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

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 Kiana Labor.

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

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
Picking a favorite memory is not easy, I have spent 12 ¾ years at BFA. There are certainly many memories to choose from. I think some of my favorite memories were cheering at basketball games, specifically the playoff games and the Pink games. I loved the student energy and I really felt a sense of community at these games. 

What are your plans after graduation?
I am attending the University of Tennessee Knoxville this fall as a pre-professional exploratory science major.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
It is really hard to pick just one teacher, I have had so many teachers that have impacted my time at BFA, however my advisor Sara Villeneuve has pushed me to be the leader I am today. She was not only my advisor, but also the advisor for NHS and I have worked closely and admired all her hard work over the years. 

Which changes have caused the greatest stress for you during school closure?
I think at the beginning what was causing me the most stress was not having a traditional graduation, but as I have been part of the planning process, I am excited for the upcoming celebrations. 

What are things that are bringing you some joy/fun (e.g. activities, hobbies, experiences) during this period of school closure? Why do you think that is?
I am normally very busy, I come home to change quickly and do homework and I am off to my next practice or event. The past three months have allowed me to spend a lot more time with my family, which I am thankful for, especially since I am going to be out of state this fall.

What new learning and new perspectives have you gained and how will you integrate them into your life moving forward?
I have always been a planner, I have been planning and envisioning what the end of my senior year would look like for years.  My plan was not what happened. However, what this pandemic has taught me is to be adaptable, to live life more day-to-day, and to be thankful for what is happening in my life at that 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: Fletcher School Champions Creatively Alive Children

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There is beauty all around us, but never more dynamic than when the aesthetic beauty of a child’s artwork meets the heartfelt beauty of wanting to make the world a better place. This collision of tangible art and a more abstract desire to make a positive contribution to the earth and its inhabitants is the backbone of Fletcher Elementary’s grant-funded work, “making the world a better place, one piece of art at a time.”

Earlier this school year, Fletcher Elementary received $1000 in Crayola art supplies and $2500 in cash to support the art program through Crayola’s partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the Championing Creatively Alive Children grant.

Fletcher teachers and children were thrilled to see the Crayola art supplies arrive. Many of us watched the truck be unloaded and the stacks of boxes piled high in our school office. If you looked up the words “motivation” and “inspiration” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of that exact moment at our school. Smiles, giggles, excitement and gratitude abound. The children couldn’t wait to get started and the new art supplies provided both historical favorites and experiences with a variety of new media.

Guided by Art Teacher M.C. Baker and School Counselor Lisa Coale, the students’ first theme focused on kindness. “Be Caring” is a schoolwide expectation in Fletcher, and what better way to show caring than to be thankful. Since this project took place around the Thanksgiving holiday, students and staff expressing gratitude seemed a logical springboard for our artwork. Our students created “kindness rocks,” palm stones that portrayed stunningly vibrant designs that represented the aesthetic beauty of incredible art. After wrapping the stones in tissue paper and designing individual gift boxes, our entire school gathered for a kindness rock exchange. Students gave their palm stones to each other, and at the same time shared why they are thankful. This was truly a celebration of kindness, gratitude and amazing art that was possible only with the support of this grant. Gatherings such as this are the backbone of community-building in our school, but never with such flair as when we added the creativity of artwork, in which our children took great pride and a sense of accomplishment.

In subsequent weeks, students shifted their focus to noticing beauty in the natural world and capturing its essence through art. Since curricular integration, particularly literacy, is a goal in our school, our Art Teacher, M.C. Baker worked with classroom teachers to create books with each classroom. Classes worked with themes that corresponded with our Four Winds Nature Program, a hands-on science initiative that immerses children in the wonder of the natural world. Classes explored themes such as color in nature, animals, sound, community togetherness, Vermont and space. Students created artwork and associated writing that have been professionally reproduced in full color to create books that children and families will cherish, and which help children be more mindful and purposeful about seeking out and appreciating the beauty of our world. Teachers appreciated the strong connection between art and literacy. Knowing that not all students learn the same way, and there are multiple pathways to understanding and demonstrating competence, this work has solidified creative efforts as a means of teaching virtually any student any subject and letting them show their understanding.

Supporting students in showing and demonstrating kindness, as well as finding and appreciating beauty in the natural world, was our goal. And we made it! Through amazing conversation, art and collaboration, our students are both better artists and people, as are the adults. Thanks to Crayola and the NAESP for your support of our school and children. No doubt we will all reap the benefits. The children really are our future. The future of art. The future of kindness. And the future of beauty.

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: 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, Claire Bushey.

When did you start school at BFA?
I started at BFA in 7th grade. I had previously attended Fletcher Elementary School up until 6th grade. 

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
I would have to say some of my favorite memories are from lunches with my friends, whether it was working on calculus homework or playing games like telephone.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will be attending UVM as a member of the Honors College in the fall. I am majoring in chemistry.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
I would like to give a shout-out to Mr. Pfeiffer, who was an amazing teacher in all the classes I had with him. He saw my captivation with chemistry and was willing to give up his free period during the first semester of this year to do an independent study with me in Chem 1C. He continued to work with me even after we finished the typical Chem 1C work. He took even more of his time to review some old topics that he felt would benefit me next year in college, and then teach them to me. I am incredibly grateful to him. 

