exploration of new learning continues to be found. Our 7th grade students in Ms. Indiano’s science class recently were exploring cells under a microscope and using their iPads to capture the images that they were discovering.

Some students explored this with physical microscopes, while others were exploring the same ideas virtually through an interactive app on their iPads. The room was buzzing with excitement and discovery of the microscopic world and students were able to share their images and learn with each other from a safe distance.

Our school community definitely looks differently in our day to day operations than it has in the past. However, it is so fulfilling to see that our exceptional teachers and staff continue to be both caring and creative in finding ways to consistently spark and foster the curiosity of our students. Likewise, it is fulfilling to see the pride and excitement our students have for both the community in which they learn in as well as their new understandings of the world around them through their discovery and learning.

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

Jump Into Writing

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Co-Written by BFA Fairfax Instructional Coach, Juliet King

Last spring BFA Fairfax Elementary determined there was a need to create a writing block in our grades 3 and 4 schedules.  This determination was the result of many conversations about ways to extend our literacy block and increase opportunities to engage and provide additional writing instruction.  

In early August we were provided the opportunity to explore a new writing program called Jump Into Writing, with the support of literacy consultant and former Georgia Elementary/Middle School teacher, Lisa Driver.  Jump Into Writing is a program developed to support teachers who use the writing workshop model for writing instruction. The writing workshop model reflects current understandings in cognitive science about best practices for instruction: whole class focus lessons, individual and small group student application/practice, and individual/whole group reflection on learning.  

Jump Into Writing consists of teacher manuals, mentor texts, and additional online resources that support instruction in the three areas of writing identified by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): narrative, informational, and opinion writing. This is a program that includes resources for grades 2-5. BFA has purchased this program and is currently using these resources for grades 3-5.  Each school in FWSU is using this same approach in these grade levels to build consistency across the district.

Our initial experience with Jump Into Writing has been positive. The Launching Unit for each grade level is designed to build student agency and engagement in writing.  This unit is focused on small moment stories. Students have been learning about the writing process, teacher/student conferences, and peer conferences.

Writing workshop anchor charts in one 3rd grade classroom.
Class brainstorm of ideas for Small Moment stories.

“The program is fun and I’m glad that teachers chose to do this writing program with us.  I think that the strategies are very helpful!  I have lots of ideas to write about!”

3rd grade student

Students have been learning different ways to brainstorm for writing ideas and how to expand those ideas into their personal narratives.  Our students are actively engaged in creating meaningful stories about their experiences. 

Creating maps of special places.
Left: Creating a Memory Chain. || Right: Creating a topic list for writing ideas.

“It has been really fun to see the kids excited to write!  The pre-writing activities have helped students identify ideas for writing.  Each student has at least one activity that has inspired them to write.”

4th grade teacher
Setting goals and making plans.

“It has been helpful to look at my goals and go back to meet my goals in my writing.”

“At first when I was writing, I thought that it was pretty perfect, but when I saw some goals I could have, I realized that I could write a more satisfying ending.  The writing program is helping me learn!”

3rd grade students

After the Launching Unit, students will engage in units such as Modern Fairy Tales (Narrative Writing Grade 3), Op-Ed (Opinion Writing Grade 4), and Question and Answer Books (Informational Writing Grade 3).

We are very excited and fortunate that we have been able to implement Jump Into Writing. A big thank you to Juliet King for her effective facilitation and support as we pilot the program. We appreciate our staff’s willingness to collaborate and to provide additional literacy experiences for our students.   

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Veterans Day

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The Georgia Elementary and Middle School would like to thank ALL Veterans!  

Any day is a good day to thank our Veterans, but today, November 11th, is especially important.  We thank them for their sacrifices and the privileges we have due to their service. To ALL who have served and continue to serve…Happy Veterans Day!

This video was created by GEMS TV EXPRESS students. They have shared past assemblies honoring our veterans as well as current acknowledgements from our students and staff. Unfortunately, we could not gather in person this year to honor you and share our appreciation, but know we recognize, respect, and appreciate you.

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Fletcher Students Learn About Fire Prevention with the Help of Community Partners

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October was National Fire Prevention Month and Fletcher Elementary teamed up with the Cambridge Fire Department and J&L Hardware to provide fun and engaging fire safety education to students, despite COVID-19 restrictions.

In lieu of the typical in-person presentation by firefighters, the Cambridge Fire Department purchased a fire-safety related book for every student at the school to take home and enjoy. The books addressed relevant fire prevention topics and included, The Berenstain Bears Visit the Firehouse, for younger students, and the book Wildfire, for older students. 

“Rather than just miss a year of important fire prevention education, we worked hard to find creative ways to still get the information out there in a safe and engaging way,” Cambridge Fire Department member Kristy Wyckoff said. “Through their books, both the younger and older students learned about the equipment firefighters use, how we do our jobs, and important fire prevention tips for staying safe at home.”

For the second consecutive year, the school also partnered with J&L Hardware to offer a fire safety challenge for students to complete at home. Families were asked to complete two of three fire prevention activities including creating and practicing a home fire escape plan, testing and changing batteries in their smoke detectors, and watching an informative fire safety rap video. Families that completed the challenge were entered into a drawing to receive one of six home fire extinguishers.

“It is essential that we support students in generalizing learning across settings,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “By asking students to take what they learned in their fire safety books and in school discussions and apply that at home, it makes the learning relevant and real.”

With current COVID-19 restrictions around visitors to the school, the Cambridge Fire Department also created a video tour of the firehouse. The video walks viewers through everything from the dispatch system to the trucks and firefighters’ apparel. The video may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTmLjJ3aYsk&feature=youtu.be

Students also received fire prevention activity bags, including 9-1-1 decals, a fire safety activity book, three-dimensional fire truck building kit, and a safety pledge to sign with their families at home.

“COVID-19 has caused us to reinvent our teaching across all content areas,” Locke said. “It’s exciting to see our community partners like Cambridge Fire doing the same thing. Their creativity and willingness to be flexible means that our students can seamlessly continue their important learning about safety in ways that will make sense long after the health and safety restrictions have been lifted. That’s the silver lining. Good teaching remains good teaching despite anything else. We are very thankful to the Cambridge Fire Department for also embracing that approach this year.”

“I like to learn about fire safety because it helps keep us safe at home,” kindergartner Ryder Sheldon-Purinton said. “We learned how to make sure our smoke alarms work and how to get out of the house in case there is a fire. Being safe is a school rule and you should be safe at home, too.”

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 New Normal… ish

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Prologue
This year, teachers in FWSU are doing extraordinary things to move learning forward and keep their learners engaged in learning 5 days a week within a hybrid schedule.  The challenges are legion, but teachers face them with creativity, dedication, flexibility, stamina, and yes, humor.  Every one of our teachers has a story to tell about the teaching and learning experience during COVID-19 that is different from any other story they have told or will tell when we are finally post-pandemic. Emily Wills is one of those amazing teachers FWSU is so lucky to have. In this middle school hybrid model, Emily and her students have continued to work on finding the main idea and understanding the vocabulary in what they are reading (that never stops), giving speeches (students have a lot to say and an important voice), writing poems and letters (they are indeed writers), and keeping a Reader’s Notebook (organization matters more than ever). This is Emily’s story: funny, touching, inspiring, and real.

