The FWSU Story: GEMS Alumnus Returns for Artist Residency

Georgia Elementary school had the great fortune to welcome back alumnus Sarah Frechette and partner Jason Thibodeaux recently as they immersed themselves in 3rd and 4th grade to produce and facilitate a student created shadow puppet show for all PK-4th grade students and staff to observe. As part of the “Shadows Rock, 2019, Puppet powers” residency at Georgia Elementary it was an amazing learning opportunity and fabulous show!

SARAH FRECHETTE is an artist, puppeteer and founder of Puppetkabob, a puppet company that has toured nationally to schools, libraries, theaters, museums and festivals. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut’s Puppetry Arts Program. Since then, Sarah has developed three full length productions, toured internationally, and received the prestigious UNIMA citation of excellence.

As Artistic Director of Puppetkabob, Sarah blends science and history with puppetry arts to create a dynamic and interactive theater experience. 

“Every year when we get the opportunity to work with Puppetkabob (Sarah and Jason) they bring a unique element of excitement, engagement, and creativity to the classroom. The students look forward to creating their puppets and it brings them a sense of ownership and pride when they finally get to see their puppet on the big stage. This is an amazing experience for the students.”

Erin Young (3rd Grade teacher)

Sarah studied marionettes in Germany with Legendary Master Puppeteer Albrecht Roser and has performed with marionettes across the U.S., Germany, Austria and China. She toured with the marionette rock-opera Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty with Phillip Huber, for which Sarah made the puppets costumes.   

For studio work, Sarah has a background in Live-Action puppetry and Stop-Motion animation creating for galleries, theaters, television and film. Sarah has designed puppets for multiple stage productions and is a teaching artist for the Vermont Arts Council.


  • Students will learn how to blend hand-held lights and old school camera techniques to create a form of shadow puppetry that flows like film.
  • Students will improve drawing, writing and communication skills thru lessons with Puppetkabob.
  • Students will learn about shadows, the oldest known form of puppetry, and how to bring this traditional art form into the 21st century.
  • Students will learn about visual storytelling and how to use the basics of perspective and style to highlight their stories objective.
  • Students will safely incorporate their bodies along with the handmade shadow puppets to show connections, illuminating responsibility and respect to the GEMS community.

“The shadow puppet program that Sarah and Jason bring to the classroom is amazing!  Students get to show off their creativity in a unique way and share the experience with the school during the final performance.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sarah and Jason many times, and students are always engaged and motivated during the whole process!”

Heather Sikorsky (3rd grade teacher)

The following were themes created and presented by students:

  1. Birds eye view of Vermont (Life cycle, pride, Bald Eagle)
  2. Our Super Selves (Our contributions as citizens)
  3. Out of this World (Me of the Map)
  4. Our community Heroes and Heroines
  5. The 5 Senses (Sight and Sound)
  6. Day in the life of a kid; Year 3019
  7. Kids just wanna have fun (Vermont Seasons)

“What a wonderful performance and opportunity for students in our school. Sarah Frechette and Jason Thibodeaux have a unique ability to inspire every student by creating excitement in their learning.  Their facilitation of student work, in such a short period of time, through engagement is masterful.  The final shadow show is phenomenal.”

Steve Emery (Principal)

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: BFA 8th Grade Students Build a Society

When BFA 8th grade students returned from February break, they were introduced to a new project designed by their teachers Ashley Barnes-Cota, Dana Hamm, Ben Psaros, and Melody Wilkins. The students were tasked with designing a country and the society within it. They were responsible for all aspects of their country including Health, Economy, Population, Peace and the Environment. They earned points in these areas as they completed the day’s activities and challenges. The goal was to achieve a balance between the five areas and obtain the most total points as a country.

After students chose their groups, they were randomly assigned an area on the globe for their country. During the first three days of the project, the teams decided on their country name, were given the size of their country to create a map, and used their population to create a population density map. They researched the plants, animals and resources of their country and determined their main export. At the end of the first week, the students created Mission statements that included UN Global Goals.