Which changes have been pleasantly surprising about the closure of school due to COVID-19? 
One big change from working from home with both my parents being home as well, has been a lot more family time. I’ve appreciated being able to go and talk with one of my parents when I’m taking a break from school, or being able to go downstairs and explain Hamlet and what’s happening to my dad as I read it. 

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 used several different methods of staying in touch through the quarantine. We’ve done quite a few Zooms and occasionally after a class Zoom we will stay back and do work together. We have also, as the state’s restrictions have eased up, had some socially-distant gatherings where we have been able to see each other in person. 

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

Letter to FWSU Families

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June 1, 2020

Dear FWSU Education Community,

The first day of June is typically a day we think of upcoming graduations, summer vacations, and wonderful weather. This year on the first day of June there are other things weighing on our minds, as well.

As we work to navigate the process of educating and providing services for the students due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are also faced with significant impact on our students and adults within our community on the recent killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor among many other Black Americans. As we are witnessing across the country and here in Vermont, this event continues to impact many people, and is shown in protests calling for justice spreading across America and the world. 

We recognize how painful this senseless tragedy is for many members of our community.  While conversations about race may be difficult to have, it is essential that they take place in order for our community and our children to move forward. It is never too early or too late to begin these discussions with your children. As a supervisory union, it is important for us to continue to commit to our shared values that: diversity is an asset; every individual has equal human value; and that a secure and safe environment and peaceful conflict resolution are essential to learning and to society. Below are a couple resources to support conversations. 

Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race

100 race-conscious things you can say to your child

We are committed to ensuring equity for all students, and understand that ridding our system of inequalities connected to race, gender, language diversity, socioeconomic status, and other forms of marginalization, is key for all students to thrive in a global society. Our schools are committed to a culture free from bias and inequity. Together we can provide opportunities for our children to effect change. We need to create and foster environments where every person feels welcomed, accepted and valued. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Click Here for a PDF of this Letter.

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, Owen Senesac!

When did you start school at BFA?
I started in 2007. 

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
My 6th Grade class trip where my grade went to a suspended obstacle course.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will spend 3 years at Castleton University studying business.  

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
Mrs. Skerrett! She was the coach of GEO BEE team, which is quite possibly the best after-school club. 

What are you learning about other people (both close others and not-so-close others) as a result of the present situation? 
I’ve learned that people (or at least me) enjoy the simple things associated with everyday routines, like a walk or a morning conversation.

What new learning and new perspectives have you gained, and how will you integrate them into your life moving forward?
Through watching and reading news and articles I see that life can be a lot worse than missing graduation, prom, etc. So moving forward, I will be much more thankful for the simpler things I have.

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, Madison Fitzgerald!

When did you start school at BFA?
I started school at BFA in preschool. I’ve been at this school my entire life!

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
My favorite memories will always be the Fall Musicals. I was in the musicals ever since the sixth grade, and I loved them. They definitely had an impact on myself as an actor and as a whole. It taught me to get out of my shell and essentially be myself.

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I am attending Champlain College in Burlington as a Game Art major.

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
This is very hard, since I loved all my teachers. I’d have to say Mr. Lane! He has always been there to help me and I feel like I can talk to him as a friend and mentor rather than a teacher. He loves what he teaches, you can always tell! He gives very good insight and has helped me become both a better builder in Set Design and a better person overall. You can always sit down and have an engaging conversation about anything with him.

What are things that are bringing you some joy/fun (e.g. activities, hobbies, experiences) during this period? Why do you think that is?
I have been drawing, doing embroidery, and Animal Crossing! I’ve always been super creative and loved art. That’s why I’m continuing it in college. As for Animal Crossing, the game is just very wholesome and it’s fun to create your own little island. 

Which people/relationships are helping you through this time? 
My family, friends, and boyfriend have been helping me greatly! They are very good listeners, and always come to help when I am in need. Sometimes it is hard to keep in touch despite COVID-19 due to work and such, but we still manage! They come through with animal videos when I need them most. It’s been hard for all of us, but we’re in this 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. 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, Mahlia Parsons!

When did you start school at BFA?
I first started school here at BFA when my family moved to Fairfax six years ago.

What is your favorite memory about your time at BFA?
The opportunity to travel to China in 2018 is an experience I will never forget. I was able to go into the schools there, connect with the students, and sit in on a few of their classes. Every person we met was so welcoming and just as excited to meet us as we were them. To get to meet the students, staff, and learn about the education system in their country was so unique and engaging. Some of the students I met while there I am still in contact with to this day, two years later.  

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I will be attending Castleton University as a part of the Honors College in the fall where I will be majoring in Political Science. 

Do you want to give a “shout-out” to one of your teachers? Who and why?
Ms. Thorsen. Not only is she a wonderful person, she was the first to tell me to push myself to greater heights I didn’t know were even possible for me to achieve. Her wisdom and guidance in both the realms of school and life have been invaluable and I am so fortunate to have had her as a teacher and mentor over the years. 