Linda Keating, FWSU Director of Curriculum

The New Normal… ish

School has been back in session for nearly two months at FWSU.  We’ve been building relationships and building plexiglass barriers.  Teaching and taking temperatures.  Supervising and sanitizing.  It has been wonderful to have students with us face-to-face again.  And yet, I have only seen my A and B students in-person sixteen days apiece so far this year.

Sixteen. Days. 

When I think of it that way, I am slightly less bothered by the amount of curriculum that has fallen to the wayside.  In a normal school year my seventh graders would have worked both an argument and an informative essay through the writing process.  They would have read a young adult novel together as a class and taken on nonfiction texts in small groups.  We would have learned how to speak and listen in a Socratic seminar.  

This year?  We’re two-thirds of the way through a book and we’ve painted rocks. 

So is this the new normal?

For this year, yes.  Yes it is.  

Our original plans as educators— what we would do in a normal year, in a normal classroom set-up, with a normal number of in-person school days per week, and normal staffing— must necessarily give way to this reality. 

This is so hard for us.  We are people of integrity, and we are worried not only about student regression due to remote learning last spring but also the impact of hybrid learning on our kids this fall.  Our two days face-to-face with kids each week are precious, but they feel like a Monday immediately followed by a Friday.  We welcome our students back from five days away only to send them off again the next day.  It is very difficult for us to figure out how to maximize our in-person time.  

Last week, inspired by our superintendent Jim Tager, I asked my students to choose a word that they felt could help them in school, at home, and in any hobbies or co-curriculars.  The students wrote and talked a little bit about their words.  Then I dedicated most of a class period for students to paint their words on a river rock.  

This was a hard decision for me.  Usually I wouldn’t think twice about making space in my English Language Arts class to give students a chance to be creative and have fun.  This year though, in the new normal, activities that involve stones and acrylic paints seem like a waste of time when there is so much vocabulary and grammar to cover.  

I don’t regret my decision, though.  The kids loved the chance to choose colors and plan their design.  They proudly showed each other their work.  One student yelled of his finished piece “Hey!  This isn’t bad!” in a tone of such genuine surprise that I cracked up.  It made it worth rolling around my cart full of brushes, pallets, paper towels, Sharpies, and paint like some kind of itinerant Michael’s employee… not to mention sanitizing all of these materials after each use.

As my kiddos posed for photos— in separate A and B day groupings, of course— I held up my cell phone and automatically told them to “Smile!”  They yelled back, “But Mrs. Wills!  You can’t see our faces!”  I laughed, and told them they were right, and took the pictures.

When I look at the photos now though, I can see that many of them are, in fact, smiling.  I can tell from their eyes, even though their mouths are covered with the mandatory masks.  

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Some things don’t change.  Our students are still our students, and we are still their teachers who love them and are doing our best.  Our best just looks different this year.  We must let some things go, adjust our expectations, and keep moving forward.  

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This isn’t really a new normal.  It’s normal…ish. 

And I encourage all of my amazing colleagues to be at peace with that.

Emily Wills is a 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts teacher at BFA Fairfax.  This is her 16th year in that role.  In her downtime, Emily enjoys walking, reading, and spending time with her husband and her dog. 

Changing Instructional Models Strategically and Methodically

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Safe, Smart Start

I’d like to take a moment to thank students, parents, faculty, and staff for your teamwork which has greatly contributed toward a safe, smart start to the school year. It is of paramount importance that we continue to follow the Safety and Health Guidelines that have been provided to us by the Vermont Agency of Education and the Vermont Department of Health. Please take time to review the updated, more stringent guidelines link for the most current safety information that goes into effect on November 16, 2020. In order to maintain a safe, smart start we will need to continue to work together as a community to adhere to the Safety and Health guidelines.

Return to Four Days of In-Person Instruction for Grades 5 and 6

Beginning on Monday, November 16th students in grades 5 and 6 will be welcomed back to BFA Fairfax for four days of in-person learning: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Georgia students in grades 5 and 6 will return on Monday, November 30th for four days of in-person learning: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. In order to accommodate the return of Georgia students in these two grades, we will need to create additional space to maintain the Safety and Health Guidelines for a safe and healthy environment for students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, we will continue to monitor previously mentioned benchmarks prior to November 16th and November 30th before welcoming back fifth and sixth grade students for increased in-person instruction.

The Champlain Valley Regional Superintendents Association determined benchmarks that need to be in place for grades K-6 to increase in-person instruction are as follows:

● Sufficient staffing levels.

● No or low COVID activity in our community.

● Collaboration with the Department of Health, using algorithms to support response, actions, and decisions.

● Routines are efficient, assessed, and adjusted to meet the needs in compliance with the guidance from the Department of Health and the Agency of Education.

Just One Word

In the midst of a pandemic I believe it is important to take time to look at the bright spots that surround us and I encourage you to take the time to look up amidst all the unpredictability that is going on within our daily lives. One of our dedicated teachers,

Emily Wills encouraged her 7th grade students at BFA Fairfax to create decorative stonesas a reminder of “One Word” that will serve each individual student as an inspiration. Two words that students chose that seem very compelling for this time in history include “Social” and “Acceptance.” The one word that I rely on and have selected for the year 2020 is “Gratitude.” I make the choice daily whether going for a run or a hike to think about the things that I am grateful for.

Engaged Community Partners

Allison Mackenzie, one of our professional educators at Georgia Elementary & Middle School is hosting a Zoom meeting for her students to connect with Senator Dick Sears from Bennington, Vermont. Senator Sears worked with youths in a residential setting for many years as an educator himself. This virtual connection will provide students with an authentic learning opportunity with a respected state leader, to learn more about civic responsibility.

Focus on Writing

Within the shifting instructional models that we are currently experiencing, sometimes new relationships occur which benefit students in new ways. At Fletcher Elementary School the music teacher, guidance counselor, and art teacher have formed a unique partnership dedicating time to plan project based learning activities for students, while combining their unique skill sets. Jennifer McConnell, Lisa Coale, and MC Baker created a “Storm Walk” for students allowing for instruction across the academic curriculum, while strategically sharing the arts and infusing social emotional learning into the learning experience. This exercise in teamwork lends itself beautifully to individual student growth in written and verbal communication.

Enthusiastically Yours,

James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

Keeping Healthy during a pandemic

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As a parent, when our children are ill we want to help them get better. We also wrestle with how much school or which activities they’ll miss. And, let’s be honest, it can also impact our own work, and that presents its own dilemmas. As we digest the central Vermont COVID outbreak and its subsequent impact on workplaces and schools, and as we enter into the winter months, we all need to be attentive to how our actions impact our communities.