Sample Mission: Illyria is committed to preserving the health and wellness of our citizens, thus we are choosing the third Global Goal (good health and well being). Good health is important to Illyria because our people deserve the best care possible. Our medical supplies are of the highest quality and it is important that everyone in our community is taken care of.

After their countries were established, students were presented with challenges and opportunities each day for the second week. At the start of each day, the entire grade met to discuss the previous day’s work and check the current standings. Each day, the students were given a global challenge, an individual situation, and an opportunity to work through. Global challenges were world wide problems that each country had to focus on. They included immigration, unemployment, trade, and medical discoveries. The groups had to decide the best solution based upon their research, their countries values and mission, and the constraints of the scenario.

“I like the way it’s set up. We can do what we want at our own pace. We can design our country the way we want to.”

– Laurel C, student and resident of Lislorminex

Each team drew an individual challenge card each day and had to develop a solution or product. The individual challenges asked students to create a national holiday, an education system, a folk dance, or a historical moment in their country.

“We get to be creative. We picked our own groups and made our own choices. It’s kind of like a game, but it’s a lot of work every day. It’s different every day.”

– Jacob A, student and resident of the Allied Isles of Cocolandia

The final piece of each day’s mission was the opportunity card. Students had to choose whether they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. If they did, they could gain points in a predetermined category, but also had to decide how the opportunity might benefit them in other areas and cause harm in others. For instance, if they chose to host the Wellness Games, they could earn 10 points for Health. They might gain in the Economy, but lose in the Environment. The teams had to decide where their points would be distributed and make a case for all of their decisions. The country that was selected as the site for the Wellness Games also earned bonus points for the day.

“Each challenge allowed us to adjust the situation to reflect our countries values. We got to show what was important in each category. We’ve worked together as a team and practiced our Transferable Skills. It’s great to have such a large chunk of time to work on this project.”

– Genevieve C, student and resident of Illyria

Overall, the students learned and grew over the course of the week in ways that are enhanced by projects like these. They communicated, collaborated, were self directed, and exhibited perseverance every day as they built the society of the future. Many thanks to the teachers for planning this project and to the 8th grade students for their dedicated work toward building a new world!

“Our team has been prioritizing flexible learning for a couple of years. One of the main goals of this project, which we began collaborating on last year, was to engage students in the five transferable skills and integrate their learning from all content areas. All the work we have done to set up the game and launch the tasks each day is the real work we did as teachers. Observing and facilitating the work while guiding students towards success has been the easy part of all this. Students strategized together while preparing a slide presentation. Their demonstrations of learning have been incredible! Students are clearly showing their understanding of biomes, climate, and sustainability; effects of real-world events on population and culture; calculating percents of increase and decrease, plus making and interpreting graphs; as well as research and writing. This has not only been a fun, creative learning process for the students, it’s been inspirational for the teachers. We’re excited to make more learning opportunities in the future that look like this.”

– Ashley Barnes-Cota, Dana Hamm, Ben Psaros, and Melody Wilkins, 8th Grade Teachers

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

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Student Publishes Book, Goes on Tour

A Fletcher Elementary School student has published a new book and completed a five-stop author’s tour. Sixth grader Monica King, author of the new book, Around Fletcher Elementary ABC Find, says that she has always had an interest in photography and writing, so when the opportunity to combine two of her passions presented itself, she jumped at the chance.

“When I was seven, I started watching videos online and that was what got me interested in photography,” King said. “I spent less time actually paying attention to the video and more time looking at the setting and the background and envisioning what that would look like as still pictures. That’s when I decided I wanted to create my own photographs.”

At age nine, King received her first camera as a gift from her father. She began experimenting with its features and, “taking pictures of everything, inside and outside.” During the three years since, she has established a collection of digital and film cameras, some from antique shops she visited with her father.

“I’m really interested in how cameras work,” King said. “There’s a little bit of magic in how an idea becomes a picture.”

Through a partnership with the Greater Burlington YMCA, who also provides Fletcher Elementary’s After-School Program, King was able to participate in an independent study focusing on photography. The school’s YMCA Site Director, Hallie Wolklin, who has formal training in the visual arts, supported King as she explored elements of photography and publishing.