What are you learning about yourself as a result of the coronavirus-related shifts in your life? How have you come to learn these things?
I am coming to see that I am a self-starter, one that will not rest until things are completed to the best of my ability, and earlier than the given deadline. I don’t need to be in a classroom setting to have the motivation to complete my work with the same urgency and level of effort had the closure not have happened. The desire to continue to challenge myself to produce the same quality work as I would in a traditional setting has made itself evident and it is something I look to take with me wherever I go. 

What new learning and new perspectives have you gained and how will you integrate them into your life moving forward?
The one thing I can say I have learned from all this is that we all must be grateful for what we have, where we are, and the people in our lives as tomorrow is not guaranteed. There is so much uncertainty in the world right now that it has given me a new appreciation for those who have supported me and helped me get to where I am today. I am making sure now more than ever to let people know what they mean to me and how much I appreciate them.  

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: Fletcher Students Grow Hope by Planting Seeds

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Fletcher Elementary School students are growing both hope and vegetables thanks to a collaboration with the Northwest Healthy Roots Collaborative and RiseVT.

Fletcher Elementary School students Connor Macaulay, grade 2, Cailin Macaulay, grade 4, Patrick Lawton, grade 2 and kindergartener Cole Lawton, prepare to plant bean seeds they they received as part of a distance-learning collaboration between the school and local wellness groups. The project aims to connect students throughout Franklin and Grand Isle Counties and teach about healthy, sustainable and local foods. 

On May 7, Fletcher Elementary families received packages of bean seeds to be grown at home, along with instructions for inside and outside planting, links to gardening videos, seed sprouting ideas and additional activities for at-home learning that teaches children about soil types, animals that live underground, the soil cycle and how to begin creating their own soil through composting. 

One of the goals of the project is to create a sense of unity between Fletcher students and other Franklin and Grand Isle County students who are participating in a common activity, despite being separated by the school dismissal. Additionally, the project aims to help students understand the importance of a resilient local food system where families are connected to, and nourished by, local farms and food.

“There has never been a more important time for our communities to feel connected, healthy and hopeful,” Rachel Huff, of the Healthy Roots Collaborative’s Farm to School Program, said. “We feel planting a seed is one of the greatest ways to place hope in a positive future. We hope by growing this small bit of food at home students can feel grounded and in control in these ungrounded times.”

According to Huff, sparking an interest in the local food system and eating healthy food through hands-on, authentic learning is also an essential part of the project. A total of 3000 seed packets are being distributed to children in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.

“The act of growing things, particularly plants that produce food in the end, is a rich and meaningful experience for kids,” Fletcher’s third and fourth grade teacher, Tracey Godin, said. “Academically, it promotes scientific and mathematical observations and processes that will strengthen students’ abilities to be critical thinkers. Students learn to care for the plants and understand their needs, which promotes responsibility, and they look forward to the end result of their hard work. With this project, it also gives them a sense of unity with other children and families in our area in a time when we have to be apart.”

Godin’s classroom has participated in a multi-year partnership with the Healthy Roots Collaborative that has brought them to local farms and introduced farmers into the classroom.

The Northeast Healthy Roots Collaborative is a regional food systems program supporting the growers, producers and consumers in Franklin and Grand Isle County. They provide food-related education, access and infrastructure. RiseVT is a wellness program based at Northwestern Medical Center that encourages wellness through healthy food choices and physical activity.

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: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 5)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the fifth installment in the series.

Allison MacKenzie, GEMS Grade 3 Elementary Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…
The greatest loss I have felt in this experience has been the lack of in-person connection to my students and colleagues. Amazingly enough, I miss the jolt that my morning alarm clock gave me each day — that feeling that my own children and my students are depending on me to guide them through the day. I long for that urgency I felt in the early hours of the morning that demanded a certain routine that has changed significantly. I miss greeting my team-mates and co-workers in the hallway and the morning exchanges we would share about our lives. I miss seeing all of our students’ faces come into the building each day to greet us in their chosen way. The community that is built in the walls of a classroom is truly amazing. I miss that. Teachers and students develop relationships with one another that allow us to gauge each other’s moods and needs for the day so that we can respond accordingly. I miss that sense of knowing what is going on for them. The greatest silver lining is that we work in a district that values the social and emotional well-being of our students above all else. I still feel the presence of that value every day. I feel that we have remained connected as a school community and that we are still doing our very best to respond to our students’ needs and to be there for them through this trying time. I am incredibly impressed by the work their families are doing to keep them connected and engaged.

Looking forward…
I really can’t wait for that first day when we can all be together again. When I think about our first day together, I am most looking forward to simply greeting everyone. I know that moment when students re-enter school is going to be one of the most amazing experiences I will have had as an educator. I have always loved and appreciated being able to do this work, but I appreciate it on a completely different level now. We have been asking ourselves, our students, and our families to be patient. We have sent the message that we are all in this together and that we will get through this. One of my favorite quotes that was shared by another teacher in a video GEMS made was “Every storm runs out of rain.”  I think it’s going to be incredibly powerful for all of us, students and staff alike, to know that we did, in fact get through this…that this “storm ran out of rain” and that we are all together again.  

