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.

Requesting Childcare for Essential Persons

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Per the Gubernatorial Directive issued by Governor Scott, childcare is to be provided to families with persons working in a field included on the Essential Persons List for COVID-19 Response. If you are employed in one of these fields, please complete this webform, which collects information to connect the families of essential workers with child care in schools and licensed child care programs that are operating to provide services now through April 6, 2020. Families can also call 2-1-1 ext. 6 or 1-877-705-9008 to speak to a childcare referral specialist. 

Essential Persons List for COVID-19 Response:
https://vem.vermont.gov/sites/demhs/files/Essential%20Persons_03182020.pdf

Webform to Request Child Care for Essential Workers:
https://webportalapp.com/webform/essentialworkers

Letter to FWSU Families – March 17, 2020

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Dear Families:

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to work through the complexities associated with COVID-19 and dismissing school for students. The next three days – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – are a transitional period. Be on the lookout for additional information.  

As a reminder, schools are closed to students and families beginning tomorrow, March 18. This will last at least until April 6, and possibly longer. I will continue to send regular communication over the next couple weeks, and you will also hear from teachers and administrators.

Here are a few things to consider over the next few weeks:

  • Remote learning, particularly in rural areas and where social distancing restricts student interactions, can feel isolating for children. If you have the resources, participate in FaceTime or Skype calls or send audio messages with friends and classmates.
  • We are not “shutting the doors” to our families. While schools won’t have staff there all the time, voicemail and email will be monitored, so feel free to contact your teacher or the school with questions. 
  • Remote learning is unique, and sometimes difficult. The key is active participation. Putting routines and structures into place helps children stay focused as they work through activities.
  • FWSU is continuing to organize and design a process for effective and efficient food service during his dismissal period. Look out for additional information.   
  • Should your family face economic hardship as a result of COVID-19 you may submit a new free and reduced meal application. Families may apply for school meals at any point in the school year based on their most current income. Applications can be found on the FWSU website or by calling the school.
  • If you need to pick up student items or materials please contact the school first to arrange an appropriate time to do so.
  • FWSU administrators and educators are working together to develop learning plans for all K-12 students using a variety of methods to ensure learning access for all students during school closure. Parents will receive regular communications about remote learning expectations for their child.
  • Continue following recommended guidelines for preventing germs, including:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Your school’s administrators, teachers, and staff have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare learning opportunities for students over the next couple of weeks. Preparing for remote learning is challenging, and I am proud of the work your school’s educators have been doing! 

Finally, I thank each of you – the parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends – for all you have done to support this process and for all you’ll be doing in the next few weeks or longer. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Letter to Families Re: Governor’s School Closing Declaration – March 15, 2020

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Dear FWSU Families:

We find ourselves in a rapidly changing, uncharted situation due to COVID-19. We are grateful for the guidance and support that we have received from the Vermont Department of Health, the Vermont Agency of Education, and the Governor’s Office.

On March 15 at 3:20 p.m., Governor Scott announced that statewide school closure will occur no later than Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The purpose of this message is to provide you an update of the actions the FWSU will take as it relates to Governor Scott’s School Closure announcement.

First and foremost, student attendance at school on Monday and Tuesday is a family decision. For these two days, FWSU attendance policies and procedures will be waived, and no student will be penalized for not attending. As always, if your student or a family member is sick, we encourage you to keep your student home.

The FWSU leadership teams will be working with our employees to plan for the support of our students and families during the closure of school. To be clear, our primary areas of focus include the well-being of our students, families, and employees. The plan that we are developing will strive to encompass all of the components that Governor Scott has referenced in his statement/press conference.

Thank you for your patience and flexibility as we move forward. You can expect regular communication from our district so that we are keeping you informed. We are doing all we can to make sure these priorities are taken care of to the best of our abilities.

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

FWSU COVID-19 Update

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Dear Parents and Guardians,

This morning, superintendents from Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle County participated in a meeting with Dr. Mark Levine, the Commissioner of Health from the Vermont Department of Health and Vermont’s Education Secretary, Dan French. We learned that Governor Scott will be holding an important press conference at 5:30 pm today that should provide new and specific information for all Vermonters to follow.  We anticipate that the guidance will include broad-based health recommendations, information on potential school closure and/or dismissal, the role of schools in mitigating COVID-19, updated travel recommendations, and what individuals can do to keep safe including social distancing. Once the Governor has provided direction, our district leadership will determine the next steps for our schools and we will be back in touch with families and staff as quickly as we can.

Sincerely,

Don S. Van Nostrand

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

The FWSU Story: BFA Elementary Students Spend Time With Therapy Dog, Jazz

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Earlier this fall, I was contacted by a community member who was interested in spending some time in our elementary school with her therapy dog, Jazz. Jazz is a black Labrador Retriever that has been certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs of Vermont. I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity, not only as a dog lover, but as a school administrator trying to integrate effective ways to support all students.

“I like reading to Jazz because it is fun.”

After an initial inquiry, I quickly received commitments from ten teachers that were excited about this opportunity and willing to participate. After an orientation with students and staff, we settled into a consistent weekly routine.

“Jazz puts a smile on our face.”

Jazz and her handler Margo Rome spend a half an hour in the classroom making connections with students while they learn and engage in activities. Jazz and Margo often listen while students practice their reading or they participate in Morning Meeting with the entire class. Jazz loves the attention and often lays on her back for belly scratches. Jazz is now a celebrity in our elementary school and is greeted and petted by all as she walks down the hallways.  

“Jazz is quiet and calm while we read and she keeps us calm and quiet.”

Research has shown that therapy dogs positively affect our brain chemistry, reducing the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the hormone oxytocin that helps us feel regulated and comfortable. Interactions with dogs have also been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to a more calm learning environment.  

“We love reading with Jazz.”

Our students and staff share that having Jazz and Margo spending time in classrooms has been a positive experience and look forward to their time with Jazz and Margo each week. This resource is another way we can support students that have experienced trauma or that benefit from the opportunity to engage in mindfulness and regulation activities. I encourage you to explore having a therapy dog in your school through Therapy Dogs of Vermont at  therapydogs.org.  Our school has greatly benefited from participating in this experience.