“I began looking at objects differently,” King said. “As we took lots of pictures I noticed that many things actually have the same shape as letters of the alphabet. I challenged myself to find a items that looked like each letter and to photograph it.”

If there were any question that King is a photographer at heart, that was dispelled when, mid-interview, she observed the blustery weather outside and proclaimed, “That would make a great picture.”

King’s collection of alphabet-inspired photographs began to grow, as did her skills as an artist. She credits Wolklin with teaching her the technical aspects of photography, including perspective and choosing a good background.

“Perspective is another way of seeing something,” King said. “People can look at the same thing and see it completely differently. I love that. We thought about how to change a picture by changing how it’s photographed.”

Following a painstaking editing, cropping and resizing effort, King’s collection of alphabet photographs has been professionally published as a full-color book, which lead to a recent author’s tour including stops in elementary classrooms at BFA-Fairfax and Georgia Elementary, as well as the Fairfax Community Library and the Franklin West Supervisory Union offices.

“I’m feeling positive about the book and my tour,” King said. “I love the book but I also know changes I will make the next time I publish. I was a little nervous to be on tour. I wasn’t sure what other people would think about my work, but it was worth the risk.Their faces lit up when they saw the pictures and could figure out where the letter is on each page.”

Of publishing her work, King said, “I wanted other people to see my pictures and I wanted to show that kids can do the same things as adults, for the most part.”

King’s interest in photography continues. She is working with Wolklin to create a pinhole camera from a washing machine box for the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Night next month. She also participates in weekly online photography challenges.

“Right now I am researching the science behind early cameras to help make my gigantic pinhole camera a success,” King said. “In order to do great photography, you need to know the science behind it. Writing is also important because you need to be able to describe what the picture is showing.”

Before long, King may be hunting down letters of the alphabet beyond Fletcher. She hopes to take photography classes in middle and high school and eventually travel to the Amazon Rainforest to photograph plants and animals in their natural environment.

“You need to know what you want and have a plan,” King said. “That’s true with pictures and your future.”

“This project is a fantastic example of how Fletcher encourages and supports multiple pathways to learning,” Superintendent Ned Kirsch said. “The work was personalized based on the student’s interest and allowed her to take on a leadership role as a successfully published author. Fletcher created a flexible learning environment and worked with community partners to completely immerse this student in an authentic experience that she will never forget. This type of learning is the work of all of our FWSU schools.”

Along her tour, King donated signed copies of her book at each stop.

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: Teachers Immerse Themselves In Their Own Learning

12 educators have started exploring how Oculus virtual reality headsets can impact learning in classrooms.

Unlike a traditional graduate course where participants meet regularly and get information from the instructor, this course allows for flexible learning where teaches will design their own learning. Teachers are collaborating with the instructor using a coaching model to identify, learn about, and improve an innovative goal connected to International Society Technology in Education (ISTE) standards.

By using this flexible learning environment, it will allow teachers to develop their own computational thinking and understand learning in order to meet the ever evolving needs and expectations of their students. It also provides immersive learning activities that can maximize the potential of all learners.

One of the first steps in personalizing learning requires engaging participants in the learning process. It is the goal of this course to use this new innovative technology to engage learners in ways that were not previously possible.

This course encourages participants to find positive, fun moments to help them be more willing to do challenge themselves with new innovative learning.

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

The FWSU Story: BFA Grade 2 Living Wax Museum Engages All!

One of my favorite learning experiences that occurs in our school is the Living Wax Museum. It is fun, creative, and engaging for our students in second grade. The Living Wax Museum strikes a chord with me and so many others because it is simple and yet complex.

In this day and age of integrating technology to enhance learning, this learning opportunity relies less on digital tools and requires students to incorporate more traditional tools and skills to demonstrate their content knowledge.

This annual tradition asks students to research a person of their choice, present important facts and dress up to represent this figure for an authentic audience. Students’ choices range from important historical figures to inventors and athletes. In addition, authors and modern English Princesses were represented by the students. As always, family members, staff members, and students packed the Multi-Purpose Room to share in this unique learning opportunity.