Hopes and dreams…
My biggest hope for my students is that they stay happy and healthy. I hope that they talk about their feelings and that they reach out for support when they need it. I hope they remember to breathe fresh air everyday and to smile.

I hope they stay engaged with school as much as they can. I hope they find the value in helping out at home.  I hope they continue to learn.

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: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 4)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the fourth installment in the series.

Sara Villeneuve, BFA Fairfax High School English Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…

My regrets are really for my seniors. As a class of 2020 advisor, my heart breaks for their missed experiences. Prom, class trip, spring sports, drama festival, class day, alumni banquet….there are so many events that mark the end of the year and focus on celebrating our seniors. This class has had a challenging four years of school…they are the first class to graduate with proficiencies and we have “tested” out all sorts of new initiatives with them. They are so resilient and willing to roll with the punches. This blow just feels like too much. They will be the first class to finish school under a Stay at Home order. I know we will do everything that we can to celebrate these students as a school and as a community. It has forced us all to focus on the things that are really most important. I love their creative thinking and ingenuity. No doubt, they will design the most unique graduation ever. I will never forget them!

So much to miss….

I sincerely miss being with students and colleagues everyday. I am an extrovert so I always love being around people! I thrive on the social interactions of education. I miss seeing people in the hallway, laughing with students, and chatting with colleagues. I think learning is a very social process and I try to design my courses with a lot of student engagement, discussion, and peer interaction. Remote learning has made this very challenging. I love it when we can have our “Online Video Classes”. Just seeing my students laugh, interact, ask questions, and talk about their learning brightens my week. I miss my classes, NHS meetings, Coffee House planning…all the other fun stuff that’s also part of my job at BFA. 

Hopes and dreams…

My biggest hopes are that all of our students and their families stay safe and healthy and that our world will be able to return to normal soon. I hope we can all look back on this and find we learned just how strong we are as individuals and as a community. I see the hard work, dedication, and thoughtfulness of our students, parents, and town(s). Everyone is doing their best to get through this difficult time. I hope students will recognize their personal growth and tenacity. 

Jensen Welch, BFA Fairfax High School Math Teacher

Things have changed…

The greatest loss is the daily interactions I get to have with my students and colleagues, the interactions students get to have with their peers, and the social learning and non-verbal communication that takes place in all those interactions. I’m continually telling my high school students that they must communicate with me using their words how they are feeling because we are no longer in a room together where I can read their facial expressions or body language to see if they are having a good or bad day or see if they understand the math we are doing or not. The greatest silver-lining for me personally has been finding the time to exercise more! Each morning when I might have been heading to the shower, getting ready for work, and then out the door to school, I’ve instead been heading outside for a run or walk, or I’ve been doing some online yoga.  More exercise has made my heart and my head happier and healthier. 

And changes are stressful…

It was very stressful at the beginning of the school dismissal when the information and the expectations were changing so rapidly. Everyone was doing their best to adapt and modify on the fly, but the whiplash of the situation coupled with the sense of loss was overwhelming at times. Luckily, I think we’ve all settled into more of a routine. The other stress that has not gone away despite a routine being established is the challenge of being a working parent. It is hard trying to find balance and harmony in doing my job, guiding my own children through their remote schooling, and finding time to also do fun family activities. I was pretty good at compartmentalizing my “home” world and my “work” world before, and now everything is all jumbled, so I’m switching from responding to a student email one minute, to asking my youngest daughter how many ways she can break apart 9 the next minute…it is distracting for all of us. But I think everyone has been super patient and understands how challenging this is for all.

Hopes and fears…

My hopes for my students are that they gain some confidence in themselves and see how much they actually know and how much they can accomplish on their own. I’ve been so impressed with most students as they continue to work through content, ask questions, revise practice work, and they just keep going! They should all be super proud of themselves! I am of course then worried about those few students who I have not heard a lot from. For some I can’t address from afar the barriers they are facing that are preventing them from doing their school work; for others I seem unable to motivate and support them without being face-to-face. For a few I’ve been able to reconnect with, I think they appreciate the extra effort teachers make when we reach out individually, and the accommodations we’ve made to help make sure they can be successful from home. I am less worried about the academic progress of these students and more worried that they are feeling disconnected from their peers and a supportive school environment. But I believe in resilience and hope everyone is finding their way through this health crisis.

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: Teacher Appreciation Week

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Dear Educator:

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Thank you for all you do to support the students and families across FWSU. 

We are in difficult times and you have risen to meet the ever-changing challenges. On any given ordinary day the number of tasks you take on, both big and small, to support students is huge. Now, add to that remote teaching and learning. Teachers are truly amazing people.

As I write this I cannot stop thinking about the teachers I had growing up. Teachers who believed in me, supported me, and challenged me. Teachers who gave me direction for my life, and who are the reason I became an educator. You are doing that with your students. You are making a difference!

I encourage you to take this week to pause and reflect on the difference you are making. This is especially important in our current situation, where your creativity, patience, and dedication has shown through. 