“I like reading with Jazz because she was listening to me.”

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: Winter Wellness Program Helps Keep Fletcher Students Healthy

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An age-old tradition that heats up in the dead of winter is promoting good health and new skills for students in Fletcher. The school’s Winter Wellness Program, which includes outdoor school-based activities as well as skiing and snowboarding at Smuggler’s Notch, aims to promote an enjoyment and appreciation of outdoor recreation, healthy exercise habits and positive social skills. 

Weather permitting, the program runs for five consecutive Friday afternoons beginning in February, and has been in existence for more than 20 years. Some former Fletcher Elementary students have now returned as part of the 18-parent cadre of mountain chaperones that are making this year’s skiing and boarding component of the program a slope-side success. In addition, all school staff participate in the program by chaperoning at Smuggs or during outdoor activities at school.

But, the familiar faces on the Mountain didn’t end with the parents and staff members that hit the slopes with students. The program has served as inspiration for several adult former Fletcher Elementary students who have gone on to become instructors at Smuggler’s Notch and now facilitate lessons and serve as inspiration for their younger Fletcher counterparts.

According to Aimee Tinker, a parent volunteer who coordinates the skiing and snowboarding component of the program, the benefits of the program go well beyond learning the technicalities of the sports.

“There is also an important social piece where students are in a new setting with their peers, teachers, parents and new adults,” Tinker said, stating that students practice flexibility, adaptability and respect in addition to receiving ski or snowboarding instruction and having fun.

Tinker is convinced of the educational value of the program. “They learn so much,” she said of the students’ experience at the mountain. “This is not a waste of a Friday afternoon. It is an educational field trip with instructors and skills, social and otherwise.”

Drew Tolbert agrees. He is the former sales and promotions coordinator for the mountain and a former snowboard coach who has worked with many Fletcher Elementary School groups. “The students are being athletic and healthy,” Tolbert said. “Beyond that it’s all about the mountain experience. It’s less about being involved in a really traditionally strict class and more about developing an appreciation of the mountain environment and working as a team and build camaraderie as we go through challenges together. Students really learn how to look out for each other. It really becomes a team effort”

One in five children in the U.S. are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Obese children are also more prone to stress, sadness and low self-esteem.

“Fletcher’s Winter Wellness Program does a great job of getting kids out and moving,” School Nurse Tara McMahon said. “It is so hard in the winter months to get in the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. Learning to downhill ski, snowboard, cross-country ski, skate and snowshoe helps our students develop a lifelong love of the winter outdoors and to stay physically fit.”

For students that may struggle in a traditional school setting, Tinker says the program provides an opportunity for them to shine outside of the classroom. “They get up on that mountain and they are often a totally different kid,” Tinker said. “They are all smiles and the folks at the mountain always say that Fletcher has the best behaved kids. They really do model what they learn in school.”

Smuggs staff credit much of the students’ positive behavior to the program’s emphasis on choice and leadership opportunities for kids, citing that many instructors get to know students over time and develop positive, trusting relationships that allow students to act as role models for others.

“We’re moving to a way of teaching that gives them ownership,” Tolbert said, stating that it is important for children to have the flexibility to explore their own learning styles during lessons. “There is no shortage of teachable moments, both socially and otherwise, framed around a fun, exciting sport. It is fantastic to see it unfold.”

Smuggler’s Notch offers students in the program substantially reduced ticket, equipment rental and lesson prices. The same items are free for adult chaperones. The resulting five-week reduced cost per student is $180, compared to a traditional cost of $715. Similarly, the savings is $985 per chaperone. Smugglers’ Notch also offers SNAP, the Smuggler’s Notch Adaptive Program, which provides individual lessons and instructors for students with disabilities.

In addition to the physical activity offered by the program, Tinker believes that it strengthens relationships between teachers and students.

“Students are surprised to see their teachers out of the classroom element,” Tinker said. “They get to see them in a non-instructional, non-authoritative setting. They just get to be with them.”

In addition to the ski and snowboard opportunities at the mountain, about half of Fletcher’s students remain at school and participate in outside activities. In addition, for the past two years, the school has offered off-campus snowshoeing. 

“The goal of Winter Wellness is to teach and encourage students to embrace and enjoy their physical environment and the outdoors even during some of the coldest, darkest months of the year” school counselor Lisa Coale said. “Research shows that enjoying time outside has significant health benefits including improving focus, combatting depression, anxiety and stress, eliminating fatigue and even improving short term memory. By providing space and time for our students to enjoy the outdoors, engage in physical activities and connect with their school community we are also simultaneously supporting their social-emotional wellbeing.”

During the past several years Fletcher’s Winter Wellness program has expanded from only allowing participation by students in grade three and beyond, to now including students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Just because the students are young doesn’t mean they can’t do it,” Tinker said. “The earlier the better when it comes to promoting healthy habits and a love of being outside in our beautiful state.”

“During Winter Wellness students participate in a variety of activities with groups of adults and students they don’t normally get to interact with on a daily basis at school,” Coale said. “This change to their normal routine requires students to practice flexibility, promotes new and different social engagement, and above all else, creates new opportunities for learning as they participate in activities some students have never tried before.”

“Being at the mountain is great,” cross country skier and fourth grader Harrison Frennier said. “It’s a change of pace to be outside and moving around. It’s a good way to be healthy and enjoy nature at the same time.”

“It’s fantastic,” fourth grader Koda Chipman said of his experience skiing during the program. “I want to be outside all the time and especially during school. This is very good for your body and your mind.”

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

Updated Information on COVID-19

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The Vermont Department of Health has provided updated guidance in regards to COVID-19 (coronavirus). 

As of March 4, travelers returning from China, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Iran should stay home for 14 days and practice social distancing. 

If your child(ren) returned from those countries in the last 14 days you must inform the principal at the school(s) they attend immediately. You should also call the Health Department at (802) 863-7240. 

The Health Department will be in regular contact with travelers for 14 days following their return to monitor symptoms of shortness of breath, cough or fever. No medical certification shall be required during this incubation period and your child will not be penalized for their days absent. 