A couple of weekends ago, my family and I were all looking forward to a Saturday morning of soccer.  It was to be our daughter’s first bus trip to an away game. She was excited for the game, and excited for the ride with her teammates. 

Unfortunately, when Saturday arrived, she woke up feeling crummy. Given the world that we are living in, it was easy to catastrophe and wonder if she had “it.” But, given the helpful guidelines that our school nurses had created, my wife and I were able to quickly remember that she didn’t have any of the big symptoms (in the red box), just some standard cold symptoms.

In our family, we come from a belief and culture of working through adversity and supporting our teammates.  We also want to support our kids in having new experiences and playing hard.  Yet, as members of the community we also believe in the need to look out for one another’s health and well-being. So, following the nurse’s guidelines and in the interest in keeping the team and those around us healthy we made the decision to notify the coach and keep our daughter quarantined and miss her first away game.

Honestly, it felt weird to stay home, when the urge was to show up and support the team. It challenged our belief in the need to send our daughter to play, or even for her to sit on the sidelines and cheer for her teammates. But, in this world that we find ourselves living in, many of our habits and beliefs seem to be challenged on a daily basis.

Then came the school week. With precious few days of in-person instruction, we were faced with another dilemma – keep her home and miss her few in-person school days?  Perhaps it was paranoia, but when I called the doctor I noticed, and mentioned, that I was also starting to feel a sore throat coming on.  Sure enough, our doctor recommended that we quarantine until we could get a COVID test, which was arranged for later that afternoon.  We would also be required to quarantine until the results were available.

So here we were, my daughter missing one of the few days of in-person instruction she had available to her, and personally being faced with the prospect of not being in the school. While still needing to do the essential work of trying to keep school running smoothly and plan for opening it up further, this was not an easy place to be. 

Now, granted, we are fortunate to have health insurance and the ability to work remotely.  But as someone who deeply values working hard but also doing what is right for our community, in this case doing the right thing felt somewhat counter-intuitive.  Instead of powering through, we needed to hunker down.  As I reflect back on the moment where I considered toughing it out, Dr. Levine’s comment during this week’s press conference about certain decisions during this pandemic seems to resonate: “what we can do, is not always what we should do.”

I am happy to report that our test results were negative and it was just a seasonal cold.  We did remain in Quarantine as recommended and our girls are back to practicing for their final games of the season. 

It seems as if we are faced with tough decisions about things that we used to consider day-to-day things.  Yet, in this new normal, just taking that time to pause, reflect on what is most important and what we are really after in the big picture might just help us with moments where we’d prefer to just do what we have always done.  Perhaps most importantly, please know that all of us in your schools will continue to support you and your kiddos as we all work together to keep one another healthy so we can all make it through this.

Take care, be well and stay healthy.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

FES Principal Models Digital Tools to Engage Students

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Principal Dodge from Fletcher Elementary School developed his Principal’s Challenges beginning last March when students began remote learning. They were a way for him to stay connected with students and families, and for them to continue to see him, as well as a way for him to support teachers’ work making connections to academics at home.


His latest challenge, the Dinosaur Book Challenge grew out of a desire to emphasize FWSU’s Big 4 goal of “Literacy Proficiency Focusing on WRITING as Effective Communication for ALL LEARNERS.” His challenges usually begin with a book that he reads aloud. For this challenge, he wanted to try to integrate some digital tools as a way to engage students more. He decided to use green screen technology so that he could immerse himself in a prehistoric world. Despite this being his first attempt at learning this new skill, it worked well and he was able to have fun. As we embrace our new learning environment that comes from remote learning, this was an effective way to model how to use new digital tools to help students learn.

The read-aloud portion of the video supports literacy in a variety of different ways. It allows the kids to watch as many times as they want. In addition, by connecting a writing challenge to the story, he was able to challenge kids to write a letter to a dinosaur, which is also the main component of the book. In the video, he talks about how writing is a great and fun way to communicate. So, he challenged students to write to Champ because the Vermont Lake Monsters have donated several Champ plush animals who are wearing baseball-themed masks. Every student who wrote a letter to Champ had their name placed and was entered into a drawing for the Champ “stuffies.” All students that participated received a latter on behalf of Champ, written by Mr. Dodge.


This latest challenge allowed him to build a love of writing in a really fun and engaging way that begins with a book that children could also find in the school library.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech

BFA Fairfax High School Welcomes New Guidance Staff

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The BFA High School Guidance department has experienced some change this year. Dave Buckingham retired as Director of Guidance after many years at BFA and Katherine McElroy stepped into that position. This left us with a need for a new high school counselor. We were fortunate to find Linnea Jahn who began working with our students in August. We asked Linnea a few questions to help the FWSU community get to know her a little better.

Where is your hometown? Brattleboro, VT

Where did you go to college? I earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology at UVM and a masters in School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling at UVM as well. 

What were you doing before coming to BFA? I graduated from my masters counseling program in May 2020 and during that time completed internships at Mount Mansfield Union High School, Chamberlin Elementary School, and the Howard Center. 

What’s your favorite school subject? When I was in high school my favorite classes were psychology and sociology. 

What’s your favorite food?  Fettuccine Alfredo 

Any interesting facts about you that you’d like to share? I am also a Swedish Citizen and speak Swedish fluently. 

What do you like to do outside of school? I love nordic skiing, hiking, and gardening. 

What are your first impressions of BFA?  This school community is filled with caring and competent educators and students that value one another, are passionate about learning, and strive to make school a place in which everyone feels like they belong. 

Linnea has been busy working with students to help them get adjusted to the new school year, helping with college applications, and organizing admissions visits and testing. She has taken on the task of introducing the Engage survey to our students. Engage is a tool that will helps us to get to know our students better and explore and expand their connections within the school. Linnea has very quickly proven to be a positive addition to our guidance department and our school.

Welcome Linnea!

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Engagement and Learning In An Outdoor Classroom

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The start of this school year at BFA Fairfax brought with it many new and creative ways to teach and learn. One of these unique opportunities takes place in our new outdoor classroom. Prior to the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Caswell applied her new learning about facilitating instruction in an outdoor environment. She presented a comprehensive plan in mid-August and immediately began constructing a learning space in the woods on our school property.   

Why do it?  What are the benefits?

Outdoor learning provides a unique opportunity for our students to engage with nature. Researchers have consistently indicated that being outside is an effective environment to foster mindfulness, an appreciation of nature, and integration and application of academic content. Additionally, this promotes greater physical health and engagement through movement and breathing fresh air.

“Children’s lives frequently feel as hectic as our own.  If you can inject a little serenity into their time with you, you will help them enjoy and understand both the natural world and themselves a little better,” (Lingelbach).

Fortunately for our school, we have many spaces to implement outdoor learning! Several resources are available such as our hiking trails, the Recreation Path, a pavilion, a gazebo, and many tent structures for students and staff to utilize throughout the day.