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 

~Christopher Robin to Pooh, A.A. Milne

Thank you for all you do!

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 3)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the third installment in the series.

Heather Brown, GEMS Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…

Even though we are connecting with students everyday, my greatest loss is actually seeing all of my students everyday. I miss greeting them in the morning and when they enter my class. I miss having a student run up to me to share about their book or that they finished their book. I miss them giving me recommendations for books. I miss joking around with them. I miss seeing their smiles when they are celebrated. I miss sitting down next to them to help them with their assignments. It’s overwhelming to think about how much I miss them. There is so much you know and understand about your students when you are face to face with them. Are they having a good or bad day? Do they need something? It’s hard to know these things without seeing them everyday, without being able to read their facial expressions and their body language, without being able to talk with them and ask them how everything is going. I hope my students know their teachers are here for them if they need anything, even though we are not seeing them every day. I firmly believe families and teachers need to work together to educate the whole child. A silver lining to this remote learning is how the bridge between home and school has strengthened. Communication and parent involvement in their child’s education has increased dramatically. Families and educators have truly had to work as a team to navigate this new way of learning. Everyone has learned new tools to communicate with each other and learn together. I think as we move forward and beyond this difficult time, the home to school gap will have drastically narrowed. These relationships will emerge much stronger than they were as a result of this pandemic.

I wish I’d known…

I think about those last few days before school was dismissed a lot. Everything happened so quickly. I wasn’t prepared to only see half of my students that Monday after learning about the dismissal. I found it difficult to balance giving my students honest and realistic information, while keeping their worries at bay. I always say goodbye to my students when they leave school for the day, but for some reason, when I said goodbye that last day, I could feel it was going to be goodbye for a while. As I watched them walk down the stairs, I could feel emotions arising like it was the last day. If I had known, I would’ve wanted to tell my students how amazing they have been this entire year and how proud of them I am. I would’ve shared how much I was going to miss them and how confident I am in their abilities as they transition to seventh grade. And I would’ve made sure they took home more books! 🙂

Hopes and dreams for students…

I am so proud of the way our sixth graders have navigated this new way of learning. So many of them have matured and taken on this huge responsibility with ease.  I’m impressed with their independence and willingness to persevere through challenges on their own. I hope my students remember to take these skills along with them into their future, to remember this time, to remember they possess these skills deep within themselves, and that they can accomplish anything.

Lorrene Palermo, FES 5/6 Teacher

Looking back…

On March 17, our last day together, my students prepared materials for younger students to have during their learning at home, organized materials for those classmates who were not there, and prepared the iPads for future learning. It would be the last time those busy hands and chattering kids would be in our classroom; the last time I would hear the sounds of students for the remainder of the school year. Somewhere deep inside I just knew that we would not be returning to school to finish our year together, but I put that feeling aside and hoped that we were. COVID-19 changed everything that day. 

Finding balance…

We all went home, and for four weeks I tried to find a balance with work and home. During our Maintenance of Learning phase, I worked hard to make contact with all my students via a phone call and lots of messages in Schoology to assure them that I was still there for them. My work days became longer and more stressful because of the amount of screen time.  Not having a set schedule made it so that days started to blur together. Some days were better than others, but many days I found myself emotionally drained by noon. Those were the days I needed to disconnect from technology and go outside and get fresh air or just go take a nap. Once expectations were set for the Continuity phase of our remote learning, I was able to put a plan in place and find my teaching rhythm again. Planning is becoming more fluid. and I am working hard to utilize my colleagues, my village, to support my needs and those of my students. The staff meeting is now a highlight in my week to see friendly faces who understand what I am going through. 

Finding joy in the smiles and voices of children…

Just before spring break I returned to school to make copies and gather materials for teaching and found the silence of school, during what would have been a normal day, to be unsettling. No school should ever be quiet. While I was there I had picked up some artwork for some of my sixth grade students who were working on an art project they had started with the guidance counselor. With art and paint, I set off to the students’ homes and dropped off the supplies so they could finish while they were at home. The smiles on their faces said it all. Seeing my students each week via a virtual meeting or just talking on the phone is what has brought me joy during this unprecedented 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: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 2)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the second installment in the series.

Emily Wills, BFA Fairfax Middle School Language Arts Teacher

A new rhythm to teach to….

My teaching and planning rhythm has changed quite a bit. It is challenging to plan for a half-hour of work, four times a week, and still feel as if I have any fidelity to our curriculum and high-leverage standards. However, I am also very mindful that I want students and families foremost to focus on health and well-being in this stressful time. I am adjusting by planning out roughly how a lesson would have proceeded in my 55-minute in-person class, and then getting creative about how I can reduce or alter work to hit at the most essential targets. I usually plan now for a full week at a time, since weekly plans are being sent home to families on Friday. I used to feel more nimble in my teaching and adjust the next day’s plans based on formative assessments and how today’s lesson went.  