For more information please visit the Vermont’s Agency of Education’s website: COVID-19 GUIDANCE FOR VERMONT SCHOOLS, or contact your school’s administration.

Agency of Education Offers Guidance on Coronavirus

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With the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) on everyone’s mind, this past week Secretary Dan French from Vermont’s Agency of Education distributed guidance to schools. To read his full memo click here.

As of the memo date there are no cases in Vermont. If this changes, then schools will be notified by Vermont’s department of Health and Agency of Education.

Use the same precautions you would for keeping the cold and flu at bay:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve or a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

If you have additional questions please visit the Vermont Department of Health’s COVID-19 website or dial 2-1-1 for more information. As always, keep their children home when they are sick.

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

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax Athletic Department Featured in High School Today Magazine

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BFA Fairfax garnered national attention this week with the release of the February 2020 issue of High School Today Magazine. Our own student athletes and programs were the featured cover article for this month’s issue that is distributed to every high school, school board, and thousands of coaches and activity advisors across the United States.  

In an article titled “Putting Fun Back in High School Athletics”, BFA Fairfax’s philosophy of learning, fun and inclusiveness were highlighted, specifically featuring the annual Fairfax Relays cross country race.  The article also included numerous photos of our athletic programs and the unique opportunities they provide for our students and our community. 

Links to both the digital (including pictures) and text version of the article can be found below.  We are so proud of our students and programs, and thrilled with this national spotlight which truly depicts the BFA Fairfax motto of “small school, big opportunities.”

Click here for DIGITAL VERSION

Click here for TEXT VERSION

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

BFA Students Selected for Vermont All State Musical Festival

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FWSU is proud to announce that Madison Lutz and James Kalbfleisch, sophomores at BFA, have been accepted as members into the highly selective Vermont All State Festival in held in May. James will be performing in the All State Chorus ensemble and Madison with the dual honor of being selected for both band and chorus has elected to perform with her saxophone in the All State Band ensemble.

Madison Lutz member of BFA chorus, chamber chorus, band, and Jazz Band

The Vermont All State Music Festival is an annual event supported by the Vermont Music Educators Association (VMEA) and operated by the Vermont All State Committee. The Festival offers musicians from Vermont’s high schools the opportunity to perform in a band, orchestra, chorus or jazz ensemble under the direction of some of our nation’s finest conductors. This year, the Vermont All State Music Festival will be celebrating the Year of the Woman by having all four ensembles conducted by women directors and a portion of the selected program coming from women composers.

James Kalbfleisch, member of BFA chorus and chamber chorus

The 2020 spring festival will be hosted by North Country Union High School May 6th – 9th. If you would like to attend, please see to the 2020 Festival Schedule.

Congratulations to Madison and James whose hard work and dedication to the arts has earned this incredible honor reflecting their student leadership!

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

The FWSU Story: Flexible Learning Opportunities – Personalizing Non-Traditional Learning

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When you think of school, do you think of making turkey calls? Learning strategy through board games? Designing T-shirts? Creating virtual and augmented reality? 

Would this fit in a regular school day?  Can students have a voice in proposing and designing their learning?

To affirmatively answer these questions in grades 5-8 we have F.L.O. (Flexible learning Opportunities).  Originally designed as a way to creatively schedule for non-traditional learning, we sought out student interests and designed offerings for our students in grades 5 & 6 as well as 7 & 8. 

Each Friday, we get creative with our schedules. Students join their group for approximately one hour to dive deep into a topic of interest that they have picked.  This FLO session is a 6 week cycle with a culminating showcase on February 21 at 2pm (We hope that families will join us- to experience the amazing learning that our students have been engaged with!)

Beginning in late December/early January teachers began discussing and surveying students to determine themes for our offerings.  Teachers had some ideas, but so did students. From these discussions, we created the following offerings. These range from hands-on to high-tech; from practical to personal; and through all of the offerings, students are encouraged to expand their understanding and interests.  This has also been an opportunity for students to work in different groupings and with different adults, many of whom are also able to share their passion for the topic.

Grades 5 & 6 StrandsGrades 7 & 8 Strands
Bridge Building
iMovie
Cooking
Strategic games
Art
Theater Games
Wellness Community
Virtual and Augmented Reality

Art
Community Service
Cooking
Dance
Dungeons & Dragons
Engineering (& Bridge Building)
First-aid
Strategy Game
T-shirt Logo Design
Turkey Call Making
Yearbook
FLO at BFA Fairfax Middle School

dive into their FLO Activities. Each week, it has been a joy to see students learning and passionately engaged in pursuing their interests, building community and pursuing what is possible!  

As a culminating activity, we look forward to welcoming families to share in the learning (and performances) with our young people this Friday, February 21 at 2pm for our first FLO.Case (showcase)!

Future Pizza Entrepreneurs
Learning to make a Turkey Call

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Blog: Georgia’s Got Talent!

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On Thursday, February 13th, students, staff, and families gathered to admire, and be entertained by, the diverse student talent that walks our hallways. For the 28th Annual Celebration of Talent, GEMS students showcased their skills.  Among them were dancers, singers, pianists, comedians, and instrumentalists…. a variety of talent that was fun to watch and extremely entertaining.

Behind the scenes, students videoed each performance, took responsibilities for the setup and break down of equipment, cast lighting on each performer and were an integral part of supporting each act.  Student council members decorated prior to the show and were on hand to pass out programs and assist in any way.

Nancy Volatile-Wood and Jessica Sweeney have taken the lead in providing this wonderful opportunity for years.  Their support of each student and encouragement of each individual performance is recognized by our community and they are prideful of each students growth over the years.  The progress they see in each musician, dancer, and artist is extraordinary and their smiles say it all.

We look forward to the 29th Celebration of Talent next year!

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

The FWSU Story: James Tager Announced as Superintendent of Schools

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Franklin West Supervisory Union is pleased to announce that James Tager has been selected as Superintendent of Schools effective July 1, 2020. Mr. Tager currently serves as Superintendent of Flagler Schools in Flagler County, FL. Prior to his current position he served many educational positions in Florida, including Deputy Superintendent, Principal and Curriculum Director, Special Educator and many teaching positions. 