“Knowledge without love will not stick.  But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.” 

“Systematic knowledge can emerge organically from lots of hands-on experience,” (Sobel).

Ken Finch describes these benefits in The Risks and Benefits of Nature Play:

  • Cognitive: observation, concentration, exploration, collecting, sorting, experimenting, and building
  • Creative: imagination, make up stories, create elaborate pretend play scenarios, endless materials 
  • Physical: running, jumping, balancing, climbing, carrying, coordination 
  • Health: lower rates of illness, less obesity, better motor skills, power of concentration, improved vision 
  • Social and Emotional: taking turns, learning to respect others’ opinions, making up rules, working together, sharing discoveries, negotiating
  • Spiritual: observing, daydreaming, reflecting

ECO Daily Schedule

After six weeks of exploring and learning in the outdoor classroom, our students and staff continue to engage daily with this space regardless of the weather condition. They look forward to going outside and being hardy Vermonters on the colder and rainy days. Here is an example of a daily schedule that Mrs. Caswell uses to engage students and integrate learning both inside and at the outdoor classroom:

Day: 1 Nature

Essential QuestionActivitiesResourcesTime/location
Nature Library/Museum ProvocationWhat is Nature?Likes/Dislikes~Eco Journal- draw/write~Nature booksECO JournalsClassroom 
Morning Circle

~Discuss nature~Share own nature experiencesField
Cooperative Game

4 Corners (with nature) Use terms they came up with during discussion?Posters- Animals, plants, land, waterfield

Transition to Forest

Anchor Breathfield

Lesson in the Forest

How do we observe our surroundings? What do you hear, see, smell, and wonder?

Fox Walking Lesson

Hiking trail 
Sit Spot/JournalingWhat did you notice?
Sketch what you noticedECO journalclassroom
Closing Circle
What was special about nature?Classroom

We are thrilled to have this resource as part of our learning community and are hopeful that it will continue to be a resource after the pandemic ends. We are so pleased with the level of engagement, learning, and our students’ desire to learn outside and apply their knowledge in the classroom. 

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Resilient Students

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It is the start to a new school year and this year has been unique to say the least.  The arrival to school each day is different, classroom settings have changed, and our daily routines and schedules have been altered to assure we are implementing the safest practices for students and staff. But, even with such change and upheaval students continue to amaze us as they adapt and acclimate to their surroundings.  Always with a smile, showing flexibility, and putting forth a great effort to be successful in their surroundings and daily protocols.

Physically distancing themselves from one another…

Wearing masks throughout the day…

Working  in new classroom settings that seem so different...

It is with amazement that we observe such fortitude in our students.  They are strong, adaptive, and problem solvers when change enters their world. In times that seem so difficult, it is refreshing to be reminded that we can adapt and learn from our experiences. 

Such change has led to eating outdoors, participating in art and music outside and overall being flexible in any given moment of each and every day.  Our students are resilient and have proven to us their strength and positive attitudes this year. We are proud of them for their accomplishments!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Fairfax/Lamoille Football Thriving In New 7v7 Football Format

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The 2020 Fall high school athletic season is like no other in the history of Vermont sports. When school athletic programs began practices on September 8th, it became immediately apparent that, whether watching a cross country running practice, a soccer technical session, or an on-field football workout, COVID-19 and the accompanying safety precautions and guidelines had significantly altered the student-athlete experience.  After careful consideration and analysis by Governor Phil Scott’s medical experts and School Sports Task Force, as well as the implementation of specific guidelines and safety-related changes, all traditional fall sports were given permission to compete.  

Although most sports are taking place with little to no change to the rules of the game, one sport, football, had to be significantly altered to ensure the health, safety and well being of all participants. The 2020 version of football in Vermont high schools involves a low contact, one-hand touch, 7v7 format.  Passing is the name of the game, and whether a large offensive lineman, or speedy running back, any player is able to contribute to the scoring and defensive success of their team. 

In a typical season, our Fairfax/Lamoille Cooperative team would participate in Division 3, which is Vermont’s smallest school division.  With this year’s schedule moving to a regional format, the team has faced a schedule of mostly Division 1 teams (the largest in Vermont), and is currently making a name for themselves in the Vermont 7v7 football landscape.  Wins over traditional football powerhouses BFA St. Albans and Colchester, a 1-point overtime loss to CVU, and a mere 5-point loss to the Burlington/SBHS Cooperative team have demonstrated that Fairfax/Lamoille is a force to be reckoned with, and will be an extremely tough draw for any team, of any school size, in the playoffs.  

The Fairfax/Lamoille football team and staff have fully embraced this new style of football, have approached it as a new challenge, and are thrilled to simply have the ability to compete during this unprecedented fall season.  This positive approach is leading to success on the field, and well-deserved recognition in the Vermont football community.  They are great role models for fellow student-athletes and athletic programs, and continue to make us proud every day.

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Community Partners Provide Books and Hats to Fletcher Students

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Partnerships with two community members have resulted in Fletcher Elementary School students receiving free winter hats and 24-hour access to free books. The addition of a Little Free Library and the distribution of over 100 hand-knitted hats took place at the school earlier this month. Both were the result of locals who volunteered their time and donated materials to support students at the school.

“I’ve seen them around for years,” Fletcher resident Chris Lenox, who built and installed a Little Free Library at the school, said. “My daughter And I hiked the Long Trail in 2018. There is a Little Free Library at the trail crossing on Route two in Bolton. That was the first time I took advantage of a Little Free Library. I am a scout leader in Cambridge and a member of Rotary in Cambridge and wanted to do something to serve our community in Fletcher.”

The concept of a Little Free Library is a simple one. A small weatherproof box is installed outdoors and patrons can both take and donate books free of charge. The design of the boxes range from simple to elaborate. Wisconsin resident Todd Bol created the first Little Free Library in 2009, sparking a global movement that now includes over 100,000 book-exchange boxes in more than 100 countries worldwide.

“We don’t have a public library in town,” Lenox said. “So, I thought this would be a good way for community members to access books. We all have more stress and worries in our lives now and we need to take care of ourselves and each other. Many activities outside the home have been shuttered or don’t feel safe, but you can still disappear into a good novel. I’ve seen little libraries transformed into food pantries as well.”

Franklin West Supervisory Union, of which Fletcher Elementary is part, has created a set of “Big 4” goals for the 2020-2021 school year, including equity for all. According to third and fourth grade teacher Tracey Godin, the Little Free Library will begin to level the playing field with access to books for all families in a convenient location.

“There can be many roadblocks to families having access to books for children,” Godin said. “Sometimes, books are cost-prohibitive or simply having the time and the means to travel to buy them can be difficult. The Little Free Library is conveniently located at school where families can access it 24-hours a day and all of the books are free. It will go a long way in promoting equitable access to books for our students and the entire community.”