Taking care…

One of my must do’s for self-care during this time is walking my dog.  Fozzie and I go out every day to stretch our legs, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. I usually do this as a break late-morning.  This also gives structure to my work day and gives my eyes a break from the screen. I stop checking school email at 7pm each night, because otherwise I just become glued to my computer and start to get headaches. I also need that stop time as a guideline for myself to “turn off” for the day. My students have the structure of me posting an update to Schoology each day with that day’s work, helpful links, and other information. It gets them into a routine like I would have in my classroom, listing the day’s agenda on the whiteboard. It also keeps me organized.

It’s new by design…

The new learning I have gained from this time is that I do some activities in my units of study that are not crucial for addressing the high-leverage standards or curriculum. They aren’t busy work, but they aren’t a streamlined way to teach and learn a skill. I have had to pare down what I do during this time of remote learning, and it’s giving me a new perspective on how to run my lessons when we’re back together at school. I will try to use more focused strategies, as I am being “forced” to do now. I also will go back to using humor and laughter as a tool to connect to kids, which is much harder to do over Schoology! 

JoAnn Harvey, GEMS Elementary STEM Teacher

Connect and learn….

I have really enjoyed getting the chance to thoughtfully respond to each of my student’s questions and comments. I would rather do this live, but this virtual teaching takes away the distractions of being in a large group and allows me to just “be” (virtually) with one student at a time. It has made me develop an ability to be more present and thoughtful. I am responding to all of students’ comments and questions in great detail, creating videos for them to respond to, and leaving voice memos. It’s a lot of putting things out there, and I’m not sure how it’s working. 

Missing so much…

I so miss interacting with my students, listening to their questions, building, creating and problem solving together. I miss their smiles and hugs. Teaching is all about connecting for me, and the human connection is gone for now. The greatest loss has been the physical energy that interacting with students provides me both emotionally and psychologically. The energy and responses, and sometimes non-responses, are what make how I teach work. It’s almost like doing stand-up without an audience. I always knew I was a social person, but now I realize how much I really need the feedback from students and the energy I get from interacting with students and colleagues on a regular basis. I just want to catch up and see everyone. I want to listen to all of their stories about how this whole experience went for them. I want to talk, play, and laugh together. Based on this experience, I know I will appreciate human interaction at a much deeper level than ever before.

Hopes and dreams…

I hope the big take-away is that the best instruction is instruction that integrates all content areas and connects to real life experiences–done in collaboration with colleagues, it’s possible!

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: Fletcher Students Keep Social-Emotional Learning Alive At Home

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Be respectful. Be responsible. Be safe. Be Caring. 

For students at Fletcher Elementary School, these are words to live by. Part of the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach to social-emotional learning, the expectations apply across settings including the classrooms, halls, cafeteria, playground, busses and on field trips, among other locations. They are proactively taught, modeled and practiced throughout the year, and students are recognized for following the rules at both the classroom and school level.

But, what happens to all that work when students are not in school?

“The beauty of our school-wide expectations is that they are universal,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “Being respectful, responsible, safe and caring is the right thing to do in any setting. In many ways, calling the rules school-wide expectations could be a little misleading because this is how we want our adults and children to conduct themselves regardless of where they are. In school, at a movie, in the grocery store or at home.”

Being flexible has been the key to keeping this work alive in Fletcher. Shortly after the Governor dismissed students from on-campus classes, the school issued a design-a-token challenge. During a typical school year, students would ordinarily be recognized with a small wooden token sporting the school’s falcon mascot and the four expectations for following the rules. The tokens would come from a staff member. However, with students at home, that isn’t possible in the same way.

“We asked students to design their own PBIS tokens on paper using our four rules, but applying them to things they might do at home, like helping cook dinner or getting ready for bed,” Locke said. “While we’d much rather be working with our students in person, the stay-at-home order is a brilliant opportunity for students to practice generalizing these great practices to settings beyond the school building. Simply put, we didn’t want to lose momentum and we wanted to help students understand that they can be behavioral rockstars anywhere they go, in school or elsewhere.”

Tokens designed by Maggie Short

In a letter to families, the school challenged children to include the four rules on their self-designed tokens, but gave full artistic license to the students. Entries included designs such as rainbows, trucks, family portraits, and one student drew a picture of himself helping out with after-dinner dishes. There were more than 50 entries from which three winners were randomly drawn to receive prizes provided by RiseVT, a wellness group that emphasizes physical activity, good eating habits and mindfulness, based at Northwestern Medical Center. Winners received cookbooks and water bottles.

Token designed by Cody Gelineau

“Designing the tokens at home reminded me of our four expectations to be respectful, responsible, safe and caring,” sixth grader Cody Gelineau said. “It reminded me that the rules are not only good for school but for home, as well. It was a good reminder that doing those things everywhere you go is what you should do, not just at school. Plus, I love art and it was a fun way to remember how to conduct myself.”

Token designed by Autumn Bushey

“Supporting students in making meaningful connections between school and home is really important,” Special Educator Sarah Tucker said. “Helping students see our expectations as universal – across settings – supports them in making meaning of what is taught here at school, even when we can’t be in the building. And, it makes sense to connect this work to our relationship with RiseVT because of the strong interconnection between physical and social-emotional health.”