The decision comes after the Franklin West Supervisory Union Board of Directors interviewed two finalists after day-long interviews with students, faculty, staff, administrators and the board on February 11, 2020. The Board voted unanimously to offer James Tager a one-year contract from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. 

Mr. Tager has an extensive background in education with accolades for his dedication to education such as Educator of the Year by the East Central Florida Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, Secondary Visual Arts Principal of the Year, and Administrator of the Year by several Florida associations. He was also named Five-Star Coach for an International Special Olympic Gold Medal Team. Franklin West is confident that Mr. Tager’s administrative experience will continue to move FWSU with our vision in “A belief in what is possible”.

FWSU Board Chair, Tara Sweet said, “The FWSU Board is pleased to welcome Jim to our supervisory union. His vision and collaboration skills make him a great fit to help move FWSU forward with our belief in what is possible and in continuing to provide the best possible education for all students within FWSU.”  Mr. Tager’s family is excited for the move to Vermont and to be a part of our communities. Mr. Tager said, “You made my day. I am very excited for this opportunity.”

The FWSU Story: Global School Play Day – February 5, 2020

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What if the whole world went on a playdate one day a year? That’s the idea behind Global School Play Day, an international movement to recognize and celebrate the value and importance of time for unstructured, screen-free play in our children’s lives. 

As explained in the Global School Play Day Press release, “In 2015, a small group of six educators took action and created Global School Play Day because of their concern that adults and technology were encroaching on playtime for children. On February 4, 2015, the first year of Global School Play Day, over 65,000 children participated in the first ever Global School Play Day after only four weeks of social media promotion from those six educators.”  

Fletcher Elementary Students with their Rockets

This year, 554,632 participants from 75 nations participated in this special day, and schools and classrooms within FWSU were among them. The idea was first shared by Marcy Perotte, one of the members of the FWSU Whole School, Child, and Community (WSCC). The team discussed the idea, which supports several of the 10 areas of wellness the FWSU WSCC focuses on, and then brought it to the building principals and fellow teachers. 

From rocket launches to board games, students engaged in play that inspired curiosity, self-direction, fun, problem-solving, movement, kindness, and connecting and communicating. As GEMS Elementary Principal, Steve Emery noted, “Play is an essential part of learning and should be implemented throughout every student’s day. The transferable skills utilized come naturally and allow for individual growth within each performance indicator. What is showcased on Global School Day of Play should be a necessity for all age levels each and every day.”  In our first year of global participation, we did not play all day…but extra time and attention were  dedicated to the spirit of the day. Getting discussion percolating about unstructured, screen-free play time opportunities is one of the goals of participation in this day. In FWSU, the value of play is reaffirmed by such a celebration. Our schools do understand the importance of play and have tried to create flexible learning environments that encourage the intersection of play and learning in much of what we do. Fletcher Elementary principal, Chris Dodge summed it up, “Play really is children’s work. Learning and play go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive. Through play, children learn essential social and academic skills that set the stage for a successful school and life experience. Too often, play is misunderstood and undervalued when in fact it’s time very well spent.”

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

Franklin West Supervisory Union Superintendent Finalists Announced

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The Franklin West Supervisory Union Board is pleased to announce that Dr. Wendy Baker and Mr. James Tager have been named as finalists in the search for a new, permanent superintendent. The two candidates will be touring the supervisory union and meeting with the FWSU board on February 11. All members of the community are invited to meet both candidates at public forums in the Flex Room at BFA Fairfax. Dr. Baker will be available from 6-7 PM and Mr. Tager will be there from 7-8 PM. Everyone meeting with the candidates is encouraged to provide feedback to the board through a brief digital survey immediately following the forums. The board encourages you to bring a device with you, although some will be available on site during the forums.

Dr. Wendy Baker has served in a variety of roles during her thirty years in the field of education.  A nationally board certified teacher, Dr. Baker served as a Superintendent of Schools in Bradford, a Principal at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville, and as an Executive Director with Southern New Hampshire University through SNHU’s Vermont Satellite Campus. Dr. Baker’s career interests include the dynamics of student and educator success, innovative program design, and international education. She has led teams of Vermont educators into local school systems on five continents, and she is an invited speaker on systemic approaches to preparing students for success as members of global economies and leaders of equitable communities.  Wendy currently serves as a member of SNHU’s doctoral faculty and as a Governor at The Studio School in Liverpool, UK. She lives in Colchester with her husband, two dogs, tall stacks of books, and generations of Vermont memories.

Mr. James Tager currently serves as Superintendent of Flagler (FL) Schools following a long career in education in Volusia County, FL.  He believes all students possess an innate talent or gift that can be used to accelerate their positive growth to become highly educated, responsible citizens. Among his many honors, Jim has been named Educator of the Year by the East Central Florida Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, Secondary Visual Arts Principal of the Year, and Administrator of the Year by several Florida associations. He was also named Five-Star Coach of the Year and served as the Coach for an International Special Olympic Gold Medal Team. A native of Ohio, Mr. Tager and his wife Jodi are avid runners completing 2 half marathons a year. Together they have four children including three daughters; a speech pathologist, a law student and a psychology major in south Florida, and a son who is a teacher in North Carolina. 

The FWSU Board intends to announce its superintendent decision by Friday, February 14. 

The FWSU Story: BFA 2020-2021 School Budget Update

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On Monday, January 13, the Fairfax Town School District Board of Directors voted to present a budget of $13,760,921 to the taxpayers of Fairfax at Town Meeting on March 03, 2020.

This budget represents a 6.67% increase in expenditures and a 7.25% increase in per pupil spending ($14,032.09) compared to last year’s budget. Although increasing, our per pupil spending remains significantly lower than the Vermont average per pupil spending, which is $17,133. The per pupil spending information is what appears on the ballot on Town Meeting Day. 

This budget represents essentially a rollover budget, meaning it keeps our staffing, instructional programming, co-curricular offerings, and supplies relatively the same as the previous year.  Here are some of the areas that are contributing to the increase in this budget:

  • Transportation- With the help of a grant, we are purchasing two electric buses.  The district is responsible for the first $90,000 of each bus (roughly the cost of a traditional diesel bus), and the grant pays any additional cost.  The grant also covers installation of infrastructure and mechanical training.
  • Health insurance– Accounts for slightly more than 11% of our total expenses, which increased by 12% this coming year.  
  • Pre-Kindergarten- Act 166 tuition budget increased by $36,579 over FY20 budget. Estimating 55 students at an announced rate of $3,445.