According to the Little Free Library website, littlefreelibrary.org, the world’s largest book-sharing movement has four main goals of supporting literacy, demonstrating a reading lifestyle, forging partnerships with families, and establishing new avenues of community service.

“Academically, children growing up in homes without books are on average three years behind children in homes with lots of books,” according to the organization’s website.

“Having a Little Free Library right in front of our school promotes our belief that literacy is crucially important,” librarian and academic interventionist Rebecca Cardone said. “Having constant access to books for students year-round compliments our school library services and increases access to books in our community which is far from public libraries. By including adult books, the Little Free Library also provides families a chance to model a love of reading and stories.”

Fletcher Elementary is also celebrating a community partnership that, earlier today, saw each student receive a hand-knitted winter hat.

Rose Mathieu is a resident of Four Winds independent living in St. Albans. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Mathieu participated in a knitting group in her community. Even after health guidelines forced the group to stop meeting together in person, Ms. Mathieu continued to make hats at home – one every day – and has created more than 250 knitted hats to donate to local groups. She has donated her wares to the St. Albans City Schools, the WIC supplemental nutrition program for families, Northwestern Counseling and Support Services, and now, she has donated one of her amazing creations for every single student in our school. 

“The hats are so beautiful,” third grader George Austin said. “It is a very kind and generous gift that will help keep all of us warm in the wintertime.”

Each Fletcher student wrote Ms. Mathieu a thank-you note using the school’s specially imprinted postcards.

Engaging community partners to support students is also a goal in FWSU’s Action Plan. 

“By engaging our incredibly generous and skilled community partners, we increase the resources available to students,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “With these two examples, those resources include books and winter clothing, but the possibilities are endless. Engaged community partners offer invaluable opportunities for our students academically, socially and culturally. Those connections make the world just a little smaller for our students.”

Fletcher Elementary’s Little Free Library is open to the community year-round, seven days a week, at any time. It is located in front of the school’s main entrance. The library is officially chartered and registered with the non-profit organization LittleFreeLibrary.org and is one of only two Little Free Libraries in Franklin County.


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

Honoring and Supporting our Educators During Challenging Times

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On Monday, October 5th educational institutions around the globe honored teachers on World Teachers Day.  World Teachers Day has a strong contemporary connection to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been a feature of project-based learning here in FWSU.  Historically, the day to honor teachers was established in 1994. It serves to commemorate the signing of the 1966 UNESCO/ILO recommendation that addressed the international status of teachers around the world through standard-setting to highlight the important contributions of the teaching profession.

This year’s theme for World Teachers Day, “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future,” is illustrated daily by the vital and complex work that teachers are engaged in during this pandemic. Our teachers work collaboratively to ensure the best possible, safe, responsive, and engaging delivery of education for all learners, within the changing contexts of school.

There is no doubt that these are the most challenging times all stakeholders in education have faced. Much necessary emphasis in education is placed on the critical role of keeping our learning communities both engaged and safe simultaneously.  Concurrently, every educator in FWSU keeps an eye to the future by regularly asking this critical question; “What are we learning now that will help us to better meet the needs of all learners in the future?” In collaboration with their colleagues, they work daily to lead continuous improvements in teaching and learning, always thinking and planning to understand what will be best for our learners as we move forward.

This year’s theme reminds us that in order to lead in the present and reimagine the future, we must focus on networking and collaboration on a larger scale than we may have in the past. Educators are learning from each other across our schools, throughout our region and our state, and nationally and internationally.  Everything we learn provides us with an enlarged understanding of strategies and solutions we can apply in our own context of local problem solving to keep students safe and engaged with as much depth and frequency as possible.

One of the ways that we can honor the complex work of teachers during these uncertain times is to ensure we are supporting them in ways that attend to their wellbeing.  A post featured in the United Kingdom’s Digital Magazine Education Technology, Teacher wellbeing: teachers need our support now more than ever, addresses some key ideas to both honor and support our teachers’ need for and desire to be at their best for our students while leading the learning and reimagining the future. Here are two that we can highlight:

  • “Communication is Important for Teacher Wellbeing”: Regular communications with our teachers help to support their wellbeing. Our administrators strive to provide teachers with up-to-date information and strategies to engage them in key decision making and also provide regular forums for questions, input, and feedback. Just as our teachers center the needs of our students to ensure responsiveness to each and every one of them, centering communication is key to supporting the wellbeing of our teachers. 
  • “Balanced Lifestyle and Strong Role Models”: Teachers in FWSU have always prioritized wellness for students and are strong role models for them.  As they ventured into uncharted territory this school year, they came with a plan to build relationships, create stronger connections, and address the social and emotional needs of their learners within the various learning contexts and scenarios. This is complex work. Administrators at each of our schools are finding ways to support their teachers’ needs to experience the joy of teaching and learning, get much-needed weekend rest, and find innovative ways to meet the daily challenges of the times that could  improve our approaches to wellness now and in the future.

The WORLD TEACHERS DAY JOINT STATEMENT FROM UNESCO, ILO, UNICEF AND EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL sums up why we are so proud of our FWSU educators and understand how important it is to support them: 

“In this crisis, teachers have shown, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops, that no learner is left behind. Around the world, they have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue.”

THANK YOU TO ALL THE EDUCATORS AND STAKEHOLDERS IN EDUCATION IN THE FWSU SCHOOL COMMUNITY. 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum,
Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West
Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The Good Citizen Challenge

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It Takes a Village
As we continue to adjust to the new normal of life during a pandemic, it is important to remember that there is still so much good around us. For this Blog entry, I have handed the reins over to Alice Scannell to share some fantastic work that she and a group of students from BFA Fairfax MS have been involved in over the past year.

A group of BFA Fairfax 7th graders stepped up to the Good Citizen Challenge (GCC) last year and continue to find ways to bring what they learned into the broader Fairfax community. The Good Citizen Challenge was an after school non-partisan civics experience throughout the school year that was sponsored by Seven Days and the Vermont Community Foundation. Students completed activities each month that fell into the categories of News Literacy, History, Government and Community Engagement. Elliot Scannell, Emma Foster, Leigh Brown, Kai Von Sitas, and Keller Greene interviewed Representative, Barbara Murphy as well as St. Albans Messenger Journalist, Michael Frett. They wrote thank you notes to emergency service volunteers, discussed national and local issues that were important to them, read books and articles related to civil rights, and completed activities designed to strengthen their understanding of state history. They even had tests for each category!

These 5 students were part of the first 100 students in the state to complete all necessary points in the challenge. Their efforts earned them all a trip to Montpelier to visit in-person with Governor Scott, but unfortunately the pandemic put those plans on hold. While the students are still hoping for time with the Governor, they have continued their civics education by morphing the program into their own Good Citizen Club. Through this club, they have continued to hold video meetings and have planned several community service projects. They baked many sweet treats for local workers who stayed active at the height of the pandemic, created an educational video about masks, and are facilitating a donation drive for the local food shelf.  As they move forward, the hope is to create community service projects that can involve as many students as who want to participate.