For the past two consecutive years, Fletcher Elementary has received recognition as a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Exemplar School by the Vermont Agency of Education and University of Vermont. Even before the school closure, the school supported students in setting the bar high for behavior at home by challenging students during school vacations and over the summer. The Exemplar designation is the highest level of recognition within the PBIS system, signifying a reduction in rule-breaking behavior and an increase in academic performance.

Token designed by Quinn Mauck

“During the school closure, our teachers and staff have become even more creative and passionate about staying connected with students and moving forward with important learning,” Director of Curriculum Linda Keating said. “Now, more than ever, developing and maintaining routines and relationships is important, and Fletcher’s work to advance PBIS and continue to support the social-emotional learning and wellbeing of students beyond the school building is a great example of their commitment to children and families.”

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: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 1)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 

Kristie French, BFA Fairfax Elementary Preschool Teacher

Missing students…

One of the things that I miss most is greeting my kids in the morning: seeing their excitement as they arrive at school each day; saying good morning, giving my kids a high five or hug and letting them know that it’s going to be a great day.

Staying connected with students to nurture relationships…

Teachers in the elementary school are using Seesaw to connect with students and families. Preschool learning happens through social connection and learning through play. Being away from school makes building and maintaining relationships tough. To support continued social connection I try to post lessons that encourage children to engage with nature, their families and continue to learn through play. Each week we have shared topics to support conversation between myself and the students, story read alouds, hands on math/literacy and video messages to each child. My goal is to continue to stay connected to each of them in a fun and engaging way. Families are trying to find a balance between work and homeschool now so it’s important to keep learning fun and limit stress if possible. I’ve been including fun links to jokes, songs, and activities to encourage fun while away. I’ve also included videos in my assignments to support parents in teaching their children, along with supplemental materials for the added time that families have at home with their children.

Silver linings in difficult times….

Having to be at home has given our family more time to connect, spend time together, talk and be silly. My youngest son and I have begun exercising together. My older son and I have enjoyed getting in some driving time and listening to music and chatting. As a family we have watched movies, worked on home projects, and done some fishing. This extra time together is something I appreciate the most about this whole thing.

Danielle Drogalis, BFA Fairfax Middle and High School Math Interventionist

Relationships, relationships, relationships…

I am totally missing my students these days!  The middle school/high school age groups are what I live for. They are humorous, clever, and creative and the world is always better because they are in it. I have been trying to stay connected with them by attending their Zoom classes, creating instructional videos to support their math learning, writing emails, hosting advisory Zooms, texting and sending videos to my advisees telling them hello and offering a bit of chat. I love hearing back from my students. It truly makes my day.

Getting by with a little help from my friends…

Staying connected with colleagues is incredibly important. It helps me feel grounded and part of a team as we strive to do what is best for students in these strange times. I get to see my colleagues weekly in full faculty and smaller groups of Zoom meetings and just seeing their faces and hearing their voices is strength-giving. As a support teacher, I am always re-evaluating how I can best support my colleagues and they always welcome my partnership. I am very grateful for my colleagues and teams at BFA Fairfax.

Pleasantly surprised… 

I’m not going to lie…I love not having to use part of my day for travel. I have found that removing travel has added time to my day in a way where I can move seamlessly from one task to another.  It may be more that the transitions are more fluid that I feel like I am less likely to import unnecessary stress into my day. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson in this ‘Great Pause’…that I can choose to welcome calm and breathing regularly into my day. I don’t have to step into feelings of stress simply because those are most common and familiar.

And when we’re together again…

Oh man! When school is back I look forward to the reunion that is US!  I bet the energy in the rooms and halls will be full and exciting, and we will all be relieved to be together again and at school. Imagining the first days of all of us being back fills my heart and even makes me a bit emotional as I try on the thrill and relief of us all being back together again. It will be sweet for sure and tears will be OK!

Linda Keating

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

For FWSU School Closure Resources for parents and guardians, visit the COVID-19 page on the FWSU website.

The FWSU Story: Spring Break

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This is not our typical April Break, but in these difficult times, taking a break to take care of ourselves and each other is really very important. We have opened many new pathways to engage and interact with each other to stay connected while apart. We appreciate all of you so much. Our educators, our students, our families, and our communities are doing extraordinary things during these extraordinary times. We see you! 

Here are some messages of encouragement for you all from our amazing school administrators! 

Mr. Walsh: “Thank you for your ongoing support and flexibility during this challenging time. I am so appreciative of all our staff that have been so flexible, hard working, and focused on supporting all students and families. The video of our staff and the video of our students reminds me how fortunate we all are to work and live in a community that is committed to supporting each other. We will get through this challenging time because we are in it together. A big virtual hug to all of you!”

Mr. Brown: “This situation is stretching all of us to explore what it means to be teachers, learners, families, and community members. It is inspiring to see, especially in this time of crisis, how committed we are to helping one another. We will make it through this together!”

Ms. Witalec-Krupa: “The strength, resiliency, patience and creativity of our students, staff, teachers, advisors, coaches and families during this time is inspiring. We can’t wait to see you all again! #WeWillGetThroughThisTogether”

Mr. Tague: “I am proud of the adjustments that teachers have made to make this transition to remote learning, the work that students have done to stay connected and engaged with school, and the support that families have provided to their students, the school, and each other. No one could have imagined how different school would be when we returned from our February break!”