The School Board was mindful of taxpayers as we developed this budget, remaining aware of the community’s capacity to pay for an increase. Our goal was to present a budget that maintains our current programs. Given the percentage increases, the School Board and Administration could not support the inclusion of any additional expenses.

We have been fortunate to have lower percentage increases in the previous years that have also allowed us to add programs and support without significant increases in taxes. We are confident that the presented budget will continue to meet our student needs.  The tax impact on home values is listed below:

In addition, there will be a separate article for $200,000 that will be used to replace three roofs.  After the most recent bond request was defeated on December 03, 2019, we have identified this as the most critical current need.  The article would replace one high school roof that had a 2017 replacement date, a middle school roof over the 1943 wing and the elementary roof over the gym that were both slated for replacement in 2019. If this article successfully passes the tax impact on home values is listed below:

We will be sending out a budget flier with more detailed information about the 2020-2021 school budget. You are invited to attend the next School Board meeting on Monday, February 10 at 6:30 pm in the FLEX Room where the school budget will be presented. There will also be a presentation on Saturday, February 29 at 10:00 am in the Elementary School Gym of the town and school budgets.  Finally, the town and school budget vote will occur on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 03 in the Middle School Gym from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm

We encourage you to learn about our budget proposal and feel free to contact Justin Brown jbrown@fwsu.org, John Tague jtague@fwsu.org, Geri Witalec-Krupa gwitalec@fwsu.org, or Tom Walsh twalsh@fwsu.org, if you have questions.  Thank you in advance for your support of our students and staff. 

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: Fletcher Students Experience “Out of this World” Learning at STARBASE

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Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning just doesn’t get any more exciting than watching a pair of sleek F-35 jets thunder off into the horizon. Or, does it? How about building flatulence molecules (yes, that’s a fart!) to learn about the periodic table of elements or designing actual working rockets that travel more than 200 feet into the air to accelerate one’s knowledge of Newton’s laws of motion? These adventures, and more, are being experienced by Fletcher’s fifth and sixth grade students.

The class has been on the Vermont Air National Guard base in Colchester as part of a five-day program called STARBASE. An affiliate of the U.S. Department of Defense, STARBASE focuses on teaching students about physics, chemistry, technology, engineering, and math, with an emphasis on possible careers in those fields. Students spend 25 hours in the STARBASE facility and the instructors also teach lessons at the school.

“Programs like STARBASE are important because it gives learners opportunities to see how science, technology, engineering, and math can be applied to everyday life,” Fletcher’s fifth and six grade teacher, Lorrene Palermo, said. “Since STARBASE is located at the Air National Guard base it also allows for students to see these important life skills in everyday careers. We had the opportunity to visit the Fire Department on base and made many great connections to student learning that we experienced at STARBASE.”

It was Amelia Earhart herself who once said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” In many ways, this has become the teaching mantra at STARBASE Vermont, where the lessons are hands-on and include everything from exploring jet technology in the hanger and flying planes using flight simulators, to studying gravity through cooperative games and learning about air pressure by experimenting on marshmallows.

But, the program teaches much more than science. Its mission includes fostering collaboration and healthy choices, exposing children to cutting-edge technology and building a sense of community. Each “Starbaser,” as they are called, selects a “call sign” like a pilot. The call sign represents them personally and they are referred to by that name throughout the STARBASE experience.

“STARBASE has been my favorite part of the year. The science is just really fun to do. They teach it to you in creative and fun ways like designing a space shuttle that protects an egg when launched,” fifth grader, Collin Lucci, said. 

“They explain the lessons in a way that is fun and interesting,” sixth grader, Sabrina Nadeau, said. “They go over everything step by step to make it easier and it’s just fun to do things like design space vehicles on the computer and doing coding. It’s a fun place to be.”

STARBASE opened its doors in 1994 and reaches more than 1,300 Vermont students annually. There is no fee for schools to participate. The program even offers schools financial support with transportation. During the program’s physics component, students learn Newton’s Laws of Motion through hands-on experiments that include building and launching model rockets. Other topics include fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, much of which is learned through experiments and observations of military planes that enter and exit the base on which STARBASE is housed. 

“I liked building different shapes on the computer that helped me design my own space shuttle,” fifth grader,, Fletcher Simonds, said. “Math and literacy are still part of STARBASE, but with explosions in a tube and other cool stuff it’s very exciting.”

“It was really cool to get to see planes taking off right outside the window. The whole time we’re there it’s about science and testing out our theories and learning about the work that scientists do,” fifth grader, Maddie Weaver, said. 

Students also had the opportunity to meet and speak with Brigadier General Greg Knight, the Adjutant General for the State of Vermont, who is responsible for the recruiting, administration, equipping, training, maintenance, and readiness of the 3400 Vermont National Guard soldiers. Knight spoke about the importance of school and taking every educational opportunity they were given. 

Building blocks of matter, physical and chemical changes and atmospheric properties are all taught as part of the program’s chemistry strand. Additionally, technology innovations including the latest in mapping, nanotechnology, robotics, and chromatography (a method for separating organic and inorganic compounds to determine their composition) are features.

​Three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD), along with information about the engineering and design processes, comprise the engineering elements of the program, while number relationships, measurement, geometry, and data analysis bring in the math. Among other projects, students used computers to design unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Place-based experiences such as STARBASE spark memorable learning opportunities for our young students,” Fletcher’s Instructional Coach, Denette Locke, said. “From these experiences we are apt to be in the presence of the future chemist or scientist who creates the next great cure or helps to come up with the solution to global warming. Perhaps the community partners on the base inspired a future firefighter, pilot or the next general. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical learning will transfer back to their in class learning and that of future dreams, inspirations and careers.”

Students’ last STARBASE experience is scheduled for early February, when they will launch their homemade rockets at the school.  Read more about STARBASE Vermont here.