Here are (pre-pandemic) photos of the group interviewing the journalist, and one of Kai, Keller and Elliot completing an activity about the names of Vermont towns. One photo shows one batch of treats that went out to community businesses in thanks for their hard work during the pandemic. Below is also the group’s logo which speaks to the value of the voice of all people regardless of age, and the way democracy is influenced by more than just voting. They are an inspiring group and are doing great work!  If you’d like to support the Good Citizens Club’s current project feel free to click here.

Thank you Alice and the students in our Good Citizen Group for learning about, and giving back to, our community, state, country and Democracy.  It is through projects like these that we learn, grow and thrive, even during challenging times.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator

FWSU Joins Collaborative School Option For Fully Remote Learning

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Franklin West Supervisory Union has joined several other supervisory unions across the state of Vermont to form the Collaborative School Option offering fully remote learning for students.

The Collaborative School Option (CSO) is a supported pool of Vermont educators from each district who have committed to educating Vermont students online for the 2020-2021 school year. This Collaborative School Option is being run through Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC).

Currently, FWSU has over 70 students from all three schools in grades K-8 participating in the fully remote CSO program.

In order for students to participate in the program, FWSU has provided four teachers who have been dedicated to teaching online for the 2020-21 school year through VTVLC.  In addition, a district level coordinator is being provided to act as a liaison for our FWSU students participating in the program.

You can learn more about the CSO Program through VTVCL here.
https://www.vtvlc.org/elementary/

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech

BFA Courtyard Deck: Years In The Making

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For many years, the area outside the Multipurpose Room has been viewed as a space with great potential for outside learning and relaxation. It is contained within four walls surrounded by the Multipurpose Room, the kitchen, a high school hallway and the IT central command center. The space is sloped and typically overgrown. 

 In September 2012, the advisors for the Class of 2016 presented the idea of reclaiming the courtyard as a four year project for the class. Students cleared brush and trees from the area, but over the years, the project lost its momentum. The class ended up donating two picnic tables to be used in the space when it was redone. Revitalizing the courtyard was included in the unsuccessful bond vote in 2017. 

At the end of the 2018-19 school year, several students once again expressed interest in the courtyard project. One student, Caden Getty, through his work with the Teen Institute group, presented a new plan for a deck that extended out over the sloping terrain. He brought the idea to Science Teacher, Tom Lane who had become the keeper of the plans for the project and oversaw many of the attempts to clear and utilize the space. “It seemed like a simple solution that we could easily get done” was Caden’s initial thought about the project.

Tom and Caden worked with Facilities Manager, Tod Granger to check the feasibility of the plan and develop a cost estimate. We applied for a grant through the Berlin City Auto Group’s Drive for Education Program. In January 2020, we received a giant check from Berlin City to pay for the deck materials. We developed a plan to construct the deck in the Spring. It seemed like after years of unproductive starts, BFA would finally move forward with this project. Then the pandemic hit and school was dismissed for the rest of the school year. 

Since we had the funding, Tod Granger ordered the material in the Spring, although we were not sure when teachers and students would be able to get together to build it. Toward the end of the summer, Mr. Lane came in and built the structure for the deck.

When students returned, he used part of his class time to work with students to put on the decking and finish the project. We had extended classes for the first weeks of school, so there was time to learn some science and engage in the construction process. “With so many hands, the decking was done in no time and students got some fresh air in the process!” said Mr Lane.

The project is ready for student use and could not have been done without Caden’s idea and Tom’s persistence. We also would like to thank Berlin City, Tod Granger and the facilities crew, Mr Lane’s students and Caden’s Teen Institute Mentor, Joanne Saunders. It took a village and twelve years to get this project started. With this portion of the deck complete, Tom and Caden are talking about ways to expand the deck to provide more space, and add gardens, and stairs, and…

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Georgia Middle School: Starting the Year Off Write

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Writing happening in Ms. Vierra’s class. 
Writing happening in Mrs. Hardy’s class. 

Our vision at Georgia Middle School is that all of our students will be able to communicate their ideas and thinking through their writing. Students are being asked to write regularly in EVERY class! We have used writing assignments in the first weeks to get to know our students and support their belief that we are all writers. 

Collectively teachers are working together on introducing and supporting students to be proficient with the ‘steal and slide’ strategy. Teachers have been working together to look at how to be consistent in supporting students and providing targeted feedback to our students about parts of this strategy. 

The first two areas of focus are: 

  1. “Eye test”: The “eye test” is helping students remember that every response has a beginning (claim), middle (evidence or insight), and an end (conclusion).
  2. Writing a claim. Writing a claim can be a challenge, so we are encouraging students to learn how to ‘steal’ the language of the question and ‘slide’ it into their claim so that they have a strong statement to defend or explain further in the rest of their writing.  

We are encouraged to see such strong evidence beginning to pop in each class from art class to science class. We look forward to continuing to learn more about each of our amazing students from their writing throughout the year. 

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

COVID-19, Disruption, and Public Education

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In March, when Governor Scott directed all schools to close and provide remote instruction for the remainder of the school year, my heart sunk.  I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of this directive.  As a public school administrator for the past twenty years, I have never encountered a situation that required our society and schools to immediately change the ways we educate and support students and families in such a rapid manner.  

This pandemic is like no other disruption I have encountered in my professional career.  The depth of its impact has been profound. Like previous other economic or technological disruptions, COVID-19 required rapid innovation and re-imagining of all processes and procedures.  

One historic disruption was the attack on September 11, 2001 of the World Trade Center. This horrific event had a widespread impact on our collective conscience, forced an immediate need to change, and served as a powerful reminder that we are a community.  I remember this event like it happened yesterday and have never forgotten the impact. It changed the way we travel, our safety procedures, and significantly impacted military service members, their families, and first responders. Many of us have a direct connection to this event, and I know many individuals from our community that proudly served our country in its aftermath.

Another significant disruption during my career was the invention of cellular devices. The evolution of the internet began this disruption, but widespread availability of cellular phones and mobile devices rapidly impacted our society, economy, and educational systems.  This disruption rapidly altered the landscape of education, teaching & learning practices, and educational systems in a blink of an eye. These innovations continue today and served as the backbone of our ability to transition to remote leaning.

It is now September and we have reopened school using a hybrid instructional model to support a safe and smart start to the school year.  As I reflected this summer about the past months and the impacts of COVID-19 on our community, I am struck by several commonalities these disruptions share. 

All three of these global disruptions highlighted both positive societal impacts and challenges. The most profound challenges were the increased marginalization of the most vulnerable members of our community.  Families that lack reliable broadband access, mobile devices and food security were most adversely impacted.  Families grappling with mental health challenges and addiction shared that access to their support systems was full of barriers. These are not new issues in Vermont, but this experience has exacerbated the inequities in our state.