Mr. Dodge: “It is both moving and inspiring to see how our entire staff, and all of FWSU, has stepped up to the plate during this challenging time. Everyone from foodservice to support staff to bus drivers and teachers has shown an unwavering commitment to children and families. Many are doing this work while supporting their own families at home. I have never been more proud to be part of FWSU.”

Ms. Conrad: “There is nothing more inspiring than watching a community pull together during times of crisis. The FWSU and Georgia community is blessed by the inspiring ways in which each member of our community is pulling together to problem-solve and create flexible solutions to care and take care of each other.”’

Mr. Emery: “Be well, rest up, and continue to be #GemsStrong”

Meal Delivery Continues During Spring Break

Deliveries will continue during break to children who are currently receiving schools meals. There should be no change to service. If you would like to begin receiving the daily weekday delivery of breakfast & lunch for your child(ren) ages 18 and under and enrolled students over 18, please email your district’s school principal. Email addresses are listed on the FWSU COVID-19 webpage.

FWSU Continuity of Learning Information

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March 27, 2020

Dear FWSU Families,

As you learned last evening, Governor Scott has closed schools to in-person instruction through the end of the school 2019-2020 school year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are disappointed that we will not be connecting in person and on campus, we will continue to work closely with you to provide the safest, best education for our students. Thank you for everything you are doing during these challenging times! 

On March 23 our schools began their remote learning as part of our Continuity of Education Plan (Maintenance) for our students. This current plan is intended to address maintaining connection and engagement through various enrichment opportunities at each grade level to make sure students still feel connected to a sense of school community. This phase will continue through April 13, as we work with the Agency of Education to transition to the Continuation of Learning Plan.

The Continuity of Learning Plan will be a new phase of partnering with you to continue educating students remotely, and it will continue through the end of the school year. Information will be shared with students and families as we receive planning guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education. 

As always, the health, safety, and well-being of our students are our first priorities. We will continually work to improve our meal delivery system and provide childcare for essential workers. Our educators will continue to refine our systems to support learners who had previously been receiving services while school was open. 

As noted, we continue to receive ongoing guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education necessitating updates to families. This letter, along with other resources for families, including health information on COVID-19, lunch information, and childcare for essential workers are located on the FWSU and school websites under the heading “COVID-19.”  This site will provide you with access to the most up-to-date information. 

During our current phase, we’d appreciate it if you took a couple minutes to complete this brief survey, and additionally you may receive a phone call survey as well. This information is critical in helping us design the most effective and impactful learning experience.

Thank you again for all you’ve done through these challenging times. We miss the students, and we recognize the struggle this has been and will be moving forward. We appreciate your partnership in this work, and we remain available to support you. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Governor Phil Scott Dismisses Schools For In-Person Instruction for Remainder of 2019-2020 School Year

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Good evening. This evening Governor Scott announced that Vermont schools will remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year as a result of the COVID-19 virus. While we are disappointed that we will not be connecting in person and on campus, we will continue to work closely with you to provide the safest, best education for our students. Our meal program and remote learning will continue for the remainder of the year. We will provide more information over the next few days as we gain direction from the Agency of Education. As we continue to navigate this unprecedented event, rest assured that we are thinking about all of you as we work through the many decisions that need to be made. Thank you.

Montpelier, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott today directed schools to remain dismissed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Districts will close schools for in-person instruction and be required to implement continuity of learning plans for remote learning. This extends the Governor’s previous directive dismissing PreK-12 schools from March 18 to April 6. 

This decision was made in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education in the continued effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. To minimize disruption to students’ learning, the Governor’s order directs school districts to come up with plans for distance learning by April 13. 

“The education of our students and the bonding and learning experiences they have at schools are tremendously important, so I fully appreciate the impact and difficulty of this decision,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I also recognize it will be challenging for some schools to implement remote learning through the end of the year. But I’m encouraged by the creativity I’ve seen from administrators, educators and parents already, which is why I know, together, they can rise to the occasion.”

Governor Scott also noted that some school districts have also set up creative and critically needed programs to offer onsite care for their students whose parents are working on the frontlines in this response. “These educators and staff who are finding ways to support these families have been critical to our COVID-19 response efforts and I am so proud and appreciative of their hard work, creative can-do attitude and their willingness to step up in this moment of service. These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system.” 

The Agency of Education will provide technical guidance to districts on how to implement continuity of learning plans by the end of the week, specifically looking to address challenges around equitable access to learning opportunities, Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities, continuation of school meals, and school attendance and school calendar requirements. 

The Department for Children and Families will also provide updated reimbursement provisions for providers who are not currently offering services and for providers who are delivering child care through this health crisis. 

Download the Press Release here.

Read the full directive here:  https://governor.vermont.gov/content/directive-5-continuity-learning-planning-pursuant-eo-01-20

For the latest information and guidance relating to Vermont’s COVID-19 response, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.