The FWSU Action Plan targets and Vermont Transferable Skills were in evidence throughout this unit. Students engaged in inquiry, demonstrated effective communication skills, showed creativity, self direction and discipline. The culmination of this experience provided students an opportunity to have choice in their learning and to provide their audience a glimpse into their passions and interests.

Every year, I appreciate the chance get to know students in a different way as a result of this experience. Thank you to the all the staff associated with our second grade students and for their commitment to incorporating student choice and voice, while providing our students opportunities to showcase their learning and engage our community.

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

The FWSU Story: Frequently Asked Questions About Proficiency at BFA

There are many questions about proficiency and its impact on students. At BFA, we have been working extensively to develop our Proficiency Based Graduation system and have found that every time we answer one question, it brings up two or three more. We have shared the answers to some of the most important questions with our high school families and feel that it is valuable to share them with a wider audience.

What are Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements (PBGR)?

Beginning with the Class of 2020, students will need to meet our PBGRs in order to graduate. Each content area has determined specific skills that are essential for students to know, understand, and be able to do within their discipline. Proficiencies are broad categories. Examples include Geometry, Writing, Historical Inquiry, Analyze and Interpret Data, and Physical Literacy. Each Proficiency is further defined by a set of Indicators that provide additional detail regarding what students should know, understand and be able to do. Full details are available on our Proficiency website which is linked on our homepage.

How is a Proficiency Based System different from the Traditional System?

In the Traditional system, students graduated if they earned a specific number of credits by taking a set of required courses and electives. The requirement was to earn enough points to pass each class. There was no requirement to learn specific content, nor was there predictability regarding the important concepts from class to class.

In the Proficiency Based System, expectations for learning are clear from the beginning of the course and consistent from class to class. That is, a student taking a US History course knows what Proficiencies and Indicators will be assessed in the course and they are the same no matter which teacher is teaching the course. A proficiency based system is transparent, predictable, and consistent across the school.

How is proficiency measured?

Proficiency is measured using Learning Scales. Working together, teachers have developed Learning Scales for all Indicators. A Learning Scale is a guide for students that tells them what evidence they will need in order to demonstrate proficiency. Learning Scales also provide information about work that is less than Proficient (we call it Making Progress) or beyond proficient (Extended). Students are provided with Learning Scales at the beginning of a lesson or unit and can use it to monitor their progress toward proficiency and focus on areas for growth. During an assessment, the Learning Scales are used to provide feedback to a student about their current level of proficiency.

How are students assessed?

Students are assessed in a variety of ways. Throughout a unit, students receive formative feedback based on their progress. This might be through homework assignments for practice, responses to readings, or group discussions. Content proficiency levels would not be recorded for this work, however Learner Traits might be.

After a period of study, students will be assessed using a summative method. This might be a project or paper or a traditional test. Student work on the summative assessment is scored using the Learning Scales for the predetermined Content Indicators and Transferable Skills. Student proficiency levels are recorded in PowerTeacher Pro. All assignments recorded in PowerTeacher Pro are linked to a specific Indicator and/or Transferable Skill and averaged throughout the course to determine an overall proficiency level for the course.

What are Learner Traits?

Learner Traits are a subset of the Transferable Skills and assess the habits of being a responsible and engaged student. They include Collaboration, Initiative for Learning, Persistence, Appropriate Use of Technology, and Responsible Decision Making. These skills are important in all aspects of school and daily life. Some components of the Learner Traits lend themselves to frequent assessment (Initiative for Learning can be connected to completion of homework assignments), but all of the Learner Traits are assessed in each class using a Learning Scale at least once per month.

Learner Traits are used to determine co-curricular eligibility. Students must maintain a level of 2.0 in all of their classes to remain eligible to participate in co-curricular activities. The characteristics included in the Learner Traits represent desirable skills for our students to exhibit as part of a team or ensemble.

How do students demonstrate extended proficiency?

Each Learning Scale has a level and description of Extended Proficiency. Students should be able to work toward meeting that expectation in the Learning Scale to provide evidence of their extended learning.

What’s the difference between Content Indicators, Transferable Skills, and Learner Traits?