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

The FWSU Story: School Board Appreciation

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On January 15, 2020, the Vermont legislature passed a resolution declaring January as School Board Recognition Month. Let’s pause and say “Thank You” to the community volunteers who serve as school board members. 

Fairfax School Board: Student Rep. Shane Seals (’19), Mike Bruso, Sandy Alexander, Elaine Carpenter, Kathi Muehl, Scott Mitchell, Student Rep. Kieran Shea (’20)

Across the FWSU, we have fifteen members serving three separate districts and a supervisory union. The common saying when deciding to run for school board is “its only one meeting a month.” Sure, board members attend monthly meetings. They also serve on committees and as a part of other boards such as the SU board or the Vermont School Boards Association board. They are an essential conduit to the community, receiving feedback on all aspects of our schools and providing critical information to families and taxpayers throughout the year.

Fletcher School Board: Jess Graff, Betsy Lesnikoski, Aimee Cardinal, Tara Sweet, Melissa Sargent-Minor

Key work of school boards is to raise student achievement and they do so by creating a shared vision and setting direction through policy development, providing accountability for student achievement results, and developing budgets aligned to district and local goals.

Georgia School Board: Fred Grimm, Kate Barnes, Ben Chiappinelli, Carl Laroe, Andrea Milne

Visit this page to view the 2020 State Resolution. School board meeting agendas and minutes can be located on the FWSU website under the BOARDS tab.

FWSU Board: Betsy Lesnikoski, Elaine Carpenter, Aimee Cardinal, Tara Sweet, Scott Mitchell, Ben Chiappinelli, Kate Barnes, Carl Laroe (Not Pictured: Mike Bruso)

Please join me in recognizing the work of school board members. Let them know the hard work and dedication is noticed and appreciated!

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

The FWSU Story: Educators Earn Digital Promise Micro-Credentials through FWSU Graduate Course

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During the fall semester, 13 educators from across the district enrolled in the FWSU digital course, Designing Experiences For All. The course was designed to allow teachers to select their own personal pathway to research, design, and implement an innovative experience for students.  All of the participants were able to expand their learning and design planning along with Greg Kuloweic, Edtech Teacher during the FWSU November Institutes.

These teachers were then challenged to demonstrate their learning by submitting an application for a micro-credential through Digital Promise’s competency-based recognition for professional learning. 

In order to maximize personal learning, teachers were given a choice of which micro-credential best suited their pathway to learning. Teachers selected from the following micro-credentials:

All participants in the course applications were reviewed by an independent evaluator and all were awarded micro-credentials!

Congratulations to Tammy Boissoneault, Marc Choiniere, Eric Hadd, Dana Hamm, Deb Howard, Sandy Leclair, Vicki Pinault, Lorrene Palermo, Ben Pasoros, Sharon Rock, Sean Theoret, Eve Thorsen, and  Erin Young.

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

The FWSU Story: Early Release Days – What do the staff do on those afternoons?

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This school year, as a supervisory Union, FWSU’s calendar includes three Early Release Days.  One in October, this past Monday – January 20, and a third on March 25. Each of these days allow professional staff time to work together throughout the district  in order to build capacity and opportunities for student learning and growth.

This past Monday, Principal Conrad and I had the pleasure of working with both the GEMS and the BFA Fairfax grades 5-8 staff.  We had the pleasure of facilitating discussions with staff to further refine our teaching and assessment practice with Transferable Skills. Transferable Skills identify the crosscutting targets for skills that FWSU believes are important to be successful in and beyond school.

As a district, FWSU has agreed upon the following transferable skills across all subjects:

As Our Transferable Skills are woven throughout all of our teaching and learning, it is our purpose to ensure that all students become informed, literate, critical thinkers who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors in school and beyond.

Our work is to continually define, refine and differentiate what each of these skills looks like across grade levels; how students demonstrate or struggle with them; as well as how to we can more consistently teach and assess them across grades 5-8. This requires sustained time and effort. These early release times provide essential, deep work time for educators to engage in rigorous and thoughtful conversations in service of greater clarity, coherence, and focus for our work with students.

I can confidently speak for the participants in our session and each of the sessions taking place in Fletcher, Georgia, and Fairfax that this time is productive, essential, and absolutely helps us each to better meet the needs of all learners throughout FWSU.  And for that we thank you, our community, for supporting us in continuing to grow opportunities to support our “belief in what is possible.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: The Pulsera Project at GEMS and BFA

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“By sharing art, knowledge and ideas across cultural lines, we can create a more ethical and colorful world.”  – Pulsera Project

BFA Fairfax High School Spanish students selling items in the school lobby

As part of The Pulsera Project, BFA Fairfax High School and GEMS 7/8 Spanish classes participated in sales of fair-trade goods in November and December, 2019. Through The Pulsera Project (non-profit organization in the U.S.), Spanish teachers Kerri Brien and Laura Mathieu ordered original, hand-woven bracelets and bags made by artists in Nicaragua and Guatemala. The classes sold their merchandise at school for two weeks and all the money raised went directly back to the artists. 

Prior to the sale, Spanish students learned about poverty issues and conflict in Nicaragua as well as learning about individual artists (using videos and other materials by Pulsera Project). They also learned about the hardships faced in these countries and helped raise money to support community programs and fair trade employment.  The whole school increased their awareness and global citizenship. 

GEMS students shopping for free-trade items and reading about Pulsera Project

The positive impact by the GEMS school community was over $2,400, the equivalent to 1.2 houses or 8.6 months of fair-trade employment, or 40 months of educational scholarship.

Students inspect the hand-made items from Pulsera Project

At BFA, the students sold 139 bracelets and bags and raised $756 for Latin American artists.

Here’s what some of the students thought about the experience:

  • I felt like a good person for selling the bracelets. I felt like I was supporting the artists as a good cause.
  • It was for a good cause, all money goes back to artists. We’re not taking any of the profit.
  • Cool that unsold art goes from school to school.
  • When you learn how hard they worked to make it, you appreciate it more.
  • I liked it because was for a good cause. We learned about it beforehand, which was good.
  • Good idea to open up sale to whole school because it was for a good cause.