At the same time, I witnessed so many positive responses and actions during this pandemic.  Our staff responded immediately and embraced a digital learning environment, learning new ways to provide content, and utilizing great creativity to teach and make connections with students and families. We quickly mobilized and delivered daily meals and technology devices to families in need.  Our nurses and local pastor coordinated food drives and staffed our food shelf to provide nutrition to anyone in need. I was also inspired by the strong sense of community.  So many individuals from our town reached out with offers of financial support, food donations, and gratitude for our efforts to respond during this time.  

Like any major disruption, public schools are adapting and will continue change. I am grateful for the ongoing support, the difficult lessons learned, and an increased sense of community. I am hopeful that we can continue to embrace and implement meaningful innovations that improve outcomes for our students and families as this once in a lifetime event comes to an end.  Be well. 

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

With COVID-19 Guidelines In Place, BFA Fairfax Kicks Off The Fall Sports Season

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After a summer of intense planning and preparation, the 2020-21 school year has gotten off to a positive start.  Upon the release of the Fall Athletic Guidelines from the Vermont Agency of Education in coordination with the Governor’s Task Force, BFA Fairfax is committed to offering all of our traditional sports this fall.  High School Football, Cross Country and Soccer began practices on September 8, with their Middle School counterparts following suit on September 14. With that being said, things will look quite different this fall, and will involve a coordinated effort among students, coaches, staff, and the greater community to have a safe and successful athletic season. Some notable differences will be:

  • All athletes, coaches, and game personnel must wear a mask at all times, including during game play.  The one exception is cross country running, where athletes may remove their mask to run, as long as they are staggered and maintain appropriate physical distance. (If a student has a documented medical exemption from wearing a mask, that will also be allowed in athletics).
  • All fans must wear a mask at all times to attend athletic events, and maintain appropriate physical distance between family groupings.  Inability to adhere to this expectation will result in removal from the event. 
  • Fan attendance will be limited to the current Vermont outdoor gathering limit of 150.  Player and coach immediate family members will have first priority for attendance, and non-family member students will ONLY be allowed to spectate if we have not reached the 150 cap.  If BFA Fairfax events exceed 150 regularly, we will move to a game voucher system, where each athlete and coach from both teams receives two game vouchers for attendance.
  • Games/Meets will begin once the Agency of Education moves all Vermont schools to Step 3 (approximately the end of September).
  • Athletes’, coaches’ and officials’ temperatures will be checked daily upon arrival at practices and events.

Additionally, all BFA Fairfax coaches have been required to complete a heightened level of Covid-19 specific training to ensure the safety and well being of athletes and staff.  More detailed information regarding sports and specific protocols can be found in the BFA Fairfax MS/HS Covid-19 Athletic Handbook at the following link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PVKQXxIn–GZntRXvor_k8jJ-O73To0zmB_1pXMf01A/edit?usp=sharing

BFA Fairfax looks forward to seeing our athletes on the fields and our spirited fans on the sidelines.  It’s going to take some effort on the part of everyone to stay safe, but the more carefully we adhere to the guidelines and expectations, the greater chance we have of a long and beneficial fall sports season.  Mask up, keep your distance, be positive, and GO BFA FAIRFAX!


Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Fletcher Elementary School Welcomes New Staff

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Fletcher Elementary School is welcoming several new staff members to its dedicated team this fall. 

Courtney LaCasse, Nurse

Courtney LaCasse will serve as the school’s new nurse. Ms. LaCasse is a graduate of Southern Vermont College with an associate’s degree in nursing. She most recently served as a registered nurse in the Milton Town School District and in a pediatric medicine office in Burlington. Ms. LaCasse is a licensed associate school nurse who also has experience working as a maternal child specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She joins the Fletcher School staff full-time this fall, in part thanks to grant funding targeted at reducing school-based exposure to COVID-19. 

Katy Jones, Paraeducator

Kathryn “Katy” Jones joins Fletcher Elementary as a full-time paraeducator. Ms. Jones is a 2020 graduate of Northern Vermont University – Johnson, with a bachelor’s degree in music education and flute performance. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in inclusive childhood education, a combination of elementary education and special education. She served as an after-school teacher for the Lamoille North Supervisory Union at Johnson Elementary for two years. She is the recipient of the United States Marine Corps Award for Musical Excellence and the NVU-Johnson Music Department Award. Ms. Jones will support a variety of students with academic and social-emotional learning.

Diane Dayvie, Paraeducator

Diane Dayvie will also serve Fletcher Elementary as a paraeducator. Ms. Dayvie worked at the school as a lunch and recess supervisor and substitute last year, and joined the team full-time this fall. Previously, Ms. Dayve was a home daycare provider and owner of the Fletcher General store.

Brian Westcom, Custodian

Brian Westcom has recently been appointed the school’s full-time custodian. Mr. Westcom has worked at the school part-time since 2018. He is a 32-year veteran of the US Army where he rose to the rank of platoon sergeant and served one tour in Iraq.

Chuck Ploof, Chef

Chuck Ploof is Fletcher’s new chef. An employee of Genuine Foods, the school’s new foodservice provider, Ploof formerly worked for a worldwide food service provider, at the University of Vermont Medical Center, serving meals to more than 800 employees each day. As part of the Genuine Foods team assigned to Fletcher, Ploof is solely responsible for the school’s breakfast and lunch programs.

We would like to welcome our new teammates! Here’s to a fantastic year!

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

Welcome Back!

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This week completes our first week of school for the 2020-2021 school year!  It was a return like no other. Or was it?  There are still some things about a new school year that not even a pandemic can obscure, change, or take away from us here in FWSU.

Bus drivers are still cool…

It’s still a special time for all of us… Kids still smile with their whole faces. No mask can hide that…

Recess, outdoor games, and PE still rule…

Kids are still makers… And our teachers are still creative and full of enthusiasm…

Nurses still make us feel safe… New teachers are still bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives…

And “Back to School” time is still a beautiful time of year…

We look forward to continuing the school year with all the joy and enthusiasm we felt this week. We know there may be challenges ahead, but we also know that our collective expertise, supportive relationships, a love of learning, strong communities, and “a belief in what is possible” will guide us through and inspire us to keep moving forward…together. 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum,
Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West
Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to
THE FWSU STORY.

First Week of School, Safe Smart Start

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Hybrid Instructional Model

It is with great excitement, compassion, and joy that we will welcome back students this week as we officially begin the 2020-2021 school year with the Hybrid Instructional Model.  As hard as it is to fathom; students have not been in the school building for nearly six months.  As a career long educator, I can emphatically state that our dedicated faculty and staff members are so excited to welcome all 1,963 of our talented students back to school.  Things will certainly be different; however I think it is important to note that our professional educators have been busy planning collaboratively for the return of our students over the past two weeks, in order to provide a “Safe Smart Start” and rekindle a joy for learning.  