Content Indicators are directly associated with academic content. They are what the content teachers have determined are essential for students to Know and Understand prior to the completion of high school. They are based on National Standards. Proficiency Levels for each Indicator in each class are reported in PowerSchool and on report cards.

Transferable Skills are areas that transcend content areas and are essential to success in and beyond high school. These include Clear and Effective Communication, Self Direction, Creative and Practical Problem Solving, Informed and Integrative Thinking, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship.. Transferable Skills are reported separately from Content Indicators in each class.

Learner Traits are a subset of the Transferable Skills (see above). Learner Traits are reported separately for each class. They are also included in Transferable Skill calculations and reporting.

How can a student end up with a decimal proficiency level like 2.7?

Since a student will be given multiple opportunities within a class to demonstrate their level of proficiency on a specific indicator, they will have multiple scores posted for each indicator. Teachers only enter whole numbers (1, 2, 3, or 4) into PowerTeacher Pro. PowerTeacher Pro calculates the average for the last 12 scores in every indicator in every class. As a result, the reported overall score can include a decimal. If a student has a variety of scores (some 2’s and some 3’s, for example), the average score will reflect the majority of the scores. If a student has more threes than twos, their average will be above 2.6 and they are proficient. Teachers are able to exempt early scores from the calculation to reflect growth by a student.

Are students required to take certain courses to demonstrate proficiency?

Our Program of Studies lists courses that are recommended for students in order to have the exposure and opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in each content area. The sequence of courses recognizes a student’s current ability and allows for growth in a skill over time. For example, demonstrating proficiency in Writing as a ninth grader does not mean a student is ready for graduation. We expect them to continue to take English classes every year to enhance their writing skills.

How will we determine if a student is ready to take the next course in a content area?

A student must maintain a proficiency level of 2.0 in order to be able to continue to the next course in a course sequence. A student with less than a 2.0 in a course at the end of the semester will need to repeat the course. Continued performance at this level will not be beneficial to the student’s journey toward graduation. Students and parents have access to a student’s proficiency levels at all times throughout the school year in PowerSchool.

How will we know if a student is able to graduate?

We will look at each student’s record individually at several points throughout their high school years and help to guide them toward courses and experiences that will help them gain evidence of proficiency. This will be done by guidance in conjunction with each department to ensure that the best information is accessed. Our goal is that all students will obtain an overall level of 2.6 in all proficiencies in order to be eligible for graduation.

How will we recognize student achievement?

At graduation, we will recognize students through Graduation with Distinction. Students will be able to provide evidence that they have met the criteria for Distinction in one (or more) of the possible categories. It is our hope that this will recognize more students for their varied accomplishments rather than just a few with the highest grades. This information will be shared with colleges. Additional details can be found on our Proficiency website.

What will a transcript look like?

Our transcript will include courses that students have taken each year and their performance level in each course, much like our traditional transcript. It will also include student’s proficiency levels in all content areas and in the Transferable Skills. The proficiency levels will be shown for each year of high school, allowing colleges to see the consistency of performance and/or growth over time.

How will colleges know how BFA’s Proficiency system works?

Each year, we include a School Profile with every transcript we send to colleges. The School Profile includes information about our school, our courses, and our community. It includes statistics such as average SAT score and data such as recent college admissions. Our School Profile will include information about our Proficiency Based System including performance levels of typical and advanced students. The School Profile helps colleges reconcile the differences in transcripts and expectations from school to school so they can make informed decisions about admissions.

Additionally, we will talk with admission counselors as they come to BFA to visit students. Counselors who come to our school regularly are familiar with the quality of our students.  Our proficiency system will not alter that perception. If you encounter an admissions counselor with questions about our system, please let us know and we will reach out to them to answer their questions.

Where can I get more information?

Our Proficiency website has many resources such as a Glossary of Terms, the full set of PBGR’s, the Learner Traits Learning Scales and details about Graduation with Distinction. The site is linked on the homepage of our website,

The clarity, transparency, and consistency of proficiency provides students with a deeper understanding of their learning and increased opportunities to demonstrate learning and growth. Our path has been neither smooth nor perfect; we have adjusted and adapted to make the system more clear.  We will continue to adjust as we learn, just as we hope our students do.

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