For further information, please visit http://www.pulseraproject.org. Congratulations to all who helped make this project a success!  

Students selling Pulsera Project items at GEMS

Today’s blog comes from Kerry Brien, BFA HS Spanish Teacher, and Laura Mathieu, GEMS 7/8 Spanish Teacher. Be sure to follow #FWSU on Twitter!

The FWSU Story: Thank You and Good Luck to Danielle Kiscak, BFA Fairfax Special Educator!

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Wendy Chase and Danielle Kicsak, Special Educators

Danielle Kicsak has been a special educator at BFA Fairfax for the past nine years. She formed many positive connections with students and staff. She has been an integral member of the middle and high school special education team. She is a prepared and conscientious teacher who works hard to support all learners. 

Danielle has contributed to the BFA school community. She was a facilitator of a student leadership team, Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST).  YATST is a network of youth and adult teams from Vermont high schools. The group works to ensure that students and adults are highly engaged in school improvement that is responsive to our rapidly changing world. Danielle actively worked to engage and strengthen the student voice. Through her work with the YATST team, they were able to successfully expand communication, understanding, and collaboration between our faculty and student body.  Her dedication and effort has contributed to making BFA a wonderful school.

Danielle is relocating to Florida at the end of January.  We have enjoyed working with Danielle, and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors.  She will be missed!

Thank you, Danielle! 

Danielle Kicsak, Special Educator and John Tague, BFA Fairfax HS Principal

We are fortunate to have an outstanding long term substitute, Paula Thompson.  Paula will join us for the remainder of the year.

Danielle’s colleagues had the following things to say about her:

“She is collaborative, kind and funny!  We will miss you!”

“Danielle has a great sense of humor!  Good luck in Florida!”

“Danielle has been a great team member!  She’s always been reliable and fun to work with!”

“She’ll be missed, and we wish her the best in her new adventure!”

“She has demonstrated great leadership to the support staff.”

YATST Team

Rachel McIntyre is the Director of Student Support Services at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY

The FWSU Story: Fairfax Presidential Scholars Honored in Montpelier

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On Monday, January 13th, the best and brightest high school students from Vermont’s Class of 2020 gathered at the State House for the Vermont Presidential Scholars Award Ceremony. This year, BFA had four students among the 25 students selected statewide. Natalie Bates, Nathan Langlois, and Mahlia Parsons were selected as General Presidential Scholars. Abigail Pease was selected as a Technical Education Presidential Scholar through the Burlington Technical Center. 

Mahlia Parsons, Abigail Pease, Natalie Bates, Nathan Langlois

The evening began with welcoming remarks from Secretary of Education Dan French. He congratulated students for their accomplishments and acknowledged the support provided by the families and teachers of those students. Each student was then called to the center of the House Chamber to receive the official certificate from Mr. French and to hear a summary of the accomplishments that led to their selection as a Vermont Presidential Scholar.

Mr. French and Natalie Bates

Natalie Bates was selected for her work supporting proficiency at BFA. Natalie has been an active voice working with students and teachers to transition to a proficiency based system. Natalie also worked with Up for Learning to increase student voice in our school and has presented for that organization at schools within Vermont and at a National Conference.

Nathan Langlois was selected based on his ever expanding role within the student run Coffee House at BFA. He has served as emcee since his freshman year and has grown in confidence and performing ability throughout the years. Nate is an active participant in cross country running and nordic skiing while demonstrating excellence in his academics. 

Abigail Pease was selected by the Burlington Technical Center. She is in BTC’s Health Sciences program and excels both in and out of the classroom. Abigail plans to pursue a career in a health related field after graduation.

Mr. French and Mahlia Parsons

Mahlia Parsons was selected for her overall leadership and involvement in school and community activities. Mahlia has attended National Leadership conferences. She participates in drama, cross country running, nordic skiing and track and field.

We are extremely proud of our Vermont Presidential Scholars and their achievements. We know that they will continue to represent the very best of BFA and Vermont as they continue their studies.

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

The FWSU Story: Building Responsible and Involved Citizenship through Restorative Practices

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As GEMS works on clearly articulating our Transferable Skill Proficiencies this year, an area of focus has been on the Transferable Skill: Responsible and Involved Citizenship, particularly through the indicator of “students take responsibility for personal decisions and actions”.

This is a hefty skill that many young adolescents need support, feedback, and structures to know how to handle tricky situations.  Middle Schoolers often are working hard both inside and outside of the school in learning how to create strong relationships with others and with those relationships sometimes conflicts occur.  So how do we as a school help students with learning how to manage those conflicts…with peers, friends, teachers, and sometimes even parents. 

As a school, we are often asking ourselves:

  • How do we teach students to handle and resolve conflicts? This includes helping students learn how their actions or words impact others. 
  • How can we proactively work to reduce conflict? 

At GEMS, we have started a deep dive this year into better understanding more about Restorative Practices and how this way of thinking can move us from managing student behavior towards a more constructive approach of helping students learn about the impacts of their behavior. This emphasizes the focus on the harm done to a person or community and creates a problem-solving approach that helps students learn from their mistakes and take an active part in restoring their relationship with those who were harmed.

What are Restorative Practices? 

“Restorative practices are a positive, disruptive force to realizing greater equity in education and stronger relationships. They provide greater balance and strength to the youth-adult partnerships in learning, greater opportunity for building empathy, bridging differences, and strengthening more just, joyful, and sustainable communities.” (UP for Learning website). 

How is Georgia working to build our capacity in this work? 

Georgia Middle School continues its learning towards understanding a Restorative approach to relationship building during this year both with our students and our staff.

One way we have embarked on this work is through UP for Learning’s Restorative Practice Youth-Adult Partnership program. We have five students that are leading the charge at Georgia Middle School in learning more about Restorative Practices and creating an action plan to help engage our faculty and students in building strong classroom communities. These five students along with Melissa Fisher have attended Circle Keeper Training and our last training was held at Fairfield Central School on January 8th where students were asked to create and implement an action plan around Restorative practices.  Students are excited to plan more together in the upcoming weeks to share their learning with our faculty and begin to put their plan into action. 

In addition, there have been several opportunities for faculty and staff to participate and better understand restorative approaches during our in-service days. Most recently, during our November Learning Institutes, middle school teachers and paraprofessionals from GEMS joined teachers from BFA-Fairfax to better understand the tiers of Restorative Practices including how to build a community where everyone has a voice and belonging. We also began to look at ways in which we create routines to support students re-entering the classroom when they have been absent for any reason. Everyone left hopeful for continued work and collaboration in hopes our implementation process will continue to move forward.

The emphasis on further strengthening our learning communities by focusing on relationships is a critical role for ensuring all of our students feel that they are valued, safe and able to learn in a supportive classroom and school. Establishing a culture where we circle up and communicate as a community and share our human experiences create benefits well beyond just creating a strong learning environment. It creates a system and routine that enable students to work on conflict resolution when harm has been done. It provides the foundation for us to use those mistakes or incidents as a moment of learning for those impacted to have space to identify how the action or inaction of another person affected them and collaboratively for students to create a plan to move forward in a positive way. 

Julie Conrad is the Middle School Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her at @JulieConradVT

The FWSU Story: Innovating the Playing Field – eSports at BFA Fairfax

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Just as technology itself is ever-evolving, so too is BFA’s TASC (Technology and Society Challenge) Club.  This spring, the club is working to establish and enter a team in an eSports League. This spring, we will be connecting with PlayVS, a nationally recognized High School eSports organization affiliated with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to get started.  

An eSport is exactly what it sounds like: similar to more traditional sports, eSports teams compete in a variety of electronic games in organized seasons throughout the calendar year, leading up to finals and championships for top-ranked teams. eSports take place at state, regional, national, and global levels. eSports require a large amount of commitment and dedication by each of the team’s individual members. Players meet to strategize, practice, and learn to work together as a cohesive unit.  

eSports offer students, many of whom may not opt into other extra-curricular activities, an opportunity to build team-based character traits and demonstrate transferable skills they can carry with them well beyond high school: Self Direction, Clear and Effective Communication, Creative and Practical Problem Solving, Informed and Integrative Thinking, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship (the foundation of BFA’s Learner Traits). In order to be successful, teams have to have excellent forward-thinking, decision-making, and communication skills.  

Similar to traditional sports, eSports help students to cultivate a sense of community, connection, and belonging within their school. We know from contemporary research and data, a sense of belonging is one of the greatest factors affecting individuals’ wellness.  

Here are some of the things our current BFA Fairfax students had to say about the potential of eSports as an opportunity at our school: 

  • “Being able to do something I’m interested in at school makes me feel happier while I’m at school.”  
  • “Most of the school’s extracurricular activities are basically sports, so having other opportunities that aren’t sports would be good for building team spirit for those who aren’t into traditional sports.” 
  • “eSports teach cooperation and teamwork and the value of good communication. And they teach us that we’re stronger when we work together.” 
  • “Playing team games works on students’ communication and strategizing with your team to defeat the opposing team, and helps your team to come closer together.”

And then there are the opportunities for the future. BFA High School student, Jonny Gillilan, has already participated in an eSports challenge on his own time through Norwich University, earning a $6,000.00 scholarship for his future steps. And Norwich isn’t the only school that has an esports program by any means. 175 Colleges and Universities across the country currently offer officially recognized eSports programming through the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE). The majority of these schools all offer eSports scholarships as well, and the number is growing every year as eSports continue to rise in popularity.  

Sean Theoret is the Technology Integration Specialist for BFA Fairfax High School. Harold Vance is Flexible Pathways Coordinator for BFA Fairfax High School.

The FWSU Story: Our Work To Implement PBIS Universal and Targeted Interventions at BFA Fairfax Elementary

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Each school day, BFA Fairfax students arrive with a range of academic and social-emotional needs and experiences. In response to the needs of our students, we are currently in our third year of implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at BFA Fairfax Elementary School. PBIS has provided us a framework to teach school-wide behavior expectations, respond consistently to student behaviors, and use data to make decisions.

According to the research provided by PBIS.org:

“PBIS is an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all of the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes every day. It is a way to support everyone to create where all students are successful. PBIS is not a curriculum, it is a commitment to addressing student behavior through systems change. When PBIS is implemented well, students achieve improved social and academic outcomes, schools experience reduced exclusionary discipline practices, and school personnel feel more effective.”

During the first two years of our PBIS work we focused on implementing our universal practices. This work focused on consistently using positive, clear and non-judgmental language school-wide. We purposely taught school-wide expectations for all settings during the first weeks of school, after vacations, and as frequently as necessary. As a staff we developed and refined our acknowledgment process, implemented behavior protocols to respond to unexpected behaviors, and developed frequent opportunities to celebrate our students for demonstrating responsible, respectful, safe and caring behaviors.  

Last spring we began the process of implementing targeted practices and systems to provide support for students who are not responding successfully to universal supports. Our focus broadened to include ways to identify, respond, and support students exhibiting challenging behaviors. This included developing a targeted intervention team that meets weekly to review behavior data, develop behavior intervention plans, coordinate interventions and provide access to training and support for staff. 

A critical component for our school was the addition of a School-Based Behavior Consultant through a partnership with Northwest Counseling and Support Services. A School-Based Behavior Consultant provides schools with critical behavioral expertise required to support the implementation of the targeted intervention system, as well as individual behavior interventions and supports. We are so fortunate to have Caitlyn Trainer join our team. She brings experience with clinical and behavioral programming, behavior assessment and planning, data collection, and collaboration with school staff. Caitlyn has been actively working within classrooms in order to provide general support and make recommendations to school staff around how to best support the needs of all students. Caitlyn has been able to utilize modeling strategies to demonstrate for staff how to effectively respond to both negative and positive behaviors and how to provide adequate reinforcement. 

The impact of our targeted interventions, in coordination with the School-Based Behavior Consultant has been immediate and effective. The data and feedback indicates that students who were missing instructional time due to significant behavior challenges are successfully responding to the increased support and skill development. We still have significant work to do, but are excited by the progress in our development of additional tiers of behavior support. I encourage you to explore PBIS and to connect with your local mental health provider to investigate opportunities to collaborate in providing behavioral expertise and support for your students and staff. 

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