One Word

It was an honor and a privilege to speak with our faculty and staff at the 2020 Virtual Convocation.  I have encouraged each of our faculty and staff members to choose “Just One Word” for the 2020 school year.  It is a practice that I have participated in since the time the author Jon Gordon wrote the book entitled “One Word That Will Change Your Life.”  I truly believe that selecting their own “One Word” will provide clarity, purpose, and motivation as a significant adult, to make the year 2020-2021 the best year possible.  My “One Word” for this year is “gratitude” and my heart is full knowing that this new year will offer unique yet exciting challenges.  I am committed to share an attitude of gratitude for the mere opportunity to work with students, families, faculty, and staff that together will rise to greatness.

The culture of positivity that our group of educators can bring to our students this year will create a joy for learning beginning this week, after an unprecedented and inordinate amount of time away. I believe that the relationships that are built this year will be important and life-changing.  I look forward to visiting all of our classrooms often and cannot wait to hear each faculty and staff member’s “One Word”.  One powerful thing that I witnessed a year ago was walking through a large school where all of the faculty, staff, and students were able to share their “One Word” and explain the origin of the thought process they used to create that special word. 


James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

The FWSU Story: Fletcher School Creates Week-Long Send-Off for Graduates

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Fletcher Elementary School sixth graders pose for a group picture earlier in the school year. Back row, left to right, are Collin Wolfe, Jayden Pratt, Cody Gelineau, and Justus Cota. Front row, left to right, are Maggie Short, Eli Tinker, Jude Buskey and Sabrina Nadeau. Photo Courtesy of Finest Image Photography

Fletcher Elementary School graduated eight sixth grade students on June 12, but not before a week-long celebration of the group’s accomplishments. With current health guidelines prohibiting large in-person gatherings like graduation, students, families and staff took to the internet with one celebration of the graduating class each day during the week. 

On Monday, the school published individual profiles of each student, one about every hour. Students were asked a series of questions that included talking about their biggest accomplishment, the type of job they see themselves having in the coming years, what they are most proud of, and what advice they would give incoming sixth graders. The profiles were published to a variety of internet locations, including the school’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Fletcherelementaryvt/.

The graduates’ families joined in the fun on Tuesday by contributing photographs of their students from birth to present. The photographs were compiled into a visual and musical tribute by sixth grade classroom teacher Lorrene Palermo. The video may be viewed here:

Staff members at the school remembered students on Wednesday with a video tribute filled with stories and fond memories, while Thursday’s celebration came in the form of a special song penned especially for Fletcher Graduates by Vermont artist and Pacific Records recording artist Chad Hollister, who incorporated students’ names and attributes provided by the school into a custom song that he then performed live-to-video and was released on the internet. View the song here: 

Friday’s limited in-person presentation of diplomas included an individual processional for each graduate through town and included two cars from the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, a firetruck from Cambridge Fire Department, and one of the school’s busses. Staff members lined the front of the building and cheered students on as they arrived. Each graduate received their diploma and a box of personalized graduation cookies that included a diploma, 2020 number cookies and their name.

Fletcher sixth grade graduate Cody Gelineau holds a box of personalized cookies he received with his diploma lst week. Photo: Chris Dodge

This year’s Fletcher Elementary Graduates include, Jude Buskey, Justus Cota, Cody Gelineau, Sabrina Nadeau, Jayden Pratt, Maggie Short, Eli Tinker and Colin Wolfe.

Jude Buskey with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Justus Cota with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Cody Gelineau with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Sabrina Nadeau with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Jayden Pratt with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Maggie Short with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Eli Tinker with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker
Colin Wolfe with sixth grade teacher Lorrene Palermo and Principal Chris Dodge. Photo: Sarah Tucker

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: Summer Time!

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Another year is complete, albeit an unusual one for sure! The summer season is now upon us and this past week’s warm weather is welcomed. Many thanks to the students and families for the perseverance and grit these past few months. The summer vacation is now a time to explore nature, splash in lakes and pools, and catch fireflies.

Students were asked to try their best to learn from home and families were asked to support this work the best they can. All in all, I would say given the circumstances that it was a success. Schools will now turn and focus on what fall will look like. Stay tuned for information throughout the summer as the model is worked and re-worked based on guidance from the Agency of Education and Department of Health. 

To the seniors of BFA, the eighth grade students at GEMS, and the sixth grade students at Fletcher Elementary, good luck in your next chapter. Too everyone, have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable summer vacation! 

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand

Last Day of School!

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On this last day of school for 2019-20, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all of YOU; the families, students, staff, teachers, para educators, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, administrators, board members and the FWSU community at large. We have conquered the unimaginable together and proven to ourselves just how much we are capable of. We are so proud of every one of you. And we will return next year stronger and ready to face the challenges ahead!

Update on Food Delivery
As the school year ends, we have learned that we will be able to continue providing food to children aged 18 and under at least until June 30. Please contact your Principal for more information. For BFA families, if you are interested in picking up food starting June 11, please complete this form: Food Needs June 11-30

Have a great summer, everybody! Congratulations to the Class of 2020!!

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior Abby Sweet.

When did you start school at BFA?
I started school at BFA in 7th grade transferring from Fletcher Elementary School.

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
I don’t have one specific memory from my time at BFA, but I have many. I loved playing sports, hanging out with my friends before and after classes, and talking with teachers about a variety of things.

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I will be going to the University of Vermont as a Mathematics Major.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
If I had to shout out any of my teachers it would be my advisor Mrs. Fink. She has been there for me since I started high school, and helped me with everything from college essays to helping me realize I really liked math and wanted to continue learning it.

Which changes since COVID-19 closed schools have caused the greatest stress? 
One thing that caused me stress was studying for AP exams at home. Another thing was starting my summer job again while I was “in-school.”

Which changes have led to some relief of stress?
I now don’t have to worry about waking up late and being late for school, which stops a lot of my morning stress.

Which people/relationships are helping you through this time? 
My friends have been helping me through this time a lot, especially since we are all feeling the same thing together, along with my family for having to put up with me all the time now!

What are you doing to maintain connections with school friends, particularly the members of your senior class during school closure?
My friends and I have Zoom calls and talk almost like we would at school. We also go outside and social distance while hanging out, which is fun and sad at the same time.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Senior Spotlight – Celebrating BFA Class of 2020

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All BFA Fairfax Seniors were invited to participate in a virtual interview for the blog. Today we are happy to celebrate graduating senior Kieran Shea.

When did you start school at BFA? 
I started at BFA in preschool.

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
Probably going to New York City this year. It was fun to see the city and hang out with my friends. 

What are your plans after graduation?
I’ll be attending Plymouth State University and majoring in Social Studies Education (5-12).

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
I’d like to shout out Mr. Emery. He has taught some of my favorite classes I have taken in high school. He always makes class enjoyable even when the material gets a little boring.

Which changes during COVID-19 School Closure have led to some relief of stress?
I haven’t been tired all the time. I have gotten the best sleep I’ve had in years. 

What are things that are bringing you some joy/fun (e.g. activities, hobbies, experiences) during this period? 
I have been running quite a bit, and I’ve also been fishing. 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward